Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Flourishing in Later Seasons of Life

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: There are times when we have to deal with issues in the community of faith. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all work together all the time and just deal with the real enemy out there?

But there are times when issues arise within the people of God, within our churches. Life in the body can be messy. We can’t avoid those issues. We can’t just write each other off.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, November 6, 2014.

Yesterday, Nancy told us about a tricky conflict Joshua had to deal with. She shared a lot of practical insight about how to be a peacemaker. If you missed that program, you can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com. Today, she picks back up in the series "Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 12): Leaving a Legacy."

Nancy: Well, I kind of left you hanging in the last session, and everybody is wanting to know, “What happened to the conflict? How did they resolve it?” In case you weren’t with us for that last session, let me just reset here a little bit.

We have the two-and-a-half eastern tribes that had been fighting with their brothers against the Canaanites in the Promised Land for seven years. Now they’re going back to their homes on the eastern side of the Jordan, where their families and children have been waiting for them.

Before they leave, Joshua gives them a charge. He says, “Don’t forget the Lord.”

So they head back to their homes. They get to the Jordan, but before they cross over, they build an altar.

Nobody knows what this is really for or what this is about, but the nine-and-a-half tribes that were left behind hear about the altar, and on the basis of hearsay, they decide that the eastern tribes are now apostate—that they have forsaken the Lord, they are following after other gods, they have disobeyed the Lord.

So they take up arms, and they decide to go to war against the eastern tribes. That’s where we left the situation.

We said it’s important in a conflict—whether it’s in a marriage or with your children, whether you’re helping to walk somebody else through a conflict or you’re in one yourself—it’s important not to take sides, not to jump to conclusions or make assumptions based on hearsay. You need to go and get the facts.

So, starting in verse 10, we have the situation, the conflict that developed. Then, in verses 13 and following of Joshua chapter 22, we have the confrontation and the investigation.

Before going to war, thankfully, the nine-and-a-half tribes on the west sent representatives to talk to the eastern tribes. They sent leaders from each of the tribes west of the Jordan to check out the situation.

This group, this delegation that was sent to deal with the situation, was led by Phinehas, who was then the priest. Phinehas was the son of Eleazar, who had been the priest for many years. Eleazar was Joshua’s peer, his contemporary, and now Eleazar’s son Phinehas is the priest.

There’s no mention in this whole section of Joshua or Eleazar being involved in dealing with this conflict. You say, “So what?” Well, it says to me that it’s time for the next generation to take the lead.

Why didn’t Joshua go deal with it? Everybody respected him. I mean, he could have just gone and probably in a few words said, “Okay, let’s figure this out, get this right.”

But Joshua didn’t go. He sent others. It’s part of passing the baton, realizing that now the younger generation needs to learn to deal with its issues.

So we come to Joshua 22:15–16.

And they [this delegation] came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, "Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord [we are representing the whole congregation], 'What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord?’”

Now, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. It’s a lot they’re saying here.

First of all, they are noticing some obvious facts: It is a fact that an altar had been built, but that’s all they knew at the moment. They did not know the hearts of the people who had built the altar.

They made accusations. They said, “Why are you doing this in rebellion against the Lord? You’ve committed this breach of faith. You’ve turned away from following the Lord.” They jumped to a lot of conclusions here, which was not a good thing.

The thing that was good is that they asked questions. “What’s going on here, and why have you done it?” which then provided an opportunity for the situation to be explained.

As they were continuing to confront the situation, to confront the eastern tribes, they gave some reminders of past examples when God’s judgment had resulted from an individual’s sin. Look at verse 17:

Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord?

This is going back to a situation in Numbers chapter 25, if you want to cross-reference it there. They said, “We’re still reaping the consequences of what happened from our disobedience that day.”

He says, Haven’t we had enough of that (v. 18),

That you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel.

They’re saying, “God takes this stuff seriously. We’ve learned that the hard way in the past. We don’t want the whole nation to be wiped out.” This is why they felt compelled to go do something, to confront the situation.

Now, in verse 19, they make an appeal, which I think is a generous one, and it shows that they really do want to resolve it. They want reconciliation.

But now, if the land of your possession is unclean [if you’ve got a problem with the land on the east], pass back over into the Lord’s land [on the west here] where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us (v. 19).

They’re saying, “If there’s something wrong with what you’ve got over there, or you don’t feel like you can walk with the Lord over there, then come back and join us here, and we will make room for you. We’ve already divvied up the land, but we’ll take smaller territories and let you have a territory with us on the west. We just want to make sure that we don’t sin against God.”

Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God (v. 19).

Verse 20, another example out of history here:

Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.

They realized, “If you’ve sinned, if this is in rebellion that you’ve done this, if you have forsaken the Lord, then we’re all going to reap the consequences, so we need to deal with this.”

The western tribes were attempting to avert God’s judgment and God’s wrath. They were attempting to preserve the purity of God’s people. That’s a good thing. That’s an important thing, and they were wise to do that.

There are those today who would say that in the body of Christ, unity matters more than purity. “We just need to be one. If there are these issues that we don’t agree on, just let them go. We need to be one. Unity is the thing that matters.”

I want to say that you cannot have true unity in the body of Christ if you do not have purity. Both are crucial, but you cannot have one without the other. You can’t pursue one at the expense of the other.

So the western tribes demonstrate that they are zealous for God; they’re zealous for truth. “This is no small matter. If it’s a matter of rebellion and forsaking the Lord, we’re all going to be affected by this. We can’t just let them go and not deal with this. We cannot be tolerant of rebellion against God. The sin of one—one person, one family, one tribe, one part of the nation—affects all of us.”

In that sense, they were doing what Ephesians 4:3 says: “[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

They’re saying, “We don’t want you to be spiritually split off from us. We are one community of faith, one nation under God, and we want to continue to be that. We want to preserve that unity.”

Now, to the Israelites’ credit, the western tribes went directly to their brothers and faced the situation. They didn’t just talk about it. They didn’t just cut them off and say, “Good riddance. Let them go over to the east and have it their way.” They said, “We’re going to deal with this. We’re going to talk to them about it.”

That reminds me of New Testament passages which tell us that we have a responsibility for one another in the body of Christ. We can’t just let things go.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted (Gal. 6:1).

So when you see somebody who is in a pattern of sin, you don’t go talk to other people about it. You go to the person. And you don’t go to blow their head off. You don’t go to blow them out of the water. You go to say, “What can we do to help you be restored?”

Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 18:15.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

How often do we have divorce, either literally within a marriage or figuratively within other relationships—church splits, breaks within the body of Christ—over hearsay, over things we’ve not really bothered to get the facts about, and we’ve not gone to the individual or the people involved to try to reconcile, to get them restored?

Maybe they are doing something wrong. Maybe they are in rebellion. Then we need to go to them. We need to appeal. We need to plead with them to be reconciled with God, to obey God, to repent of their sin.

Maybe it just appears that they did something wrong, but we didn’t have all the facts. We’ve jumped to conclusions. We’ve decided we know all that’s going on. We’ve already written them off in our mind. We didn’t go to them and find out about the situation. So go to them.

Now, that doesn't mean that if they are wrong that they will always repent. Jesus goes on in Matthew 18 to say, "What if they won't listen to you? What if they won't respond?"

There's a progression. We call it today, church discipline. It's a process by which other parties are brought into the situation. At each juncture, at each point in the process, that attempt is to get the sinning party to repent and to be restored. The goal isn't to write them off. The goal is they would be restored and reconciled.

So we have this confrontation and the investigation. They go directly to their brothers, and they face the situation. Then, beginning in Joshua 22:21, we have the explanation of the tribes on the other side:

Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, "The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord!" (vv. 21–22).

I think they said that twice to emphasize, “We have not forsaken the Lord. We still belong to Him. You just gave us this whole speech, but let us tell you what's on our hearts, to explain. They start out by saying, "We still love and serve and fear the Lord. We still belong to Him. It’s not what you think.”

“He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord” (vv. 22–23).

They’re saying, “If we did this out of a heart’s desire to break off from Israel or to be in rebellion against God, then we deserve whatever consequences are coming our way.”

“Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance” (v. 23).

What are they saying? “God knows. God knows our hearts, and we want to have a chance to tell you what’s in our hearts.”

Proverbs 21:2 tells us, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” They said, “The Lord knows what the motive is, what the reason is. Just give us a chance to explain what is in our hearts.

“No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children [on the west] might say to our children [on the east], ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord .’ So your children [on the west] might make our children [on the east] cease to worship the Lord” (vv. 24–25). 

They’re saying, “Your kids may come along some day—they don’t know Joshua, they don’t know us, they don’t know you, they didn’t have all the history here—and they may say, ‘You’re not a part of us.’”

“Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering [that was to be done at the tabernacle], nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord”’” (vv. 26–27). 

They’re saying, “We want this monument, this memorial. It’s not for sacrifices. It’s not for us to worship there. It’s just a visible picture that our children and your children can point to in times to come and say, ‘We are one people. This was built by the eastern tribes. They are a part of us. They built it here on the west.’”

“We thought, if this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, ‘Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.’ Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!” (vv. 28–29).

They’re saying, “It wasn’t our motive at all to have any kind of wrong worship or religion, to forsake the Lord or to follow after idols. That wasn’t our intent at all. This is just supposed to be a marker, a memorial, an evidence that we belong to you.” Their motive was to preserve the unity of God’s people.

Now, as it turned out, the way they chose to do that actually caused division and dissension. So that’s why I think there was probably wrong on both sides. On the western side they were jumping to conclusions before they knew all the facts, spawned based on hearsay, and taking up arms. But I think on the east, it would have been better (I don't know, I wasn't there) had they agreed together before they made this altar as to what the purpose was and why they were doing it. 

So the conversation, the two parties talking to each other, is what allowed them to come finally to resolution—and that’s the point. This conflict could have been a civil war. It could have wiped out the eastern tribes. It could have been a huge division among the people of God, but it was able to be resolved because they sat down and talked about it. They explained their hearts.

So, having had the confrontation, the investigation, and the explanation, now, beginning in verse 30, we have the resolution.

When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, "Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord" (vv. 30–31). 

That’s a far different tune than what he was saying a few verses earlier, isn’t it? When they got there, they were ready for war. They spilled out their whole spiel before they gave a chance for the eastern tribes to explain. They came and said, "You committed this breech against the Lord." Now that they hear the explanation, they say, “We realize that you have not committed a breach of faith against the Lord.”

“Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord." Then Phinehas . . . [and those who were with him] returned from [this confab, returned from this summit] to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them (vv. 31–32).

That was important because the whole nation was up in arms, and they needed to hear the facts in this situation. “Here’s what we discovered”

And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, "For," they said, "it is a witness between us that the Lord is God" (vv. 33–34). 

I want to tell you, ultimately, that’s what resolves conflicts—looking to the lordship of Christ, saying, “Lord, what’s Your mind in this?” and being willing then to talk with each other, to listen to each other, to assume positively about each other until we know the facts; not to go based on hearsay, not to be quick to make accusations, not to answer a matter before we hear it, but to listen carefully, to ascertain the facts, and then to resolve the conflict.

Keep in mind that this whole issue took place after these men had been working together for seven years dealing with the battles against the Canaanites. There are times when we have to deal with issues in the community of faith.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all work together all the time and just deal with the real enemy out there? But there are times when issues arise within the people of God, within our churches.

Life in the body can be messy. There are issues that arise, but we can’t avoid those issues. We can’t just write each other off.

It grieves my heart to see, even in this city, how many churches are splits off of splits off of splits. Now, sometimes those splits may be for the preservation of true doctrine, and there were issues where they could not walk together in one accord.

But I’ll tell you, I’ve heard enough of these stories over the years to know that most times, those church divorces (as is true of most marriage divorces) are the result of two selfish parties that are unwilling to listen to each other, unwilling to talk to each other, unwilling to help each other move toward reconciliation and resolution.

That shouldn’t be. Christians become the laughingstock of the world when we can’t keep our marriages together, when we can’t keep our churches together.

There are some issues over which we have to part fellowship—when it relates to the gospel, when it relates to the fundamentals of God’s Word and the fundamentals of the faith. We sometimes will have to part ways.

But there are so many secondary issues, and so many times it’s personalities or pride. In fact, Proverbs 13:10 (KJV) says, “Only by pride comes contention.” Where there is contention—in a marriage, in a friendship, in a workplace, in a church—you know there is pride involved.

So there are contentions. There are issues that arise within the body. We can’t avoid them.

Listen, if this had been a rival altar, if the eastern tribes were forsaking the Lord, the western tribes were prepared to deal with it. They said, “We cannot just let this go.”

We have to care for purity in the body of Christ, in the whole body of Christ. We are brothers. We are family. We are sisters.

Even though separated by geography sometimes, we need concern for purity within the whole body of Christ. So in this situation, war was averted through the process of dealing with the issue.

Going through the peacemaking process doesn’t mean we don’t hold one another accountable for our behavior. We do need to hold each other accountable.

We need to be held accountable if we do things that are contrary to God’s Word. But we’ve got to be humble enough to be willing to get together and hear each other’s hearts and listen to each other’s stories and make sure we really have the facts right.

We need to be committed to pursuing and seeking reconciliation and resolution, but never at the expense of truth and purity.

Is there an issue that needs to be dealt with in some relationship that you’re a part of? A friendship? Maybe an ex-friendship? A marriage or an ex-marriage? Son or daughter? Is there conflict between you and that person? A boss? A pastor? A church? Maybe there’s a conflict within your church.

I think all of us can say we’re at least familiar with or close to one or more conflicts. If it’s not us personally, then we’ve got family members who are going through it.

As you think about those conflicts:

  • First of all, don’t push it under the carpet. Don’t just say, “This will go away.” It won’t just go away. It needs to be dealt with.
  • Secondly, don’t go to war prematurely. Don’t go to war until you have to. Go to one of the ones involved. Get the facts. Hear their heart, and pursue reconciliation.

Let me just say that on Revive Our Hearts, we virtually never on the air promote other specific websites or ministries. There are a lot of good ones you can go to, but I do want to promote one here. That’s a ministry called Peacemaker Ministries.

They have many wonderful resources—resources to help churches, resources to help marriages that are in conflict. They have materials to teach your children how to resolve conflicts. That's an important thing to teach children, so when they are older, they will know how to resolve conflicts.

The church I go to took all its adult Sunday school classes through some of these materials. There wasn't any conflict of a major or public nature going on, but they said, "We want our people to be biblically knowledgeable about how to deal with conflicts when they do arise, because they do arise." So they said, "We want to be preventative, rather than try and pick up the pieces after people are mad at each other and storming off in anger." If you want to know more about Peacemaker Ministries, go to their website, and you can find some great resources there.

I encourage you, whether you’re in a conflict or not at the moment, to take advantage of some of those resources and let God use you as a peacemaker, being eager and making every effort “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been inviting you to true, meaningful peace. Nancy has given us a realistic picture—whenever people get together, there will be conflict. She's been giving us practical ways of dealing with conflict in a healthy way. That program is part of the series, "Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 12): Leaving a Legacy."

You’re able to hear this kind of in-depth teaching for women because listeners support Revive Our Hearts financially. They believe that hearing from God’s Word and learning how to live the truth out in real life is worth investing in. Do you believe that? Would you consider what you could give to help make this ministry possible?

When you donate any amount here in November, we’ll say thanks by sending you Nancy’s brand new Christmas CD, Come Adore. Nancy recorded these Christmas songs on the piano along with some world-class instrumentalists. The result is a collection that will point you to Jesus this season and keep your heart at peace.

When you donate at ReviveOurHearts.com, you can check the box to indicate you’d like your copy of this CD, or ask for Come Adore when you call with your gift. The number is 1–800–569–5959. We’re able to provide one per household here in November.

A lot of complaining, moaning, and groaning would go away if people realized things aren’t supposed to be easy, calm, and collected. It’s a fallen world, but there is incredible hope, and we’ll hear about it next week. Please join us again for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unles otherwise noted.

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