SIMPLE TRUTH: What comes first?

Published 9:28 am Thursday, January 17, 2013

By Charles Christmas

This article is about something for you to do. Just do it, and do it now!

There is worldwide agreement that the greatest sermon of all time was given by Jesus. It was titled “The Sermon on the Mount.” It is recorded for your reading in Matthew 5-7. In the script, you will find the word “first” appearing only three times. Each concerns what must come first in our actions and the good things that will follow. The first is about control, the second is about broken relationships and the last is about self-examination. We begin with the first, which concerns who will be your king, and what or who will be in control of your life.

I attended the funeral of a dear friend, Dallas Sarvaunt, last Wednesday. More than 25 years ago, this retired AT&T employee made the decision, once and for all, that Jesus would be king and have control of his life. What followed for this layperson has been the history of an indescribable fruitful and joyful life that is well-known to his large family, two congregations, both of which he has been a member, and hundreds of friends and acquaintances.

In his sermon in Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “Seek first the rule and control of God in your life.” He absolutely seeks no less. Jesus said, “If any person comes after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. No one and nothing is to come before me.” And what good things did he promise would follow? All the basic necessities of life will be provided: food, clothing and shelter. But that does not mean that our gracious father will not provide much, much more. This present life will not be a lost life, and beyond this life will not be a lost eternity.

The next “first” focuses on relationships. It is about a broken relationship between you and someone else. Jesus calls that person your brother (or sister, wife, husband, father, mother, cousin, neighbor, fellow worker, fellow church member or someone deceased). Jesus said in Matthew 5:24, “First, go and be reconciled with your brother.” No matter the past actions or attitude of the other person, Jesus places responsibility for initiating reconciliation squarely upon you alone. It is that simple and definite; no waiting for the other to initiate anything. And what good things will happen? How many? Only the God of grace, mercy and love knows, but the beginning good thing promised, and for certain, is that only then will your worship of God be acceptable to him.

You see, the setting is of a person at the church house and at God’s altar who is seeking to worship and give an offering to God. It could have been some private act of worship at home. Jesus said, “Stop going through the motions of worship and immediately be reconciled to your brother; then begin to worship God in reality.” Of course, you see the good things that follow. For one, when you have put forth such a sincere effort for reconciliation, you can then experience acceptable worship. You may have healed a wound in your own heart or that of another. There may be no end to the good that may come to you and others.

The final “first” relates to personal self-examination in Matthew 7:1-5. Jesus said it can be very hypocritical to be critical, judgmental and condemning toward others.

Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy said to President Nixon during their campaign debate, “One’s judgment can be no better than his information.” This is true, and may I add that no one but God has all the information. Jesus said that it may be that another may need help in some area of their life and you may be the one who can help, but he said we must first turn the focus light of self-examination on our own lives until we see our own failures in order to be large in God’s eyes and in ours. Then we can confess our own faults and failures to God, turn from them, and get right with God and others. What are the good things that can follow? God may help you to be useful to someone else in his or her struggle. There is no way to become what God wants us to be apart from self-examination in full view of the light and love of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He did not come to criticize, judge and condemn the world, but that the world through him might be set free, rescued and delivered from the result, guilt and power of sin and sins. This he desires for you to possess as your very own.

—Charles Christmas is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Thursday.