Robert Morris — The Principle of Priority
All right, so I want to begin a new series. It's called "Relationship Through God's Top Ten List". Now, I want you to know that God's the first one to have a top ten list. I know a lot of people, they have top ten lists. God came out with the first one. As a matter of fact, we call them the Ten Commandments. We call them the Ten Commandments because the Bible calls them the Ten Commandments in three different places - once in Exodus, twice in Deuteronomy. I'll show you the one in Exodus. We'll get to Chapter 20 in a minute. Exodus 34:28, "So he", speaking of Moses, "was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water, and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments".
So, God calls them the Ten Commandments. And so, I began this past summer on my study break to just see the Ten Commandments in a different way than I've ever heard anyone teach or preach them. I got books on the Ten Commandments this last fall. I got some video teachings. But I actually did not complete any of them, because as I started them, none of them fit the burden that the Lord's given me. They were all good, but they just don't fit the burden God's given me, and here's what I mean by that. I don't think God was giving us a list of rules. I don't think He was giving us a list of dos and don'ts. I think He was giving us principles for living, and those principles enhance our relationship with God and other people.
And I think if we'd look at the Ten Commandments... I understand they are commandments. They are commandments. But I think if we would like at them this way and say, what's the principle behind this commandment that's going to enhance my relationship with God and other people, I think we'll see some things we've never seen before. So, I literally have a principle for all ten. I've already gone through them for several months now. I have a one-word principle for all ten, and the first one I'm calling the principle of priority. So, this is what I believe that the first commandment is. I think it's teaching us the principle of priority.
So, in a new series, you have to kind of introduce the series, and then kind of go into the first point. So I've got three points, but my first point is going to deal with kind of helping us understand the whole series, and then I'll have two points talking about priority. So, here's point number one. It's about relationship. The giving of the Ten Commandments is about relationship. You have to remember that God's a God of relationship. He created Adam and Eve for relationship. He redeems the children of Israel for relationship. He redeemed you for relationship. And when He starts with the Ten Commandments, He actually reminds the children of Israel that it's about relationship.
I want to show you. Okay, so if you're in Exodus 20, look at Verse 1. Exodus 20:1, and by the way, the Ten Commandments are in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. So if you want to read them in Deuteronomy, they're in Chapter 5. Exodus 20:1, "And God spoke all of these words, saying, "I am the Lord your God". I am your God. I am your God. We have a relationship. That's where He starts the Ten Commandments. "Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage". And then, He gives the first commandment in Verse 3. "You shall have no other gods before Me". But, before He gives them the Ten Commandments, here's what He does. He reminds them, I bought you back. I redeemed you out of bondage and out of slavery so we could have a relationship.
Now, that's what He did for the house of Israel, but all of us know He did the exact same thing for us. He redeemed us out of slavery, out of bondage. Let me read you the Scripture. Romans 6:6, "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin". So, we were all slaves. We were slaves of sin. God redeemed us out of slavery, out of bondage to sin. And then when we look back at the Ten Commandments, here's what we see. We see ten principles that will deepen our relationship with God.
That's what I want you to see. Most people see these as a list of rules. Most people see these as things to do and things not to do. So, I don't want you to think about that anymore. It's not something to do or something not to do, okay? God redeemed us for relationship, okay? But, listen to me. You determine the depth of your relationship with God. I want to say that again, because that's very important. That's the main burden of this point that the Lord gave me. You determine the depth of your relationship with God.
Okay, so we've got Exodus 20. If you're there in your Bibles, you've got 1 through 17, starting in Verse 3, really. Verse 1 and 2, "I am the Lord your God, who redeemed you". Verses 3 through 17, those are the Ten Commandments. Watch what happens immediately after He gives the Ten Commandments, in Verse 18. All right? Exodus 20:18, "Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us and we will hear, but let not God speak with us, lest we die". And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you", or prove you in fire, make you better, "and that His fear may be before you", his honor may be before you, "so that you may not sin".
God is giving you some principles to help you get out of this bondage of sin that you're in, is what he's saying. But, watch Verse 21. "So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was". Moses determined that he wanted to have a deeper relationship with God, and the people determined that they wanted to have a relationship with God through Moses. Watch what they said. You speak to God and come tell us what He says. What do you think about that? How similar is that to many churches today? Pastor, you meet with God during the week, you go up the mountain, you hear God, and then you come back and tell us on the weekend what God is saying.
Well, we're not going to meet with God personally. Here's the reason, by the way, too. They said, "lest we die". Can I tell you something? Flesh always dies in the presence of God. It's true. You do die when you go into His presence, but that's a great thing, because Jesus then can live through you. The more you enter His presence, the more that you can reckon the old man dead, and the new man can be raised to walk a new life in Christ Jesus. But, they said we want to determine the depth of our relationship, and we want you to have a personal relationship, and we want to have a relationship with God through you.
Okay, because of that, here's another Scripture to me that goes right along with this. Psalm 103:7, "He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel". Do you see the difference? You might even want to look at it again. "He made known His ways", His ways, "to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel". Let me say it this way. The children of Israel knew what He did. Moses knew why He did it. Moses understood the ways of God, he didn't just see the acts of God. I want to be someone who knows His ways. So, let me say it another way. Do you want to have a relationship with God based on thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not? Or do you want to have a relationship with God based on principles that allow you to go deeper with God and get to know Him better? So, it's all about relationship.
So now, we're talking about the principle and priority, so we're going to go deeper into the first commandment. So here's point number two, while I'm summing up the first commandment. Worship God only. Worship God only. Now, let's look at the first commandment, Verse 3. "You shall have no other gods before Me". "You shall have no other gods before Me". Now, remember I like grammar, so I look at this statement and I see some things grammatically in it, and then of course, I go into the original language, the Hebrew. But I need to clarify something, because it says, "You shall have no other gods before Me", it almost sounds like you can have other gods, as long as they're not in front of me.
Do you see what I'm saying? "You shall have no other gods before Me". But if you have some after me, that's okay. That's not what He's saying. The word before can be a conjunction or a preposition. Now I know you say, I didn't come to church to learn grammar. I got out of school, and I hated it, and don't ever... okay. But listen to me, okay? It's important. A conjunction joins two thoughts. A preposition clarifies a thought. So, this is not a conjunction. It's not joining two thoughts, it's clarifying the first thought. A prepositional phrase... oh, please, I can already see. My wife's eyes are just glazing over right now. There he goes again, in the grammar. Okay. A prepositional phrase, listen, is not part of the main part of the sentence. It can be taken out of the sentence, and the sentence will mean the same.
Here's the statement. "You shall have no other gods", period. Then He clarifies it, "before Me". Why did He clarify it? Because they had just been in Egypt, 430 years, and Egypt had more gods than any other society or culture that has ever lived. They were polytheists. In other words, poly, from the Greek word meaning many, theist, meaning god. They believed in many gods. They had 29 main gods, and 2.000 lesser gods. 29 main gods... as a matter of fact, here are the names. I decided to just show you the names. Here are the 29 names of the main gods. They're in alphabetical order, so if you look at the H's, they've got one named Hapy, but he didn't make you happy. If you go to the N's, they've got one named Nun and Nut. So, you know, they've got...
So, here's what God was saying, because He had a people that came out of Egypt, and He made the statement, "You shall have no other gods". No gods. And then He was saying, none, none at all. For instance, this word before, it's in the Hebrew over a thousand times in the Old Testament. It's only translated before a few times. Let me give you some other translations of it. One of them is besides. You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall have no other gods in front of Me. You shall have no other gods behind Me. You shall have no other gods because of Me. You shall have no other gods in my face, in front of Me, in the sight of Me. You shall have no other gods against Me. There's another way it's translated. You shall have no other gods, listen, other than Me. And you have to take every Scripture and have it be congruent with the rest of Scripture. Here's Isaiah 45:5. "I am the Lord and there is no other". In other words, there is no other Lord. There is no god beside Me. Are you all following me?
So, I just want to clarify. When He says, "You shall have no other gods before Me", He's not saying you can have some others, as long as I'm first. He's saying, the body of the statement is, you shall have no other gods, and since you just came out of a culture that has more gods than any other culture, I want you to know, you should have no other gods at all beside Me, other than Me. Because when you have another god in your life, it's not going to work.
So, He's giving us a principle for living that enhances our relationship with Him. You know, we're the bride of Christ. This principle of priority works in marriage as well. I want you to think about this. Many of you know that Debbie and I had a difficult... about the first seven years of our marriage, because of me, because of my past and my sin. But, when God really got ahold of my life and I decided, you know what? I want to be a good husband, and a good father, and a good Christian. And I stepped out of ministry to get my life right with the Lord and right with my family.
One day, during my quiet time, the Lord said to me, I want you to write your priorities. So I got up and I got a piece of paper, and I wrote, number one, God. And the Lord said to me, I didn't tell you to write that. And I said, yeah, but I knew what you were going to say, because see, God, I've actually taught this, so I know about this. It's God, family, business. Y'all ever heard that? God, family, business. God's number one, then family, then business, all right? So, I know what you're going to say. You're going to say number one, God. And the Lord said, I didn't tell you to write that.
So I threw the piece of paper away, got another piece of paper out, wrote, number one. He said, I didn't tell you to write that. Got ready and He said, number one. Yeah, so? I knew you were going to say that! So, I wrote number one. And then this is what the Lord said. Debbie. And I said to Him, now Lord, that's not right. You're supposed to be number one. And here's what He said, and it's changed my life. He said, son, when you're married, if you'll put your spouse as number one, you are putting me number one, because if you can't serve her, then you can't serve Me. I've never forgotten that. There's a principle of priority, and when you understand this principle, it will enhance your relationship with God and your relationship with other people.
And here's point three - another way to say the principle of priority is put God first. It's the first commandment. He's saying put Me first. Put Me in first place in your life, above everything else. So, what's really first place in your life? This principle runs all through Scripture. When they went into the Promised Land, God said, bring all of the silver and gold from Jericho into the house of God. Why did He say that? It's very, very simple, because Jericho was the first city. He said when you're firstborn has an offspring, sacrifice it to Me. Give Me the firstborn. Why did He say that? He said, the firstborn belongs to Me. It's first. It's the principle of first.
Think about this. He didn't say when your sheep has ten lambs... you can wait until you have ten, and then give Me one, and you can give Me the one that you don't like, that keeps getting in your garden. He said, give Me the first one before you have the other nine. He said, when you have a harvest, give the first fruits to Me. Not the last fruits. Don't pay all of your bills first and see if you have enough left over. Give Me the first fruits. All through Scripture. This is the reason God accepted Abel's offering and He didn't accept Cain's, and this was 2.500 years before the Ten Commandments, 2.500 years before the law was given, 2.500 years before God even spoke about giving the tithe. There was a principle with God that the firstborn and first fruits belonged to Him, so, many people thought, why did He accept Abel's offering and didn't accept Cain's? Let me read it to you. It's really simple.
Genesis 4:3-5. "And in the process of time", those words are very important. "In the process of time, it came to pass", it just kind of happened, "that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord". Notice it never says first fruits, never. "Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock, and of their fat, and the Lord respected", or received, "Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering". This is a principle that runs all through Scripture. God says it only works when you put Me first. And Jesus comes and reiterates the same thing. Matthew 6, here's what He says. You know the verse. "Seek first". "Seek first the kingdom of God". Put God first, and all of these things will be added to you.
There's a story in 1 Kings 17 where there's a famine in the land, a drought, and God is providing for Elijah beside a brook, and sending ravens to bring him food in the morning and the evening, and then the brook dries up. And He says, go to Zarephath. There's a woman there, a widow, that will provide for you. Now we pick up the story there. He goes and he asks her for some water, and then asks her for some bread, and then look what she says. "So she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar, and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die". That's all she had left. "And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear. Go and do as you have said, but", watch what he says to this widow, a widow! "Make me a small cake from it", what word? First.
Put God's kingdom first in your life. "First, and bring it to me, and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel, this bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth". So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah, and she, and he, and her household, ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the Word of the Lord, which He spoke by Elijah".
Now, listen to me. Many, many people believe, and think, and God does dual purposes. God can be doing one thing and something else. So, one of the purposes was He sent Elijah there and said, I have commanded a widow to provide for you. So yes, God sent him, Elijah, there for the widow to provide for him, but listen. Think about this. God sent Elijah there to provide for the widow also. She had one meal left. She and her son were about to die. They were about to die! And God sends a man of God and this is what he says. Do this first. Put God first, and watch what happens to your flour bin and your jar of oil. Watch what happens when you put God first.
In Gateway Church we have a stewardship ministry to try to help people with their finances. We're trying to help you, I promise. That's the whole reason we started it, is to try to help you, because many people have no understanding of how to handle finances. My son is one of the stewardship pastors, James, and James told me, a couple of years ago, a widow came to him. She was tithing and she had made a commitment to Heart for the Kingdom for $5 a month. I am asking every person that attends Gateway to make a commitment, and I'm not asking you to make a commitment so more funds will come in. I'm asking you to make a commitment so you'll let God do something in your life. I promise you.
So here she made a commitment, $5 a month, but because of debt that she had and some things, she had $2 a day for food. And she said, I want to do my finances God's way. I want to put God first in my finances. And so, my son, James, began to work with her and help her. When Christmas came, she said, I have 12 grandchildren, and I've always given them a gift, but I know I don't have the finances to give a gift to my children, my grandchildren. So, James told her the story about one Christmas when Debbie and I didn't have money to give our kids gifts, and what God spoke to me was to give them spiritual gifts. And so, I prayed over our children and imparted spiritual gifts to them.
Here's the amazing thing. They're all three using those gifts today, all three of them. And it actually caused a little stir, because they were going to a Christian school, and when they went back to school, the teacher had everyone go around and tell the gifts they got. My kids told the gifts, and all of the kids got mad, went home and told their parents. Josh got the gift of leadership, and James got prophecy! But James told her that, and so she gave all of her grandchildren a spiritual gift that year, prayed about it, and prophesied, and the whole family said it's one of the best Christmases they've ever had.
But God began to bless her, and then one day she gets a phone call. She had done a reverse mortgage on her house, and the guy called and said, listen, your house is worth more money than what it was when we started this, and by the contract, we don't have to give you any more, but my boss told me to call you and tell you we want to give you more money. And so, she told James about it, and James said, let me call and check this out. Let me make sure what's happening, because this is very strange. So he called the guy and said, why are you doing this? He said, I don't know, my boss told me to do it.
He said, are you calling everyone? He said, no, my boss, for some reason... I love the words, for some reason. For some reason he pulled her file and he said, her house is worth more, I want to give her more money, and she's a widow. And James checked it all out to make sure it was all above board. They sent her a check for tens of thousands of dollars that paid off all of her debt and put money in her savings account, in one check, just like that. God still takes care of the widows today. He takes care of all of His kids, if you'll put Him first, if you'll put Him first.
Isn't it amazing? When this widow, who loves God with all of her heart, she's a member of our church, when she put this principle, the principle of priority, the first commandment - when she put this principle to work in her life, God blessed her with thousands of dollars from a very unexpected source. I want you to join us for this series, "Relationship through God's Top Ten", because I believe that there's a principle behind each of the Ten Commandments, that when we look at the top ten, these Ten Commandments, as principles of life, God puts something into our life that brings about life.