Monday, August 14, 2006

Let's Talk about Commitment to God

Text: Numbers 13:26-32; 14:5-9; 14:20-24; Joshua 14:6-13; 15:13-19

Commitment to God is commitment to a Person. A person who is totally committed to God have a perspective of events from God’s viewpoint, is secure in his/her confidence in God’s promise, has a different spirit in following God and God alone, has a grounded faith in God’s providence and is very generous with God’s gifts given to them.

Dogs are known as man’s best friend. I assume they are also woman’s best friend too. I love dogs. My favourite breed is Alsatian or German Shepherd followed by Rottweiller. I had an Alsatian called Dickie. He was a big gentle dog. He used to look after my daughter’s smaller dogs. All my dogs have different personalities. My present Alsatian is named Schartzsky. He is intellectually challenged, that is, he is a stupid dog. One of the benefits of owning a dog is that they are totally devoted to you. To them, you are the centre of the universe. They love to be in your presence and are totally committed to you.

In Edinburgh, there is a famous story of Greyfriars Bobby. John Gray joined the Edinburgh Police Force. To keep him company John had a dog, a Skye Terrier, called Bobby. John died of tuberculosis in1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby soon touched the hearts of the local residents when he refused to leave his master's grave, even in the worst weather conditions. For fourteen years the dead man's faithful dog kept constant watch and guard over the grave until his own death in 1872. Bobby became Scotland's most famous and faithful dog. Bobby's headstone reads "Greyfriars Bobby - died 14th January 1872 - aged 16 years - Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all".

In the Old Testament, Caleb, son of Jephunneh was one of those whom Moses sent to search the land in the second year after the Exodus. He was one of the family chiefs of the tribe of Judah. He and Joshua the son of Nun were the only two of the whole number who encouraged the people to go up and possess the land, and they alone were spared when a plague broke out in which the other ten spies perished. All the people that had been numbered, from twenty years old and upward, perished in the wilderness except these two. Caleb means a dog.

Caleb is totally committed to God. We shall do a short character study of Caleb to discover what are some of the characteristics of a man who is totally committed to God. We shall see what lessons we can learn from him.

Characteristics #1: A Perspective from God’s viewpoint.

Numbers 13:26-33
NU 13:26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan."

NU 13:30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."

NU 13:31 But the men who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."

Where others see obstacles, Caleb sees fulfillment of God’s promises

What the other 10 spies saw:
1.People are powerful
2.Cities are large and fortified
4.Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites
5.The land devours people
v. 33b We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."

This is the perspective of the other 10 spies, they saw the obstacles and they saw themselves as grasshoppers. What is more, they think the people living in the land saw them as grasshoppers. No only did they think themselves weak, they thought other people think them weak. They have already lost the war before it started. In their mind they have already lost. That is why they were so keen to convince their people that the land is not worth having. Losing a war in ancient times means being killed and their wives and children being sold into slavery.

What Caleb saw:
1.God’s promise of the land
2.Land flowing with milk and honey
3.Fruitful land

NU 13:30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."

Caleb must have been fully aware of the obstacles since he spent 40 days spying the land. He must have seen what the others seen. However he also saw how good a land it is and that it is possible to conquer the land. That is because he is not looking to themselves- a weak, untrained nation of former slaves. He is looking at someone else. Someone who is bigger that all these obstacles. Caleb’s perspective came from looking at God. God has promised them the land. So it is up to God to deliver the land. How he does it is none of Caleb’s concern. That’s a God given perspective on events.

Characteristics #2: Secure Confidence in God’s Promises

Numbers 14:5-9
NU 14:5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them."

What Caleb believes:
1.God promises to give them a land that is exceedingly good
2.God will lead them into land
3.God is with them, the enemy’s protection is gone
4.God is with them, do not be afraid

Caleb commitment to God means that he believed God’s promises. God had promised them the land. God does not break his promises. So the land was already theirs, even thought at that moment it was occupied by the Anakites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Canaanites, the Amalekites and the Amorites. God is stronger than their gods. They are no longer protected by their gods. So why should they be afraid to go in?

Characteristics #3: A Different Spirit in following God alone and God alone

Numbers 14:20-24

NU 14:20 The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22 not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times-- 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it

Spirit in the Greek ruwach { roo’-akh} which means moral seat or seat of mental acts.
Basically it meant what Caleb has chosen for himself; which was to commit himself to God irrespective of what the other people were doing.

Caleb’s spirit:
1.Is committed to God and God alone
2.Not to the promised land
3.Not to the general consensus of the people

Caleb had chosen to commit to a person. Hence though he valued the Promised Land, he knew that it was not important. What was important is his relationship with his God. Have you even imagined how much courage it takes to stand against the general consensus of your community? Here you have three persons versus the rest of Israel. Everyone was saying, “It is too difficult”; “The land is not worth the sacrifice” and “I wish we never left Egypt”. Caleb must have his self doubts too. However, he was committed to God and he knew that what God have promised he will deliver. Nothing is impossible for God.

Characteristics #4: Grounded Faith in God’s Providence

Joshua 14:6-15

JOS 14:6 Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, "You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, 8 but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. 9 So on that day Moses swore to me, `The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.'

JOS 14:10 "Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said."

JOS 14:13 Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. 14 So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. 15 (Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites.) Then the land had rest from war.

Caleb’s faith:
1.Strengthened by his lived experience
2.At 85 years old, believes he will receive the land God has promised him
3.Wants to be tested further by choosing the most difficult territory to conquer

Caleb’s faith was not in his own strength but in God’s strength. He knew that there is no way an 85 years old man can fight to claim what God had given him. And what is more interesting is that he did not choose the fertile valley near the Jordon. He chose the hill country which it is difficult to fight. He also chose a territory where the warriors were fierce and big. Caleb was not getting senile in his old age. I believe that his faith has been strengthened by his 40 years of wandering in the desert with his people. He knew the limitation of his own strength but he also knew the strength of his God.

Characteristics #5: Very Generous with God’s gifts

Joshua 15:13-19

JOS 15:13 In accordance with the LORD's command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah--Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) 14 From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites--Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai--descendants of Anak. 15 From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). 16 And Caleb said, "I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher." 17 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.

JOS 15:18 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, "What can I do for you?"

JOS 15:19 She replied, "Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water." So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

Caleb’s response to God’s gift
1.Did not hang on to it as his own
2.Willing to share God’s gift
3.Generous to give away water rights

One of the tests we can use to see if we are committed to God or his gift is to see whether we are generous with God has given us. If it is easy to give away what he has given us, then we are committed to the giver and not the gift. If we find it difficult to give up what we have, then we are committed to the gift, not the giver.

In the desert, one of the most precious possessions is water rights. Whatever controls the water is right. Without water, no one can survive in the desert. Hence it was wonderful to note that Caleb gave his daughter, Acsah the upper and lower springs. It was a very generous gift.

Lessons for us

The characteristics of a person committed to God are:
1. A Perspective from God’s viewpoint
2. Secure Confidence in God’s promise
3. Different Spirit in following God and God alone
4. Grounded Faith in God’s providence
5. Very Generous with God’s gifts

It is important to emphasis that we are committed to a Person, not
· God’s promises
· Promised land
· God’s gifts
· Our mission
· Our community consensus

Our commitment to God comes before our commitment to the other items listed above. Otherwise we will fail and fail badly. The Israelite was focused and committed to God’s promise; the Promised Land, rather than to God. That’s why, when obstacles occurs, they crumbles. When you are committed to a Person, then things are different. This is especially if you know who that Person is.

Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach and A Hidden Wholeness, spoke at the Michael Keenan Memorial Lecture in Berea College in Kentucky in 1993. His topic was “The Violence of Our Knowledge: Towards a Spirituality of Higher Education”. In his lecture, Palmer said there are 4 features of truth in learning:

1. Truth is personal
“In contrast to modern objectivism, the wisdom traditions say truth is personal, not propositional. The modem academy is very hung up on the notion that truth is to be found in our propositions about things. But the spiritual traditions drive our understanding of knowing to a deeper level where it is said, "Truth is personal and, yes, we need propositions to share our person hood with each other, but unless it is incarnate, unless it is embodied, unless we are attempting to 'walk the talk' or 'talk the walk', it cannot be truth."”

2. Truth is communal
“It means that our movement toward truth is a corporate movement in which we must wrestle with each other, we must have conflict with each other, we must reach consensus with each other - and then we must break that consensus because some new observation has been made or some more powerful interpretation has been offered. Truth emerges between us and among us and through us as we wrestle together with the great and small questions of life.”

3. Truth is reciprocal
“There is something powerful about the spiritual understanding that we are not only seeking truth, but truth is seeking us…At the heart of all great knowing is a sense that the "object" of knowledge isn't an object at all. It has some kind of personal quality to it that speaks to the knower, that reaches for the knower; great knowing is always involved in that mutuality, that reciprocal dance between the knower and the knowing.”

4. Truth is transformational

“I will be changed by truth, and there is no way to evade that. It will be a daily struggle with what I know, to live my life more fully and more deeply. Knowing, teaching and learning will transform me if my knowing, teaching and learning are guided by the images and norms that I have just been trying to articulate.”

Again our commitment is to a Person who is truth. It is not to an object or a program.

Another person, I would like to introduce is John Piper, author of Desiring God and preaching pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. You can download his sermons or join his mailing list where the last Sunday’s sermon will be emailed to you on Wednesday. You can also download and listen to his sermon on mp3. His website is I have been learning from Piper for many years because his teaching is Biblical and insightful. I studied his sermons every week.

He has just returned to his church from an 8 months sabbatical in UK which he spent in Tyndale house studying the doctrine of the justification by faith. Last week, he preached on “This Man went down to His House Justified” Luke 18:9-14. Using the observation of the Pharisee and the sinner, he brought across an important point. We should focus on God as the sinner did rather than the Pharisee who focused on what God has given him: his righteousness which is moral, religious and a gift of God. The Pharisee knew that his righteousness is from God. We often think of the Pharisees as legalist. This Pharisee was not. He knew his righteousness was from God. Yet, he was not the one who went home justified. He failed because he focussed on God’s gift rather than God. The sinner focussed on God and went home justified. Similarly, we must commit ourselves to God and not to his gifts.

In summary, commitment to God is commitment to a Person. A person who is totally committed to God have a perspective of events from God’s viewpoint, is secure in his/her confidence in God’s promise, has a different spirit in following God and God alone, has a grounded faith in God’s providence and is very generous with God’s gifts given to them.

Soli Deo Gloria

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