Put God First
Today a message on one of the things we are taught in the Bible to do. Of course, there are many things God teaches us to do, but today the teaching - the challenge - is to put God first.
we will begin by looking at an Old Testament passage that teaches to put God first. We will then consider Jesus teaching His followers that challenge. The third passage we will look at provides an example of some who did not put God first, but who were told what to do to change that.
The Old Testament passage is much of Deuteronomy 6, which starts with the challenge that we ourselves, as individuals, put God first. Something that requires us knowing what God wants us to do, that coming from His statutes and ordinances - laws that are given to us in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 6, beginning with verse 1. These are words spoken by Moses. “These are the commandment, the statutes and the ordinances which the LORD your God commanded me to teach you.”
Moses refers to all that is recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament. Books that contain much valuable history, but also many of God’s laws. Teachings from God, given to all God’s people through His servant Moses. All that Moses had spoken and still would speak were the commandment, the statutes and ordinances - the laws - of God.
Why did God want Moses to share them? The last part of verse 1. “That you may do them in the land to which you are going” - the land God had promised to give to His early Old Testament people. That means God gave His laws for the purpose of His people knowing what He wanted them to do. He then expected - and still does expect - His people to do - to follow - what He wanted.
Follow them how? Verse 2. “In fear of God.” Not fear as in being afraid of Him. Fear here means being in great awe of God.
God is certainly deserving of being held in awe. One example is that He cares enough about His people to let us know how He wants us to live in our relationships with Him and with others. It is also awe-inspiring that His laws cover every part of life. There should be no question at any time what God wants us to do.
We are to know and do God’s law. That is to happen individually. However, as the passage continues, there is more to it. It is not enough for us to know and do. We are to pass that knowledge and that discipline to the next generation.
We need to encourage one another to meet that challenge. Still verse 2. “You are to fear your God. So, too, are your son and your son's son to keep all God’s statutes and commandments.”
Our younger generations need to be taught so they, too, will know what they are supposed to do. And there is a nice reward promised at the end of verse 2. You fear God and teach the younger generations to do the same, and “your days may be prolonged,” which might refer to length of life in terms of days and years, but might also refer to quality of life.
In verses 3 through 6 Moses repeats the teaching - the challenge - of individual responsibility. “Hear God’s word and be careful to do it.” And a repeat of the promise. Hear and do God’s word, and “it will go well with you. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.” Again, that is a personal responsibility of each of us. All what God taught is to “be upon your heart.” Upon my heart. As it could be worded with today’s theme in mind, God is to be put first in each of our lives.
Moses then returns to what we are to do beyond just enjoying God’s word ourselves individually. Verses 7 through 9. We are to teach God’s word to our children, teaching diligently. Intend to do it. Plan to do it. Teach all the time in every situation.
Talk about God “when you sit in your house.” Make talking about God and what He wants us to do be part of daily family conversation.
And listen. If you are not already doing that, do not get discouraged or dismayed. Start talking about God now. You cannot change the past, but you can start now to have spiritual conversations at home.
Talk about God when you sit in your house and “when you walk by the way.” When you are out and about, talk about God. Including in your car at red lights that hold and hold and hold, even when there is no cross traffic anywhere to be seen.
Talk about God at bedtime and again “when you rise” in the morning.
“Bind” God’s word - His law - “as a sign upon your hand” and in “frontlets between your eyes.”
The Jews, sometimes even now, wear little boxes attached to strings on their forearms or their heads. Each box contains a law or two from God. They are positioned to hit the hand or the forehead as a person walks. Each time the box hits, it is a reminder of God’s word.
We might not do that literally, but the point is to always be thinking of God’s law, which might take some training - some discipline - to do, but it is what we supposed to do.
The next one we might not literally do either. “You shall write God’s statutes and ordinances on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” We might not actually do that, but do you have a Bible visible in your house? That should be a reminder of God’s word. Even more of a reminder each time the Bible is opened and read.
We are to put God first. We are teach those younger than us to do the same. As Deuteronomy 6 continues, the importance of doing that is explained expertly.
Remember the context. The people of God were on their way to the land promised to them by God. God was, through Moses, preparing the people for the time they would enter that land. God wanted them to be prepared for a very significant danger, that danger explained, beginning in verse 10.
Moses said, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to give you [we know that as the Promised Land], you will find great and good cities, which you did not build. You will find houses full of all good things - houses which you did not build or fill. You will find cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant. You will eat and be full.”
All of that of course sounded very good to the people to whom Moses spoke, but there was a danger. It was that the people, who would obviously enjoy the cities and the houses and the cisterns and the vineyards and the olives, would forget the LORD.
I would think that could not happen. God had rescued those people from slavery in Egypt. He had, over and over and over again, helped His people following their release from slavery. He had helped them cross the Red Sea and then the Jordan River. He had given them manna to eat. He had provided the water they needed. He had seen to it their shoes never wore out despite the years and years of walking in the wilderness short of the Promised Land.
I would think all that would have kept God’s people close to Him, but God knew the danger prosperity can cause. Wow. Does that define our society or what? God knew the danger. Hence His teaching - His challenge - even in the Promised Land, “you shall fear the LORD your God.” Even there “you shall serve Him and swear by His name.” “You shall not go after other gods” - the gods of the people who will be around the people of God in the Promised Land.
What does all that teach? It teaches to put God first. To put Him first all the time. To do that when walking in whatever wilderness you are in. To do that when living in luxury. We are to do that personally. We are to teach others to do the same.
Verse 18. “Do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD that it may go well with you, that you may go in and take possession of the good land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers.” For us, do what is good and right, and we will prosper, at least spiritually, in our land now.
In Deuteronomy 6 we are taught and challenged to put God first. To do that ourselves and help others to do the same. That is an Old Testament teaching. A teaching given to us by God through Moses.
It is a teaching also found in the New Testament. A teaching given to us by Jesus, including in chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew.
Chapter 6 is in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In verses 25 through 33, the Lord addresses a common occurrence. It is the tendency to worry.
Actually, more than worry. The word “anxious” is used. That alludes to great worry. Worry to the extent of physical issues. Worry to the extent of concentrating on the problem rather than on the compassion of Jesus.
Matthew 6, beginning with verse 25. Again, this is Jesus speaking. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.”
Unfortunately there are people, even in our own city, who lack enough food to be comfortable. With others, I have helped out a few times with the back pack program where some elementary school students get a sack of food on a Friday afternoon, that food intended to help the student and his or her family have something to eat over the weekend until school meals will again be available. Such a situation is sad, but at least there is some help.
We know there are some, even in our own city, who lack adequate clothing that is in good shape. That, too, is sad, although again, there is assistance through lots of helping organizations, including the People’s City Mission.
There are people who suffer. I feel so fortunate to have never faced such suffering myself. But still the call from Jesus. Even if you or I are short of food or clothing, do not be anxious. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Jesus said to look at the birds and flowers. Birds “neither sow nor reap nor gather, yet God feeds them.” “The lilies of the field neither toil nor spin, yet they are better dressed even than Solomon,” who was the richest man ever alive.
What interesting questions Jesus asks. “Are we not of more value to God than birds?” and “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow, is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?”
That last question ends with the phrase,”O men of little faith.”
It hurts to realize those words can be asked of me since I can very easily fall to worry. The phrase hurts, but it is a good reminder to know and do what Jesus went on to say in verse 33. “Do not be anxious. Instead, seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [the things of life we all need] shall be yours as well.”
The point? Put God first. That includes, as we discussed with Deuteronomy 6, loving Him with all we are, learning His laws and doing His laws, and teaching others, including those younger than us, to learn and do what God wants.
Put God first. Seek His kingdom, and He will help with the needs of life.
Put God first. That is an important teaching in the Old Testament. It is an important teaching in the New Testament. It is a teaching we are to know and obey when things are good. It is a teaching we to know and obey when times are tough. It is a teaching we are to know and obey at all times of our spiritual lives.
Which brings us to the third of today’s three passages, this one in the first part of chapter 2 of Revelation.
The first part of Revelation 2 addresses the city of Ephesus, described as the greatest city of Asia in early New Testament times. Ephesus had a great harbor. That helped the city to be very wealthy. That helped the city to secure the privilege of hosting yearly games, which attracted people from across Asia. Ephesus was a popular place to be.
Unfortunately, Ephesus was also the site of much pagan worship. A pagan temple in the city - the Temple of Artemus - is considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Amulets and charms promising magical recovery from illnesses, overcoming difficulties in having children, or sure success in any undertaking of life were available for sale. Many people from around the world purchased them.
The wealth, based on the physical location of Ephesus and predicated on the use of magic, made the city very great. However, spiritually, the residents of the city were at risk.
The popularity of magic might have made Ephesus a poor target for the Christian faith. Instead, the city turned out to be very fertile ground for the introduction and early growth of Christianity, which the apostle Paul took advantage of, converting many Ephesians to faith in Jesus and starting a church in that city. A congregation that came to be known for the Christian work the people in that church did.
Such as hard work. “Toil” is the word in verse 2. Dedicated work. Work done even in the midst of difficulties. Work done with “patient endurance.” Work done for the cause of Christ, building both individual faith and attracting others to faith in Jesus.
That work included - still verse 2 - testing everyone.
Such testing was important and still is.
Some of those who turned out to be evil were trying in infiltrate the church in an attempt to continue to push the need to follow Jewish laws rather than relying on Jesus for salvation.
Others had the false teaching that the grace of God gives people license to commit whatever sins they want to commit. That was the case with the group named in verse 5. The Nicolaitans. What they taught was and is false teaching because God’s grace is designed to give us the freedom to be better, not worse.
Still others were little more than professional beggars. They went into churches as leaders or as lay people simply because they wanted to reap the rewards of Christian charity.
The Ephesian congregation was known for its work, its endurance, its testing. All those things were, in Revelation 2, listed in praise of the Christians in that church.
But listen to verse 4. This is the word of the Lord. “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Apparently all the praiseworthy things listed were in the past. Apparently excitement about the work and the endurance and the testing had waned. Apparently the people were no longer doing what had made them a wonderful congregation.
What were signs of their downward trend? They are not shared in this passage, but maybe the people were not as enthusiastic as they had been at the start. Maybe their love for one another was not as strong as it had been at the start. Maybe they were more interested in the wealth around them than they were in spiritual things. In the context of today’s theme, they were no longer putting God first in everything they did.
That is scary since having that happen to us is also a possibility. I trust that is not the case, but the point is that we need to do all we can to make sure it does not happen to us.
But if it does - if you or I feel not as close to the Lord as we used to be - there are three things taught in verse 5.
First, “remember.” The members of the Ephesian congregation were to remember the joy they had felt at first in their Christian lives. How they had rejoiced that they were Christians, excited about being able to worship Christ and serve Him. They were to remember fondly the way they used to be.
“Repent.” That words means to be sorry for whatever is done wrong and to turn away from it. For the Ephesian Christians, they were to repent their move away from the joy of Christianity.
And “do.” Upon remembering and then being sorry, they were once again to do the works they had done at first.
Then this. As much as there is condemnation in this passage, there is also hope. Hope is at least implied with the word “if.” If they did not remember, repent, and return to doing their Christian work, the Lord was going to abandon them, but He had not abandoned them yet. The implication is that if they did remember, repent, and do, the Lord would be pleased and would bless them more in the future.
The point has already been stated in this message. Here it is again. If you feel you have moved away from the joy you once had, do not get discouraged or dismayed. Instead, now do as the Lord prescribed in Revelation 2. You cannot change what has happened up to this point, but you can, beginning now, remember, repent, and do the work God has for you to do.
As taught in the Old Testament, as taught by Jesus in the NT, as taught in Revelation 2, from now on, put God first.
Today’s closing song is the chorus Seek Ye First. We will sing the first, the second, and back to the first verse.
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God.
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Lord, You call us - You challenge us - to put You first. To do that on good days and bad days alike. To do that at all times throughout our spiritual lives.
That can be difficult to accomplish, but it can be done. Not only individually. We can teach others, including those younger than us, to do the same.
And one more time the statement that even if we are not putting You first now, we can start now. Thank You for the challenge. Thank You for promising us blessings as we obey. Help us always to put You first. Amen.