When studying the Bible, there are three words which are extremely important: context, context, and context. It's so easy to yank a verse or passage, kicking and screaming, out of its context and make it say what you want to say. This is why it’s always important to check the context in any sermon or Bible study lesson, and it’s also important to read your entire Bible over a long period of time. This is so you’ll be more inoculated against some of the nonsense which passes for biblical hermeneutics out there.
I’ve seen bumper stickers and wall plaques which are based on today’s passage. Basically they go like this: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” It certainly is a great thought and noble commitment, and I applaud the idea behind it. The problem is that it leaves out a lot of the intervening passage, and by excluding those words the reader will miss out on a very profound insight, and he’ll misunderstand the point that Joshua is trying to make.
The plaque on the wall makes it sound like Joshua was inviting his listeners to choose whom they will serve, whether to serve the Lord or serve idols, and I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to convey. Read the whole passage again, with all the words. Here’s Keith’s paraphrase: “I’m calling on you to follow the Lord, throw away your idols, and obey his Law. But IF following the Lord is something you don’t want to do, then pick your god. You can pick the gods that your forefathers served in Abraham’s time, or you can pick a god that’s worshiped by the Canaanites. But as for me and my house, we’re serving the Lord.”
This kind of changes the meaning from the wall plaque, doesn’t it? What this is teaching us is that IF the Lord isn’t our God, then it doesn’t really matter all that much what is. It might be an obvious vice like drugs or alcohol abuse or misuse of sex. It might also be a false god like Buddha or Nature or Allah (as the Muslims worship him), or it might just be being a nice person who tries not to hurt anybody. It might even be a false view of Jesus, like the one worshiped by the L.D.S. church. Let me reiterate and emphasize this: If the God you worship is not the God of the Bible, then it really doesn’t matter what or whom you worship. In the long run, no idol is any better than any other idol.
To me this means that I need to make sure that the Jesus I worship is the Jesus of the Bible, not one whom I made up. It also means that I need to share the Good News about Christ with “bad” sinners as well as “nice” sinners who pay their taxes and who love their family. In fact, the drug-addicted prostitute or murderous felon might be even more open to the Good News than religious people. It certainly was the case while Jesus was walking around.
Lord Jesus, there is no room both for you and for any idols in my heart. Please do some house-cleaning. Please.