First Things First
Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34
8th Sunday after the Epiphany
First Things First
Text: Matthew 6:24-34
“You shall have no other gods.” That’s the first commandment. Martin Luther explained it this way: “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Fear—to show reverent awe. Love—to show endless affection and care. Trust—to believe in with certainty. “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
All things. This commandment is not just about bowing down to Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, or the sun and moon. All things means all things. “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
As we look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for the final time this morning, listen carefully to Jesus. He is saying to you: First Things First!
Jesus repeats the first commandment this way this morning in the first verse: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” This is a very simple illustration for a very simple point. Maybe we would say it like this in our culture: You can’t be a Republican and a Democrat. You can’t work for Coke and work for Pepsi. You can’t love the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs. Your allegiance, your respect, and your love can only be for one or the other.
So Jesus is also saying that you cannot have two spiritual masters. You can’t serve yourself and God. You can’t love your possessions most and love God most. You can’t love your family most and love God most. In fact it even makes sense logically. You can only have one thing when you use the word “most.” There is no such thing as too “mosts.” Jesus repeats the first commandment this morning that only God can be that most. Jesus commands us to put the First Things First and to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
So? What is first in your life? “Jesus!” we say, rather quickly and forcefully. “Jesus is most important!” Of course we would say that. We’re in church. But what is really most important in our lives? While we might say one thing with our lips, the way we live our lives might say something completely different.
What is most important to you and your time? Did you know that there are 8,760 hours in a year? Let’s say that you average attending church three out of every four Sundays—you are here almost every time. Let’s say that you even attend Bible study twice a month. You also read your Bible two days a week at home for an hour. And, you spend about two hours a week in prayer. If you did those things, it might even be considered more than the average Christian. But did you know that all of that time totals only 273 hours in a year? If you sleep 7-8 hours a day that would mean that barely 4% of your time is devoted to the Lord. What do you think your percentage is like if you don’t attend Bible study, if you don’t read your Bible at home, and if you usually forget to pray?
“You shall have no other gods.” If that is how we spend our time, what is our god then? Our family? Our job? Our relax-time? Jesus tells us today to put First Things First!
If that is how we spend our time, what is most important to you and your talents? Everyone in this room is so blessed. There are so many different talents and abilities in our church family. It is neat for me to see. Some are so nice and caring. Some are so great in the kitchen. Some are very good organizers. Some are great planners. Some are great leaders. Some relate well to people. Some are faithful servers. Some like to talk and others like to listen. Some like to make decisions and others like to support decisions.
Everyone has a talent. God tells us that we are all part of the body of Christ, and every member of the body is important. But how do you use your talents? Will “someone else” always get the work done at church? Will Pastor and the teachers be the ones to fall back on in a jam? Will serving the Lord cut into your free time a little? Is canvassing or following up with prospects just too scary? Is writing notes and cards to people just too much work? Maybe you have helped before. Maybe you do serve. But are you using your talents as much as you could? Are you taking advantage of every opportunity the Lord sets before you in your life, even outside of the church?
“You shall have no other gods.” If our talents, gifts, and abilities aren’t being used to serve the Lord in our church, in our school, in our home, or in the community, then what are we serving? Ourselves? Our family? Our job? Our relax-time? Jesus tells us today you cannot serve two masters. Put the First Things First!
If that is how we spend our time and use our talents, what is most important to you and your treasures? Did you know that if you gave $20 in offerings per Sunday that would be about $1,040 per year (that’s pretty easy math!)? But did you also know that if you total family income was only $25,000 for a year that would be just 3-4% of the gifts given to you that you gave back to the Lord? What is your percentage like if you give less, or if you make more?
Did you know that most Americans pay $75-$100 a month for cell phones and $75-100 a month for cable? Many pay much more than that. What does it say if we pay more for cable or cell phones, more for cigarettes or fast food, or even more for car insurance per month than we give back to the Lord who gave us all these gifts?
“You shall have no other gods.” If that is how we spend our money, then what is our god? Our family? Our job? Our earthly possessions? Our food? Our entertainment? Jesus tells us this morning to put First Things First!
“You shall have no other gods.” “What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in god above all things.” Sometimes it seems like I break that first commandment every single day. Oh how I’ve failed! Oh how I’ve served other, earthly, material gods! Oh how I’ve sinned!
But oh, how Jesus is different! Imagine if Jesus had the same kind of attitude. What if Jesus put himself first? He would have every right to—he’s God! He made everything. He rules over everything. He controls everything. So what if Jesus said, “Forget those sinful scumbags! Die you devious and disobedient dirt-bags!” Or what if Jesus said, “Go to earth? No thank you. I’ll stay in heaven! Suffer? Yeah. Right. I’ll stay here on my throne. Die? For them? I don’t think so!”
No. Those thoughts are absurd, for Jesus did just the opposite. Put First Things First? Incredibly, amazingly, graciously, and mercifully Jesus put us first! The God who made the world was willing to humble himself to be born into that world. The God who uses enemies as a footstool subjected himself to suffering at the hands of his enemies. The God who dwells in perfection carried our imperfection. The God who lives forever and ever died for sinners.
Paul says it like this in Philippians, “[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Here we are as sinners who constantly break the first commandment. We are sinners that rarely, truly put God first. Yet God loved us enough to put us first! Rather than maintaining his full glory and exaltation as God, he humbled himself to live and die for us. He put us first so that we could be forgiven, so that we could be saved, so that we could join him in glory and exaltation in heaven.
Brothers and sisters, if God would love us that much—if God would live and die for us to provide the forgiveness that we needed more than anything—then will he not also provide the simple things that we need in our daily lives on earth?
We have so many things that bother us. We have so many worries. We have so many things that bring us to tears, that keep us up late at night, that cause us to lose sleep. We worry about paying our bills. We worry about providing for our families. We worry about putting food on the table and clothes on backs. We worry that we will have enough for retirement. We worry that our job isn’t good enough, that we’re working too much, that aren’t or haven’t been good parents. Worry. Worry. Worry.
Listen to the Savior’s sermon this morning! Verse 25: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear . . . Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
Jesus himself is telling you! If God would even provide for birds or for lilies or for grass, will he not also provide for you? If Jesus, who is preaching this sermon, would suffer and die for you to make you his brothers and sisters through faith, will he not also take care of your daily needs?
It comes back to the first commandment. “You shall have no other gods.” Don’t rely on yourself. Don’t rely on your job. Don’t you rely on your money. Don’t rely on your pension or your retirement funds. You can’t, because they can’t help you. Instead, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Jesus says it this way, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Focus on Jesus. Live and breathe the good news of salvation. Read your Bible every day. Be in worship every week. Be in Bible study. Pray continually. When you seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all these other little things of life will be given to you as well. It’s Jesus’ promise, and his promises never fail. Do not worry—not about today, not about tomorrow, not ever! Put the First Things First, and trust that God will care for you, his dear child.
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