How long are ye slack?

"How long are ye slack?" is a question raised by Joshua (Joshua 18:3; ASV, KJV). Though Joshua asked the question, it is in fact a rebuke from God.

Here is the setting: The initial conquest of Canaan took "a long time" (Joshua 11:18; about 6 years). But it was successful: "So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had said to Moses; and Joshua gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Then the land rested from war" (v. 23). Much had been accomplished. By the time of Joshua 18, five of the twelve tribes had received their respective inheritances. Israel had erected the tabernacle at Shiloh (v. 1). Now they were enjoying rest and comfort; they were "satisfied" with what had been accomplished. But they were not asking, "What's next in God's plan?" The other seven tribes needed to receive their inheritance. Beyond that, they needed to completely eradicate the Canaanites from the land, so that none would remain to allure Israel with their gods. Israel failed to see that God's plan involved so much more than just the initial conquest.

Hence the question, "How long are ye slack?" "How long will you neglect to go and possess the land? (NKJV). "How long will you delay?" (CSB). "How long will you put off going out?" (ESB). "How long will you wait?" (NIV).

The Old Testament was written for our learning (Romans 15:4). Our text lends itself to some very important lessons. When one becomes a Christian, there has been an "initial conquest" by the gospel of Christ that is wonderful! One has passed from death into life. He is a new creature in Christ. He is no longer a servant of sin, but a servant of righteousness. But Jesus does not want us to stop there. He has begun a work in us but wants to complete it (Philippians 1:6). He does not want merely to forgive us; He wants to transform us. It is right to rejoice in one's salvation at the point of initial obedience to the gospel, but the true disciple of Christ keeps asking, "What's next? How do I get to the next level? How can I have a closer walk with God?" We don't want the Lord to ask, "How long are ye slack?"

Growth in Knowledge of God's Word. How diligently should we apply ourselves to "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding"? (Colossians 1:9). "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (3:16). It's very possible to reach a degree of familiarity with Scripture, to make an "initial conquest" of sorts, and then be satisfied. Do we really search this Book with half the interest we should? How persistently we should apply ourselves with an insatiable hunger to know God's revelation to us! For so many, so much time has been wasted already. How long are ye slack?

In Prayer. There are various ways in which God's people can be slack in prayer. Obviously, it is possible to simply neglect this priceless privilege as we tend to more "urgent" matters. It is also possible to pray without focus and thought. We can be like the commuter on his way to work and home each day who passes by beautiful scenery without "seeing" it; we can pray using scriptural expressions and hardly be aware of what we are saying. There are things we can do so that we are growing in our prayer life. For example, note John Gibson's article in this issue, and the suggestions he makes regarding the use of Scripture readings to help us pray. The true disciple continues to ask, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).

How long are ye slack?

Crucifixion of Former Self. The gospel of Christ requires radical changes. "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). We're not talking about Band- Aids here. Words such as put to death, mortify (KJV), crucify, are intentionally shocking and refer to drastic measures. Paul had earlier said that at baptism, our "old man" (former self) was crucified with Him (6:6). What is raised from the watery grave of baptism is the new man who "should walk in newness of life" (v. 4). Further:

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:5-11).

These and similar texts do not teach that the moment one is baptized into Christ that all bad habits, thought patterns, speech and deeds are instantly and forever changed into conformity to God's will. But the heart must be changed. With God's help, every thought must be brought into captivity unto Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). In every way we must be transformed (Romans 12:2), and conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is an ongoing process. This is what it means to "learn Christ" (Ephesians 4:20):

...if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:21-24).

How long are ye slack?

Pressing Toward the Goal of our Upward Call. Notice the "balance" in these texts mentioned above. Under consideration is not merely the eradication of that which is sinful, but being filled with Christ; with "… whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report…" (Philippians 4:8). Paul said of himself:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

There can be no doubt that Paul made a "good start" when he was converted; this was certainly true of the Philippians as well. But the question is, what now? God's people must be defined by "reaching forward" and "pressing toward the goal."

Conclusion. Israel's self-satisfaction with the initial conquest, and delay in follow-through did not make their task easier; it made it more difficult. If you are a Christian, postponement and suspension of God's plan for "disciples indeed" (John 8:31) will not make progress and development easier. Truly, there's danger and death in delay. How much irreplaceable time has been lost already? How long are ye slack?

By Leon Mauldin

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