—Joshua 24:14-15 (NASB)
The last 12 words of verse 15 is one of the best known and oft-quoted Scriptures. As with many well-known passages, seeing it within the context of the whole of Scripture around it makes one realize that its true meaning may be quite different from what has essentially become a “slogan” over time by its being repeated alone as an isolated saying. In the recent past a now-famous organization used this phrase over and over again to affirm family values, to reinforce fervent affirmation of the family unit. While I wouldn’t argue the legitimacy of such values in and of themselves, I might take issue as to whether that is the correct context of this Scripture.
The context is choosing whom to serve: False gods or the One True God. It’s a choice of following the beliefs and practices and service (i.e., “worship”) of non-believers not just simply living around us but from whom we might be physically descended or related. It’s an acknowledgment that in this life we all have the freedom of choice as to whom we will follow and the doctrines to which we’ll not just cling but pass down to the next generation. “Service” does not describe a set of beliefs or doctrines but rather behaviors and actions—a lifestyle, if you will. This is not “voting” for who you like best, but choosing how to live.
If we and our house were to declare and actually live that “we will serve the Lord“, it would mean that we would have to identify all the “gods” of this world—false teaching, consumerism, pride, lust, etc.—and actively “put away” all these things. It would mean “extreme” choices regarding our television and movie viewing habits, our associations with organizations, and even our personal relationships. They would all have to measure up to the definition of service provided in the opening line of these verses: “Serve Him in sincerity and truth”.
How infrequently we measure the individual activities and commitments of this life—much less the sum of the whole—against the Truth. Those that do are faced with the REAL challenge of leading and serving with their family.†††