Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
July 6, 2003

Recipe for Success
Joshua 1:1-9

Once we understand what "success" is in the eyes of God, we’re able to begin moving in His direction. Joshua received the ingredients very clearly:

1. God’s command (1:1-2)
2. God’s goal (1:3-4)
3. God’s presence (1:5)

The book of Joshua serves as a bridge in scripture between the law of Moses, the first five books, and all the history that follows. The book of Joshua is about passing the baton. As the kingdom of God marches on, Joshua leads the children of Israel into the Promised Land.

Joshua 1:1-9

"Now it came about after the death of Moses, the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, ‘Moses, My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.

Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.

No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.

Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

Consider success, and think of someone you may know. I have a couple individuals in mind. One of them grew up in the Great Depression, got a job out of necessity at an early age, worked hard, kept his nose clean, went to school, and took advantage of opportunities as they arose. Through honesty, integrity and hard work, he eventually rose to be an extremely wealthy individual with a net worth in the millions. With the wealth, of course, goes prestige, a life of ease -- an individual who would be first to say, "Money doesn’t make you happy, but it sure makes you comfortable." By most points in society, he would be considered successful.

I can think of another individual who grew up during the golden era, when things were a little easier economically. Brilliant, gifted, talented, yet gripped by the spirit of God, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and answered God’s call on his heart to the mission field. Though he came from a family of wealth, he landed in a remote tribal area, living in a jungle hut, having essentially no worldly possessions. He would be utterly out of place at a country club, and yet with all the hard work and the deprivation in which he lives day to day, has been known to say, "Sometimes I think I’m in heaven."

So which is a success? "He wasted his life Threw it away in some far flung place where nobody really cares." I would suggest that if we know Jesus Christ, we begin to rethink our notion of what is success. I’m going to suggest a definition of what the Bible indicates is success, and that is this, I believe from a scriptural standpoint that success is living joyfully in the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God quickly and easily defined as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Success is living joyfully in the kingdom of God. I thought of another contrast in scripture. In Mark 10, a fellow who went down in Biblical history as the rich young ruler confronted Jesus. This fellow came up to Jesus and said, "What must I do to live forever? How do I get to heaven?"

Jesus, of course, could read hearts and said, "You really need to behave yourself," and He listed a bunch of commandments. The young man said, "I’ve done all that." Well, he missed a couple fairly big ones, the one that says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Those he missed, but he felt pretty good about the ones Jesus listed.

This young man was a success, wasn’t he? He had wealth and he was a good, moral guy. To look at him, the disciples at least thought, "This guy is successful. He must be successful in the eyes of God." But Jesus said, "No, it’s going to be real tough for him to get into the kingdom of God." As a matter of fact, he said it would be impossible. He’s not successful in God’s economy at this point.

In Joshua chapter 1, Joshua is standing on the brink of an undertaking of astronomical proportions. He is the one with the job of leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land, and not just getting them across the river. He’s got to get the land divided up among them and somehow he’s got to get them to take possession of it. It’s a huge undertaking, yet God doesn’t hesitate to say, "Joshua, there’s a way to have success." To get God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

In these first nine verses, we have something of a recipe, something of a formula, and a list of ingredients. I’ll share those as we go.

God’s command (1:1-2)

"Now it came about after the death of Moses, the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, ‘Moses, My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel."

We must begin where the book begins, and that is with God, not with people. It is God’s command. Moses is dead. He’s buried someplace in an unmarked grave on Mount Nebo. It’s not about Moses and Moses was the prophet par excellent of all Biblical history. He’s gone. You’re not going into the Promised Land for Moses. You’re not going into the Promised Land for the people either. How deserving are the people of Israel of the Promised Land and possessing it? These are the ones who built the golden calf as soon as they had opportunity, who murmured and complained and rebelled, The ones twenty years and older had already fallen and buried in the wilderness. The people don’t deserve the land.

It’s not about Moses. It’s not about the people. It’s about God. I heard a missionary once give a testimony how excited he was to be called into the interior of darkest Africa, where he was determined to take the good news of Jesus to these savages who lived in perfect heathendom and how excited he was to share with them the light and to see them embrace the faith with joy. He was excited, but as time went by, as years went by, it occurred to him that nobody was interested. Here he was living with the tribe, learning their language, interacting with them, and nobody cared about the gospel.

He said not only did they not care about the gospel; they were in love with their sin. He said they remained, in his words "monsters of iniquity." In frustration he threw himself on the ground before God and said, "Lord, I’m here for these people and they don’t care." And he said as though God spoke directly to his ears, the words came to him, "I did not send you there for them. I sent you there for Me. I paid their way to heaven. My words, My glory are to be declared. You’re there for Me, not for those people. Inasmuch as they respond to the gospel, good for them. But that’s not your fundamental role."

If we begin with a person’s measure of success, whether it’s ours or our parents or anyone else’s, we can quickly get disillusioned. God in His Word defines success according to His standard. Wherever ‘there’ is, we’re there for Him, not for anyone else. We must begin there. God has a command; He expresses His will. His will is this -- "establish My kingdom. Bring these people into this place under My rule." That’s God’s will and I’m delighted that God speaks in terms people can understand. He expresses His will. He’s a person. He doesn’t say in some nebulous sense, "Go sit on a mountaintop and meditate and be a better person." God says, "This is what I want" and He uses words that communicate clearly what His will is. "Establish My kingdom." He bases it on His promise. "I promised this land. It’s mine. I promised to move you people in. OK. Let’s go."

His command is realistic in that He’s honoring a deal that He struck hundreds of years before. The time is right, the people are assembled, and judgment has fallen on those who were disobedient in the wilderness. The fear of God has, as we will see, preceded them and the folks in Jericho are trembling in their boots.

Moses has mentored Joshua for decades. Everything is coming together and God’s plan is now at a point of reaching fruition. His plan is always a realistic one; it’s always one that lines up with the preparations He has made. It’s time. Let’s go.

Now thinking on these lines, God’s plan is always realistic and may I suggest that God’s plan is also always difficult at the same time. We have these hoards of Israelites with bad hearts. They are patently self-centered; they’ve demonstrated that at every opportunity. For a song, it seems, they would return to Egypt. They express no gratitude, they have even, over time, as we shall see later in the book of Joshua, neglected the covenant sign of circumcism identifying themselves as God’s people.

They’re adrift in many ways, morally and spiritually. There’s a difficulty here, Joshua that you’re going to face. It’s going to involve these people. Not only so, but if you’ll notice the Jordan River is at flood stage. God stood the Red Sea up and got them across. Will He stand the Jordan up and get them across as well? The Nephalim and the sons of Anak and all those monsters in the land of giants -- they haven’t gone away, they will have to be dealt with. Dozens of cities with their standing militia armies will have to be taken care of.

It is God’s plan that these people of Israel exercise God’s judgment. Rather than a flood of water, it will now be a flood of people and they will deal with the residents of the land of Canaan. The difficulties are there, the enemies await. But it’s like that with us too. God’s command to us, His will for us is always at the same time realistic and difficult, realistic in that it follows pretty clear channels. God establishes institutions like families, churches, nations, and within those institutions God establishes a way to get things done. He basically has ordained that the church should impact the family and that the family should impact society. That’s how God’s will is played out in a fairly realistic, predictable fashion in accordance with whatever our station is life might be, whatever capabilities He might have given us.

God works through conventional avenues, which He has established, but at the same time difficulty. The world is there, the flesh is there, and by the way, Joshua will deal with his own heart in the course of this success venture. Of course, the devil, the enemy of our souls, is always present, applauding and plotting at our destruction, at our problems.

Remember the old Isaac Watts hymn, "Am I A Soldier of the Cross"? One particular line says, "Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?"

The understood answer is "No." As the old gospel singer, Duane Friend, used to say, "It’s a battlefield, brother, not a recreation room." We prefer the rec room. The difficulties, however, are there, they’re there at every turn and they’ll be there as long as we’re in this fallen world, until He delivers us according to His will -- which He guarantees to do. God’s command -- always begin with Him. Whatever venture we’re standing on the brink of, whether it’s parenting or marriage or employment, or whatever issue we may be facing, always remember to bring it back to who God is and what God wants in light of His kingdom. It’s all about Him, and that’s where it’s going. Heaven is all about God too, and we need to orient our thinking that way. Then we’ll see the success that He brings.

God’s goal leads to success

It is God’s command and secondly, it is God’s goal. In verses 3 and 4, the Bible gets very graphic.

"Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory."

Standing, facing west, looking south, looking north, as far as the Mediterranean Sea to the west, behind to the great river Euphrates. "That’s yours," God said, "I promised it." Now how can God give away such a large chunk of real estate? It’s His! He owns it. Matter of fact, that has a lot to do with the notion of judgment once they get in the land. This is God’s land, His place, He owns it, and it has been defiled. And so God’s people are to go in, and in their possession of it, act as His cleansing agent. And they will move in to do that.

Success is readily measured in terms of goals that are reached. He gives them, geographic boundaries, identifiable, from exactly where they stand. Someone wise has said, "If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else." Another classic is, "If you aim at nothing, you’ll be sure to hit it."

Look at the contrast with what God is doing. The boundaries that He establishes are specific. The Bible says that God is always a God of order. We may not always understand the mysteries as God lays them out, but we do understand Him to be a God of order. We can read the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers and see how God has outlined His will, His moral will, His will for their civil lives, the ceremonial system, all the details that He attaches to the priestly garments, to the tabernacle. All these things as God lays them out are anything but chaotic, always orderly. Orderly is what God is all about.

The people then would know when they had succeeded. Since the goals are clear, the goals are measurable. Folks would know when they’ve arrived, when they finish, when they succeeded. This had been a God’s geographic goal for many years. South to the wilderness, north to Lebanon, which would include Mount Hermon, west to the Mediterranean, and east to the Euphrates River. There’s a little bit of debate there, because the children of Israel in the book of Joshua didn’t occupy it all real well. And never, ever have the Israelites occupied as far as the Euphrates. That would entail the occupation of Jordan, most of Syria, and half of Iraq, or more. It hasn’t happened yet.

There are two ways to look at this. One is this -- under David and Solomon, another 500 years later, the boundaries of the land would be stretched to the limit as far as they would ever go, much further than they are today in Israel. And as far east as the Euphrates, the nations paid tribute to David and Solomon. Many say that’s how you understand that. Sure they go from the wilderness to Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea but the business to the east means they controlled it, they received tribute from it, but never really occupied it. That has some merit.

Another way of look at it would be -- it just hasn’t happened yet. And yet we shall see. One way or the other, God’s boundaries for these folks are clear. His goals for them are clear. I wonder how long it’s been since you and I have thought in terms of God’s goals for us. Ephesians 4:13 is a wonderful goal for you and me if we are Christians, if we have placed all our trust in Jesus only for salvation.

"Until we all attain to the unity of the faith of the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

Isn’t that good? This is about growing in Christ likeness; this is about the Holy Spirit living inside the believer, gradually, surely, over time, changing our character. This tells me that will be His work and God’s goal for me, personally, individually, is not only that I trust Jesus for salvation. That’s called being born again, but you don’t take a brand newborn baby and leave it there. They grow, and God takes responsibility for that for me. What does that mean, specifically?

That can be a general personal goal if you’re a Christian, but I don’t think we should leave it there. In all our lives, all the time, as we get to know God, as we turn to Him, as we pray, and as we do grow in that Ephesians 4:13 way, He convicts our hearts about things more specific, yet related to Ephesians 4:13. Things like: how’s your prayer life? Are we praying as we ought? Are we in God’s Word regularly, meaningfully, daily? If we’re not, I’ll be the first to tell you, we sure should be.

How about in our homes -- as husbands, are we loving? As wives, are we submitting? As children or young people, are we obeying? That’s right out the book because that’s how God’s order is established and that’s how God works success as we submit to these types of things. How about in our social venues? Are we sharing God’s gospel with those who need to hear it? With our family, our friends, our neighbors? How about in our relationships -- to whom ought we apologize, or to whom ought we extend forgiveness? And should we be somehow involved in ministry? Are there opportunities for you and me to serve that we’re just blowing off, because we have tons of stuff to do?

God does have goals for us. As individuals, as a church, make disciples of all the nations. It’s very clear from Matthew 28, God’s command, God’s goals. If we want success we’d better figure out what His goals are.

God’s presence

Verse 5 -- what a great verse. Joshua spent years under the tutelage of Moses, who was considered the friend of God, who spoke to God in a sense face to face. God met him in the tent of meeting, conversing as a man to a friend. Moses was Joshua’s mentor. Don’t you think that throughout all those years Joshua had a tendency to lean on Moses? Moses’ relationship with God, Moses’ spirituality, Moses’ capabilities. Naturally that would be the case, but now Moses is gone. Joshua is only left with God. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Someone has said, "When God is all you have, God is all you need," and Joshua is about to find that out. Verse 5:

"No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life."

In other words, if God be for us, who can be against us? It reminds me of a quote by Justin Martyr, who died for the faith in the second century. His words, regarding the Romans who were going to kill him, were, "They can kill us, but they can’t do us any real harm."

Isn’t that interesting? Perspective, you see. Was that a successful way to go? Not in the world’s eyes, but Justin Martyr didn’t seem to have a real problem with it. "No man shall stand against you all the days of your life. I guarantee your success, Joshua. As I was with Moses, I will be with you. I will not fail you, I will not forsake you." Isn’t that something?

Notice that there don’t seem to be strings attached at this point. This is a relationship which God has initiated, which God has set up, and which God has now sealed. Joshua, stand by. The most precious blessing of all is the presence of God, His being near. We know what happens when God withdraws his presence. In Numbers 13, the spies went out into the land. Ten were bad and two were good. God said, "OK, you don’t want to go in the land, then I will give you a forty year hike." It says in Numbers 14, beginning in verse 39, they went ahead. God said, "I’m not going with you. They went ahead and got whipped good.

If God withdraws His presence, there is no success ultimately. God’s presence is a guarantee for Joshua. He’s a believer. I remember other Bible verses like Matthew 28:20, after giving the disciples the great commission, "Go into the world and make disciples of all the nations and I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Always. All the way to the end! I’m with you. The very meaning of God’s name, the name Yahweh, so frequently translated in our Bibles as LORD in all caps. It isn’t a title, it’s a name and it means I am with you, I have been with you, and I always will be with you.

The name of God itself guarantees His abiding presence. Someone has said, "Don’t be afraid of tomorrow, God is already there." His presence - the most precious commodity. Hebrews 13:5 is also our mail and it is, I believe, a reflection of Joshua 1:5. Hebrews 13:5 contains in the entire Bible the only triple negative in the whole book. That means absolute, superlative emphasis, cannot be improved upon. When the LORD said I will no way, never leave you, nor no way never forsake you. It is the strongest possible way it could have been said. The promise of the living God to His people. "I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here."

I John 5:11

The witness or the record or the testimony is this and these words could not be made clearer. "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." We lock that concept in our minds. Eternal life is in Jesus Christ. He goes on, "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life." The presence of God in you or in me means we live forever. If we do not have the Son, we do not live forever because He is the eternal life we need.

It could not be made clearer, and if we desire success in the eyes or the economy of God, we must start here. We must turn to Jesus Christ and say, "I want your life. I want your presence."

For the most part we could look at it like an uneven swap. We can say, "Lord, why don’t you take my life, which really hasn’t been all that great anyway and give me yours, which is most wonderful and which never ends." That request, made from the heart, is always answered yes.

Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA