Serving the Lord as Worship
Meditation on Joshua 24:14-15
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15
We often think of “serving the Lord” and “worship” as two separate things. For many of us, “serving the Lord” means doing various things to help out the church, things like cooking a meal, teaching a class, cleaning a bathroom, visiting the sick, or giving an offering. And in a sense we are “serving the Lord” when we do these types of things. Anytime we use our gifts, abilities, time, or resources to build up the church, we are serving the Lord who gave us these things (1 Cor. 12:4-7). We are in fact commanded to use the gifts we have received to serve one another so that God may be glorified (1 Pet. 4:10-11). So when we do things to bless others in the church, we are in one sense “serving the Lord.”
However, in Joshua 24, Joshua seems to be using the idea of “serving the Lord” in a much different way. Joshua contrasts “serving the Lord” with worshipping false gods, or idols. He tells the Israelites to “put away” the false gods of their forefathers and to “serve the Lord” (v. 14). He says that they must choose what God or gods they will serve, either the false gods of the nations or the Lord (v. 15). Then he tells them that he and his family have made their choice, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). Joshua makes it clear that he and his family will worship the Lord and not the false gods of the nations.
So for Joshua, serving the Lord is a matter of worship. In his mind, serving the Lord and worship are not two separate things. They are the same thing. Serving the Lord is to worship the Lord. Worshipping the Lord is to serve the Lord. He is saying that who you serve is who you worship, and who you worship is who you serve.
When we think of worship, we typically think of the songs we sing in church. “Worship” is the thing we do before the sermon. But the biblical idea of worship is more than merely singing songs. Worship in the Bible is about our ultimate allegiance. It’s about who or what owns us. What we worship is our master – it rules over us, tells us who we are, defines us, gives us our identity, charts our course, and tells us what to do. Whatever receives our highest allegiance, or love, is what we worship. Whoever or whatever we are ultimately committed to is our god.
This understanding of worship is why Joshua can equate serving with worshipping. He knows that the people of Israel will serve whoever or whatever claims the allegiance of their hearts. This is why he tells them to “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel” (24:23). Our ultimate allegiances are matters of the heart. What do we love and cherish above all else? What do we rejoice and delight in? What gives us our identity? What do we find ourselves thinking about more than anything else? The answers you give to these questions will show you what you worship.
The trouble is that many of us think we do worship the Lord because we are active in “serving the Lord.” We do religious things like go to church, sing songs, listen to sermons, and help others in various ways. These are all good things. But these things are not the essence of worship. They should be the result of worship. They should be the result of a heart that is in love with God, a heart that wants to know him, delight in him, praise him, understand him, and helps others do the same.
Doing religious things is actually not that hard. But doing them from a heart of worship is a miracle that God must work inside us. Only God’s grace can create genuine worship in our hearts. The people of Israel understood this. In Joshua 24:16-18, the Israelites say that they will not forsake the Lord to worship other gods because the Lord is the one who delivered them from slavery in Egypt and defeated their enemies in the Promised Land. In other words, they tell Joshua that the Lord’s grace toward them is why they will worship him.
Joshua reminds the people that if they fail to worship the Lord, there will be great consequences. Verse 20, “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” The people must know that their lives depend on worshipping the Lord. If they change their minds and worship other gods (which they eventually do), God will turn against them and stop being for them.
Joshua’s challenge to the people of Israel is held out to us today. “Choose this day whom you will serve” (v. 15). Who or what will be your master, have your ultimate allegiance, be the source of your joy, be the consuming love of your life? Will it be your job or career? Your kids or grandkids? Your friends or social life? Your money or possessions? Your image or reputation or achievements? Your religious activity? What will you serve? What will you worship? According to our text, your life depends on what you worship, so choose wisely.
May God’s grace toward us in Christ compel us to worship and serve the Lord only,