Dependence on God and Our Responsibility
Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks. (Ecclesiastes 10:18)
Sometimes, God reduces us to a conscious, utter dependence upon Him. A loved one is desperately ill, beyond the expertise and skill of medical service. Unemployment has persisted to the point the cupboard is bare and no job prospects are in sight. At such times we readily recognize our dependence and cry out to God for His intervention. But we are just as dependent on God when the physician diagnoses a routine illness and prescribes a successful medical. We are just as dependent when the paycheck comes regularly and all our material needs are met.
At the same time we are responsible. The Bible never allows us to use our utter dependence on God as an excuse for indolence. “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.”(Proverbs 20:4) We are absolutely dependent upon God, but at the same time, we are responsible to diligently use whatever means are appropriate for the occasion.
Our duty is found in the revealed will of God in the Scriptures. Our trust must be in the sovereign will of God, as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives for our good and His glory.
There is no conflict between trusting God and accepting our responsibility. The Puritan preacher Thomas Lye said that trust uses “ such means as God prescribes for the bringing about his appointed end….Gods means are to be used, as well as God’s blessings to be expected.”
Alexander Carson made a similar observation: “Let us learn…. that as God has promised to protect us and provide for us, it is through the means of his appointment, vigilance, prudence, and industry, that we are to look for these blessings.
The story of the Israelites occupying Canaan illustrates well the idea of trusting in God and at the same time being responsible to work. As the Israelites face the Jordan with no way to cross over, God instructs Joshua to have the priest bear the Ark of Covenant on their shoulders and to walk into the river. There they are to stand until all the people are safely crossed over. The Ark was made of acacia wood and covered with gold with the mercy seat and the cherubim of beaten gold hovering over. It was a heavy load to bear, yet the priest could not rest until the task was done. As they walked down into the Jordan, the waters parted and the people walked over. Keep in mind the there are some two million people so imagine how long the priest bore that weight. Do you see the relationship between our responsibility and the sovereign act of God? The priest carried the Ark and God parted the waters and the people crossed over carrying their possessions.
As soon as they cross over, they are confronted with another obstacle in their path to receive the promise. By the way, it is always so in our journey toward the promises of God. We will always discover that something somewhere will rise up to deter us from walking in and receiving the promises of God. The city of Jericho is now before them and it is the gatekeeper to Canaan. To receive the promise, the Israelites must deal with Jericho which was a strong walled city. They have no means to breach its walls but God commands them to march around the walls. This they do once a day for six days. They are to do so silently and cannot respond to the inhabitants of Jericho who taunt them from the walls. Again, whenever you are pursuing the promises of God know that Satan will push your doubts and enhance your weaknesses. On the seventh day they march around the walls seven times and on the seventh time they blow their trumpets and shout praises unto God and the walls fall down flat. Archeologists have discovered the walls didn’t fall in or out but collapsed straight down as though something pressed them down. So once again we see how the people were responsible to follow the instructions of God by marching and God completed the work by His power. In the instructions Joshua tells the people they are to take nothing in the city. It is the be as an offering to God. We read that one individual ignored those instructions. Achan took a change of clothes, a bar of gold and silver coins.
“But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully and violated their obligation in regard to the things [off limits] under the ban [those things belonging to the Lord ], for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban [for personal gain]. Therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites. So Joshua got up early in the morning and had Israel come forward by tribes, and the tribe of Judah was chosen [by lot]. He had the families of Judah come forward, and the family of the Zerahites was chosen; and he had the family of the Zerahites come forward man by man, and Zabdi was chosen. He brought his household forward man by man; and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen. Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him [in recognition of His righteous judgments]; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” So Achan answered Joshua and said, “In truth, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and this is what I have done: when I saw among the spoils [in Jericho] a beautiful robe from Shinar (southern Babylon) and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I wanted them and took them. Behold, they are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
The failure of Achan to be responsible to follow instructions led to the defeat at Ai. The Israelites were defeated at this small city and 36 men were killed. Thirty six women became widows and thirty six sets of children became orphans because one individual was irresponsible. When Joshua goes before God to question the failure, God tells Him that because of the irresponsible act of Achan He did not go into battle with them. Only after the repentance of the Israelites and the judgement of Achan were they able to conquer Ai.
What we must learn personally and congregationally is that we have the responsibility of doing our part in cooperation with God. We dare not trust only in our abilities or knowledge or strength. Neither must we sit idly by and expect God to do it all. Over the last few years I’ve seen strategies to grow the church that are built on the fallacy that if we create a program it will attract people. Or if we modernize our facilities or change our music or a host of other things that completely miss the plan of God which is personal evangelism. For those who don’t know what personal evangelism is: it is simply everybody telling somebody about the goodness of God and His love and mercy(the Gospel) and that everybody needs a Savior. That’s our responsibility. We give the message and God brings salvation. As we approach the end of 2020 with all its challenges and prepare for 2021 let us commit to doing all that we can to touch our world with the gospel and when we have done all to trust God for all the rest. Victory may not come easy or quickly, but it will come to those who pursue it. As you read through the book of Joshua you will find this phrase “little by little.” May this be our theme for 2021. Little by little we will reach the unbelievers with the Gospel and little by little we will see God in the process of transforming lives. We work and He works and the purposes of God come to fruition.
Dr. John Thompson