I’ve often heard the last part of this passage quoted. In fact, I have artwork in my home claiming this statement. This morning, however, something else stands out to me: the KJV use of the word “evil.” Why would anyone associate serving God with EVIL?
The answer lies in this truth: whatever we choose to serve dictates our perspective. And we all serve something. Serving cannot be separated from worship because worship influences our hearts, which, in turn, determines our behaviors. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Therefore, when Joshua called Israel to choose who or what they would serve, his comment meant they were to decide who they were going to worship.
In this verse Joshua points out that Israel has a choice because worship is an act of will. Israel’s options included 1.) their forefathers’ beliefs, which were religions linked to their history; 2.) the gods of the nations who occupied the Promise Land, which were the prevailing mindsets of their present society; or 3.) the invisible God who had led them out of Egypt and who offered them a future. “Not choosing” was not an option, and it never will be because the heart’s tendency is to follow after something; such is the nature of our will. Humanity will always look to the past, to the present, or to the eternal for something to worship.
If Israel didn’t choose the Lord and, instead, chose to abide by past religions or present culture, they would perceive God as evil. Serving Him would feel the same. This is true today. If we choose to place our faith outside of the Lord, our perspective of Him is darkened by what we ARE giving our hearts to. We see Him in a bad light. Cloaked in darkness. Evil. Responsible for all that is negative in the world. Harsh. Powerless. And we want no part of Him.
Attempting to worship just because our family “has always done things this way,” removes relationship and settles for religion. If we are serving religion, which promotes self-generated works of righteousness, then we see God as a demanding task master. Making our decisions congruent with social trends says we are serving the mindsets of culture, which also encourages self to rule. As a result, principles like loving our enemy, forgiving those who wrong us, considering others’ wellbeing instead of exercising personal, spiritual liberty, or giving instead of gaining seem foolish, unjust, and cruel. In either case God is cast in shadow, where wickedness lurks, eyes glow red, and vapor swirls in serpentine wisps.
Whatever we serve is the recipient of our goodwill. Since self-focus generally replaces God-focus when we aren’t choosing to serve Him, anything that adds to our comfort, our causes, our wealth, or our personal elevation seems good. We like it when all the positive vibes point to us. Even if it’s doing for others so we can feel validated or attending church so we ease our consciences. In fact, 1 Corinthians 13 shows that we can do all manner of fantastic deeds without having the love indicative of God-worship. Proverbs 21:2 says, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord pondereth the heart.” When we aren’t devoted to God, we don’t really see that our faith is placed in something else—Us. We fail to realize that we are servants to our will, slaves to our legalistic rules or our insatiable appetite for more.
Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” Matthew 6:24. So, we have to decide who or what we are going to worship. Like Joshua told Israel, today is a day to make that choice. Who will you serve? I choose to reject the evil of what seems good to me. I choose to serve the Lord.
Tip/Tidbit: Like a raft on the ocean, indecision and apathy cause us to drift, and drifting never brings us closer to God. Today, use your powerful gift of choice to set a course for the eternal destination you hope to have.