As I mentioned at the beginning of the service today this is week one of a new sermon series called Real-ationships make all the difference. If I did a quick poll today and asked you where your most important relationships were found, I’d be willing to guess most of you would say “the home.” And if I asked you where your most difficult relationships were found, I’d bet most of you would also say “the home.” How many of you here today would like to have a better relationship with your parents… or your brother or your sister… or your husband or your wife… or your children… or your grandchildren… or your nieces and nephews? How many of you here today wish you had someone to fill the void in your home? How many of you wish you were in a different home altogether?
When it comes to real, meaningful relationships the home is the primary place where those begin. Even if your home is empty at the moment… we all grew up in homes of some sort… we’ve had parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings… people who were and still are a part of our family… a part of who we are. And while God gave the family to bring blessings to us… we know good and well that because of sin the home can also bring a lot of pain.
So how do we find real-ationships in our homes? Ones that make a difference in our lives? Well God tells us that real-ationships come through a Family Who Serves the LORD.
In our sermon text today we turn to the last chapter of the Old Testament book of Joshua. Joshua lived about 3,500 years ago and was the man who took over leadership of Israel after Moses the prophet died. Joshua was the man God used to lead Israel into the promised land of Canaan. And after the conquest of the land, which took a number of years, Joshua gathered the people of Israel in the city of Shechem to renew the covenant promise God had made with them at Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given.
You may notice that our sermon text skips from verse 2 all the way up to verse 14. What’s missing there is Joshua reminding the people of all the good things God had done for them in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and conquering their enemies on the way to settling the new home God had promised. It was in view of God’s mercy and gracious acts that Joshua says what follows:
14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
God had rescued his people physically and given them homes to dwell in. More importantly God had rescued them from spiritual destruction time and again and had forgiven them and restored them as part of the family of God. It was God’s patient love, and sacrificing service to them that would motivate them to honor God. And Joshua spells out what that looks like.
He tells them to “fear” the LORD. This meant the people would stand in awe of their great God, they would honor and respect him, and give him their hearts. “Fear” of God in the Bible is something every believer has for the LORD. It’s not a dread or terror of God. It’s a healthy love and respect for the God of grace. Psalm 130:4 tells us: But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
Joshua also tells the people to serve the LORD. The word “serve” is used seven times in verses 14 and 15… a reminder that “service” is a key component of the relationship God’s people have with him. If we claim to fear God – to honor and trust him – then of course we will serve him as well.
And Joshua adds the phrase “with all faithfulness” at the end… literally in the Hebrew “in completeness and in truth”… reminding us that God does not want us to fear and serve him only on a part time basis… nor does he accept anything but service in line with the truth of his Word… Our fear, love, trust, service… needs to be complete… and completely in keeping with his Word.
Which by the way is why Joshua goes on to tell the people that if they are to serve the LORD completely that means they will need to throw away everything else they are tempted to serve. The people of Israel had come from ancestors who worshipped false gods. And even to that day there were the tempting idols of the surrounding nations which sought their attention. “Throw them away!” Joshua says. “Have nothing to do with them. They didn’t save you from slavery… they didn’t plant you in this land… they didn’t forgive your sins or promise you an eternal homeland in heaven… The LORD did those things… And you need to decide today if you will turn from God to serve worthless idols… But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua really lays down the gauntlet doesn’t he? But think of what was at stake? If the people chose to abandon the LORD and follow other gods or trust other people or things for their security and prosperity… well… everything would fall apart… and it would all start in the home.
It’s been said that the home is the building block of society. And it’s true. If the households of Israel were led by God-fearing parents who taught the Word to their children and practiced their faith daily… well… then not only would the family be held together but so would the nation. But when the household… the family… began to serve themselves… or the gods around them… to serve their own sinful appetites… well… then not only would relationships in the home begin to crumble but so would the nation. And sadly that is exactly what we see happen on the pages of Scripture. Although the people that day responded positively to Joshua’s speech… in the following years the people would abandon the LORD… and their homes would fall apart… and the nation of Israel would be destroyed.
Is it any different today?
Mary Farrar, a Christian author, wrote a book called Choices in which she cited scary statistics on everything from the rise in divorce to the increase in teenage suicides and violent crime. And in this book she made this observation:
“The family is not merely changing or evolving, as some would have us believe. It is being splintered and turned into kindling. And as an institution in this nation, it is being gutted and destroyed. The alarm has been sounded and time is running out.”
And do you know when she wrote that? 1994! If that was true 20 years ago… what about today? And if we are honest with ourselves it’s not just new government policies… the LGBT movement… gay marriage… or the ease and frequency of divorce that’s destroying our families. We do it to ourselves. We threaten, erode, and destroy our own households whenever we fail to “fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness.”
The solution to our own faltering and fracturing families is not simply remembering the 6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery… or the 4th Commandment: Honor your father and mother… It’s remembering the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods… And when we remember that command we must also be ready then to confess when we have failed… to be honest with God about the times we’ve places ourselves before him. To have an honest conversation with ourselves or our family members about the things that are vying for time and attention. And then if we discover there are other gods in our lives… we need to throw them away.
This might mean getting some things back into a proper balance… good things that we’ve turned into idols like work and sports and dance recitals and Netflix and smartphones… or it might mean throwing some things away completely… the addictions, the grudges, the bitterness, the gossip, the anger, the apathy, the laziness, the lust…
Whatever is keeping you and your household from being a Family Who Serves the LORD – Get rid of it. Turn to the Lord for strength and practical ways to serve one another in your homes. Come to worship and let the Word guide your life the following week. Gather for study at church and see how God’s Word applies to every aspect of your life. Choose to make God’s Word the bedrock of your home not only in theory but in practice. Choose to have family devotions. Ask a pastor for some guidance if you need it. Choose to go to marriage retreats and parenting seminars offered by the church. Choose to make time for God’s Word. Choose to make time for your family.
And make those choices knowing you have a God on your side who will help you to keep your promises… and who will forgive you when you fail to keep them. Make those choices no matter what your family looks like now… no matter what dysfunction, or frustrations, or failures you’ve seen in your family in the past. Make the choice to serve the LORD knowing that he has already chosen you and has given you everything in Christ.
Remember how I told you Joshua reminded the people of all God had done for them before laying down this choice? Well God does the same for you today. You have a God who refuses to give up on his people, even when they sin against him. Even though Israel didn’t listen and ruined many of their homes and even their nation… he still loved them… and he still loves us.
He loves us all enough that he sent his only Son, Jesus, into this world to live a perfect life in our place. Jesus was the perfect Son, both to his mother Mary and step-father Joseph, but even more so to his Father in heaven. He was the perfect sibling to his brothers and sisters, even when they doubted him and mocked him. He was the perfect friend to his disciples and followers even
when they frustrated and failed him. And Jesus did all of that for you. Not to show you how to earn God’s favor, but to earn it on your behalf. And not only did he earn God’s favor for you but he turned aside God’s wrath for you… he took all your family failings and personal problems and died on the cross for them. You are forgiven. You are set free from guilt and shame. And you are a member now and forever of the family of God.
The apostle Paul wrote about this beautiful work of Jesus for us in Ephesians chapter 2 saying: You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
This is our confidence… and this is our motivation to choose a life of service to the LORD. And whenever we find our family struggling… our relationships at home strained… we know that this good news about Christ is what will restore and repair our broken hearts and broken homes. Real relationships make all the difference in the home. And a real relationship with God is the key to those family relationships. Thankfully, through Christ, we have that relationship and it’s what truly makes the difference in our lives and in our families. Amen.