“First Things First”
Hello and welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. There are lots of things most of us want to accomplish in our lifetime. We may not get to all of them, but hopefully we do get to most of them. If you are like me you have a priority list of what you want to do first, second, and so on, and once I get them done I can move on to the next item. A group of Christians wanted to do something special for some needy people. They longed to get involved by providing some, much needed, financial assistance. Before they could do that, however, they had to make a priority list. They first had to get their lives right with the Lord. Once that happened, it made all the difference in the world. Today, in our lesson on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will think about putting first things first. We will consider what our lives will look like when we first make Jesus the Lord of our life, and hopefully that is at the top of the list for each of us. I hope you will stay tuned to this channel for the next few minutes as we consider a priority list for our spiritual lives. Why not join us, now, as we study from the Letter of 2nd Corinthians.
Like most people, I have a morning routine. After getting up and getting dressed I get some breakfast, and then I spend some time reading from God's Word, then I talk with Him in prayer. Now, those things are important to me. They are priority and I look forward to doing them each and every day. And that is the way it is with most all of us. We have a priority list. There are certain things we do before doing anything else. For example, we get dressed before going out in public. We put fuel in our automobile before taking a long trip. We might even save up some money before making a big purchase. Yes, some things, and some people, are just more important than others, and it is called putting first things first. The apostle Paul seemed to have that same thing in mind when he wrote 2nd Corinthians 8. He was writing to a group of Christians living in the city of Corinth about another group of Christians living several hundred miles away in the city of Jerusalem. And those Christians there, in Jerusalem, were extremely poor. They had very little money and they were trying to survive one day at a time. They were living in extreme poverty. Now, Paul has actually written to them about this need, back in 1st Corinthians 16, and the Christians in Corinth were responding. They were setting aside money on a weekly basis to give to the needs of those Christians in Jerusalem. And Paul would come by, and he would collect those funds, and then take them back and distribute to those who had a need. However, Paul knows these Christians in Corinth can give more than what they are already giving. So, to inspire them to greater levels of giving, he writes about a group of Macedonians, a group of Christians living in Macedonia, about 200 miles away, and he uses them as an example for these Christians in Corinth to consider. He uses them as an example of what it looks like to have a priority list, and to put some things above other things; and in doing so he hopes the Corinthians will respond with even greater levels of giving and greater amounts of money to help those poor Christians. Yes, these people in Macedonia, because they had received the love of God, they decided to allow that to make a difference in their lives, and therefore be a blessing to someone else. Now, having said all of that by way of an introduction, I want to read those verses, 2nd Corinthians 8 beginning with verse 1. – Now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. They did not do so as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then to us in keeping with God's will. – There are several phrases, here in these first 5 verses of the 8th chapter, that I want us to notice for the next few minutes. The first phrase is perhaps the most important phrase, and it's found right there at the end of verse 5. We notice the Christians in Macedonia first gave themselves to the Lord. Now that simply means, they had a priority list and the number 1 on that list was Jesus Christ. They gave themselves to Him and they began to live in response to what He had done for them. Yes, the first thing these Christians did was to decide to follow Jesus. They responded to the sacrifice He made when He gave His life for them, on the cross. And before they got involved with helping the poor Christians in Jerusalem, or perhaps anybody else for that matter, they got right with the Lord. Now, that's putting first things first. That's making Jesus the number 1 priority. And what they did to bless and to help the lives of other people came from that regular and daily walk with Him. Now, once that was in place they could then be of assistance and encouragement to those who needed it. The second phrase we notice here is that, these Christians were under severe trial. They suffered persecution. Oh, being a Christian in the days and times when this was written was not a very popular thing among many people. In fact, the people believed you only had one person you had to answer to, and that was the emperor in Rome; and the Roman authorities were more important than anybody and anything else. But when people gave their lives to Jesus Christ they said; no that's not the way it is for me because Jesus is now my first priority, and I will submit to Him before I submit to the authorities of the land. Now as a result of that, these new Christians received all kinds of persecution. They were rejected. They were abused. They were treated unfairly. In some instances, their jobs were taken away, and sometimes even their family members. Yes, these people suffered and they were under severe trial. And that kind of treatment brought on extreme poverty. Suffering under this oppression, these Christians in Macedonia were beyond poor. I don't know of any other way to describe extreme poverty, and to say that. Economically things could not get any worse than what they were for the people in Macedonia. They too were under extreme poverty. But notice what happened next. None of that abuse, and none of that poverty, none of the persecution they suffered prevented them from being generous and helping other people. Why was that? Well, they had their priorities straight. They first had given themselves to the Lord, as we read in verse 5 just a moment ago. And because of that, they now pleaded with Paul. They wanted to be a part of something good. They wanted to be a part of helping these Christians in Jerusalem who needed some financial assistance. At first, Paul did not ask the Macedonians to help with this matter because he knew of their extreme poverty. He knew they were not in any better shape than the people in Jerusalem. But look at verse 4; they begged to be included. They wanted to participate with this collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Oh, compared to others they did not have very much, but what they did have they wanted to give, in order to help with the needs of someone else. Not long ago I took a mission trip to the nation of India, and I've been there several times before. Word got out, before I left, that I was going on this mission trip and there was one man, in particular with whom I go to church, who approached me and said, “I want to pay for your trip.” He is a man of not much great wealth or prosperity. In fact, he even does mission work on his own and he supports his own efforts. But he said, “Bret, I believe in what you are doing. I want to help. In fact, I want to just pay for your trip;” and that is exactly what he did. Here was a man who gave out of what God had given to him, in order to do something good for someone else. And today, many people hide from such a need. They want to keep their wealth for themselves and don't want to share it with anyone else. Well, that's not the case with these Christians in Macedonia. They begged to be included. They wanted to participate in something good that was going on. And when they finally had the opportunity to do that, we notice the next phrase, their hearts overflowed with joy. Oh, they were excited about what they were doing. They were anxious to give and to respond to the needs of someone else, and they did it joyfully as they gave liberally. They did not help just a little bit, but they helped, as we noticed, beyond their ability. They went that extra mile. They sacrificed. They found some things that they could do without, and they sold those, or what ever it was. But they gave beyond their ability, and Paul was surprised. He was surprised with these great sacrifices and their willingness to respond in the manner they did. Then finally, one more phrase I want us to think about, there in the first part, they were rich in generosity. Oh, the Christians in Macedonia did not hold anything back. They were rich. They were generous. They gave liberally in order to help other people. They did not worry about how God would make that up in their life, because He had always taken care of them. And they knew without a doubt that God would take care of them this time, as well, if they just gave sacrificially. Yes, they knew that God would provide for them as they provided for the needs of someone else. God was very gracious and He would continue to share His abundant blessings with them as they, in turn, shared those with other people. And again, we go back to the first statement. That generosity came because of their relationship with the Lord. They did not necessarily give out of pity for those who were poor. They did not necessarily give because they were sympathetic to the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem, but they gave because they had first given themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, these Christians in Macedonia did something wonderful for the Christians in Jerusalem. It happened because they had their priorities straight. It happened because they were right with God and they put first things first. Every nation in this world has what we call a poverty line, and that line is administered by the governing authorities of that particular nation. It is a line that determines who is rich and who is poor, to say it in very simple terms. If you live at or below that poverty line then you are considered very poor, and that line is different for every nation in this world. I am blessed to live in the United States of America, and I am blessed to live above the poverty line that has been established here in this country. Now as I mentioned a moment ago, I was in India not long ago and they have a poverty line that is much lower than the American poverty line, and I know many people in that country who live at or below that poverty line, which is established at about $2 a day. And yet as I think about those people, they are some of the most generous, and some of the most giving and caring people on the face of this earth. And they remind me of these Macedonians, that Paul refers to here in 2nd Corinthians 8. In Acts chapter 2 we find the story of a large group of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles got up and spoke to a large crowd of people, and on that occasion over 3000 of them gave themselves to Jesus Christ. They believed in Him. They repented of their sin. They were even baptized into Him, as they identified themselves with what Jesus had done for them. That was a big deal. That was a wonderful occasion. But what happened next, with these new Christians, is also very impressive. Listen to verses 44 and 45 of that 2nd chapter. – All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone, as he had need. – These new Christians sacrificed for one another. They blessed each other's lives with whatever they needed, because they had first given themselves to the Lord. And that was not just a one-time thing, but it happened on a number of other occasions as well. I think about the words from chapter 4 of Acts, beginning with verse 32. – All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was with them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or homes sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need – They continued to see about and take care of the needs of their fellow believers in Jesus Christ. Now, in both of these passages, in Acts 2 and also in Acts 4, these new Christians made great sacrifices. Why? Because they had first given themselves to the Lord. That was the very same thing that the Christians had done back in Macedonia, that Paul is referring to here in 2nd Corinthians 8. Once these Christians had their walk with God in place, secure and what it needed to be, it was then that they could open up their eyes and see the needs of other people; and minister to them. And so they helped, and they served, and they gave, and they sacrificed, in order to be a blessing to others. As we think about putting first things first, I encourage you to watch this short video clip as it perhaps illustrates our lesson today.
As I read my Bible, I come across many passages of Scripture which are inspiring and encouraging. Passages that give me guidance and direction for my life, and passages which offer hope. But as I read the Bible, sometimes it seems almost overwhelming and even confusing. All of the stories and all of the events, which took place so many years ago. I began to wonder, is there one particular Scripture verse, one passage that is more important than all the rest. I think about what Micah wrote in chapter 6, that we are to act justly, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with God, and I wonder if that is the most important thing. Or then I think about the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:12, what has been called the Golden Rule; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Is that the most important? But out of all of the passages of Scripture in the Bible the one I believe summarizes the message of God is this, from Mark 12:30 where Jesus stated that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and then the second greatest commandment is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Yes that is it perhaps, to love God and to love other people. To have a vertical relationship between us and God and then a horizontal relationship between ourselves and the people God puts into our lives. Jesus stated, in Matthew 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you. Love one another as I have loved you.” Yes, when we love one another we demonstrate our love for God. And when we demonstrate our love for God we will love those people that God puts before us. Yes, sometimes the Bible can be confusing. Sometimes it might even be overwhelming. But when we begin to live a life of love, loving God and loving other people, things become much clearer. And that is what I would encourage you to do in your life today, to begin to live a life of love. Love God with everything that you’ve got and then love those people whom He puts into your life.
These new Christians we read about in Acts 2 and Acts 4, and also those Macedonian Christians we read about in 2nd Corinthians 8, first loved the Lord. They loved Him with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. They recognized and appreciated what God had done for them, through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. And they gave themselves back to the Lord as they walked with Him every day. And then, they loved people. They lifted up their eyes and they saw the needs of the people all around them, and they loved, and they blessed, and they ministered, and they gave to those who were in need. You know I wonder today, is that the example we follow? Is that something that we try to do in our life? When a person gives his or her life to the Lord, and puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we give our heart to the Lord, don't we? We make Him the first and number 1 priority in our life, and it is then that we seek to honor God by helping, and serving, and blessing the lives of those around us. But it comes when we put first things first and we give our lives to the Lord. And for those who take seriously that commitment to Jesus Christ, they become aware of the people around them. They see those in need of love, and assistance, and encouragement, and they make sacrifices, and they do what they can to be a blessing to other people. Now, with those things in mind I want us to ask ourselves some questions, in conclusion. The 1st question, and this is obviously the most important: have you given yourself to the Lord? Have you responded to what God did for you, as He demonstrated His great love in sending His Son to die on the cross in your behalf so that you can have the forgiveness of sin, and the salvation of your soul, and the promise of eternal life? I hope and pray that you have, that you have given yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you have done that then here's the next question. What does serving with sacrifice look like in your life? When was the last time you begged for an opportunity to help, and to respond to a specific need for someone else? When was the last time you were rich in generosity? And, is your heart overflowing with joy because you had the privilege to help someone? Not long ago a massive storm, with a tornado, passed through a community not far from where I live. It made national news. It made international news. It was of historic size. This great storm and tornado swept through this community of people, and it was devastating. Many people lost their homes, and their cars, and their possessions, and things that were valuable and important. And sadly, many people also lost their lives. It was tragic, and no doubt you heard about it. But, as soon as that storm passed by there were hundreds and even thousands of people who immediately responded to the needs of those who were left without. They came with water, and food, and clothes, and belongings, and money. And they said; we want to help. We’re making sacrifices. We want to bless you so that you can get back on your feet again, and move on with your life. I know some of those people who responded to the needs of those affected by that great tornado, and those people remind me of the people of Macedonia, the people we read about in Acts 2 and Acts 4. They had first given themselves to the Lord and that motivated them to lift up their eyes, to see the needs of those who are affected by the devastating things of this life. And they gave, and they helped, and they sacrificed, and they responded, to be an encouragement and to be a blessing to other people. Here is my encouragement for us to consider in our lesson today; to put first things first. To make Jesus Christ the number 1 priority in your life, to recognize what God the Father has done for you, through His Son; and respond to Him by giving your life, like the people did in Acts 2, in belief, and in trust, repentance and being baptized into Jesus for the forgiveness of that sin. And then, allow that to make a difference in the way you live; to lift up your eyes, to see the needs of those around you and then to respond by making sacrifices. Respond with overflowing joy. Plead for an opportunity to be involved in touching the lives of other people. My encouragement for you today is simply to put “first things first.”
Thank you for being a part of the program today. I hope this message about putting first things first was helpful and gave you something to consider regarding your priorities. All of the materials we offer through the website are free and require no commitment of any kind; including the free Bible study. It is easy to enroll and I hope you will do so. We would also like to hear from you by way of an e-mail. Take a moment to send a message and I will be happy to correspond with you. The free app for Android and Apple iPhone is also still available. If you want to receive 1 minute daily devotional thoughts, or quick access to our website, this is the way to go. I hope you will download yours today. Thank you again for tuning in to the program. And please, join us again next time as we study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”