Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Christian's Priority

Matthew 7:12; 22:36-40

Delivered 09/11/2005

Last week we talked about "The Ordo Salutis" which deals with the logical order of salvation. The Ordo Salutis has to do with which step in salvation came first, and, more importantly, it has to do with who made the first move in our salvation. It actually answers the question: "To whom do we give the glory for our salvation: God or ourselves?" And this, my friend, is a very important question.

Last week's message wasn't light or easy. It wasn't three points and a poem. But we come here to study the Word of God not to be entertained. Let me state this as clearly and as forcibly as I can: I believe that the Church's priority when it is gathered is to teach the Word of God. Exposition of the Word for saints should be the heart of every church's ministry. If the world looks at the church and sees an entertainment center, we're sending the wrong message. If Christians view the church as an amusement parlor, discipleship will die.

Martin Luther said, "The highest worship of God is the preaching of the Word." That's true, because God is revealed through His Word, therefore, preaching His Word is preaching His character and His will and that defines Him in true terms and exalts Him as He is to be exalted.

The entertainment centered churches may gather a crowd but they do little to help people build a solid intimate relationship with the Living God. Only the teaching of the Word can do that.

In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul defines the church as, "the pillar and ground of the truth." If there should be anything true about the church, it should be it's where you hear the Word of the living God.

So, the priority of the Church when it gathers is to teach the Word of God. With that said, this morning I would like us to examine "the Christian's priority." What is our priority individually as the Church of Jesus Christ? I'm looking for a one word answer. LOVE!

Matthew 22:36-40 (NASB) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

Would you agree with me that the Christian's priority is love? Jesus said that love would identify us as His disciples:

John 13:35 (NASB) "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Please look closely at this verse- is it love that identifies us as Christians? That is not what it says. It says that it is love that identifies us as disciples. What is the identifying mark of a Christian? Faith!

One of the most important and misunderstood distinctions in the Bible is that of a Christian and a disciple. Many see them as synonymous. But I think the Bible makes a distinction between them.

How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is one word - believe! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ:

John 3:16 (NASB) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:36 (NASB) "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 11:25-26 (NASB) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 20:30-31 (NASB) Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

People become Christians when they understand and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. At that moment they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "in Christ."

The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:

John 3:16 (NASB) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe - do you see any cost involved here? But now notice:

Luke 14:33 (NASB) "So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John in John 3:16? I don't see how. I see discipleship as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to be disciples, but not all are. Jesus taught His disciples, all his disciples, that we are to love one another just as He loves us:

John 13:34 (NASB) "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

I don't think that there should be much argument as to the fact that we are commanded by God to love each other. We know we're suppose to love, but do we know what love is?

Our culture uses the word love to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. So Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling, something we fall in or out of. The biblical word used for love is "agape." Agape was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love.

Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave His son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were His enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and with his or her best interests foremost. That is what love is.

Let's look at a few verses that command us to love:

1 Peter 1:22 (NASB) Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,

The Greek word that Peter uses here for "fervently" is ektenos. This Greek word means:"intently". It comes from ektenes, which means: "without ceasing." We are to intently love each other without ceasing.

Look at what the writer of Hebrews told believers:

Hebrews 10:24 (NASB) and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,

He says, "Let us consider ...one another." The word "consider" is from the Greek word katanoeo. Katanoeo is a compound word composed of kata, which means: "down" and noeo which means: "to exercise the mind." It has the idea of thoroughly and carefully noticing someone or some thing. A good English equivalent would be: "to contemplate." Do you "thoroughly and carefully notice others" in this assemble?

This exhortation to consider is not given to the church elders - it is given to all believers. We all are to "consider one another." We are to look to the needs, problems, struggles, and temptations of one another. The spirit of rugged individualism so prevalent in America is wholly incompatible with the church of Jesus Christ. American believers think that they have discharged their responsibility to the Lord because they are individually living in holiness, but they are wrong: we are not only to look out for our own lives, but we are to consider others. Christianity is others oriented! But most of us care only about meeting our own needs; we ignore the many instructions in the Bible about our responsibility to others. Do you realize that individually you and I are personally responsible for the physical and spiritual welfare of each other? Do you understand that? Look at just a few of the ways that the Bible says we should be involved in each other's lives.

Colossians 3:16 (NASB) Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing [Greek: noutheteo; to put in mind, to caution or reprove gently, warn] one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB) Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, [Greek: oikodomeo: to be a house-builder, to construct] just as you also are doing.
Galatians 5:13 (NASB) For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve [Greek: douleuo: to be a slave to] one another.

The kingdom of God is not designed for believers to exist in isolation from each other: we are interdependent. We need each other if we are truly going to be what God has called us to be. Each believer has unique abilities and insights that are invaluable for ministering to the body of Christ. Christianity is to be lived out in community, and God has created us to be dependant both on Him and on one another. God said in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for a man to be alone." That principle does not only apply to the marriage relationship; none of us has the spiritual wherewithal to go it alone in our Christian lives.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NASB) Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

We need each other, because that is how the Lord created us. We are to teach, to serve, and to bear the burdens of one another.

I think that the contemporary church is miserably failing to love. We are really not much different than the world. We come to a meeting on Sundays, and we chat with and hang out with our friends. Then we go home, and during the week we talk to and hang out with those we are comfortable with. How much time during the week do you spend loving others, besides your friends. Don't the unsaved also love their friends?

Look at what Paul told the believers in Rome:

Romans 15:7 (NASB) Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

The word "accept" is the Greek word proslambano, which means: "to take to one's self, to take into friendship". It is an intense word, it means: "to grant one access to one's heart, to take into friendship, communion." So Paul is saying, "take intimately to yourself one another."

Are you doing this in this assembly? Are you granting access to your heart, are you taking others in this assembly into your friendship and communion?

Matthew 10:40 (NASB) "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.

How you receive another believer is how you receive Christ and the Father. We are to accept our brothers in Christ even though they are different from us. We tend to receive only those who are like us, and we reject or exclude all those who are different.

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Christ received us unconditionally. Were we worthy of it? No, not at all. When a believer refuses to accept into his heart another believer, he is saying in effect, "I know Christ has received them, but I require more, I have a higher standard." We're to be like Christ, but are we?

There are many opportunities to really reach out in love, but few of us do. Why? It's because we are too wrapped up in ourselves. The big problem is that most people come to church to receive, not to give. Do you look for ministry opportunities, or do you seek to be ministered to?

When I talk about ministry, I'm not talking about teaching Sunday school or setting up chairs, I'm talking about reaching out in love to a fellow brother or sister. You may be thinking, I'm not good with strangers. God has this to say to you:

Hebrews 13:1-2 (NASB) Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

The words "show hospitality to strangers" are from the Greek word philonexia; it comes from philos, which means: "love", and xenos, which means: "stranger". It means: "loving strangers or a fondness, affection to strangers, hospitality".

He goes on to say, "...for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." The word "angel" may refer to superhuman beings or it may refer to human beings who are messengers from God. Angel is from the Greek word aggelos, which means: "to bring tidings; a messenger." I think the point here is that we can never know how important and far reaching a simple act of love may be.

Are you thoroughly and carefully noticing others in this assembly? Are you "receiving" others in this assembly, granting them access to your heart, taking them into friendship, communion? If you are not, you are living in disobedience.

You may be saying to yourself, "I just don't have time for others, I'm so busy taking care of me and my responsibilities." I'm sure many of you feel that way, but I don't feel that it is a legitimate excuse for not ministering to others. We all have our own stuff to deal with, but notice what Paul told the Philippians:

Philippians 2:4 (NASB) do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

The word "look" is from the Greek word skopeo, it means: "to fix the attention upon with desire for, and interest in." We are to be looking out for others; looking to meet the interests of others and not just our self. We need to hear this; we are so consumed with ourselves that we have no time for others.

Timothy fleshed this out, Paul said this of him in:

Philippians 2:20-21 (NASB) For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.

Notice that he doesn't say that others care for themselves and not you, but others care for themselves and not for Christ. To be concerned for other Christians is to be concerned for Christ; to love Christ is to love his people.

If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't have time for others, we are failing to love. And if we fail to love, we are failing to do that which is most important.

We all want to be loved and cared about, and since we do, we are obligated to do the same for others:

Matthew 7:12 (NASB) "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

What is this verse called? It is often referred to as the Golden Rule. You can find this rule stated negatively in almost every religion.

The HINDU religion taught: "This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain." (The Mahabharata)

The BUDDHIST religion taught: "Hurt not others with that which pains yourself." (Udana-Varga)

But Jesus is saying here that we should look beyond the negative form of the rule. Be positive in our approach to godliness. Do to others what we would want done.

The connecting word Therefore is Jesus' admonition to hold this golden rule in context with the other verses of this section of His "Sermon on the Mount." We must see the meaning in the context with what lays before it.

"Therefore" carries us back to the beginning of Chapter 7, considering that we judge others as we would want them to judge us. That is where judgment must begin, putting ourselves in the other person's position. How do I want to be judged?

Matthew 7:1-2 (NASB) "Do not judge lest you be judged. 2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.

Jesus says that if we pass judgment, it must be on the basis of how we would want to be judged if we were in his place, and he was in ours.

This same idea is taught by Paul in:

Galatians 6:1 (NASB) Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.

All of us are overtaken in a fault occasionally. What would we want our brothers to do to restore us? We wouldn't want them to speak to us in a condemning spirit; a self-righteous spirit that passes judgment on us as though we were something less than they are. We would want them to restore us. The spirit of this verse teaches us to do to them as though we were the ones taken in a fault.

He is teaching us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Watch what the next verse says:

Galatians 6:2 (NASB) Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.

We fulfill the law of Christ when we bear each other's burdens, when we help them in their infirmities and weaknesses. We are to help by giving them the hand of fellowship; we are to help them out of their problem; we restore them. We do not heap condemnation upon them with a judgmental spirit.

The "therefore" not only goes back to the idea of judgement, it also is a tie to the goodness of God:

Matthew 7:11-12 (NASB) "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! 12 "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Consider the connotation in this context- since your Father in heaven gives good things to you when you ask Him, make it your practice to do good unto those to whom you are able. I think that Jesus is again saying, "Be like your Father!" We are to manifest God's character in our dealings with others. We are partakers of His character, and we are to manifest that character.

We are to be manifesting God's character in our dealings with one another, doing what is good for the other person. That leaves no room for things like gossip, pettiness, unkindness, jealousy and envy. All of these things are ruled out by the simple statement, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We are to manifest God's character in our relationships with one another.

Every person naturally has a high regard for himself and quickly feels the slightest wrong done to him. Have you ever met a person who didn't feel the slightest injustice or disrespect accorded him? Now, the Lord says that we must judge by our own heart or our own response under that situation. How would we want to be treated? How would we want that person to treat our name or our feelings under that identical set of circumstances? The "Golden Rule" says that is how we deal with him.

This "Golden Rule" also applies to forgiving. As long as we are in this world, we will cause offenses. You and I offend in many ways, and we must realize the infirmities of others. We should not be so easily offended. So often the offense is minor. Would we want them to be offended that easily if we had done something that minor to them?

Colossians 3:13-15 (NASB) bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

We usually resent it when others demand perfection from us, therefore, we should not expect perfection in others. We want people to realize that we are fallen creatures, and we need forgiveness.

James 3:2 (NASB) For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

That means we also need forgiveness from others. We don't require flawless perfection in another person in order to be their friend, because they are human. There are a couple of verses in Ecclesiastes that have been a big help to me in overcoming hurt caused by what others say:

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 (NASB) Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.

We shouldn't get hurt when we hear that others have said things about us, because we all have said things about others. We should not be so quickly offended by words, because our own tongue has often run when it should have been stopped.

When you have suffered wrong, you know how it hurts. You know the grief and sorrow and shame. You know the consequences of suffering wrong. Now look how much more responsible you become under the "Golden Rule" so you do not bring that kind of suffering upon the next person, because you have a feel of what it would do to them.

It isn't that you do unto others as they do to you, but that you do what you would want them to do to you. The more you have suffered by others violating the "Golden Rule," the more accountable you become before God if you do the same thing. Look how far that removes revenge. The very thought of revenge is horribly wicked, because we know the consequences. This is often quite a struggle when we suffer wrongfully.

Self love is our greatest obstacle to loving others, therefore, it becomes the standard by which God commands us to treat others. How do you want to be treated? Think about that! That is the standard by which we are to treat others.

Proverbs 19:22 (NASB) What is desirable in a man is his kindness, And it is better to be a poor man than a liar.

I think you would agree that all of us desire people to be kind to us, therefore, according to the "Golden Rule," we are to be kind to others.

1 Corinthians 13:4 (NASB) Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,

One of the marks of love is that it is kind. This is the Greek word chresteuomai, it means: "to show oneself useful, to act benevolently, to be kind or good." Kindness and goodness are so closely related that they are often used interchangeably. The verb itself speaks of activity; active good will, being useful for somebody else's good, always trying to do what is helpful to the other person even if it involves sacrifice. In the New Testament, the verb appears only in 1 Corinthians 13:4, but the noun and the adjective for kindness occur repeatedly in Paul's epistles:

Ephesians 4:32 (NASB) And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Just as unkindness sets off a chain reaction of unkindness, so an act of kindness sets off a chain reaction of kind events. Would you describe yourself as kind? As Christians, we are called to be kind. As we are kind, we are manifesting the character of Christ.

Herbert V. Prochnow said, "You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry you thought the worst, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you'll find - you're never sorry you were kind."

Do you enjoy it when people treat you with kindness? I do, and I'm sure that you do also. Well, if you want to be treated with kindness, then that obligates you to treat others with kindness. Love is kind.

Now, let me ask you a question: "Why are we to do unto others as we would have them do unto us?" Jesus does not say that we are to do to others what we would like them to do to us in order that they will do it to us. The reason that Jesus gives is:

Matthew 7:12 (NASB) "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

"For this is the law and the prophets." In Matthew 22:40 he said, "On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets." Jesus is saying that this command summarizes the Law and the prophets. Another way to state this "Golden Rule" would be: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 19:19). Remember that all of the Law is summarized in that you love God and love your neighbor. This emphasis on loving your neighbor means doing what is best or good for him.

Jesus says that treating others as you want to be treated, "Is the Law and the Prophets." Loving God is invisible. It is an internal passion of the soul. But it comes to expression when you love others. So loving others is the outward manifestation, the visible expression, the practical demonstration, and therefore, the fulfillment of what the Old Testament is about. So there is a sense in which the second commandment (to love your neighbor) is the visible goal of the whole Word of God. It's not as though loving God is not here, or that loving God is less important; rather, loving God is made visible and manifest and full in our visibly, practically, sacrificially loving others. I think that is why the second commandment stands by itself when the New Testament says that love fulfills the law.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation faced with the need to make a decision on the spur of the moment - wondering what is the right way to act, unable to recall whether the Bible specifically addresses the moral dilemma in which you find yourself? Jesus provided a helpful tool in such a situation, a quick and easy way to know what to do - something that is easy to remember - "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them..."

We should have the same desire for our neighbor's good as for our own. Do to others what you would have them to do to you. Don't wait for them to do something for you. Take the initiative. If you enjoy being loved, love others. If you like to receive things, give to others. If you like being appreciated, appreciate others. You want to be forgiven? Forgive! You need affirmation? Affirm! You feel hurt, wounded, broken and could stand a gentle touch? Be gentle with others! You appreciate tact? Be tactful! You enjoy a nice compliment? Compliment others! You enjoy an encouraging letter, write others! This is loving others as we love ourselves. This is the Christian's priority!

How do we live like this? How do we live in love? We must remember what we learned in our study of Galatians. Love is a product of a Spirit controlled life. Galatians 5:22 says, "The fruit, or product, of the Spirit is love..." The fruit of the Spirit, like all of spiritual life, comes only from living a Spirit controlled life, or walking in the Spirit.

Walking by the Spirit is a matter of "Dependant Discipline." Dependant emphasizes our need for God's power to work in us. Discipline emphases our need to discipline ourselves in Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. We are responsible to discipline ourselves toward spiritual growth, all the while depending on God to work in us.

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