Shelby G. Floyd
Joel, the prophet, said, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). Figuratively, this pictures all of us as in a valley. We have a decision to make, and if we make the right decision, we will climb up to the mountains of success and with God’s approval. If we make the wrong decision will go down into the depths of despair and destruction. So in the words of Joel, every man who lives upon the earth will one day find himself in the valley of decision.
God made us with the power of choice, or the power to decide. You take a robot, or a computer, or a machine, and it has no power of choice or decision. Today, a computer is a wonderful machine or instrument, and they can do wonderful things, but it can’t decide to do anything but what has been programmed by someone else to do. Man is not like that. Man is a creature of choice. We are made in the image of God, and at least a part of that image is the power of choice between right and wrong. You and I then are in the valley of decision. And we must make the decision for the right or for the wrong.
Our lesson then is to encourage each one of you to always consider God’s moral standards, his religious standards and make your decisions in accordance with those standards that God has given. If we make the right choice then we will be glad as long as we live and throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. If we make the wrong choice, then we will regret that choice forever and forever.
THE NATURE OF DECISION OF CHARACTER
The first point that I wish to expound upon is this: I would like for you to consider with me the nature of having a decisive spirit. What does it mean when we say that a person is decisive? In the first place, decisiveness of character is not simply being firm or stubborn. You know it is true that all of us or born with different natural talents. You see some people and they are weak and timid; you see other people and they are bold and assert themselves.
So when we talk about being decisive, we do not mean you’re natural nature that you have inherited from your birth. A person can be slow and timid in a lot of ways but still be a decisive character. On the other hand a person can be bold, forthright and decisive, and yet not have the decision of character. Why is that true? Because a person can be firm and decisive and yet be downright stubborn, and we know that is not necessarily being approved of God.
Saul, the first king of the Israelites, was bold and decisive, but he was stubborn. Many times he made decisions they were not good decisions; they were decisions that were against his best interests, and against the interest of God’s people. Therefore, just because a person is decisive doesn’t mean that person has decision of character. He can just be stubborn, and that is not what we are talking about when we say that we ought to be decisive.
Decision of character involves two things, the first being a clear conviction. James, the apostle, says in James 1: 5-8,
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that waivereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that men think that he shall receive anything from the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
You know we need to have clear convictions on all the issues of life, moral issues, spiritual or religious issues. How can anybody be decisive if he doesn’t have any real clear convictions as to what is right or wrong?
Now it is not always possible to have clear convictions on every subject, but we ought to try. There is one thing for sure, you may have clear convictions and yet not be decisive, but you cannot be decisive without having clear convictions. Young people, you are going to be called upon to make decisions, moral decisions, between right and wrong. If you have clear convictions, as to what is right or wrong, it will be easier for you to decide to do the right. Let us take drinking for instance. If you’re strongly convinced that the drinking of alcoholic beverages is against the will of God, and that those who do that cannot be approved of God; and if you have strong convictions that drinking alcoholic beverages is against your body, that it will ruin your health and bring on many things that will cause you sorrow and grief from a physical, emotional and mental standpoint, then when you go out with young people and they say, “Come on and let us go over and drink some beer,” then if you have clear convictions then it will be much easier for you to say, “No, I will not do that because I’m a Christian.”
Let’s take, for instance, the using of vulgar language and curse words. If you have strong convictions that it is against God’s will to curse, swear and use vulgar language, then when your friends, or people that are working with you, use language like that, and they try to influence you and suggest to you to do the same thing, if you have clear convictions that back that up then it will be much easier for you to say, “No, I will not engage in such a state of speech, because I know that God has commanded our speech to always to be seasoned with salt that we may know how to give an answer to every man.” We could go on and mention that in every realm of life.
We have got to have clear convictions. The stronger your convictions are on various things, the easier it will be for you to be decisive in choosing the right over the wrong. But, it is possible for person to have strong convictions on moral and religious issues, and yet not be decisive in their character.
RELY AND ACT ON YOUR CONVICTIONS
Something else that is involved is that you must learn to rely upon your convictions when it comes to the matter of making moral or religious decisions or choices. Have you not seen people who had strong convictions, but they didn’t have any confidence in their conclusions or their convictions: and they were all the time worrying about their convictions not being right, and were all the time asking someone else what they should do? I’ve seen people like that, and you have too, who would come to you and say, “I just don’t know what I ought to do. I think this is right, or I think this is wrong, but I just can’t make up my mind what I ought to do.” You know that kind of thinking is contrary to sound doctrine.
The person of decision of character is a person that says, “Yes, I’ve got strong convictions on what is right or wrong, and I’m willing to rely upon my convictions of what is right and wrong.” Now if our mind is a capable instrument of deciding whether God exists, or whether this book that I hold in my hand is an inspired revelation from God; if my mind can decide whether God exists, and whether this book is from God, then surely I can rely upon my convictions as to what God has said in this book as to what is right or wrong on any issue. So the nature of decision of character, or decisiveness, is simply this: strong convictions, and then being willing to stand up and rely upon your convictions of what is right or wrong.
In the final analysis, my friends, when we make our decisions, it is really our convictions and reliance upon our convictions that decide our choice. President Truman was one of our greatest presidents in my estimation. He had a favorite saying that I believe illustrates our point today. President Truman used to say, “Some people have the power to make choices and some people don’t.” It just happened that he was a man that could make decisions. He was not only a man that could make decisions, but he was willing to rely upon his convictions and his decisions. He used to say, “If you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, you had better get out.” He meant if you make a decision, consequences are going to follow; and if you make a decision and you can’t live with the consequences, then you had better get out of the work or the office that you are involved in. You know that is exactly right.
Some people worry a lot after they make their decisions. You know it is too late to worry then. If you make a choice for something, consequences are going to follow, but there is no use worrying about it after you’ve already made your choice, you’ve got to live with it then. We really need to do our worrying about what is right or wrong before we make our choice, because after we make the choice, it is too late to worry about the consequences then. They will follow as the night follows the day. So our first point is this: what is the nature of decisiveness of character? It involves clear, strong convictions on what is right or wrong, and then it involves a willingness to rely upon our convictions of what is right or wrong.
OLD TESTAMENT EXAMPLES OF DECISIVENESS
Let me give you a few Old Testament examples of people who had decisiveness of character. The first man that I would like to mention is Abraham. In Genesis, chapter 12, we have the story of Abraham. He lived in the Ur of the Chaldees, it was his home place, it was the place of familiar surroundings, it was the place of his family and his friends and it was a prosperous country. But one day God said to Abram,
“Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
Now Abram had to make a choice. On one hand God says,” Do this,” on the other hand he has his friends, family, familiar surroundings, that are all pulling and saying, “Stay here.” God says, “Go,” and he didn’t even tell him where he was going. His natural inclinations would say, “Stay here.” Now Abram had to make a decision, but he had strong convictions that God was always right, and that it was better to obey God that it was to obey man. So, Abraham didn’t halt, he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t deliberate, he didn’t falter, but he made the choice to do what God said. As a result of that choice, his name goes down in the Bible as the hero of the faithful. He is the father of the faithful, the father many nations. Abram made the right choice because he had strong convictions, and he was willing to rely upon his convictions of what was right.
Then I think about Moses. Moses was put in the Nile River, when he was just a little infant in order to escape death of all the male Jewish children. Pharaoh’s daughter came along and found him. She was moved with compassion and pity for the little child. In the providence of God, Moses’ own mother became his tutor and his guardian so to speak. She reared him, and she taught him God’s will, but Moses was also taught in all the learning and the wisdom of the Egyptians according to Acts, chapter 7. But in Hebrews, chapter 11, we have a wonderful statement about Moses that relates to our subject today. There the writer says that,
“By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Moses had to make a choice; he was in the valley of decision: and his decision was either to stand with the poor, downtrodden, persecuted people of God or to stand over in the wealthy courts of one of the greatest monarchs of ancient times. Moses realized that he was related to these people and not to the Egyptians; he realized that God was with these people, and that the Egyptians worshiped idols and all manner of gods that were not gods at all. Moses made the right choice, and as a result he moved up to greatness and became the great lawgiver of Israel, and even a type of Jesus Christ who was to come in the fullness of time.
I could go on and mention many others such as Daniel, when the purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the Kings dainties and the wine that he drank. I could tell you about Esther, when she had to make the choice whether or not to go in before the king on behalf of her people. I could tell you about Ruth, when she made the choice to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and she chose the God of heaven and earth rather than the gods of the Moabites. Time would fail me to tell you about all those people in the Old and New Testament who made the great choices of right over wrong.
PRINCIPLES OF HOW TO MAKE RIGHT CHOICES
I will give you just a few principles as to how we can make the right choices. We are all going to have to make choices every day. We make choices as to where we are going to live. Some of you young people have just graduated from high school, and you will have to make a choice as to whether you go on to college or trade school, whether you will marry, what kind of employment you’re going to seek to earn a living. You have to make choices every day, and so it is not a matter of whether we can or cannot make choices, we must make choices. It is really a matter of whether we will make wise, right and good choices, or whether we will make wrong, evil and disastrous choices. I want to give you just a few suggestions that will help you in making the right choices.
(1) Every choice should be considered in the context of whether it is one that God will approve or disapprove. If we would just think of that simple principle within itself, it would help us always to make the right decisions. If you are to make a decision, you should first ask, “If I decide this way, is it something that God will approve or is it something that God would disapprove?” Within that principle, you can always make the right choice.
(2) When you make your decisions, you ought not to make them rashly or in haste, but only after you have counseled with wise people, after you have gathered all the facts, considered the pros and cons, then you can say, “My convictions are that this is right and this is wrong.” Many a person has made a decision without really thinking the thing through and thinking it out, and they have lived to regret it all the days of their lives. Think about the prodigal son. He came to his father and in a rash moment said, “I want my inheritance.” His father gave it to him, and he went off quickly and spent it on riotous living, and then he ended up in the hog pen of sin. He lived to regret it! And had he taken a little more time to think the thing through, he might have decided to stay home, he might have decided his home was a pretty good place after all, but he did those things rashly. Rash decisions are usually the wrong decisions. We must make decisions sometimes quickly, but not so quickly that we haven’t had the chance to consider all the consequences and the factors that are involved.
(3) We are to make our decisions with our minds and not by the lust of the flesh or the emotions of our nature. You remember David, the great king of Israel, how he went out on the rooftop at the time of the year when kings went to battle, and in his idleness he saw the beautiful woman who was bathing herself? He sent for the woman and committed adultery, and when he was caught in his crime he even lied about the matter and had her husband murdered. The adultery, lying and murder—had David considered what he was doing rationally instead of relying on the drives of the flesh, I’m sure that he would never have committed that sin, and he would never have had that dark blot on his record as it is found in the Bible. As great as he was, the blot on his record is still in the Bible for everybody to read. David made a decision based upon his emotional nature rather than up on his rational nature.
I probably need not to tell you that our reason is to rule our emotions, our bodies and the members of our bodies. We usually sin when we allow our emotions to rule our reason, and of course our reason is to be conformed to the will or the revelation of God’s word.
(4) We are not to make our decisions simply upon following the paths of least resistance. I read a book one time, written by a man who was the founder and president of the Ralston Purina Company. It is a little book that every young person should read. I believe the name of the book was called, I Dare You. He was throwing out challenges that all of us have to face in life, and he was daring people to make the right decisions, and to give themselves for service to God and their fellowman. In that book he made the statement that “following the path of least resistance makes crooked rivers and crooked men.” You show me a person that is namby-pamby, that doesn’t have any backbone, that doesn’t have any decisiveness of character, that is wishy-washy, that will go with the crowd or the pressures and I will show you a person that is crooked. We know that a river becomes crooked because it simply follows the path of least resistance. That is what determines the path of a river.
You find a person that will simply go the way that is the easiest, and I will show you a crooked person morally and spiritually. You know, Pilate the Politician was that kind of a person. He had to make a decision. He was in the valley of decision. On one hand he had examined Christ and found that he was innocent. He had found out that the Jews had delivered Christ up because of envy. He also realized that Christ did not claim to be an earthly king, but only in a spiritual sense, so Pilate was pulled between the two horns of a dilemma. Should he deliver him over to the mob or should he release him? He was pulled between the two. The path of least resistance was to follow the multitudes and the crowds who cried out and said, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
Pilate didn’t live up to his convictions. He had strong convictions, but he wasn’t willing to rely upon them. He gave way to the pressures of the crowds. The crowds said, “Crucify him.” His mind, his reason and his conscience said to release him. He even tried to substitute a prisoner of the year, but they cried out and said, “Release unto us Barabbas instead of Christ.” So Pilate refused to live up to his convictions of right and wrong.
Finally, Pilate gave over to the pressures of the crowd, the path of least resistance, and brought out a bowl of water and tried to wash away his responsibility for his decision. The blood of Christ is still upon his heart and his hands no matter how much he washed his hands of the matter. He made the wrong decision because he gave way to the pressures of the crowd.
Friends, all of us are called upon to make decisions between right and wrong. We are like the Israelites back in the Old Testament. Before Moses died, and before God buried him on the lonely peaks of Mount Nebo, Moses gave his valedictory speech to the whole nation of Israel. In Deuteronomy, chapter 11, he gave Israel a choice that they were going to have to make. Moses said, “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day: and a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.”
What was the choice that Moses was giving the children of Israel? The commandments of God were on one hand, and the commandments of men were on the other hand. The worship of the true God was on the one hand, and the worship of idols was on the other hand. There was a blessing on one hand, and a curse on the other. He said, “You have to decide.” He told them if they obeyed God’s commandments that God would bless them, but if they followed after the gods of the many nations then God would curse them.
Moses was buried and Joshua took up the leadership and led the people across the Jordan River, and on over into the Promised Land that flowed with milk and honey. Joshua fought many a battle on behalf of God’s people, and God drove out the nations that were in that land, the fierce tribes of the Canaanites and Hittites and all those idolatrous people. Finally, when Joshua was an old man of about 110 years old, he gave his farewell speech to the nation of Israel, just as Moses had done years before. His closing words standout in his speech above all other words. Joshua said in a note of eloquence:
“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).
Don’t you like the decisive nature of Joshua’s decision? He wasn’t pulled between whether to serve God or not to serve him. He already decided many years before that he was going to serve the Lord, and he said, “My house has made the same decision.”
Fathers and mothers, your little children are looking to you for the example of decision of character. Is your house going to be following the same decision that you made? Well, what kind of a decision have you made? Have you made a decision like Joshua to serve the Lord? If so, then your house or your family will probably follow in your footsteps. Fathers, how can you expect your children to grow up and to be faithful children of God if you’re not a child God? Mothers, if you’re not setting the example of a Christian mother before your children, how do you expect your daughters to grow up and to love the Lord? Mothers and fathers, if you are Christians you need to cry out like Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” You have to make the choice whether to serve the gods of this world, or whether to serve the God that created the heavens and the earth.
A little later, Elijah had to extend to the people the same choice. In 1 Kings 18:21, when they had the battle at Mount Carmel, the great prophet Elijah said to the people, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” He was simply saying that you have to make a choice. If God is the only God that there is in the universe, then we must serve him, but if Baal was the God of the heavens and the earth then they should make their choice for him. The Israelites were halting between the two opinions and were trying to make a choice for both and that will never work.
Did you know that Jesus Christ, our Lord, said that no man can serve God and mammon, for he will either love one or despise the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other, because man cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24)? Jesus also said in Matthew 7: 13-14, “Enter ye in at the straight gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” It is a choice between the broad way that leads to destruction and the narrow way that leads to life everlasting.
Shakespeare once said in the work, Julius Caesar:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood,
Leads on the fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life,
Is bound in the shallows and in miseries.
On such a sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
We all know that there is a tide in the affairs of men, in other words, there is a time when we have got to make the choice, and unless we make it then, we may never have that opportunity again. May God help us to make the right choices at the right time? *
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon June 20, 1976, at the Garfield Heights Church of Christ, 2842 Shelby Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. There were 440 present on this occasion. I preached at Garfield from 1969-1978. At that time I was 39 years old. Today 40 years later, on September 11, 2016, at the age of 79, I preached the same lesson. I am indebted to Guy N. Woods, Batsell B. Baxter, Mac Deaver and many others for some thoughts expressed in this lesson. Today I changed the title to Deciding My Choices because my four year old great grand-daughter in one of her profound statements to her mother said, “I DIDN’T DECIDE MY CHOICES!”
Garfield Heights Church of Christ