Put God first — what does that mean to you? Do you believe that means that every first thing you do in a day should be geared towards God? I heard this phrase a lot when I was coming up in the church. Sadly, putting God first is becoming a dying thought in our world today. The thought is dying, but I’ve also come to realize that not many of us truly understand what this means.
This will be the fourth and final part of a 4-part series of bible studies I have been doing on Jesus’ sermon on the mount. If you have missed any part of this study series, be sure to check out the other studies. To close out this series, I want to take a look at what Jesus told the apostles about putting God first (Matt. 6:19-21, 24). To understand this meaning, we’re going to cross reference scriptures so be sure to have your bible nearby or click the bible links in this study when they are referenced.
What do you treasure?
To kick off our study, here is part of what Jesus says to the apostles from the scripture I referenced above:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
I honestly feel that the sermon on the mount can be completely summed up with this saying to the apostles. The sermon on the mountain is all about our relationship with God. When I say our, I am talking about us as individuals because we all have our own relationship with the Lord. For example: as we saw in our most recent study, Jesus talks about the relationship one has when praying (communicating) to God.
For us to fully understand the sermon on the mount, we must approach it with our own relationship in mind with God. When Jesus says, “do not lay up yourselves treasures on earth … but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven,” let’s understand that this is Him still talking about our relationship with God. He was teaching the apostles the sort of mindset that they should have in this world.
Is your mind on the heavenly or the earthly?
Many of us live with a mindset that is totally focused on our lives while we live in this world. Some of us are really good at focusing on the present — the here and now. Others, on the other hand, dream about their future. Is there anything wrong with either of these mindsets? Certainly not.
However, what is very troublesome is that many of us live with a mindset that is totally occupied with our lives in this world. Sadly, many of us do not understand the concept that our life is like that of mist and fog, as James wrote (James 4:14). Our life is there one minute and then dissipates in the next. So, our physical life is not something that is eternal but something that is temporary. In fact, we often say that life is short, right? So, what do you suppose happens after this physical life we live and how often have you given that thought?
This was clearly the point that Jesus was making to the apostles: What do you treasure, this life or the one to come? Where is your treasure, here on earth or is it in heaven? A better way we may understand this thought would be to ask: What are you focused on? We must first figure out our treasure and what that says about us. If we know where our treasure is then we also know that our heart is there, according to Jesus.
According to the parameters that Jesus set, there are two places where our treasure can actually be: here on earth or in heaven. So, nothing too complicated about that right? Well, actually, I find this to be a very complicated idea. The primary reason I find this to be complicated is because the treasure of earth has to be completely different than any heavenly treasure, right?
I am flesh and blood, so how could I store any treasure into a place that I currently cannot enter into? I can take what little money I do have and store it in a bank. If I had riches, I could even take those riches and store it in a vault so that only I have access to it. Yet, Jesus, it seems, is telling me I should consider storing my treasure in heaven – a place that I currently cannot access because of the limits of my body.
Again, I say that this thought is more complex than it seems on the surface. So, let us do a bit more digging so that we can understand what Jesus is telling us. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had some instructions that he wanted Timothy to share with others.
Here is what Paul wrote to Timothy:
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.1 Timothy 6:17 NKJV
Paul has in mind a specific group of people: the rich. Is Paul saying it is a bad thing to be rich? Certainly not. However, we have often seen a certain type of rich person condemned in scripture. When we studied the Beatitudes, we see Jesus level a woe against the rich.
Let’s remember from that study, what we said being rich meant. The rich person was certainly a person that may have gained great wealth, but we also said that the rich could include those who believe they do not need the Lord for anything. They are rich because they believe all of their needs have been provided for by the world; either through hard work or maybe by luck.
What do you suppose the treasure of the rich is? Some may say their wealth, others will say their money. There are some who will say their treasure is all of those who they have around them, while others will say their treasure is their ‘peace’. Again, nothing is necessarily wrong about this unless you believe the world provides you with these things. If that is the case, your heart is treasures the world.
When we look at Paul’s command, it is very clear that he does not want those who are rich to give their hearts to their riches. When you give your heart (your soul) to something, you’re placing all of your faith and trust in that something. Sadly, there are many people who put their faith in these treasures. Jesus tells us that these treasures can be destroyed.
This still leaves us with needing to have our question answered about storing our treasure in heaven. Fortunately for us, Paul continued in his thought about those who are rich and wrote this:
18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.1 Timothy 6:18-19 NKJV
Within Paul’s thoughts, we get an answer to our question. Paul tells us that we can store up for ourselves a good foundation for the time to come by doing good. Doing good was a topic that came up in my most recent sermon – Cherish Life. In that sermon, I made the point to point out what doing “good” meant to Jesus. You see, it is possible that someone can believe they are doing good, but in actuality, they aren’t doing anything good to others.
Paul clearly states that the good we do must be of the good works. Whereas we take money to store into our bank accounts, the good works that we do while living, adds to our treasure in heaven. The good works are the things you do through the agape love out of your own heart. Agape love is that unconditional and unmerited love that God has for all of us (1 Cor. 13:4-13).
James taught that we should care for those who are widowed and orphaned (James 1:27). What this means is that we should care for those who are in need of our care. Jesus told us that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39). It takes a certain kind of mindset to be able to live life in this manner.
A mindset for God
Putting God first is a mindset that is determined to live life in complete obedience to the Lord’s way. For the genuine believer of faith, we should treasure the Lord and treasure being obedient to His way first. We can only store up our treasure in heaven by doing the good works through our obedience in God.
The one thing that many of us struggle with is placing aside our own selfish interest to do the good work. I referenced the rich young ruler in the first part of this series, but I want to refer to him again here in this finale.
Putting selfish interest away
The rich young ruler came to Jesus wanting to know what “good thing” he needed to do to have eternal life (Matt. 19:16). Jesus advised the young ruler to “keep the commandments,” to which the young ruler responded, “which ones?” Jesus tells the young ruler (Matt. 19:17-18), “You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness.’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
The young ruler was of the mindset that he had been doing these things from the time of his youth (Matt. 19:20). Jesus then says something that reveals the true mindset of this rich young ruler:
21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”Matthew 19:21 NKJV
Again, pay very close attention to what Jesus told him. Jesus starts out by saying, “If you want to be perfect.” The only way you or I will ever be perfect is when we Christ comes for the church (the genuine believers). You are a genuine believer when you have been washed by the blood of Jesus (John 3:3-5). We are genuine believers when we begin to live our lives with a mindset of being obedient to His way.
Jesus was calling for the rich young ruler to genuinely be obedient to Christ by truly loving his neighbors. Yet, we find that the rich young ruler was unable to give up his self interest in worldly treasure. This young ruler was the most dangerous type of rich – he was selfishly rich and unwilling to make a sacrifice for other. Yes, he had a mindset for heaven, but his true mindset was not for heaven nor God. In other words, the rich young ruler could not put God first.
A sacrifice is called for
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the apostles that anyone who wants to follow Him must be willing to deny themselves and take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23). This sacrifice, I want you to understand, is our own self wants and lusts. The rich young ruler could not deny himself and make the sacrifice of his treasure to follow after Christ. In that moment, he chose the world over God — heaven.
Jesus told the apostles that they could not serve two masters:
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.Matthew 6:24 NKJV
We can try to live with two mindsets: a focus on the world and a focus on heaven. Jesus, however, told the apostles that it is not possible for this to happen. The reason being that you eventually would end up valuing one mindset (master) over the other. James wrote that one who ends up being double-minded is one who ends up being unstable in their ways (James 1:8).
The genuine believer cannot truly lay up their treasure in heaven if their focus is not clearly focused on heaven. When our focus is geared on the world over God, then we cannot properly store our treasure in heaven. This means, when the world has most of your attention, you’re unable to truly work the good work of God. In order for us to truly put God first, we must be willing to lose the world so that we can gain heaven.
Putting God first
It is easier said than done when it comes to putting the Lord first. When it comes to following the Lord, it takes us being fully committed to putting God’s way first in our life. The way in which you and I live, make decisions, and treat those around us should go through our mindset of being obedient to His way. We should always seek the Lord’s guidance and counsel when it comes to how we live and we should always think to treat others as God has treated us — with love and mercy.
I understand that by saying this there will be many people who claim to do this. This may certainly be true. What is also true is that there are many people who go about dictating the Lord’s way out of their own selfish interests. We have to completely put away our own way (interests) if we’re going to do the work of God.
I put the Lord first in my life. Does this mean I am perfect? Absolutely not! I am not a perfect person. However, I strive to be obedient to the Lord’s way. There are still some things I have to work to remove from life and sacrifice so that I can better be obedient to His way. I believe this is the proper mindset that all of us should have as we continue on our journey.
Well, this concludes my 4-part bible study series on the sermon on the mount. I hope that you enjoyed this study and this series. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share them below and I will respond as soon as possible. Be sure to share this study with somebody!