Summary: Short exposition of Joshua 24:14-28 about covenanting together to follow the Lord. This is the first of several sermons on the church covenant.
Text: Joshua 24:14-28, Title: We Promise, Date/Place: NRBC, 6/15/08, PM
Opening illustration: Quote from Hammet, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, p. 109-110, “To enter church membership is to enter into a covenant with the other members and the pastors. It is a commitment to being meaningfully involved in the lives of other members to do them good spiritually…The second most important thing we unite around is the lifestyle demanded by the message we claim to believe. For this reason, it is healthy to ask people to commit to the principles and priorities of a church covenant. This way, everyone knows what it means to be a member, what is expected of them when they join, and when they are falling short of fulfilling their covenant obligations as members.”
A. Background to passage: Joshua has just led the people on the Conquest of the Land. The inheritance being distributed, Joshua knows that he is about to die, and he gives a farewell speech that begins in ch. 23. The words of the speech in chapter 24 begin to take on the form of a covenant renewal ceremony. Tonight I am going to begin talking about our church covenant. And there are numerous places in the bible that have these covenant renewal ceremonies, Nehemiah 8-10 being the best, we are going to begin here. The people under Joshua’s leadership bond themselves together under a set of standards for belief and practice. Historically (at least since the reformation, which is before Baptists) Baptist churches have established themselves with a covenant of belief and practice that is expected of members. And most of these churches required agreement with this covenant in some form for membership. The primary reason was grounded in an ecclesiological foundation that only believers could be members—regenerate church membership. Talk about my commitment to recover meaningful church membership.
B. Main thought: so tonight in addition to our study on Joshua 24, we will look at the first paragraph in the New River Baptist Church covenant.
1. This line in the sand calls for four things in our text. These are the covenant responsibilities for Israel and for us. 1) It calls us to FEAR God. To fear is to have an attitude of awe and reverence that is appropriately due to the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of the universe from the created, redeemed, dependent being. 2) It calls us to SERVE God. This is not a terrible labor, but a joyous liberation to fulfilling our created purpose. It means to exert our energy into the causes of Christ and the advancement of His kingdom. 3) It calls us to INCLINE OUR HEARTS to God. This word means to bend or bow toward something. The heart includes the emotions, will, and mind. 4) Finally, it calls us to OBEY God. This means that God’s instructions are the only instructions.
2. This is the most perplexing statement in the book. It is not to be taken without its context. The primary reason that Joshua says this is that he is making it clear how serious a commitment this really was. This is a point blank warning against superficial faith, nominal religion, and unthoughtout commitment. Joshua bases his warning on the nature of God as holy and jealous. Joshua gives very descriptive words that describe this covenant as exclusive, permanent, binding, and immediate. In v. 14, he uses “sincerity.” It means completely faithful, loyal, devoted, and even blameless (perfect). He told them to throw away the other gods. The idea of covenant is permanent. Two words for sin used—accidental and willful rebellion.
3. Joshua calls on the people to accept responsibility for their choices. He calls on them to act, and act now! This would require each individual within each household to choose to follow God. Joshua led the people in this with a spectacular example. He had led his family in a manner that every person wanted to follow God. Within the community there is accountability. They would make sure that everyone lived out their commitment. That is why witnesses are called. He calls them to go back to their tents right now, and get the idols and burn them, trash them.
4. Application: Therefore, covenanting together as God’s people with a standard of belief and practice is biblical, historical, and helpful in our desire to exalt Christ. This was the position taken by our Baptist forefathers, and the biblical authors, as well as the founders of New River Baptist Church. The covenant has fallen out of use, and we should repent, and make adjustments to our procedure and practice and policy and polity if necessary to bring it back into the heart of our church.
B. Regenerate Church Membership
1. Our covenant states clearly that all those who are becoming members of the church have been as far as they know and believe led by the Spirit of God to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. And they also have professed that faith and been baptized by immersion. The reason behind it again this that we believe in regenerate church membership. Explain. Membership in the local church is the church’s affirmation of one’s profession of faith. And the church continues to affirm its members’ faith, assuming that those members produce fruit worthy of repentance.