First Things First
First Things First
How do you apply the First Commandment in your life today?
Adrian Rogers maintains that Americans attend church at least three times in their life. When they're hatched, matched, and dispatched (laughter). The first time they throw water, the second time they throw rice, and the third time they throw dirt. And although that may be somewhat humorous, it is unfortunate that in the society around us there are not many people who know their God today; not very many at all. We are blessed in terms of our calling and the opportunity we have to come to know God, and to come to love Him as well.
I want to begin with a question for you this afternoon. How do you apply the First Commandment in your life today? How do you apply the First Commandment in your life today? Let's begin by turning over to Exodus 20 and reading it. Some of you may have read it before you left your home or your apartment; maybe on a plaque or something at home. That's good, but it's good to refresh and read it once in awhile. Exodus 20, let's begin in verse 2.
Exodus 20:2 Exodus 20:2I am the LORD your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
American King James Version×– Moses records that, "I am the Lord your God, which have (who) brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."
Verse 3 - "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall have no other gods before Me." Our ancestors were literally taken out of bondage at that time, and removed from slavery in Egypt.
We are rapidly coming up on the anniversary of that very event here in the next couple of weeks. Today we're taken out of spiritual slavery to sin as well. Egypt was full of gods; gods of every kind, of every shape, size imaginable. I always laugh at the one with the crocodile head. You've probably seen the various pictures of some of the Egyptian gods, of which there were many. And that's why God says, "Don't go back into that form of bondage again by worshiping their many gods, and that's something that we as a society today don't usually worry very much about.
Well, most of us are not worshiping crocodile headed gods in our society either; however, the application today, we might ask ourselves, "Well, what's the application of the First Commandment today?"
God said, "Don't go back into that world whether they be gods of stone, or wood, or whatever they were composed of, actual idols; whether they were simply the money and the things that our society is so full of, because there are many distractions from the Christian way of life, from God that exist in our society today.
Let me ask, "What has come between you and your God over the past couple of weeks or months? That's a question you have to ask yourself; perhaps a good question to be asking before Passover, as well. Have you prayed as you should? Have you studied God's word as you should? Those are simple, basic questions. We ask them periodically. We've all heard sermons on prayer and Bible study many times before.
What kept you from prayer yesterday, or the day before, or last week, or last month? Is it a regular thing? What made your prayer so short that you couldn't really spend the time in it that you wanted to with God? Those are all questions that are good to ask this time of the year especially, any time of the year.
I find my whole day is confused, and I end up accomplishing nothing, and not getting the things done I need to, or not doing them very well if I haven't had adequate prayer; if I haven't had the opportunity to talk to my God that day. Because I didn't put Him first; I didn't make Him number one. Other gods got in between. Now, what do I mean by that?
Well, maybe I stayed up too late the night before. Maybe you've heard other people talk about that and say, "Well, I stayed up so late last night, I was exhausted when I got up in the morning, and I had to get out the door to work or to school, and I just couldn't spend any time in prayer. Or maybe I only had three minutes before I dashed out the door to work. That happens, it happens to us people occasionally. We get our priorities a little messed up, and life gets pretty busy, and it gets busy with other gods that get in the way.
The world surprisingly often admits to, maybe not often, but it admits to its problem of other gods on occasion. There was an article in the Dallas News in February this year. It was entitled, "Our Silly Gods and American Idols." It was written by Rod Dreher, and he admits to the silly gods that we as Americans have made up, and he calls them by name. He refers to the god of money, the god of hedonism, the god of consumerism, the god of progress. There are all kinds of gods that get into the way in our society today that we sometimes don't recognize for what they are. And we as Christians recognize it in the society around us but sometimes we don't recognize it in our own lives.
And this is the time of the year to begin to look at that, and say, "What is my relationship with God? How close am I to Him? How often, and how much do I get the opportunity to pray, and to study His word?"
We might not call our gods by the names, or acknowledge them by the names of the gods Mr. Dreher mentions, or surrounding ancient Israel, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. That doesn't mean there aren't some out there.
On a typical week day before going to work might you, or I, or anyone else, have decided that having fun the night before and staying up a little late was the reason, or basically why we put something else in front of God the next morning? Because then we couldn't get up in time to spend the time in prayer we should have? What was the god of the evening before that caused that? Kind of an interesting way to look at it. Would you miss your prayer and your connection for some reason with God?
For your consideration this afternoon, I'd like to ask another question, or propose something to you. Let's just look at prayer and Bible study as the keeping of the First Commandment. Have you ever looked at it that way? If that's what it is then we have to begin to look at it in a different light don't we?
We have to begin to say, "Well, I've been a little negligent perhaps, in the keeping of the First Commandment." That puts it in a different light. What causes you to go to bed so late that you missed your morning prayer? Well, maybe you had a perfectly legitimate reason. Maybe you were fixing the car because if I don't fix the car I won't have it to take it to work the next morning and you had to stay up late to get it finished, get it fixed. Who knows? I don't know what you did the night before but that's something each of us has to ask ourselves, and say, "Was it that important? Was it something that was worth missing prayer the next morning for? I don't think there's anything that fits that bill when we think about it that way.
But those are questions you have to ask. Those are questions that each and every one of us have to ask, and we have to re-prioritize our lives accordingly and say, "What caused me to do that? Why would I do something like that?" And maybe I need to change some priorities somewhere along the line to try to avoid those kinds of things.
Maybe your wife was sick and she couldn't feed the kids and get them out the door to school, so you took the time in the morning to feed the kids and get them off to school; a perfectly legitimate reason, but it cost you the time that you would have had for prayer. But maybe there's ways of looking at it and asking, "Well I guess I could do without Starbucks on the way to work, and spend a little more time in prayer this morning before I leave." It's tough for me to face that one in particular, but yes, it can be done and I don't get it on the work every morning either, but it is something that sometimes, there's not too many Starbucks around us anyway, but they are nice when you can have them, but we have to consider it.
When we look at the First Commandment honestly all kinds of other gods can get in the way of our lives between us and the true God. I know we don't skip our relationship with God and study and prayer intentionally, none of us do. We don't do that. We don't set out to do that, nobody wants to, but other things sometimes become more important than it, don't they? And that's when it becomes dangerous for us spiritually.
I can't solve those for you. You have to consider them. You have to think about, "What could I have done instead? What can I do in the future instead? How do I avoid that? Knowing the morning's going to be a panic, maybe you can get up ten minutes earlier. I don't know, whatever it takes for you. Do without breakfast myself. It's a tough one, but you can do it. Some of us do it all the time anyway. You have to consider what it is we can do and how we change it.
There's a positive side to the First Commandment. It's not just the negative. You shall have no---it's a positive commandment. Prayer and study are our relationship with God. They are part of us coming to love God as the first and most important being in our life. They are the positive essence of keeping the First Commandment; placing God at the front of our day; not later on and if, and when of our day.
We have to decide, what can we do better to make that relationship go the way it should; to improve it and set it as a priority? If I can, we should look at the First Commandment as one of setting priorities. We could look at it that way as well. I can't second guess what keeps you from it, or what has kept you from it, even on occasion. Those are things you have to consider, and ask yourself, "What can I do about it?"
Let's talk about the ways in which we grow to love God. Understanding how we love Him has a lot to do with how much priority we put on our relationship with Him; the ways we grow to love God, to put Him first, to prevent distractions from our relationship with Him. It reminds me of the old poem: "How do I love thee; let me count the ways." Let's count the ways we come to love God or how we come to love God.
Psalm 18 expresses one of those ways in thinking of David, and how he came to love God. He's our protector. I'm not gonna go there; the whole chapter is about it. I won't try to turn to it, but the entirety of Psalm 18 was written by David when he was on the run from Saul, and it constantly refers to David growing to love God who constantly saves him, and protects him over and over again, giving us our first method of growing to love God, which is: God is our refuge and our protector, and that leads us to love Him for all that he's done. If you consider how He does that; how often He's done that in your life it really begins to tell a story. Many of those times that God has protected us that we are unaware of; those we are unaware of. But there are many times where we are highly suspicious of the fact that God has stepped in and has protected us in some way, or we've visually seen it, and it does happen.
Have you ever been really, really late; maybe not really, really late but you've got an appointment that you absolutely have to be on time for and you have to get there at exactly a certain time; maybe it's your IRS audit; I don't know, whatever it is that you have to get to and you'd better get there on time? And for some reason, no matter what you do, you cannot get out the door and you've done everything in your power to get out the door, and you're still three to five, are maybe ten minutes late, and you just could not get out the door no matter how hard you tried. And then you get down the freeway about three to five minutes, or maybe ten minutes down the road and there's a horrendous accident on the freeway. Ever ask yourself, "Where would you have been if you'd left on time?"
Why do think you were so seriously delayed no matter how much you tried to get out the door? I think we all may have considered something like that. And how many times God has just said, "I don't want him or her in this place at this time," and so you got delayed. How many times has God protected us in that way? Probably many times; we'll look at the number of times that David went into combat and came out whole.
Anybody who's ever been in combat, or been in armies with other countries, it's not like the movies. The odds of being wounded and killed very quickly in combat go up exponentially. We have a gentleman where I live in Central Illinois who's a marine first lieutenant, platoon leader; he was in Vietnam during '68. Of, I believe he said, about two hundred platoon leaders went into Vietnam in the Marine Corps in '68. Four came out alive unwounded; unseriously wounded. The odds of being in combat and coming out alive are very, very small. They'll tell you that. But, of course, God was calling him during that period of time. He was one of the four that came out. God intervenes in so many ways we don't know; we don't see; and we don't detect, and we grow to love Him for the fact that He does that for us. That's just one way.
The second way I've listed so that we learn to love Him is: "We love Him because He first loved us." I John 4, let's go over to I John for a moment.
I John 4:19 John 4:19The woman said to him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
American King James Version×– It says, "We love Him because He first loved us." A very simple principle, He loved us. It is hard not to love God for all the things He has done in our lives, and that makes the First Commandment, or it should make the First Commandment a very high priority in our lives. Before we were born, before the world came into existence, God loved. He loved, and He cared for us. And He cared enough for us to share his divinity with His children one day. It can't get any better than that.
This concept, in a way, reflected how much everyone, in a way, learns to love their mother. They're the first person they meet who shares everything, gives everything, provides everything they need as a child; and we grow up loving Mom because Mom did everything for us; probably still does everything for us, in many ways. And yet God is our mother in a spiritual sense. He provides everything we need spiritually.
The third reason we grow to love God: "We love Him because He gave Himself for us." John 3:15-16 John 3:15-16  That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×. John 3, I think we're probably all familiar with these verses. They've been read many times. In fact they're read in many churches in the world as well. But it's sometimes good to go over how much God has loved, and shown love for us.
John 3:15 John 3:15That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
American King James Version×– He says, "That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Verse 16 – "For if God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." You talk about a gift.
Is there a reason to love God? So many reasons to love God I can't list them here all today. Certainly it's difficult for us to comprehend the magnitude of the love that God showed to us and to every human being; willing to sacrifice His only son, His only companion from eternity in such a horrible and dramatic enterprise as took place in 31 A.D. Death was horrendous enough, but death by scourging and Roman crucifixion – that's unthinkable. Yet God, the Father and Jesus Christ were both willing to make that sacrifice for us.
It is impossible not to love them in return for such a magnanimous and outgoing sacrifice and unspeakable gift as Christ gave. It's incomprehensible to us as human beings that God could love so much. How can we not love Him? And though we don't understand it we're willing to give our lives back to God in service. That's part of why we're called. That's part of our commitment. That's part of why we were baptized, and the things that we promised; and that commitment, and that contract with God. Yet, at Passover each year, we have to stop and realize that we've been salvaged. We've taken back, perhaps selfishly some of the times, some of the opportunities, some of the things we could have done in our relationship with God.
A fourth way that we learn to love God: We love Him because He forgives us. That's perhaps my favorite of the ones I'm going to mention today. We love Him because He forgives us. Let's go over to Psalms 32:1 Psalms 32:1Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
American King James Version×. David comments here about it as well.
Psalms 32:1 Psalms 32:1Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
American King James Version×– David said, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." The blessing is greater than we can imagine. Sometimes we don't consider how great that blessing is. One of the greatest gifts ever given and bestowed upon human beings was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God's son. And as humans, we regularly wrong other human beings, and we ask for forgiveness. And as Christians we struggle not to hurt others. We're in the process of learning how to not hurt and offend other people, and we try to do that every day. Maybe we could try a little harder. At least, I hope, if we're in the process of being perfected, and I'm going to talk about that too.
That forgiveness was made possible by Jesus Christ's sacrifice, by His death and suffering. God died horribly for you and me. Without that forgiveness God's entire plan would fall into ruin. It would not be complete. No one could be saved. Salvation would not be possible; but as the angel Gabriel said to Mary, "For with God, nothing will be impossible." Nothing will be impossible, so if God says it, it's going to happen. Because men would sin, which we all do, God had to give the greatest gift ever given, worth more than anything; and by doing that we can be forgiven. It is a blessing and a privilege. Jesus Christ looked forward to taking the Passover with His disciples. Ever wonder why? The gift is difficult to describe.
Let's take a look at a fifth reason. I think this one will be kind of intriguing for you, at least I hope. It was for me. Matthew 22, let's go to Matthew 22. We'll take a little more time on this one.
Matthew 22:34 Matthew 22:34But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
American King James Version×– It says, "But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
Verse 35 - Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,
Verse 36 - "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
Verse 37 – And Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
Verse 38 - "This is the first and great commandment.
Verse 39 - "And the second is like to it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
Verse 40 - "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." We've read those verses probably many times but I hope to present something a little bit different about them that maybe you've never considered before, and it has to do with the Greek language in which Matthew wrote this book in the New Testament.
It's not always the case but many times the first word in a Greek sentence, the way Matthew wrote, and the way others wrote frequently is kind of a summary of what's going on in the rest of the verse. So oftentimes the writer would take the most important word in the sentence, and put it first in the sentence to draw attention to it, to kind of give you an idea of the summary of what's coming or what's about to take place in the verse. That's not always the case, but many of the writers of the New Testament did this. It was customary in Christ and Paul's day to write in that way and so that process by linguists and Greek scholars was called fronting. Fronting the word to the beginning of the sentence; putting the most important word there. And it was done commonly at that time not every sentence in the New Testament was done that way.
The lawyer who asked Jesus this particular question in verse 35 that we just read here in Matthew 22 is an interesting case. Remember, the Sadducees had already been silenced by Jesus, and the Pharisees picked a lawyer from among them and probably one of their cleverest individuals, I'm sure. One of the guys that could really put words effectively and put people in their place, so to speak, I suspect that's what he was. So although he might have pretended to be friendly I am sure, for there were hostile motives in the way he responded to Jesus here, and he talked to him. And he was trying to catch Jesus in a fault here.
He begins his sentence in verse 36 in the Greek with the word teacher, didaskolos or didaskolae, I believe it is here which would ordinarily be a term of respect. It would be something that you would say very respectfully to the teacher. You know, I want an answer sincerely from the teacher here.
Matthew probably knew where the man's mind was, and what his attitude was, and what his motives were, and of course a lawyer could put any word in the sentence first, in the sentence. I think he maybe did it, he put teacher there in an honorary form of address to kind of lull Christ into not expecting what he was then going to introduce later after he got Christ's answer from the first question. And the first question was put, I'm sure, in a very innocent way to lure Christ into answering so that then the lawyer could step in after this particular question and take Christ to task for being the son of God and, you know, obviously breaking one of these two commands, and he wanted to do that. So I think he's very nice here in the first verse, and he uses teacher in a respectful way.
The Pharisees, I think, were going to start out here with an easy question that Christ would fall right into, and then the second question was kind of a gotcha. We're going to get Him the minute He responds to the second question; however, Christ, probably knowing exactly what they were thinking, what they were planning to do instead of just stating the First Commandment goes right on and states the Second Commandment as well which took away the opportunity really for the lawyer to jump in after his first statement the way he had intended to do so.
So he goes right on, and then they could throw Jesus, of course, for being the son of God, and you know, claim a violation of the commandment here for His claiming to be God or setting himself up in that state, and obviously that's probably where he was going but Jesus didn't let him get away with it, and He introduces the Second great Commandment in verse 39, cutting him off.
Now notice Jesus' answer in verse 37. He says, …"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." Fronting takes place in this verse as well. And we have to ask the question, "Well, what word would you front to the beginning of the sentence if you were Christ here, if you were summarizing and putting the most important word of the sentence in the first?
Anybody want to take a guess here? But I'm not looking for hands and guesses, but it actually is the word, "You shall love." It's a verb and it contains both the concept of "You, and loving, and that you shall do so in the future." Agapeses, and it's the verb "You shall love;" making the First Commandment positive. You ever notice that? Not just negative. "You shall love the Lord your God."
So we have a positive aspect to the commandment here that Christ adds in a New Testament sense, or in a spiritual sense in the New Testament. Greek is a synthetic language. That means that you can take all the words in the sentence; you can mix up the order; in almost any order you want, and a Greek will understand what you said. But he may wonder why you put them in that order, but he'll understand everything you said. But in English you can't do that. Can't English we do in that (laughter)? Does that make sense? It's got all the right words but what did I say? You know, why would you say it that way? You may be able to figure it out if there's not too many words. You can sometimes figure out what it was the person was trying to say, but you can't do that in English but you can in Greek, and so they do that.
"You shall love," is the phrase that He put first in this sentence as well. It summarizes what he's saying here. Again, what word would be fronted in Jesus' statement? The Second Commandment in verse 39? You shall love. That makes sense. That's the word that should be there. It summarizes. It states the meaning of the sentence. It states the whole thing of what Christ was saying.
And in Greek verbs you have to understand the ending on the Greek verb also tells who's doing the action, or who's doing the talking. You. So it's you shall love, and it's all combined in one word. So they moved that word to the beginning of the sentence.
Now with that demonstration of fronting in the Greek language, where should God be in your daily life? Fronted, perhaps to the beginning of the day? When you begin your day shouldn't He come first? I think that kind of answers the question for us in a good way, doesn't it?
He ought to be fronted in our lives. He needs to be put first. He needs to be right there at the beginning; fronting of our day, setting our priorities, beginning our day in what we do. Then, and only then are we fully keeping the rich meaning of the First Commandment.
There are many more ways in which we to come to love God and we could talk about many of them. I've listed just five of them here in this split sermon because there isn't a whole lot of time to cover them in a split sermon. I picked out just a few of the strangest reasons, and there are more we can talk about but they are not by all means all of the reasons and we talk about how we come to love God.
And the First Commandment really reflects how well we keep it reflects how much we love God. Do we love Him enough to put Him first? Do we love him enough to front Him to the beginning of the day; to front him to the very first part of the day.
The apostle John summarizes something for us, I think very nicely. Let's go over and take a look at it in I John 4:16-17 John 4:16-17  Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come here.  The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You have well said, I have no husband:
American King James Version×.
I John 4:16 John 4:16Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come here.
American King James Version×- And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, (and) he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Verse 17 - Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. "…as He is, so are we…" It is interesting here again in this particular sentence; actually the last sentence in verse 17. It's been probably several hours I've spent on I John 4:16 John 4:16Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband, and come here.
American King James Version×and 17. There's a lot of material you can make sermonettes and sermons and all kinds of things out of them here in particular.
Verse 17, the last sentence here though, it's making reference to Jesus Christ that we are being perfected in love. Jesus was perfected in love on this earth as well, as a human being, and it is the perfect tense that John uses in the last sentence here; or what we might call the past perfect tense, I believe it's called in English. We have been perfected. John is talking to the churches. You know what he's saying to the churches?
He's saying, "You have been perfected." That's exactly the way you say it in the perfect tense. You have been perfected, and that's what John's saying here. And we have to ask the question of ourselves, "Have we really been perfected?"
We look at that and say, "Is that really possible? Have I been perfected?" But that's what John is saying to the churches.
We have to ask ourselves, "Am I perfected?" Well, we look at ourselves and he say, "Can't be. Must be talking to someone else." But John addresses the church that way, and says, "You have been perfected." We have to ask ourselves too, "If I haven't been perfected in love, have I been perfected at all?"
Obviously we have much to do, don't we? We have a long way to go. Will the First Commandment truly be the Great Commandment in your life? Jesus referred to it as that. Is it in your life? Tried to turn things around in my life a little bit, and make it the first priority for me, as well. I think all of us want to do that. Will you front God in your life and in your thoughts? Will He be first?
Will you put Him first in everything? These are questions of commitment. Can we do that? The spirit of the law is a challenging thing, isn't it? Kind of grabs us right here, doesn't it, in the heart? Can I do that?
Put God first in your life. Let Him be what starts your every day, and what starts your work, and starts your thoughts, and finishes your day, at the end of the day, before you go to bed. If you do, if you put God first in your life you'll go to the front of the class.