“Our Greatest Priority” (Matthew 22:34-38 sermon)

I have to admit: I was kind of disappointed last Sunday after we came home from church and eating out, that there wasn’t a football game on tv that I could fall asleep to. Can’t wait till next September — I think we’re really going to enjoy football season in Texas!

But football, like most things, is a game of fundamentals. If you do the fundamentals right, a lot of other things fall into place. And sometimes you’ve just got to get back to those fundamentals. I read that one time at the beginning of training camp, Vince Lombardi decided he needed to get his team back to the fundamentals. So he gathered his men together, and rolled a football out on the practice field grass, and said, “Gentlemen: this is a football.” That’s really getting back to the basics!

And I think from time to time we have to get “back to the basics” in our churches too. There are SO many things that can keep us busy; SO many things that people think we should be doing. And some of them are indeed very good; some of them maybe not so good. But what are the fundamentals? What are the most basic things that GOD wants us to be doing in His church? As we begin our ministry together, I think it’s important for us to see what the Bible says we should be doing, so that we are all on the same page as to what our priorities are, and what we should really be doing as a church.

What’s the most important thing? Well, we don’t have to guess. Jesus was actually asked that question in Matthew 22: “‘Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?’ 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.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.’”

Now Jesus went on to say some more, but we are going to stop right there for now. This Pharisee asked Jesus: “What is the Great Commandment in the Law?” Now the Bible says they asked Him this “testing Him,” but it was still a good question — and a question that He had probably been asked many times. And it makes sense to ask: “What’s the most important commandment.” Traditionally, there were 613 commandments in the Jewish Law — that’s a lot of commandments! It could be hard to keep up with all of them. So which was the MOST important, to make sure they kept THAT one?

So Jesus’ answer to that question is so important. It should be our top priority. And what was His answer? “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to LOVE GOD.

Now, many of us have heard this so often over the years that we just “breeze by it” when we read it. But try to hear it again today for the first time. May God’s Spirit help us to hear it today and apply it to our hearts and lives: Jesus said the most important thing there is, is loving God. If that is so, and it is, because Jesus said it is, then this means something important for our church, and for your life as an individual.
— The most important thing we can do as a church is to love God.
— And the most most important thing you can do as an individual is to love God.
As Jesus said, “This is the great and foremost commandment.” This is the most important thing we are supposed to be doing. So let’s think together for a few minutes about what that means both for us as a church, and for us as individuals, to keep this most important commandment:

I. The most important priority in your life as an individual is to worship God.

See, you need to realize, this is why you were created by God in the first place: to worship Him. That’s why this is the Greatest Commandment: because this is what we were made for!
Jesus said in John 17:17, “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Jesus said that eternal life is not just “going to heaven;” it is KNOWING GOD. That is what eternal life is. That is what we were made to do: to know and worship God.
And this is what our sin destroyed in our lives. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” God is a holy God, so when we sinned, we could not remain in His presence. We were made to experience the glory of God, and be thrilled and fulfilled by Him, but our sin caused us to be separated from His glory. That’s why Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We can’t know the very glory of God we were made to experience, because of our sins. And we would have stayed that way forever, had God not done something about our sin. But He DID do something about it. He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and died for our sins, so if we would repent of our sin, we could be forgiven and have our relationship with God restored again. So those of us who have been saved CAN know Him again, and can worship Him and begin to taste His glory now here on earth through worship, and then experience it fully with Him in the perfect worship of heaven forever.

So we were made to walk with God every day like Adam & Eve did in the Garden of Eden; but our sin ruined that — but now in Christ we have been restored to that relationship with God. And our salvation is not just about “going to church;” or even just “going to heaven” per se; but it is about LOVING GOD and worshiping Him. This is what we were made for, and that is what our life as a Christian is supposed to be all about.

After I talked last week about how I ran down at the beach, someone asked me if I was a runner. I wondered how to answer that. I guess the bottom line is, if you run, you’re a runner. But I’m not like some runners. Years ago when I was pastoring I knew a guy whose whole life was about running. At night, before he went to bed, he set all his running stuff out to run the next morning: shorts, shoes, everything all laid out and ready; and made sure to get to bed early, so he’d get plenty of rest and be able to run. Then he set his alarm very early, to make sure he had time to get in all the miles he needed to on his run. Then all day he’d keep himself hydrated by drinking enough water, and he’d watch everything he ate, so he would be healthy for his run. And he’d go to work, but at every break he’d talk about running. And when he got home, he’d post on Facebook how he did on his run that day and he’d talk with others about their running. Then before he went to bed, he’d lay everything out again, to be ready to run again the next day. I just noticed, that his whole life really revolved around running. I am not that kind of runner. I run a couple of miles to keep in shape, but I am not like that guy. My whole life does not revolve around running.

But here’s the thing: just like that guy’s whole life revolved around running; our whole life as a Christian is to revolve around God. Like Jesus said here, the #1 greatest priority of your life is to worship God. It is what you were made for; it’s what you were saved for. Your whole life is supposed to revolve around loving Him, and worshiping Him — from morning to night and everything in between. But most of us would say that we have fallen way short of that, and admit that we’ve been distracted by lesser things.

There is a famous story about that in Luke 10:38-42. Verse 38 says “a woman named Martha welcomed (Jesus) into her home.” The next verse says, “She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only ONE THING is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

The reason this story is so well-loved is that so many of us can relate to it. Because just like Martha we’ve become distracted from the great priority that the Lord really made us for: worshiping at His feet like Mary did.

Sometimes I will go to look up some specific thing on the computer — maybe at home, or at church — but I get on to look at some specific thing — but maybe this has happened to you too: as soon as I get on the computer, I get distracted: I see I have an email I haven’t answered, or I got a Facebook message, or a text comes in, or there is some big news item that flashes up, or whatever — and before I know it, 15 or 20 minutes or more have gone by, and all of the sudden I will go, “Now what did I get on here for?” Have you ever done that? I’ve done it I don’t know how many times. You get distracted from what you were originally there for.

And what we need to see is that this same thing can happen with our life as a whole. Jesus created us specifically for the purpose of loving Him and sitting at His feet and worshiping Him. That is what we are here for; it is the most important thing. But what so often happens is we get distracted by SO many other things in this world — and I really think the devil is good about purposefully planting things in our lives to distract us from God — and we start chasing those things, and end up neglecting the most important thing, the ONE thing that we were really created for! And all of the sudden like me at the computer you look around and say (of your life) “What am I really here for?” We’re doing all these “things” — but we’re NOT really doing the ONE thing God really put us here for.

Think about your life. Think specifically about your schedule. You may have a job; you may have family; maybe exercise; hobbies; community involvement — all these things. But where is GOD in all this? How in the midst of all of this are we showing that we love HIM more than anyone or anything else?

The Bible shows us a number of ways we can do that:

— First, we can show God’s importance in our lives by giving Him the first day of the week to gather for corporate worship (we’ll talk about that some more in a minute). Unless we are out of town, or providentially hindered by sickness or something debilitating, we should be in church to worship God, to show that HE is the great priority of our lives, more important than anything else we could be doing during that time.
— We can also show that God is our priority by giving Him the first 10% of everything He provides for us, as a tithe — which demonstrates that He is more important than anything else we could do with that money.
— And just like we can show God’s priority by giving Him the first day of the week, and the first of our income, we can honor Him by giving Him the first part of each DAY He gives us, in a time of worship.

Jesus gave us the pattern for that, in Mark 1:35. Our ladies studied this passage as part of their lesson last Sunday night. It says, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” Jesus left the house early to get away and spend time with His Father in prayer. That was His priority — and if you read the context, He did this AFTER a long day of ministry, in which people were crowded at the door of the home He was staying in, until very late. But it didn’t matter how late He was up. He still made it a priority to get up very early to spend time with His Heavenly Father. If ANYBODY could have said, “I don’t need that time, I can skip it,” it would have been Jesus. But He didn’t. It was His absolute priority, even in the busiest times. And it must be ours too.

Worshiping God is THE single most important thing you have to do every day. If you will get up first thing in the morning and worship God, then it doesn’t matter what else you do or do not accomplish that day. Maybe nothing else goes right that day. Maybe you don’t make the big sale, or you don’t win the big game, or you don’t ace that big test — it doesn’t matter. If you have spent time worshiping God then you can have the satisfaction of knowing that no matter else you did NOT do, you were able to do THE single most important thing you could have done that day: you have worshiped the Living God!

And conversely; if you do NOT make God the most important priority of your life, and if you do NOT get up and worship Him first thing in the morning, then it does not matter WHAT else you do that day: it doesn’t matter if you win the “big game;” it doesn’t matter if you make that “big sale;” it doesn’t matter if you do ace that big test, you will have FAILED that day, because you failed to do the single most important thing God created you to do that day — which was to worship Him!

THE Great Commandment, Jesus said, is to love God with all our heart. We have got to get this back into our minds — and into our priorities and into our schedules the way the Lord intended it to be: THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT PRIORITY OF YOUR LIFE AS AN INDIVIDUAL IS TO WORSHIP GOD, every day! Nothing else compares to that!

II. The most important priority for us as a church is to worship God.

When Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, He wasn’t just speaking to us as individuals; He was also speaking to us as a church. The greatest thing we can do as a church is to love God and worship Him.
And this is what we see the early church doing in the Book of Acts. Acts 2 says the early church was continually “In the temple and from house to house … praising God …”. Acts 13 says the church at Antioch gathered to “minister to the Lord” through worship.

Worship is the first business of the church. Now, worship is not the ONLY business of the church — as we are going to see next week. There are some other things that we also need to be doing. But worship is the first business of the church, and it is the most important business of the church. Everything else we do, springs out of the foundation of our worship.

Now I can see how somebody might say, “Well, I don’t know that worship is really the most important priority of the church; I think evangelism and missions should be the most important: seeing people get saved. THAT should be our #1 priority.” And listen: I get that; evangelism is crucial. People are lost and need to be saved. That is vital. But listen: we’ve got to ask ourselves, when we “win” people, what are we winning them TO? See, we call them “lost” because they are separated from God and the worship He designed for them to have with Him. And when we “win” them, and they are saved, we are winning them TO worship God. If we ourselves aren’t worshiping God, or we really don’t have effective worship, then what are we winning them to? We’re missing the whole point of what we were supposed to be bringing them to: the Great Commandment of worshiping God. So even evangelism is really all about worship: getting people to worship the God who designed them to worship Him.

And our worship is the “fuel” and “fire” for our evangelism. When we have a great worship service here, we get fired up about God, and we want to invite others to come. When we worship God in our own devotional time at home, then we go out into that day ready to share Him with others. So our worship — both personal and together as a church — is the indispensable “fuel” for our evangelism. But if you and I neglect the Great Commandment, and we aren’t really worshiping God, and we aren’t all fired up about God, then we aren’t going to tell anybody about Him, and we are not going to invite anyone to come. So again, the single most important thing we do as a church is worship. Everything else we do as a church springs out of our worship. If our worship is powerful and effective, then the other things we do can be effective. But if our worship is NOT effective, then NOTHING else we do will have any power or effectiveness. But it all begins with our greatest priority: our worship.

And I will tell you: this is one of the reasons why I am here at FBC Angleton: because of the kind of worship we have at this church. It is led by a man of integrity, whose aim is the glory of God and not making a name for himself, or putting on a “show,” which is all that a lot of churches are about these days. The worship here is “vertical,” it draws us near to God; it is personally fulfilling and powerful. So many of our people here are really “into” the worship; singing all-out, giving their all in worship. And that’s so important. See, if the worship in a church is dead, there’s not much else you can do with them but pray for revival. But because there IS a heartfelt worship here, then there is no limit to what God can do in this church, because our worship fuels everything else we do. Worship is so vital; it is our most important priority in the church.

But listen: that story of Mary and Martha not only applies to us as individual people; it also applies to us as a church body as well. To how many churches could Jesus say those same words He said to Martha: “You are worried and bothered about so many things”? Martha is a picture not only of a distracted individual, but she’s a symbolic picture of of many American churches today isn’t she? So many of our churches today are worried and bothered and busy about SO many things, but they’ve neglected the most important thing!

See, I think perhaps Martha got her sense of “self-importance” from her busy-ness. I have known people like that, and maybe you have too. There was a person in one of our churches decades ago, who, when you would ask her how she was, she would always say, “Busy! I am SO busy!” Every time you saw her or talked to her, it was “Busy, busy, busy. OH I’m just so busy.” And I came to see that she seemed to get her sense of self-importance from her “busy-ness.” It was like, “If I am this busy, I must be really important.” She thought her “busy-ness” was a sign of success.

And the thing is, I think a lot of our churches today feel the same way too. They think the busier they are, the better they must be as a church. I have known churches who actually made it a goal, to have something going in their church every single day of the week, “let’s fill up the calendar” — as if busy-ness was the sign of the success of a church. And what often ends up happening is, they get busy doing so many things, that they don’t really do anything very well! And their busy-ness is one of their greatest downfalls.

So many of our churches today need to hear Jesus saying to us just like He did to Martha: “You are … bothered about so many things”, but you’ve neglected the one most important thing: just sitting at the Lord’s feet and worshiping Him!

There are so many things we can do doing as a church; so many distractions; so many things people think we should be doing — but NOTHING we do will ever be as important as just loving God: just sitting at His feet, and worshiping Him.

CONCLUSION:
You know, Jesus told John to write 7 letters to His churches in Revelation 2 & 3. I love those letters; I hope we’ll look at them together in-depth some day. The are so powerful because they are Jesus’ message directly to His churches: they are the same kind of things He would say to our churches today. And one of the strongest things He said was to the first church, at Ephesus, in Revelation 2. He told them: “I know your deeds, your toil, your perseverance …” — all these things they had been doing. But He said, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” He said all these activities you are doing are not pleasing Me. Not when you don’t have the most important thing: your first love. What is that “first love”? Our “first love,” is that love Jesus talked about in that First and Foremost Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Our “first love” is to be our love for God Himself.

Let is never forget: there is never anything more important, not for you as an individual, and not for this church as a whole, than “Our Greatest Priority”: not just “busy-ness,” but purposefully sitting at the feet of our Lord, loving and worshiping Him.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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1 Response to “Our Greatest Priority” (Matthew 22:34-38 sermon)

  1. Kathy powell says:

    I am happy for you’ll and your move to Texas I’m praying for all of you. I will look youll up when I go to visit my sister.

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