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First Things First

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Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church of Center Point, Alabama

April 15, 2007 (Message by Dr. James Merritt)

          What’s first in your life?  Today I want to talk to you concerning the priorites of life.  So let me ask you again, what’s first in your life?

          Our Lord Jesus gave an incredible challenge and then backed it up with an awesome promise to the people of His day.  You’ll find both the challenge and the promise in the 33rd verse of Matthew’s 6th chapter. 

 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

          Jesus was speaking to his fellow countrymen, the Jews.  In the first century world of ancienct Judah, the people of Israel found themselves in an all too familiar position.  They were an enslaved people.  Their land had long been occuppied by the powerful Roman Empire. 

          The Jews were a frustrated and angry people.  They were fearful and fretful.  Many wondered whether they could keep their family fed.  They were afraid of losing their homes or property.  Many even feared for their lives.  They were overtaxed and had little influence over a corrupt government.  (Now remember, I’m talking about 2000 years ago, not today!)

          Jesus, in what would become known as His “Sermon on the Mount,” reassured the people that God the Father would provide all their needs if they would do but one thing:  Put God First!

          But that was 2000 years ago!  What about us today?  Well, we’re much the same.  Our priorities are often confused and out of order.  What do we care about?  Where do we spend our time?  Our money?  These are the questions that help determine our own priorities today. 

          Food, finances, fitness and fashion are often the same priorities of our lives as they were in Jesus’ day. 

Matthew 6:24-28 

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?26 “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;

          I think you can summarize what Jesus said here in three words: "first things first." Now I know that sounds simple, but I want to tell you that if you, beginning today, would consciously, continuously, and consistently put first things first, it would absolutely transform your life. The formula for how to do just that is found in this tremendous statement from the lips of our Lord.

I.                  First Things First Means We Must Set Proper Priorities

1.     Now everything rises and falls right here. If your priorities are not in order, your life will not be in order. If your priorities are not right, you won't be right.

2.     Now you don't have to pray about what your number one priority in life ought to be. You don't have to think about it. You don't have to discuss it. You don't have to look for it. You just have to do it. Because Jesus has already told us what our first priority ought to be, "seek first the kingdom of God."

3.     The word seek means to "actively pursue" or "to go after." It's in the present tense. It means continuously. Every day of your life you ought to seek first the kingdom of God.

4.     Now in order to seek the kingdom, you must first seek the King. Because you cannot have a kingdom without a king. The first priority of your life ought to be to seek the King of the kingdom.

5.     Did you know that the Christian life is more than just accepting the Lord, it is seeking the Lord. The Lord is not just someone you passively accept. He is someone you actively seek. I can tell you something about your relationship to God at this very moment without even knowing you. I can tell you how much of God you have - you have all of God that you want.

6.     God does not have any favorites, but He does have intimates. James 4:8 says, "You draw near to God and He will draw near to you." God has promised in his word, "You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all of your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

7.     But it is not enough to seek the Lord. You must seek Him first. Jesus said, "seek first the kingdom of God." First things first means putting the Father first. There are three words I want you to circle in this passage. In v.30 circle the word faith. In v.32 circle the word Father. In v.33 circle the word first. You know the Bible says in Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Do you know what faith is? Faith is putting the Father first.

8.     Let me tell you something. Jesus does not want a place in your life. Jesus does not even want prominence in your life. Jesus wants preeminence in your life.

9.     Jesus wants the first moments of everyday. Jesus wants the first day of every week. Jesus wants the first part of every paycheck. He wants to be first.

10.          But not only are we to seek the King, we ought to seek the kingdom. The kingdom of God ought to be the obsession of your life. The word kingdom there literally means rule or reign. A kingdom is a place where a king rules. To seek the kingdom of God is to seek the rule and the reign of God over your entire life.

11.          Now when you truly seek a king, and you truly seek his kingdom, you are automatically seeking for three things. First of all, you are seeking for the glory of the king. Every part and parcel of your life, every minute and moment of your time, every ounce and pound of your strength, every muscle and fibre of your body ought to be given for the glory of God. "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (I Corinthians 10:31)

12.          But it means also to seek for the guidance of the king. A loyal subject always wants to do whatever the king would have him to do. There is no higher calling in life than to find out what your King wants done and then to do it. Every morning of your life you ought to begin by asking the Lord Jesus what Paul asked the Lord Jesus on that Damascus road, when he said, "Lord, what would you have me to do?"

13.          But it also means to seek the government of the king. A loyal subject desires to be controlled by the king, to be governed by the king, to be ruled by the king.

14.          Has it ever occurred to you that if your will was that God's will would always be done in your life, then your will would always be done.

15.          I heard about a woman who was deathly sick. A neighbor came to visit her and he asked her whether she wanted to live or to die. She said, "I just want whatever pleases God."

16.          The neighbor said, "Well, what if God were to refer the matter to you, which would you choose?" She said, "If God were to refer the matter to me, I would just refer the matter back to Him." That lady had her priorities in the right order.

II.                First Things First Means We Must Seek Personal Purity

1.     Not only are we to seek His kingdom, we are to seek "His righteousness." That is, not only are we to be seeking God's control over us, but we are also to be seeking God's character within us. The kingdom of God is not only to be inwardly experienced. It is to be outwardly expressed.

You see, if God is ruling over you, then His righteousness will be reigning within you. Because a man's character is simply the outward expression of whatever is controlling him inwardly. You see, as we seek the kingdom of God, people ought to be able to see the kingdom in us.

2.     We are never going to make a difference in this world until the world sees a difference in us. Nietzsche, the German philosopher, was the philosophical founder of the Nazi Movement in Germany. He was the first man in history to come to the conclusion that "God is dead." He came to that conclusion by looking at Christianity. Do you know what he said about Christians? He said, "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, you are going to have to look a little more redeemed."

3.     The real mark of a Christian is that he makes it easier for others to believe in God. Now what does it mean to seek the righteousness of God?

A. We Must Desire It  We do what we really want to do, and we are what we really want to be. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."  You ought to desire to be right, to do right, to live right, just as much as a hungry man desires food, and a thirsty man desires water.

B. We Must Derive It  We are to seek "His righteousness." God is not interested in your righteousness. He is only interested in His righteousness. God is not interested in what you can do for Him. He is interested in what He can do through you. It will be a great day when you learn the difference between self righteousness and the Savior's righteousness. Paul, after he was saved, made this one of the goals of his life. He said in Philippians 3:9 that he wanted to "be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith." Now I want you to learn a lesson about righteousness. Righteousness must be imputed before it can be imparted. Let me make it more simple. Before you can live it, God must give it. That is exactly why Jesus came and Jesus died, that we might have the righteousness of God. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

C. We Must Depict It  We ought to live like kingdom subjects. Will Rogers said, "We ought to live in such a way that we would not be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”

III.           First Things First Means We Will See Promised Prosperity

1.     Now the Lord says that if you will seek His kingdom and His righteousness, "all these things shall be added unto you." Now what "things" was the Lord referring to? He was talking about all the things that people worry about. In Matthew 6:19 we are told that people worry about finances. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal."

2.     Matthew 6:25 we are told that people worry about food. "Therefore I say to you, 'do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?'"

3.     Matthew 6:27 we are told that people worry about fitness. "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?"

4.     Matthew 6:28 we are told that people worry about fashion. "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin."

5.     Now all of these are things that we need. That's why the Lord said in Matthew 6:32, "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." Jesus is not saying these things are not important.  He’s saying these things are not most important. 

6.     Now the Lord has promised that if you will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, you will have all the things you need. Now I did not say you would have necessarily the things that you want.

7.     I am convinced there are four lessons parents ought to teach their children early, and that it would be good for even some adults to re-learn. First of all, you don't need everything you want. I wish I had all the money back that I had spent in my life on things that I wanted that I didn't really need.

8.     The second lesson is, you don't want everything you need. I never wanted one whipping that I ever got, but I needed everyone of them.

9.     The third lesson is, God doesn't give us everything we want. I, for one, am so glad that He doesn't. You know, one of the greatest blessings of God is found in those things that He doesn't give us. I read one time the confession of an unknown confederate soldier that tremendously blessed me. Listen to it. I asked God for strength that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey. I asked God for health that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things. I asked for riches that I might be happy.  I was given poverty that I might be wise. I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I asked for - But everything I had hoped for....2

10.          The last lesson is, God always give us what we need. I heard about two stores that were across the street from each other, highly competitive, always trying to get ahead. The manager of one store came out one day and nailed a great big sign over the front of his store that said, "If you want it, we have it." Well the manager from the other store walked out and saw that sign, thought about it for a few moments, went back into his store, and awhile later came out with a sign he nailed over his store that said, "If we don't have it, you don't need it." I can tell you something right now, no matter what you may think, if you don't have it it's because God knows at this point in your life you don't need it.

11.          You see, what the Lord was trying to teach us here was this. It is our job to serve God. It is His job to supply us. Now most people have that backwards. Most people think that it is our job to supply us and it is God's job to serve us. If they could, they would sing the old hymn this way: I'll have my own way, Lord, I'll have my own way, I'll be the potter, You be the clay; I'll mold You and make You after my will, While you are waiting, yielded and still.

12.          It is exactly that attitude that cuts off the blessing of God. You see, in a real sense, we have been called to live from hand to mouth. But that's alright if it's His hand and my mouth. I heard about a missionary who was getting ready to embark and go away to a foreign country. As he was getting on the ship, just going up the gangway, a friend of his, who was a very wealthy person, came to him and slipped an envelope into his hand that was sealed.  His friend said, "You take this envelope, and if at any time while you are overseas you come to the place where you have exhausted every other possibility, and you don't where else to turn, and you have a need that you cannot meet anywhere else, open the envelope." Well, the missionary took the envelope, thanked him, put it in his pocket, went up the gangplank and he stayed on that mission field for twenty years. At the end of twenty years he came back home, walked down that same gangplank, met by that same wealthy friend, and he returned the envelope back to the man, still sealed, still unopened, and he said, "Never did I come to a place where I did not know where to turn, nor what to do." Do you want to make the rest of your life the best of your life? You accept Jesus Christ as your Lord. Put Him first. Live every moment for Him, and He will take care of the rest.

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