Sermon for Sunday, January 1st, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Jos 22:1-9 ESV] 1 At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the LORD your God. 4 And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them. Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. 7 Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half Joshua had given a possession beside their brothers in the land west of the Jordan. And when Joshua sent them away to their homes and blessed them, 8 he said to them, “Go back to your tents with much wealth and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.” 9 So the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home, parting from the people of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, their own land of which they had possessed themselves by command of the LORD through Moses.
New Testament reading:
[1Jo 5:1-5 ESV] 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
[Mat 25:14-30 ESV] 14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The sermon title this morning is “Faith’s Rewards and Responsibilities.”
And those words might produce very opposite feelings within us. When you hear the word “reward” it grabs your attention, and you say “Yes, please.” When you hear the word “responsibility” you might shrink within your turtle shell and say “No thanks.”
Naturally, we love rewards, and often despise responsibilities.
Each though have their place, and even godly responsibilities are for your good.
So we’ll be looking at our text from the Book of Joshua under three headings:
I. The Praise of Faith
II. The Rewards of Faith
III. The Responsibilities of Faith
I. The Praise of Faith
First, in our text, we find the Praise of Faith.
Admittedly, it is somewhat rare in the Scriptures to hear praise of men.
What is more common is chastisement. Consider Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”
Imagine receiving that letter yourself. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who call you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one.”
Paul is not always so displeased with the Christian churches, but his praise naturally falls much more on Jesus Christ than on any man or apostle or church.
It is rare in the Scriptures to hear praise of men, and it is rare in Paul to hear praise of men.
And from God it is more often in the Scriptures that we find chastisement of men rather than praise.
Now in our text, it is Joshua speaking, but he is speaking truthfully and as a prophet of God.
And he gives praise to the two and a half tribes. The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. You will recall that these tribes were allotted land on the East side of the Jordan. But they did not immediately settle there. They helped out the remaining tribes of Israel by continuing on their side in war against the Canaanites. For this they are to be praised. They did not abandon their brethren, but fought with them side-by-side.
So Joshua said to them “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the LORD your God.”
This praise of the two and half tribes certainly includes their following through with military battles. But is also more broad than that in saying they have obeyed all that Joshua commanded AND, even more important, they have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God.
Good job Gadites. And “way to go” Reubenites. And “good work” half tribe of Manasseh.
While it is clear that they are being praised because they “kept the charge of the Lord” we must take a step back. The real cause of them being praised, I submit, is what lies behind their “keeping the charge of the Lord.” And that is none other than FAITH.
Their deeds were the result of faith. And so while the deeds are praised, we must understand that ultimately their faith is praised. They trusted in God through years of warfare that they would one day return to the land that had been given to them.
We find then the PRAISE OF FAITH in our text and connected with that we find THE REWARDS OF FAITH.
II. The Rewards of Faith
The two and half tribes are rewarded for their faith.
Joshua says “turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.”
But he didn’t just leave them with land. Look at how much sends them away with.
Joshua says “Go back to your tents with much wealth and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.”
These are many rewards of their faith.
Let’s then look at an application, more broadly speaking:
Application: What is the reward of Faith?
We usually avoid the idea of “reward” or “merit.” Naturally, we have to be careful here, as I certainly am not preaching “works righteous;” that heresy of Pelagianism. Yet the Bible itself tells us in Hebrew 11:6 that “God REWARDS those who seek him.” And, in the context it is speaking about faith. It is in that chapter that tells us that is “by faith” that Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham pleased God and “received their commendation.”
So what is the reward of faith?
As we’ve seen with the two and half tribes, some are commended by the Lord for their great faith. Even the Centurion in Matthew’s Gospel is commended by Christ himself when he says “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
So one reward of faith is commendation. Praise. Having good things said about you. In this case, having good things said about your faith.
But there is more.
In the beatitudes, Christ says that those believers who are reviled and persecuted their reward is great in heaven. Indeed, this must be considered the largest element of reward — that eternal life with God in heaven. But we must always keep in mind that we are united to Christ NOW. Our reward has already come to be. We don’t just look for a retirement from this world, but revel in God even while we are here.
Most broadly, the reward of faith is KNOWING GOD. And therefore, the reward is GOD himself. He is the reward of our faith. That is why the reward is HERE and NOW as well as FOREVERMORE. And this is the greatest reward there is – knowing the Lord and being united to Christ. As the Scripture’s say “we have the mind of Christ.” Because of God’s revelation we know some of what He knows. We are connected to the Lord in knowledge and in faith.
So we’ve seen Praise of Faith and the Rewards of Faith. Then there is the responsibilities of faith. Or, those responsibilities that come with faith.
III. The Responsibilities of Faith
We see this in the text in that, even hough the two and half tribes are rewarded, they are yet encouraged to stay strong in the Lord. They have won the war, but they are not to be lax in their obedience to God.
Joshua sent them away back to their home on the East of the Jordan and said “5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
This is not to win an award or continuing having the reward (of their land) but to demonstrate their faith; that which already brought them their reward.
We often see in the Bible that Faith is demonstrated by obedience to God. That is what James is speaking of in his epistle – living faith produces good works.
So Christ says in our reading from Matthew’s Gospel, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
One of the greatest things we could hear from God is that statement: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And here the deeds are praised, but only because of the faith that works; the faith that causes you to be faithful and to do the good deeds of God.
So it is that we are saved by faith, but are given the responsibility to live out that faith.
Like the Israelites, WE should be very careful to observe the commandments of God, and to love the LORD our God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all our heart and with all our soul.”
Calvin says that God “released and freed the two and half tribes from their temporary service (fighting along with the other tribes) that he may bind them for ever to the authority of the one true God.”
When we are called to the faith, we are freed from the sin that temporarily bound us, and we now proudly and gladly say that we are slaves of Christ. We are under His authority forevermore. And we desire to live according to His laws.
Let’s indeed break down those categories of which Joshua commanded the two and half tribes:
He says they (and we) are to be careful to:
1. love the LORD your God
2. and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments
3. and to cling to him
4. and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul
I’ve broken this down into these pieces to challenge you, for (it seems to me) many people will find that they are doing one or two of these things, but few people are doing all of them. And we are called to all of them.
First, we are to “love the LORD your God.” This is the first and greatest commandment. Do you love the Lord your God? I certainly hope you do. If not, repent.
We quickly then get to the second point which is “and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments.” We quickly get there because John says: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” And Jesus himself says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That is the way our ESV reads. You WILL keep the commandments. The KJV sounds better “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” But you see that the KJV reading makes it an imperative (DO THIS) rather than an indicative (this WILL happen). Which is correct? It is hard to say. It goes back to a disagreement between copies of the Greek text in which the verb is slightly different; in some texts it is imperative and in some texts it is indicative. I think we can safely say however that the entirety of the Scriptures either statement of itself is true. We are in many places commanded to follow the commandments. That’s what they are, commandments. But in other places there is that indicative; God knows that His people WILL follow Him. How does He know that? Well, He is omniscient. But also God’s people will follow Him (though not perfectly) because of the Holy Spirit working in them.
All this to say, if you love the Lord, obey Him. You cannot do the former and not the latter. That is not love; that is hypocrisy.
But then in Joshua’s statement there is the third point: cling to him. Clearly this is a metaphor. So what does it literally mean? Well, when you take clothes out of the dryer and the dryer sheet clings to your shirt, what does it do? It hangs on and doesn’t let go. To cling to hold fast and to hold close. Incidentally, the Dutch (my people) say it well. In English we say “I love you.” The Dutch is more literal. “Ik hou van jou.” I HOLD YOU! That is what you do with those whom you love. You embrace them. Cling to the Lord.
Now there is a fourth point from Joshua: and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. Here, like “obeying the law” we get back to “doing something.” But this expands that “doing” beyond just the physical, but also to the spiritual and emotional. Serve God with all your heart and all your soul. Put your all into it. Have a good attitude about you when you are serving the Lord. Do not sin in your mind while you work for the Lord with your hands. But have all your being – body, mind, heart, and soul – working together for the glory of God.
This is both our responsibility and our reward, for both can only happen BY FAITH.
Let us then pray for that Faith which works that we may fulfill our responsibilities. And let us thank God for the rewards of Faith which He so lavishes on us who are so ill-deserving. And in all that we do, let us praise the Lord. Amen.