“Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left” Joshua 1:7b

By Steven Chan

1. Every one of us has a choice as to how we want to live our lives. However, we need to be aware where our choice will end for us all. 

2. In Matt 7:13-14, Jesus exhorted: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

3. The majority is not always right.  Jesus said that “many” will choose the “wide” and broad” way.  He warned that it will end in “destruction”.

4.Although the way we have chosen may be “difficult” it should not discourage us. 

5. Jesus faced lots of “difficult” situations when He was on earth. 

a. Herod sought to kill him. In that effort, Herod “put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under” (Matt 2:16). His own siblings doubted His claim of being the Messiah (John 7:5). Some of the religious leaders and Bible scholars of His days, namely the Pharisees, alleged that He healed the blind and dumb by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons (Matt 12:24). They tried to put him in tight spots with regards what He would do in various situations such as the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), paying taxes to the Roman Govt (Matt 22:17-21). Another group of religious leaders and Bible scholars, the Sadducees, contrived the account of a woman who had been married to seven brothers to try to show that it was not logical to believe that there would be a resurrection of the dead (Matt 22:23-33). They finally had Him crucified because He claimed to be the Son of God (Matt 26:63-66) notwithstanding the many miracles that He had performed, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). 

b. Yet Jesus assured us that He is the Way: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me… “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:1, 6).His resurrection from the dead buttressed our faith in Him. 

6. During the first century, the teachings of the New Testament was referred to as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22), “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17),  and “the way of the Lord and of God” (Acts 18:25-26).

a. It was a difficult way for Paul too (2 Cor 11:23-28). But he succeeded in staying the course.

When his time of departure from this world was near, Paul declared thus: “the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, Ihave kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)

b. Paul faced “difficulties” trying to keep the “once for all delivered faith” (Jude 3) but he remained steadfast in “fighting the good fight of faith”. 

The “good fight of faith” required him to teach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), “not withholding anything that is profitable” to the believers” (Acts 20:20), “preaching the kingdom” (Acts 20:25), of “repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21), warning and admonishing the elders of the church of the threat of those who would teach perverse things (Acts 20:28-31), and he commended them to God and to the Word of His Grace which is able to give them the inheritance reserved in heaven (Acts 20:32; 1 Pet 1:4)

c. Paul did not build big church buildings as monuments of his great work. Paul did not set up global charitable foundations to eradicate poverty although he did remind them to work with their own hands and provide for their own necessities while at the same time, to remember to help the poor (Acts 20:34-35). He helped to collect funds from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to help the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25-26). 

d. Paul kept preaching the Word (2 Tim 4:2). He did not veer into secondary matters. The apostles in Acts 6:3-4 kept their focus on “prayer and the ministry of the word”. Paul said that the elders who deserved double honourwere those “who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim 5:17).

7. We need to remember always that our objective is to live in such a way that we do the will of God (Matt 7:21-27; 1 Cor 15:58) and to gain entrance into heaven by His grace and mercy (Eph 2:8-9). 

We will do well to take heed of what God said to Joshua before he led the children of Israel into the promised land: “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:7-8)

8. There is always the ever present danger of veering to the left or to the right of the Way of God as outlined in His Word. 

The “right” in the political world usually refers to those who are conservative, traditionalist and legalistic – but God’s Word warned that veering away from God’s Word towards the “right” is not right! Making requirements where God has not made such requirements would not be right as one would be condemning the guiltless (Matt 12:7).

Neither is it acceptable to God to veer away from God’s Word towards the “left”, usually describing those who are “liberal” in loosening the requirements of God’s Word i.e. liberal in accepting any and all teachers regardless of whether they uphold and teach the truth. Doing away with God’s requirements is also unacceptable to God: although “knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”  (Rom 1:32).  It is good to be “liberal” in contributing towards helping brethren in need (2 Cor 9:13). It is not acceptable to “approve” what God has not approved. 

9. Therein lies the challenge: how does one ensure that one does not veer to the left nor to the right? How does one speak the same thing and be of the same mind and of the same judgement (1 Cor 1:10) so as to be “one” as prayed for by Christ (John 17:21)?

Some have suggested the achieving of oneness by all agreeing to “preach the man (Jesus Christ) and not the plan/doctrine because the latter divides us”.  Others have suggested that all agree to preach only on the “core” aspects of the doctrine of Christ; unfortunately they do not all agree with what constitutes the “core” of the doctrine – some make the “core” very narrow; others make it wider. Some say, just agree to be united on the “ones” in Eph 4:4-5: “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all”.  Still others say; “Let’s just be united with the 5 steps of salvation and 5 acts of worship and perhaps one or two other things.” Did God leave it to us to choose whatever we think constitutes “things that we must agree on” without regard to all that He has revealed (Matt 23:23)?

10. The answer to the question of how we may ensure that one does not veer to the left or to the right is stated in 1 Pet 4:11: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.” One should not presume to speak where God has not spoken; neither should one fail to speak where God has spoken (Deut 29:29; Acts 20:27). One should not add nor subtract from God’s Word (Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18-19). 

The only way one can ascertain whether the teacher or speaker is teaching the truth of the Word of God is to do what the Christians in Berea did in Acts 17:11: “they searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” The Christians at Thessalonica were told by Paul to “test/prove all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21). This was what the prophet Isaiah said as well: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa 8:20)  John wrote thus: “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”(1 John 4:6). In other words, if one goes onward, ie. goes beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6) (or veer to the left or to the right) and does not abide in the teaching/doctrine of Christ (John 8:31-32; 15:7), then one does not have God or His Son (2 John 9-11).

It is important to note that the test is not how “learned”, “popular”, “loving”, “kind”, etc … although it is important to be “learned” in the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15; Acts 18:24), loving (John 13:34-35) and have the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). If one claims to love God then he must demonstrate that by keeping His commandments or teachings (John 14:15; 1 John 5:4).

As always, the test of whether one is teaching the truth (and not having veered away from God’s Word) is to examine the teaching in the light of the Word of God. It behooves us all to know the Scriptures such that we are able to discern good and evil (Heb 5:11-14).

Sounds difficult? Jesus said that “difficult” is the way that leads to life. But also remember what God said in Jer32:27: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” Jesus said: “with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26). Paul said: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13). Let us therefore be steadfast in doing the will of God (1 Cor 15:58) and be careful not to veer to the left or to the right. Joshua was told by God to meditate on His Law day and night so that he may do all that is written in it (Joshua 1:7-8). We cannot do any less than that. Let us stay on the course set by God so that we can safely reach the shores of heaven. If we take the liberty to veer off the course set by God then we put ourselves at risk of missing the shores of heaven.