Whom Will You Choose To Serve?
October 10th, 1982 @ 7:30 PM
WHOM WILL YOU CHOOSE TO SERVE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-10-82 7:30 p.m.
O God, bless us in the way, in the faith, and in the Lord. Turn with me in your Bible to the last chapter of Joshua; Joshua, Joshua chapter 24. And we are going to read out loud together verses 14 through 18; Joshua chapter 24, verses 14 through 18. And the title of the message is Whom Shall We Choose To Serve? Do you have the place? Do you have the passage? Joshua 24, verses 14 through18. Now, let us all read it out loud together:
Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods;
For the Lord our God, He it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:
And the Lord drove out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the Lord; for He is our God.
And that text: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve. . . [Joshua 24:14-18]; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15], this grand old soldier of God, Joshua. In the thirteenth chapter of his book, it says:
Now Joshua was old and stricken in years. (He was ninety years old.) And the Lord said unto him: Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.
And to my surprise and amazement, as much as Joshua had done in the first ninety years of his life, his greatest ministry lay ahead. He died when he was one hundred ten years old [Joshua 24:29], and in those last twenty years he did his greatest and finest work. So it begins in the middle of the book, “Joshua was old and stricken in years” [Joshua 13:1]. Now when I turn to chapter 23, after all of the partition of the land, it starts off in verse 1:
And it came to pass a long time after the work of Joshua in dividing up the inheritance in Canaan that the Lord had given rest unto the land from all their enemies round about. And Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.
He was one hundred ten years old. And under his direction, the people were given rest in the land, conquered their enemies, had divided up their inheritance, and now were at peace before the Lord [Joshua 22:44]. In chapter 23, he calls together, in verse 2, the elders, and their heads, and their judges, and their officers, and said unto them, “I am old and stricken in age” [Joshua 23:2]. Verse 6:
Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses. Do not turn aside to the right or to the left; that ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of their gods. Do not swear by them, do not serve them, do not bow yourself unto them; but cleave unto the Lord your God, as you have done unto this day—
Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that you love the Lord your God.
That was what the old soldier said to the leaders of Israel. Now in the last chapter, chapter 24, he gathers all of the people together: “And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem” [Joshua 24:1].
Now isn’t that an unusual and a marvelous, effective thing for him to do? After he had spoken to the leaders, and to the heads, and to the judges, and to all of those in places of responsibility, and pled with them to be true to the faith and to the Lord in chapter 23 [Joshua 23:1-16]; then in the last chapter he makes his farewell address, gathering all of Israel together at Shechem [Joshua 24:1-27]. And that was a meaningful thing in itself.
There’s no one of us but that can remember places where great decisions and commitments were made. Sometimes in a church; when I say this, there are things that come into my mind. The little white crackerbox of a church house in that little town of three hundred people where I gave my heart to the Lord and where I was baptized; I can remember that as vividly now as the day that I took Jesus as my Savior; every part of it; baptized in that little church.. I remember the tent in the revivals cast there; the tent set up there in the middle of the little town in which as a boy I answered God’s call to be a preacher and a pastor, a sacred place to me. And through these years that have followed after—oh, how many places crowd upon my mind! Well, Shechem was a place like that [Joshua 24:1].
When God called Abram out of Ur of Chaldees, when he entered the Promised Land, this is the place where he first stopped—in Shechem [Genesis 12:6]—this is the place where God said to him: “I will bless thee, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:1-3, 22:18]. This is the place where Abraham erected his first altar, in Shechem [Genesis 12:6-7].
This is the place, when Jacob—Israel—came back from Padan-Aram, he came to Shechem [Genesis 33:18]. And there, from Hamor, he bought a parcel of ground and paid Hamor one hundred pieces of silver for it. And there did Israel—Jacob—build an altar to the Lord [Genesis 33:19-20].
It was in Shechem that Joseph referred to when he said: “When you take my bones back to the land of Canaan, bury them in Shechem” [Genesis 50:24-25]. That is the inheritance that Jacob gave to Joseph [Joshua 24:32]. And Joshua: the book closes with their burying the bones of Joseph at Shechem [Joshua 24:32].
In the Deuteronomic law, Moses said Mt. Gerizim here is to be the mount of blessing, and read the promises of God on Mt. Gerizim [Deuteronomy 27:12]. And on Mt. Ebal, read the curses of God if we disobey the Lord [Deuteronomy 27:13]. And Gerizim on one side and Ebal on the other side are on either side of Shechem.
It was there in Shechem, that Jacob, Israel, dug a well. And in the life of our Lord, in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is seated on that well in Shechem [John 4:5-6]. And that Samaritan woman comes to draw water [John 4:7], and He speaks to her the greatest sermon on spiritual worship ever uttered in the Bible or ever fell from the lips of man [John 4:9-26]. God wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth [John 4:24]. And He won that Samaritan woman to the faith and to the Lord in Shechem [John 4:28-29, 39-42].
This is the place, how hallowed and how wise, gathering all of the tribes of Israel there and making his last farewell address, a hundred ten years of age! [Joshua 24:1-28]. I think of him like some old pilgrim who has been through the years and the journey of this life, and as he looks back over the years that are past, he beckons to the young people and the youth of his generation to press on, carry on, go on! That’s Joshua, the old soldier of God.
So having spoken in chapter 23 to the heads of the state, to the judges, to the leaders [Joshua 23:1-16], in chapter 24, he speaks to all of the people [Joshua 24:1-28]. And the first part of that chapter is a review of God’s grace among them, and He had a part in every section and parcel and piece of that story.
Joshua was born in Goshen, in the land of Egypt. And he was there when Moses came out of the Midian desert and announced that God had sent him to deliver His people out of bondage. He had heard their cry, and God had sent him—chosen him—to bring deliverance to His people in slavery in Egypt [Exodus 3:9-10, 4:29-31]. Joshua was one of the slaves who worked in the brick kilns in the land of Goshen [Exodus 5:7-8].
And he was there by the side of Moses, when they came to the Red Sea and saw the parting of the waters, and the deliverance of the people out of the hands of Pharaoh [Exodus 14:21-31]. And when they fought with Amalek, Joshua was the soldier and minister of Moses, winning that great battle for the Lord [Exodus 17:8-13]. He also was broken hearted at Kadesh-Barnea—when they turned aside from what God had promised to do for them—and they turned back in the wilderness to die in the waste of that Sinaitic Desert [Numbers 13:31-14:4, 27-35].
It was Joshua whom God chose to lead the people over Jordan into the Promised Land when Moses was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5], somewhere in the land of Moab [Numbers 27:18-23; Joshua1:1-2]. And it was Joshua and his sword that won one victory after another until the land was conquered. And now at peace, at rest, having divided to each tribe its lot [Joshua 14:1-2]—he delivers this final and farewell message to his people [Joshua 24:1-28]. And in that message, he drives for a decision on their part, “Choose you this day whom you will serve:” And he presses it. The people said, “God forbid that we would forsake the Lord, to serve other gods. The Lord, He is our God!” [Joshua 24:16-18]. Now wouldn’t you think that‘s enough? Not for Joshua. He presses it. Joshua then said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord and other gods; He is a holy God; He is a jealous God. If you forsake the Lord and serve other gods, He will consume you.” And the people said unto Joshua the second time: “Nay, Joshua, but we will serve the Lord!” [Joshua 24:19-21].
Wouldn’t you think that was enough? He presses that decision. Joshua said unto the people, “Ye are witnesses against yourself that ye have chosen the Lord.” And they said: “We are witnesses!” Wouldn’t you think that’s enough? He presses that appeal, He says: “Put away now the strange gods and incline your heart unto the Lord, God of Israel.” And the people said unto Joshua again, “The Lord our God we will serve and His voice we will obey!” [Joshua 24:22-25].
And as though that were not enough, Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law, and took a great stone and sat it there under an oak in Shechem, by the sanctuary of the Lord [Joshua 24:26]. And Joshua said:
Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words that you have said; it shall therefore be a witness unto you forever, that you have committed yourself to serve the Lord.
Now, what do you think about that? Do you think it’s out of character and out of the will of God for the preacher to stand in the pulpit and press the appeal for Christ? “Come to the Lord. Give your heart to God; open your soul heavenward, and God-ward, and Christ-ward.” My brother, if I do what they did in the Bible, that’s what I’ll do here—press the appeal for God, “Come, come, come, there’s no other way to bring life, and joy, and liberty, and freedom, and blessing from God except in His blessed name. Come!” That’s the first thing that Joshua did; he pressed that appeal to the people [Joshua 24:14].
Do you notice the second thing that he does? He uses his own dedication for an example: “Choose you this day whom you will serve: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [Joshua 24:15]. Isn’t that a great affirmation? Doesn’t it do your heart good to see a man who believes something and answers it, seals it with his very life? No irresolution, no more debate, no more discussion, “I am determined. I am resolved. I have decided, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”
So many times do people look around and they see the social pressures that mold them and make them. They see which way the current flows and then they float with the current. Or they study the breeze and they set the sail to conform to the breeze. Not Joshua! He knew what it was to be in a minority! When he came back with Caleb and the ten other spies, there were just two of them, Joshua and Caleb, who said, “God can help us possess the land” [Numbers 13:30, 14:6-9]. And the other ten said, “Nay, there are giants over there. And were in their sight as grasshoppers, and we are like grasshoppers in our own sight” [Numbers 13:33].
Joshua, not with the crowd—he and God, “I am determined!”—he made up his mind, and he cast his life and lot in the promises of the Lord. That’s Joshua. Dear me! What a wonderful man! No in-between with that soldier of God. No Laodicean attitude; not hot, not cold, just in-between [Revelation 3:15-16]. I don’t think a man can actually be in-between. He’s either dead or he’s alive. He’s saved or he’s lost. He’s justified or he’s condemned. We’re with God or we’re against Him. Jesus said that, “He that scattereth not with Me, scattereth abroad” [Matthew 12:30]. We’re either one or the other, that’s what Joshua said. This great old soldier of the Lord, he’s for God, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15]. Do you notice the zeal and the commitment, with which he says it? He puts on zeal like a cloak! He gathers around him fidelity and commitment like a garment! It’s wonderful to see him!
He was that way in the days of battle. The day was not long enough to win the battle for God, so it was Joshua who said, “Sun, stand thou upon Gibeon; and Moon tarry thou in Aijalon” [Joshua 10:12]. He needed more light; he needed more hours; he needed more days to win the battle for God, and the Lord blessed him. Isn’t that the most amazing thing that you ever read in the Bible? God stopped that sun over Gibeon, and God stopped that moon over Aijalon, and gave a victory to this great old soldier of Christ [Joshua 10:13-15]. Reckon God would do that for us? If we had the faith and commitment, He would. He is the same God today as He was then [James 1:17].
Do you notice again, he openly, unashamedly called for an avowal of their commitment to God? [Joshua 24:15]. Now that is universal and without exception in the Bible; openly and publicly, we’re to take our stand for our Lord; He calls us for that. Do you remember Matthew 10:32-33?
Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father in heaven. But whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.
That’s what God says. Do you remember Paul writing in Romans 10:9-10?
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, that He lives, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart we believe unto a God-kind of justification and righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
“Here I stand; so help me, God, I can do none other”: that is the thing God asks of all of us, openly and publicly to avow our faith in the Lord. Do you notice as I speak of this, that that call to public commitment and decision has been the call of God through all of the ages, and centuries, and eras of humanity and human experience? It is an awful thing; it is an awesome thing!
God has endowed us with the power of choice. It’s never been any different. In the days of Abel, he chose to confront the wickedness of Cain, and he paid for it with his life [Genesis 4:2-8]. In the days of Noah, he disassociated himself from the wickedness that flooded the whole world [Genesis 7:1]. In the days of Abraham, God called him to leave his idolatrous father and the civilization in which he grew up, and go out as a stranger in a land he should afterwards receive for an inheritance [Genesis 12:1, Joshua 24:2-3]. A decision! The greatest decision I think any man ever made in the ages past is the decision of Moses when he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season [Hebrews 11:24-26]. Can you imagine a man who would turn aside from the throne of the greatest empire of his day in order to suffer with the people of God? That’s the decision that Moses made.
Can you think of the decision of Samuel? He hesitated before it when God said to him to anoint another king to take the place of Saul. “For I have rejected him,” said God [1 Samuel 16:1]. And Samuel anointed a ruddy-faced little boy, a teenager named David to be king over the people of God [1 Samuel 16:11-13].
Can you imagine the decision of Daniel, who purposed in his heart that he would not eat of the king’s delicacies, but kept himself for the Lord? These things that the king had offered unto idols; Daniel refused to touch them [Daniel 1:5, 8].
A decision: can you imagine the decision John the Baptist made when he stood before Herod— and by his side Herodias—saying: “It is not right for you to have your brother’s wife” [Mark 6:17-18]. And she encompassed his death; she cut off his head! [Mark 6:20-28].
Can you imagine the decision Paul pressed upon King Agrippa [Acts 26:19-27] who replied, “You know, almost you persuade me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. All of us, through every age and every generation, meet that inevitable time of all important answer: what shall I choose to do and whom shall I choose to serve?
I close. It is a personal decision; each one of us faces it in his life, in her life. Do you remember in the last chapter of 2 Samuel? Gad—the prophet Gad—comes to David and says to him, “Because of the sin of counting Israel, not depending upon God, but upon numbers, God gives you a choice of three terrible things…” [2 Samuel 24:10-12]. And then you remember the sentence that Gad said to him? “You tell me the answer that I can return unto Him, the Lord God, who sent me” [2 Samuel 24:13].
Every one of us faces that in his life, in her life. What is the decision that I shall return to God, unto Him who sent me? And I can answer. And how I answer determines how I am in this life; how I am in death; how I am at the great judgment bar of Almighty God [1 Peter 4:5]; and how I am throughout eternity [John 3:16, 10:27-30]. O Lord! O Lord! “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” [Joshua 24:15].
Did you know when a man decides for God, ninety-nine out of every one hundred decisions he’ll ever make in business are already decided. He has no equivocation. God is by his side, answering every question, guiding in wisdom every choice. Did you know when a man gives his heart to Christ, ninety-nine out of every [one hundred] decisions he’ll ever face are answered in his home, in his heart.
God has a way of bestowing power and wisdom in a decision, when our hearts are given to Him. Did you know that ninety-nine out of every [one hundred] decisions you’ll ever face in all of your days are settled, and settled right, when you give your heart to God. Oh, it’s a wonderful thing that happens to a man, to a family, to a youth, to a child when he gives his heart to God, when he chooses to serve the Lord.
This last week, I happened to be reading in a magazine, and they had taken a survey over thousands of homes—and I was dumbfounded by this. Number 1: the happiest homes are always the homes, where the father and the mother, the couple go to church. But they’d had another thing that was a surprise in it—the happiest of all happy homes are the couples and the families that go to Sunday school. Well, I had not thought of that, and this was made by a survey not religious at all, not concerning the Sunday school at all. But they were just looking at homes that were happy! And I had already read the statistics that you have heard many times; outside of Christ one out of every two homes breaks up in divorce. One out of two! But in Christ, one out of five hundred will break up! It is a remarkable thing, what God does to a couple, to a family that gives their life in faith to the Lord. It’s a wonderful thing.
A lawyer approached the bench where sat an illustrious judge. And the lawyer said to the judge, he said, “Your Honor, I hear that you and your wife are being separated. “ And the judge stormed at him and said, “Sir, that is an insult! My wife and I have been married for over fifty years, and we are together.” And the counselor said, “Your Honor, your wife is a devout Christian, and you are lost! And the day is soon approaching when you will be separated from your wife.” And the Judge, using God’s Word in deepest conviction in his soul, humbly answered as he bowed his head, “My God, I never thought of it like that!”
This is a matter of eternity; it’s a matter of life; it’s a matter of heaven; it’s a matter of judgment; it’s a matter of God! And He is given me that power of choice. I have it. Isn’t it great to hear an old soldier say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” [Joshua 24:15].
May we stand together?
Our Savior, tonight, bear on the wings of the Holy Spirit of God, the message of this appeal. To a family, rear your children in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. Come with them to church, don’t send them, bring them, bring them. Lord, bear this message to the heart of young married people. May they build and found their home upon the wonderful promises of God. Lord, Lord, grant to them a joy and gladness in Thee. And for that somebody one who is seeking the blessing of God upon his life, upon her life, may this be an hour of choice and decision. Let it be right. Let it be for God and not against God; for His church, not against His church; for Jesus, not against Jesus. Lord, may the answer be affirmative! “I am resolved and here I come.”
While our people pray, while we wait just for you, in the balcony round, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we have decided for God and we are coming tonight,” the whole family of you.” Or a couple of you, or just one somebody you to whom the Spirit has made appeal, make the decision now in your heart, and when we sing, that first step will be the greatest step you’ve ever made in your life. Do it now, do it now! May angels attend you in the way as you come, God bless you as you answer.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us this evening, choosing God, “God help me, here I stand; here I come.” in Thy saving and keeping name, amen.
A thousand times welcome while we sing our appeal.
WHOM WILL YOU CHOOSE TO SERVE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Joshua’s call for the rulers and the people
1. Abraham’s altar
2. Resting place
3. Jacob’s well
1. Israel served the Lord the rest of Joshua’s life
2. Worthy epitaph
3. Type of the Lord Jesus
IV. Joshua’s commitment
1. He pressed for a decision Joshua 24:15
2. He boldly spoke
3. He had zeal
4. He openly avowed his commitment
5. Call to commitment