Serve the Lord with Gladness!
Lord God, we humbly come before You this day confessing that all too often our lives are filled with selfish desires. Forgive us, O Lord, and lead us to live lives of dedicated service to others, for in so doing we are in reality serving You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The Psalmist urges us to "serve the Lord with gladness!" We are, after all, "His people and the sheep of His pasture." He is good and His mercy and truth are everlasting.
St. Paul urges us to present ourselves to God as "living sacrifices." This we can do under the Spirit’s guidance when we use our gifts in ways that will prove beneficial to others. In so doing, we are "serving the Lord!"
Greatness in God’s Kingdom is tied to service. Jesus came into this world to serve us by redeeming our souls from sin. May we then be moved to serve others out of love for Jesus!
Now, therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of 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!
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. Therefore be followers of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
In Christ Jesus, Who came to serve rather than to be served in order to redeem us from our sins and so to save us from eternal death, dear fellow redeemed:
Jesus tells us in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:5, “When we were dead in trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” On the basis of these and other Bible passages, Josiah Conder wrote in one of our hymns, "Lord, ‘tis not that I did choose Thee; That, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou has from the sin that stained me washed and cleansed and set me free and unto this end ordained me, that I ever live to Thee" (The Lutheran Hymnal, #37:1).
If it is true, and it is, that we are by nature dead in sins and cannot come to Jesus unless God the Father draws us; and if it is true, and it is, that we cannot choose to believe in Christ--to make a decision for Christ as many Reformed Christians would have us believe--but that the Holy Spirit must bring us to faith through His power, why is it that Joshua urged the people of his day to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”? The answer is found in this that Joshua was not speaking to the unconverted, but rather to the believers of his day. Joshua was not asking God’s people to come to faith, but rather to exercise the faith God had already given them so that they might remain faithful to Him in the midst of all of the spiritual dangers of the day. My dear friends, Joshua’s words as well as those of St. Paul, which make up the second portion of our text, are just as important for us today as they were for God’s people then. Consequently, let us review them using as our theme the Psalmist’s encouragement—SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS!
First of all, on the basis of the words of Joshua, let me warn you beware lest you choose to serve the gods of the people around you! This was truly a great concern for Joshua as his career came to an end. The Promised Land had been conquered. He had divided it among God’s people, and they were now dispersing to assume control of their lands. They were, however, still surrounded by people who worshipped many false gods. Some of the people would be living in relative isolation. They might easily be influenced by their unbelieving neighbors. Joshua knew that in order to remain faithful, God’s people would have to be making daily choices between good and evil, between the one, true God and the false gods of this world. It would take great effort, but Joshua wanted the people to think about it and make the conscious effort that was needed to remain faithful to the only God who addressed man’s greatest need—eternal salvation, and who solved man’s greatest problem—sin! The other gods were out there. A choice had to be made. Which would it be?
It may appear on the surface that we are not facing the same problems and choices Joshua and the believers of his generation were. After all, there aren’t images of false gods on the streets or in the wooded parks of Mankato. Yet, the danger to fall away from the one, true God and to worship false gods is just as real today as it was in Joshua’s day. It is becoming more and more common to see traditional Muslim dress around town. The Muslim god, Allah, is not the true god. The Jehovah Witnesses, who deny the deity of Christ, and the Mormons, who deny the Trinity, are very active with missionaries going door to door and television advertisements that can easily deceive unsuspecting Christians. It takes time and effort, it takes decisions on a daily basis to be into the Word of God to learn the truth and so to distinguish between that truth and the errors being promoted in our society.
There are, however, other gods out there that have very subtly replaced the true God in the hearts of the people around us. Dr. Francis Schaeffer identified two in the film series we considered in our Wednesday night Bible Study early this past summer when he spoke of "personal peace" and "affluence" being the primary goals of our present culture. "Personal peace" is the strong desire to have things my way, to be able to do what I want and to be sure that above all I satisfy my needs and wants. Such attitudes permeate our society, for we live in a culture, which stresses happiness as the greatest good. Christians can easily fall into the trap of worshipping the god of personal peace. Oh, they would never admit it, but it is a reality in the heart which says, "I will go along with what the Bible says until it says something I don’t want to hear." For instance, when the Bible says, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6), those who are facing troubles in their marriages and who worship the god of personal peace say, "Surely, God would not want me to live in unhappiness. This command of God does not apply to me. I will, therefore, divorce my wife or husband and secure my future happiness." Dear friends, let us not presume that we know better than God. When we take over the steering wheel of our lives in pursuit of personal peace—our own wants and desires—you may rest assured there will be an accident and we will be hurt! Rather let us trust in God and assume that He does know best and will be there to assist us as we choose of a daily basis to follow Him!
What can be said of the god "affluence"? It is all around us. America is experiencing prosperity in our generation in ways unheard of in previous generations. Things have become more assessable and people have been lead to believe that they must have all of the things they desire to be happy and fulfilled in their lives. Going to the mall has been America’s favorite pastime. Credit card debt has sky-rocketed. Things, my dear friends, however whether they are big or small make pretty poor gods! "Diamonds are a girl’s best friend," the saying goes, but they do not answer your prayers. You may enjoy the scent of leather, but you cannot depend on a BMW to take you to heaven! It takes concentrated effort not to be caught up in the materialism of our age. It takes men and women who with Joshua will stand firm in the presence of society and say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” So, beware lest you choose to serve the gods of the people around you. Rather, SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS!
Secondly, I would encourage you to choose to serve the LORD by walking in love as Christ loved you! Dear friends, we make many choices each and every day, which reflect either attitudes of loving service to God, or attitudes of selfish service to ourselves. Joshua urges us to “fear the LORD,” and to “serve Him in sincerity and truth.” St. Paul urges us, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Notice, please, that while these two writers are urging us to do something for God, it is in the context of what God has done and still does for us. The name “LORD” signifies the God who has loved us in Christ Jesus—the God, who having seen the dreadful effects of sin and knowing full well that as a just God every sin had to be punished, decided to send His Son into the world to redeem the world. Paul places before our eyes the fact, that were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we could not be God’s children or inherit the blessings of God’s planned redemption. The Holy Spirit has entered our hearts and removed our unbelief. He has sealed us, making us His very own and dwells within our hearts until that great day of redemption when we will stand in His presence. How can we now grieve Him by sinfully serving ourselves? Joshua and St. Paul combine to say, "Choose to serve the LORD!" Do it, not because if you don’t you will go to hell, because if you do, you will merit God’s love and acceptance. No, serve the LORD, because He has loved and forgiven you. He watches over and seeks to bless you!
How might we choose to do that? St. Paul gets very specific and lays out for us choices for us that we will want to make each and every day. He says, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” The first choices we are to make involve getting rid of sin—turning away from it, with God’s help putting it out of our lives. Put away those bitter feelings you have for another person. Stop being angry with them. Stop saying nasty things to them and about them. How can we do that? It may seem so hard, for after all we may have been angry for a long time. But St. Paul says put it away and it can be done with the help of God and if we under the Spirit’s guidance choose to do it. Yes, it can be done! The Bible gives us the key when it says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) and when it tell us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Can God give us a “clean heart”? Of course He can, when we ask Him to. Will God really “work in (us) both to will and to do for His good pleasure”? Of course He will, when we want Him to. But it takes choosing. You and I need to sit down and realize that when we choose to be bitter, when we choose to be angry with someone, we are not choosing to serve the LORD, but to serve our old sinful flesh. Yes, when I don’t control my bitterness and anger, I am bowing down to my sinful flesh and acknowledging that it rather than God has control of my heart! Put it away, dear friends! Serve the LORD who has loved you and cherishes you!
St. Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” What is to move us to do so? “Just as God in Christ forgave you!” The power to choose to serve the LORD with gladness comes from the powerful love and mercy of God, which is to fill our hearts by faith and overflow into our lives so that we choose day by day to be “followers of God as dear children.” Yes, God would have us choose to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
Dear friends, are you having problems with someone right now—problems involving lack of forgiveness, bitterness and anger. Let me tell you what to do. You go home and find a picture of that person, yourself, and the Lord Jesus. Tape them to your mirror. If you can’t find picture, write the three names in large print and tape that to your mirror. For the next three days every time you see those three pictures, you pray that God would give you a clean heart, that He would enable you to put away all bitterness to that person, that He would remind you of the love that Jesus has had for both of you and the future He desires for both of you, and that He would bless that person and your relationship with that person. Then you call that person and tell them what you have been doing. You forgive them the hurts that they have caused you and you ask them to forgive you the hurts you have caused them. Make those choices, dear friends! Choose to serve the LORD by walking in love as Christ loved you! Yes, SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting