By Rev Charles Seet
Preached at / Published Life BPC 1045am Svc, 2011-12-11
Text: Joshua 1:7,8
We are now coming to the end of another year. At this time some will be preparing their year-end reports. Business corporations will conduct their annual stock-taking or inventory checking. They have to inform their stakeholders how successful they have been by looking for key performance indicators (KPI). Businesses measure success by the percentage of income that comes from return customers. Schools measure success by the grades of their students or by their number of graduates. Some churches would measure their success by their attendance figures or by the number of baptisms. And many Christians would consider themselves to be successful if they have been coming to church regularly.
But in God's eyes these are not the things that make us successful. You may even be reading your Bible diligently, and engaged in intensive Bible study, and yet not be a success in God's sight. There is only one kind of person that God considers to be a success: The one who is Living according to His Word.
This principle is found in Joshua 1:7,8 which is the Scripture text for today's message 'Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.'
These words were spoken to Joshua, the one who took over the leadership of Israel after Moses died, the one who was assigned the great task of leading the Israelites across the River Jordan into Canaan and settling them there. What made this immense task more difficult for him was that Canaan was not a vacant piece of land. It was already inhabited by numerous tribes and kingdoms that were very hostile and strong. The question that was perhaps uppermost in Joshua's mind was: How will I ever do this? How can I succeed?
The answer that God gave to him is simply this: Live according to My Word. This was to be the secret formula of Joshua's success as a leader of Israel. You will notice that the Word of God is represented in these 2 verses by the word 'Law.' This refers to the first five books of the Bible. It was the only portion of the Bible in existence then. And Joshua was given three steps to take regarding the Law that God had given.
The first step is seen in both v.7 and 8 where he was told to observe to do according to all that is in it. The word 'observe' used here literally means 'to guard.' This gives us the picture of a sentry or watchman who must stay alert and carefully guard against disobeying the Word of God or neglecting it.
Secondly we see in v.7 that Joshua is told not to turn from the Word to the right hand or to the left. This gives us another picture, that of a traveller going on a defined path, and being careful to keep himself from deviating from it. So Joshua was to function not only as a guard to ensure that God's Word was always obeyed, but also to stay always on the right path of God's Word.
Thirdly, Joshua was to meditate on the Word of God day and night, and this means that he would have to focus his thoughts on portions of Scripture, ponder over them, and reflect on them until he understood them and how they are to be applied in his own life.
By applying these three steps Joshua would ensure that he was living according to the Word both in his personal life as well as in fulfilling his official duties. No matter how occupied and busy he became with all his official duties as Israel's leader, he was to keep doing these things, and never ever stop. His success as a leader depended on how well he lived according to the Word of God. As long as he continued to follow what God had written in the Scriptures he would prosper. But if he stopped, his prosperity would cease, and the whole nation of Israel would also cease to prosper.
Dearly beloved, the same thing applies to us. If you want to live successfully as a Christian, and to prosper in everything that God has given you to do, you cannot do it without taking pains to learn all that is written in the Bible and faithfully apply them. This is the secret of having good success. There is really no substitute for this. There is no other way or method or formula for success.
Someone has put it this way using the word 'BIBLE' as an acronym - the 'Believer's Instructions Before Leaving Earth.'
Now that we have seen how important it is to live according to the Word, let us consider what steps we can take to actually do it. We shall use the last part of verse 8 as our starting point 'that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.' This implies that there are things to do, or actions to be taken in all that is written in the Bible. From this we can derive the first step to live according to the Word, which is'
1. Expect the Bible to Teach You Practical Truths
The Bible isn't just a book of interesting facts or information or historical data. It is filled with things for us to do. Its truths are practical and applicable to everything that we do in life. This is what you should expect to see each time you open your Bible to read it. If you expect much from it, then you will see much. But if you merely dabble in its pages for some mediocre lessons, you will not find anything more than that. And if you don't expect to learn any practical truths from the Bible, then it will make no difference at all in your life.
So please make it a point to remember this - You must have great expectations from God's Word. Expect it to teach you the examples you should follow, and the errors you should avoid. Expect to find many promises of God to put your trust in. Expect God's Word to confront you about those sins in your life which you need to confess. Expect it to instruct you of the duties God wants you to perform, and expect it to equip you well to perform them.
Perhaps you may say, 'It is not difficult to know how to apply a simple command like, 'Do all things without murmurings and disputings.' (Philippians 2:14) But what practical truths are there in passages, such as Leviticus 1:3 'his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.'?
The key to applying a passage of Scripture is to recognize where it is located in Bible history and what kind of writing it is. Any Bible passage you study has a location. NT passages are usually easier to apply than those from the OT, mainly because we are living in the same era as its writers and original readers.
Old Testament passages were written prior to Christ. Thus many of them are designed to point to the coming of Christ. For example, in Leviticus 1:3 the burnt offering had to be a 'male without blemish'; the offerer shall offer it of his own voluntary will. In its present day application, Christ is the sacrifice without blemish, and the Christian, in an act of consecration must identify himself with Christ to offer his body as a living sacrifice of his own free will.
What if the passage is one of history? How can we apply this? Again the events might point forward to Christ, such as the exodus from Egypt being a type of the redemption of a sinner from the bondage of sin. In any event, the example of how to approach God and live acceptably to Him appears throughout OT history. This was the way that Paul applied the history recorded in the Old Testament. He wrote: 'Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.' (1 Corinthians 10:11)
Now we come to passages of prophecy. What practical truth for living can we find in Bible prophecy? Regardless of what the prophecy is about, studying Bible prophecy should stir within your heart an increased devotion and faith in your God and Saviour. He who knows future events so accurately will certainly know your future.
If a prophecy in the OT has been fulfilled, then apply the passage to your life in view of the event's fulfillment. For instance Isaiah 53 is a prophecy that was fulfilled in the death of Christ. The application would then be to respond appropriately to His love and sacrifice on the cross by presenting your own body as a living sacrifice for Him. If the prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, such as the Lord's coming and the Great Tribulation foretold by Daniel, then respond fervently to the reminder of the urgency of the days in which we are living. Be aware of how world events are setting the stage for the prophecies to be fulfilled soon.
The key to discovering the application of a Bible passage, especially in the OT, is to derive the universal, timeless principle involved in the account. Principles are basic truths that remain unchanged, no matter what the situation in life may be. For example let us look at Genesis 22:2 where Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac 'And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.' It would be very wrong for anyone to apply this by thinking that God wants him to offer his own child as a sacrifice. It is the timeless principle of this passage that we should look for and apply. Upon reflection you will find that the principle being taught is that: By virtue of our close relationship with God, God requires unquestioning obedience to any commandment that He gives to us no matter how unpleasant it may be to us.
Here is another example: Joshua 7:1 'for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.' The story goes on to relate that Israel lost their next battle and 36 men were slain at Ai - all because of one man's sin. What practical truth can we apply from this account? It teaches us that when we sin it will affect not just ourselves alone but the also the rest of our brethren adversely.
Now, being equipped with practical truths from the Bible is only the first step towards living according to the Word. These truths must be translated into action in our daily life. This is often the most difficult part of all - how to bridge the gulf between truth and action, between knowledge and practice. There is something we can do to help bridge this gulf, and it is to�
2. Meditate Regularly on the Practical Truths of the Bible
This is mentioned in v.8 of our text 'but thou shalt meditate therein day and night.' To meditate on God's Word is to ponder over it until it becomes part of your thinking process. Do you know that the way that you live your life depends a lot on what you think about? That is why the Scriptures put a lot of emphasis on our thought life. E.g. Romans 12:2 says, 'And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.' And in Philippians 4:8, we are told, 'whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.�
Dearly beloved please remember this: You are what you think. If you want to live as a Christian you must first think as a Christian. This is why you need to guard your thought life well from being polluted by unedifying input.
For instance, if you allow your thoughts to be dominated by pornographic images, your life and your marriage will gradually be ruined by it. If you play hours and hours of videogames like Doom and Warcraft your thoughts will be dominated by images of violence, bloodshed and killing. Then your mind will be conditioned to respond aggressively and abusively toward people around you. So please be careful about the input that goes into your mind, and don't underestimate the long term effects of the media on your mind.
Emerson made this observation, 'Sow a thought, and you reap an action. Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.'
What should you do then with your thought life? Fill your mind with good wholesome thoughts so that you will reap good actions, good habits, good character and ultimately, a good destiny. And what better thoughts are there to fill your mind with than all the practical truths of the Bible? What better way is there to live your life successfully than to meditate on God's Word day and night?
This requires much disciplined effort and reliance on God's strength to keep doing, but the results are definitely worth all the effort put in. As you keep meditating on these practical truths from Scripture, the Holy Spirit will show you where to apply them in your daily life. Your actions will then begin to follow your thoughts. And if you persist in those actions, then form themselves into new habits. This is how you can develop healthy habits like praying, giving thanks, confessing your sins, and showing Christian love to others.
But it all begins with a personal commitment to meditate on the Word of God. If you want to live according to the Word, commit yourself right now to meditate on it at every opportunity. Make it your personal goal today to let God's Word dwell in you richly. This will enable you to bridge the gulf between truth and action. And then you will become a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer of it (James 1:22). Now we come to the third practical step to live according to God's Word:
3. Commit Yourself to Keep Applying the Practical Truths of the Bible.
Why do we need to do this? Because we all have a rebellious, sinful nature in us which will naturally resist any changes we need to make in our life in order to live according to God's Word.
At the beginning of Joshua 1:8 God said to Joshua, 'This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth.' This does not mean that Joshua had to literally stuff the scroll into his mouth and keep it there all the time. It was a very creative way of telling Joshua to commit himself to keep applying the Word at all times. The mention of a body part (his mouth) is a device which brings out the very personal nature of this commitment.
Aren't we careful about what we put into our mouth? It has to be edible and safe to eat. Therefore putting something into your mouth means that you have made a commitment to accept it as food that will help you and give you nourishment.
The same literary device is used in Deuteronomy 11:18 'Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.' (Notice the body parts mentioned here) Unfortunately the Jews took this literally and made little boxes called phylacteries which they bound to their hands and forehead in an elaborate ritual each day. But that's not the point at all. The intended meaning behind these words is exactly the same as what God said to Joshua. It is the need to make a firm personal commitment to apply the Word of God daily. This is the most important step you need to make in order to live according to the Word.
This morning we have seen three steps that will enable us to live according to the Word: Firstly, you must expect the Bible to teach you practical truths. Secondly, you should meditate regularly on them. And thirdly, you need to commit yourself to keep applying them. I would urge you now to take these steps very seriously, because your success in living as a Christian depends on it. Commit yourself to do them right now in prayer. And if you are truly serious about it, tell a close friend or family member that you have committed yourself to do them. This person will hold you accountable for your commitment. He can encourage you and occasionally check up on your progress.
May the Lord help all of us to Live according to His Word.