Therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served, and serve the Lord.
Romans 16:19 (NIV)
I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
Many years ago, while in college, I was struggling with my faith. When I talked with my pastor about that he suggested that I pray for something specific. Great idea! I prayed for a letter from my girlfriend. Diane was living and studying in Germany for a semester, and we were carrying on a long-distance relationship. I went home to find a letter from her in the mail box. I was doubly happy about that: hearing from the young woman who would one day be my wife, and experiencing God’s answer to my prayer. He even knew about that before I asked!
Most often our faith is bolstered by seeing or experiencing God’s deliverance. But there are other times when we are moved closer to God; and especially more toward following him and serving him. That happens when we are in the battle, and part of the advancement of God’s reign in the world. That, in particular, is the context from which Joshua is writing. His call to fear and serve the Lord is a follow-up to his reminder of how God had cleared out the Promised Land for his people: something in which they had played a significant role.
If we are to experience God’s deliverance fully, we will be in the battle. The front line soldier has a greater perspective on the joy of victory than the people back home. Both may benefit, but the soldier knows the spoils of victory. Paul expresses it this way: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 4).
I am happy to say, also, that in sharing my faith, I have discovered an even greater sense of God’s faithfulness. Perhaps that is due in part to having a less selfish purpose in sharing my faith than in having a prayer answered. Once we’ve been part of the realization of God’s kingdom in this world, we are emboldened to serve and fear him more fully. We need not know about evil, but truly wise about the good that God would bring to those who fear and serve him.