One of the more interesting studies in the Bible is to look at the context that surrounds commands. If you observe closely, there is a pretty clear pattern that emerges.
The pattern that emerges is that most commands are rooted in a promise or action taken by God. The reason that this pattern is important is for the sake of obedience to these commands. Many times, we look at the commands as this long list of to-do’s. We often have the pattern backwards. If we obey the commands, then we receive the blessing of God’s promises, or God’s love, or God’s acceptance. When, in reality, our obedience flows from God’s love, acceptance, and promises in Christ.
The Pattern Explained
For example, in 2 Corinthians 8 Paul roots the command to give generously in the fact that Christ made Himself poor so that we might be made rich. We can give generously because God has given generously.
Paul roots the selfless manner in which Christians ought to relate in Christ’s selflessness in Philippians 2. We can love selflessly because Christ has loved selflessly.
Paul roots how love should flow in a marriage in how Christ has loved His church. We can love sacrificially because Christ has loved sacrificially.
This pattern is even true in the Old Testament. The famous 10 commandments begin by God explaining to His people what it is that He had already done.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”
This wasn’t simply a one-time act of good will. God was honoring the covenant that He had with His people, established through Abraham. God is saying to the people of Israel, I love you and care for you, just as I have promised. Out of that knowledge, and with that as the context, he proceeds to the 10 commandments. We can obey faithfully because God has been faithful to His covenant.
Or how about the great commission? Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus says “go and make disciples.” But, this command to make disciples is sandwiched in between Jesus saying “hey, I have authority over everything” and “I am going to be with you guys every step of the way.” All of the sudden, the task of disciple-making isn’t as scary.
The Pattern in Joshua
I noticed the pattern again this morning in Joshua 1.
In verses 6-8 God tells Joshua three different times to “be strong and courageous.”
However, before He ever gets to “be strong and courageous” he begins with promises.
Joshua 1:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”
Joshua 1:3 “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”
Joshua 1:5 “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.I will not leave you or forsake you.”
It is immediately after verse 5 that God says “Joshua, be strong and courageous!” Seeing the context, it changes the command entirely. Joshua isn’t walking into this unknown abyss with only his army and his strength to protect Him. Joshua can be strong and courageous because his strength and courage are rooted in God’s victory and God’s presence.
God has promised that the land is already theirs. Even still, God promises that He will be with Joshua at every point. Joshua can confidently be strong and courageous because it isn’t His strength and courage that He’s trusting in. It is God’s promise and presence that He’s trusting in.
Look for the pattern. It is a liberating understanding of God’s commands. We can obey freely out of God’s acceptance, love, and promises, not to earn God’s acceptance, love, and promises.