FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 57th Thanksgiving Anniversary, 2007-10-21

Text: Joshua 1:8

The theme of our anniversary message is 'A Victorious Church.' How sweet is the sound of victory to our ears! And how greatly it is sought after in this world. But the question we need to answer first is: How do we define victory for a church? We should not define it in terms of its achievements. This is what the world does. It generally measures victory in terms of how well one has done according to human opinions and standards.

Organisations and businesses for example, are ranked according to ISO 9000 for quality management and ISO 14000 for environmental management. Hotels are ranked by the number of stars. A hotel can have up to a maximum of 5 stars, although there is one hotel in Dubai which now claims to be a 7-star hotel. Schools are ranked according to the MOE's masterplan of awards - the highest and most prestigious award being the School Excellence Award. This year only 4 schools in Singapore have received this award. Eating places and hawker stalls are ranked with A, B or C grade - This has nothing to do with the taste of the food as the Environment ministry is only concerned about the hygiene of the place. So don't be surprised when you buy food from a Grade A foodstall or restaurant only to find that it does not taste anything like Grade A food!

While businesses, hotels, schools and eating places have all been ranked according to the standards they have achieved, can churches also be ranked in the same way? There are some who attempt to do it with their own human standards. Some would even use the very same criteria that is commonly used to measure success for businesses - namely productivity and profit. To them a church is not a victorious church unless it becomes a megachurch that has achieved the greatest possible growth within the shortest possible time. 

Let me say that there is nothing wrong with growing in numbers, since this was true of the apostolic church. Within 30 years it grew from being a small congregation of 120 timid disciples meeting secretly in Jerusalem to being a huge movement which had congregations in every city of significance in the Roman Empire. 

But this growth was caused by the Holy Spirit working in the lives of men, energizing and transforming them from sinners into saints, and from persecutors of Christ like Saul to promoters of Christ like Paul.

What we are seeing today in the worldwide church growth movement is really quite different from this. The emphasis in many megachurches is on outward numerical expansion rather than on inward, spiritual enrichment. There is too much reliance on the flesh to produce the desired results. The approach used is usually a pragmatic one: Whatever works to produce great results in a secular organisation can also be harnessed and adapted to produce similar results in the local church. Hence user-friendly and market-driven techniques are freely used to �market� the Gospel to the world and to swell the numbers of people who attend church.

The results of doing this may be extremely impressive by human standards. Such a church may be able to pack its halls right to the doors with people, but is it really a victorious church? Such a church may see huge increases in its weekly offerings and be able to build a monumental multi-million dollar sanctuary, but is it really a victorious church? Such a church may be highly organised and run most efficiently like a well-oiled machine, but is it really a victorious church? 

Dearly beloved, this question is a very relevant one for us to consider at this point in time. By God's grace Life Church has become what it is today, and we must be thankful to Him for that. And He has brought each one of us into this church to have a part of its growth and development. But if we are not careful to maintain the right biblical understanding of what constitutes victory for the church, we may end up employing the most worldly, pragmatic ways to do the Lord's work; we may end up using human standards of achievement as a measure of success; we may end up thinking that we have already 'arrived' when our own numerical goals and targets are met, and like the Laodican church we may end up becoming spiritually complacent and say, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing' (Revelation 3:17) and not realise that we are spiritually wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. Will Life Church become like this? I hope not. 

Today as we celebrate our church's 57th anniversary, I believe that we are standing at an important crossroads in the life of our church. 

If we choose to pursue outward achievements that are measured by human standards we may be able to grow and increase rapidly as many churches have done, but we would not be a victorious church. But if we choose the path of faithfulness to God and His Word, we may not become a church that has any ranking in the eyes of the world, but by God's grace we would be a victorious church in His eyes. And God Himself will give us the increase in His own good time when we trust Him alone. The point to be emphasised is this: A church will be victorious when it remains faithful to God and His Word. 

We are like the Israelites when they came to the border of the Promised Land. God had assigned them the task of crossing the river Jordan and occupying the land of Canaan. Let us turn our Bibles again to Joshua chapter 1 and read the first two verses: 'Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.'

What made this immense task all the more difficult was that Canaan was already settled by numerous tribes and kingdoms that were very hostile and strong and many times more capable in battle than the Israelites. The question that was perhaps uppermost in Joshua's mind was this: How will I do this? How can Israel have the victory in fulfilling this task? It was at this point that God gave three great assurances to Joshua. Let us study each of these three assurances to see how we can apply them to our church and to ourselves. The first great assurance is:

I. The Prospect of Victory (vv.3-6)

Let us look at vv.3-4: 'Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.'

What makes these verses so assuring are the words 'I have given unto you' The prospects of victory were most excellent, because God had already determined the outcome: Israel would be firmly settled in the Promised Land. Look now at the description of the places they were to occupy as given in v.4 This would have sounded very familiar to Joshua since he had probably read it before in the Book of Genesis. When God made the promise to Abraham 400 years before, He had said, 'Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.' (Genesis 15:18-21)

So as Joshua now heard these words from the Lord in v.4, he must have been filled with a sense of wonder that he could actually have a part in fulfilling this great promise that God had made to Abraham. What a privilege it is to be involved in God's great redemptive plan! And to make the prospects of victory even better, God gave Joshua the additional assurance that he will overcome every obstacle and opposition with God's help (v.5):'There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.' Of all the companions that Joshua could ever wish to have beside him as he went to face the armies of Canaan, none could be better than God Himself! And here we see God actually pledging to be faithful to stand by Joshua through thick and thin! 'I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.'

Dearly beloved, do you know that God has also made this same pledge to us? You and I also have the divine privilege of having God with us, as we face the challenge of doing the Lord's work today - Let us turn our Bibles to Hebrews 13:5 'Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' We are therefore now standing in the place of Joshua in receiving these wonderful assurances. These assurances give us excellent prospects of victory. And even as Joshua had a historic role in fulfilling the Promise God made to Abraham, we too have the privilege to have an important role in fulfilling this promise.

How is this so? Do you remember what God had promised to Abraham? It was not merely the possession of the land of Canaan alone, but also the blessing of all the families of the earth! Now we know that this blessing has come about through the Gospel of Christ that reconciles men to God. God has now commissioned us with the task of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the earth. And just as God had described to Joshua all the places that Israel would conquer in v.4, God has also described the places where His disciples will go with the gospel of Christ in Acts 1:8 'ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.' 

I thank God for the many opportunities for outreach that He has given to Life Church not only in Singapore through our kindergarten and student care ministry and through direct evangelism in Bishan and Orchard Road, but even to overseas places like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Kenya. God-willing, in the years to come He may open more doors for us to reach out to more people. But like Joshua, we must be prepared to face all kinds of uncertainties and questions, difficulties and discouragements along the way. The way to victory will not a smooth and easy one! But we have the wonderful assurance that as we follow the Lord's leading and direction carefully, He will be with us, and will grant us victory. 

Now that we have seen how God assured Joshua with the prospects of victory let us go on to see how He assured Joshua with:

II. The Encouragement for Victory (vv.6-9)

This is found in vv.6-9 and I would like you to notice here the number of times that the words 'Be strong' is found here. The first is in verse 6 - 'Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.' The second is in v.7 'Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law.' And the same words appear again in v.9 'Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.' 

God really wanted to bring this point across in the strongest possible terms: 'Be strong and of good courage!' Why was it so necessary for Joshua to be firmly encouraged like this? Perhaps it was because of the danger that the Israelites now faced of repeating the mistake that they had made 38 years before at Kadesh Barnea. At that time they were already at the southern border of Canaan and had sent out 12 spies into the land. But 10 of the spies brought back a discouraging report that caused all the Israelites to withdraw from fulfilling their task. They rebelled against God, and for that they were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for 38 more years. What was the cause of this great failure? It was their fear, their weak resolve, their lack of courage that had made them fail. And now Joshua and the Israelites were again in the same situation. Would they fail once again? Well, this time the Lord made sure they would not fail, by giving Joshua the strongest words of encouragement.

Let us study these words a little more: 'Be strong.' This means 'Be firm and resolute.' Joshua must not be weak or half-hearted in his resolve to move ahead, but be firm and resolute. We in Life Church must also be just as firm and resolute in completing the Beulah project. 

I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to our whole congregation not be slack in this matter. The work has just begun and there will be challenges along the way, as there has already been. But we must proceed apace now with one mind and one heart to do it for God's glory. At the extraordinary congregational meeting that was held here last month, 80% of us had voted in favour of the increased budget for Beulah - but 20% of us did not. We fully appreciate and respect the views and concerns of this 20%, but now that the decision has been made, let us all now be firm and resolute in carrying it out. On the front page of today's weekly you will read the latest update - the piling equipment has been moved into the site and piling will commence very soon. If everyone will do his part to pray, to give and to encourage those who are involved, the work will be done and completed in a year's time, God willing. Let us be strong!

Coming back to what God said to Joshua, we notice that in all three instances where He told Joshua to be strong He also said: 'be of a good courage' or 'be very courageous.' This means that Joshua must be very bold and brave to take the right action even if it means risking his own life. There will be times when we too will need to have courage. Whenever a problem arises in the church that needs to be dealt with, we must not shy away from it, but have the moral courage to face it squarely. 

In addition to telling Joshua to be strong and of a good courage, we notice in v.9 that God says to him: 'be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed:' God was telling him not to be afraid or dismayed (i.e. discouraged), which would be the very opposite of being strong and of good courage. 

Now up till this point, all of these words of encouragement have not really achieved much by themselves. It does not mean much to tell someone 'be strong' or 'do not be afraid' unless you also tell them why and how they might be strong and not be afraid. Any encouragement must have firm grounds to be effective. Let us find out about the basis of the Lord's encouragement to Joshua. You will see it in v.9: 'For the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.'

Dear friends, our greatest source of encouragement and strength is the assurance that God is with us. This is greatly needed if we are to become a victorious church. And God desires His people to have victory. The question is: Will we forfeit that victory by refusing to trust in, and depend on, the Almighty God who is present with us? Will we focus so much attention on the immensity of our own fears and of the task that is before us that we fail to see them dwindling in size when compared with the immensity of the God who is with us? 

Very often the greatest fear we have is the fear of failure. We can't succeed unless we try, but we say: 'I don't even want to try because I am afraid that I will fail!' Having God with us does not mean that we will never fail. If you study the next few chapters of this book you will discover that Joshua did have his share of failures later on, even though God never failed him nor forsook him. Joshua's armies were defeated at Ai - He failed because there was sin in the camp that he had to deal with. Later on Joshua was deceived into making a compact with the Gibeonites. This time he failed because he did not consult the Lord. 

But each failure became a stepping stone to victory. He learnt precious lessons from them. This applies to us as well. You might fail many times as a Christian, but if each failure you experience teaches you precious lessons that draws you ever closer and closer to the Lord, then they have brought victory to you! So please do not be afraid to fail when you attempt some new task that God has given to you. Don't live defeated lives. Arise and move on. Don't be afraid to move out of your circle of comfort. If you are facing discouragement and failure, the Lord says to you today: 'Be strong and of good courage. Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.'

And if you want even more assurance of victory, then consider now the third assurance that God gave to Joshua. Besides giving him the prospect of victory and the encouragement for victory, we are going to see that in vv.7 and 8 God also gave Joshua:

III. The Secret of Victory (v.7,8)

Let us read these two verses: '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.'

Can you see what the secret of victory is? It is by faithfulness to the Word of God. The Word of God is represented in these verses by the word 'Law' which refers to the first five books of the Bible. That was the only portion of the Bible in existence then. And how well was Joshua expected to do this? God actually spelled it out in detail for him in four steps. 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 carefully guarding against disobeying the Word of God or neglecting it. 

Secondly we see in v.7 that Joshua is told not to turn to the right hand or to the left. This gives us another picture, that of a driver or rider traveling on a track, and being careful to keep himself from deviating away from it. Joshua was to function not only as a guard to ensure that God's Word was always kept, but also as a driver, staying always well within the bounds of God's Word.

Thirdly he was told to keep it always in his mouth. This probably means that he was to have the habit of reciting the Word of God to himself, in order to memorise it well, so that it would be stored up in his heart. Fourthly he was to meditate on the Word of God day and night, and this means that he would have to focus his thoughts on a selected portion of the Scriptures and ponder over it, reflect on it, and think deeply until he understood its meaning and its relationship to the rest of God's revelation and to his own life.

The application of these four steps would ensure that Joshua would always know God's Word very well, and that he would apply it, obey it, and uphold it. No matter how occupied and busy he became with his official duties as Israel's leader, he was to keep up doing these things, and never ever stop. He was not to allow anything at all to deprive him of the time he spent in the Word of God. His success as a leader depended on it. As long as he continued in the Scriptures each day he would prosper. But if he stopped, that prosperity would cease, and the whole nation of Israel would also cease to prosper.

Dearly beloved, if we want to be a victorious church, we cannot do it without taking pains to keep learning all that is written in the Bible and faithfully obeying it. Faithfulness to the Word of God is the secret of victory. There can be no substitute for it. What is really worrying to me is that a survey that was conducted in our church just 2 months ago revealed that many of us are not even reading the Word of God as we should. In answer to the question, 'How often do you read the Bible?' 68% responded that they read it daily. 26% read the Bible only once a week, and 7% read it even less than that. The survey also revealed that a whopping 55% of us have not read through the Bible completely even once. Dearly beloved, if we do not take time to read God's Word daily, to meditate on it and memorise it, how can we grow spiritually? How can we be faithful to the Word of God if we do not even give it the place it deserves in our lives and in our thoughts? 

One way to make a start in being faithful to the Word of God is to memorise Joshua 1:8. If you look at the back page of the church weekly you will notice that this is the memory verse for last Sunday and today '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.' I would like all of us to make a new start in being faithful to God's Word by memorizing this verse. Let us read it through right now. 

And with that we complete our study of all three assurances God gave to Joshua: the prospect of victory, the encouragement for victory, and the secret of victory. Now as we look very briefly at the remaining verses of our text we see the tremendous impact all of this had on Joshua: He was fully strengthened in his resolve to carry out his task. In v.10 he issued orders to his officers to make preparations. In vv.12-15 we see him addressing the three tribes that had been allowed to settle on the east bank of the Jordan. Here we see him reminding them to obey the Word of God which they had agreed to keep. He was already beginning to apply the principle of vv.7 and 8. And in the following 5 chapters we see Israel going into Canaan and defeating the city of Jericho under Joshua's leadership.

Dearly beloved, let us as a church now seek God's grace to do the same under the leadership of our greater Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Church, that we may be a victorious church.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25