The Greatest, The First, and The Highest
Topical May 1, 2005
The messages for the last two weeks have concentrated on a survey by Lifeway Bookstores on “The Top Ten Issues Facing Today’s Church” from among 1,300 religious leaders in the U.S. and Europe.
What this means is that these are the identified issues that are most crucial for the church to deal with in today’s world – the issues that have the greatest impact either upon, or within, the church; and the issues that the church must have the greatest impact either upon, or within, the culture.
Those issues again are:
You recall the disconnect we found between prayer being the number one issue for the church in Lifeway’s survey compared with prayer being the least priority among 600 Protestant senior pastors surveyed in a George Barna research report.
In other words, it is little wonder that prayer, being the least priority, has become the number one issue.
It is the number one issue because, as important as prayer is, as important as the Lord says that prayer is for the life of the church, it has fallen to the lowest status.
But I am sure the Lord is pleased by what he observed after the service last Sunday. There were several groups of people gathered together for prayer in the pews.
One of these dear saints suggested we more formally promote this kind of gathering for prayer after the service. You will find a note at the bottom of the first page in your bulletin which does just that. The prayer room at the rear of the sanctuary will be available to you.
Please keep in mind that those who want to pray will be drifting in and out to either join your group or start another one. This will be a ‘fluid’ meeting place. Also, it will be more difficult on days like today when we have a fellowship event beginning downstairs right after the service.
But please do take every opportunity to pray in response to the Spirit’s leading, like signing up this morning for an hour of prayer in the sanctuary to pray for our nation this Thursday on the National Day of Prayer, and coming this Thursday evening to pray together for our nation.
Now, there is another aspect of these ‘top ten issues’ that I want to bring to you this morning.
Both Lifeway’s and Barna’s surveys are good and instructive as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough.
ILLUS: It is like the walk I had the other day with my grandson, Mikey. We had Buster, our little hyper rat terrier dog, along too as we went to the mailbox on the corner. Mikey has been taking some special instruction to help him with motor skills and concentration, and I’m sure he had been told a number of times to ‘focus’. As Buster zigzagged all over the sidewalk sniffing this and that, Mikey found it necessary to repeatedly tell him to, “Focus, Buster, just focus and everything will be alright.”
It is like this with these top ten issues and other priorities for the church. We can get confused with sorting them out and attempting to deal with them. They are all so interrelated and important it is hard to even identify what it is we need to start with, although that top issue of prayer would be an excellent choice.
I think we should look to the Bible this morning for some even simpler answers to what it is we need to do. We must focus on the Word of God on the subject of priorities.
Actually, there are several priorities that the Bible identifies for us – perhaps they are equally important but just in different categories; like “The Greatest, The First, and The Highest,” the title of this morning’s message.
Let’s begin with the greatest thing. Can you guess what it is? It overlays all these other issues we have identified. If you can get this one down, the others all fall into place.
The Greatest Thing:
“36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."” (Mt 22:36-40 NivUS)
“28 ¶ One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these." 32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions."” (Mr 12:28-34 NivUS)
“12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.” (Joh 15:12-17 NivUS)
“But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (1Co 12:31 NivUS)
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1Co 13:13 NivUS)
So, I ask you, what is the greatest thing? It is love.
ILLUS: Show how love overlays the ten top issues, binds them together, and solves them.
There is another aspect of love that, in fact, shows up as the greatest danger if it is not held as the greatest thing.
“12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 24:12-13 NivUS)
Jesus is talking about the end times – the times we are in. The greatest danger is in not keeping the greatest commandment. Without love, we fall into wickedness.
The birth pains leading up to the Tribulation will include the increase of men’s wickedness that will tend to sap the love out of the saints – and what is a saint without love but a ‘has been’?
The increase of wickedness will be the great test for us all. Can we overcome its trap? Can we overcome becoming like it as we increasingly deal with it?
Love growing cold is a sin of the heart. The greatest danger is not the increase of wickedness but the decline of love in response to it. And yet love is the greatest weapon we have against it.
ILLUS: “Forgiving Our Enemies”, Breakpoint, Dec. 7, 2004:
Here we have the victory of love, but the loss of love is a spiritual death succumbing to a spiritual disease. It is the loss of love’s strength. It is the loss of vision toward God. It is the loss of zeal toward his purpose for life.
The remedy is the resurrection of love – the remedy that brings life.
ILLUS: We were driving the other day with our grandson, Mikey, in the back seat when he said, “Grandpa, your hand looks old.” Not sure I understood him correctly with this seemingly ‘out-of-the-blue’ comment, I asked him to say again what he meant. So he said again, “Grandpa, your hand looks really, really old.” Now getting the point that he needed some understanding about the advancement of age, I told him, “Yes, Mikey, I am getting older. You are getting older too. It’s just that I’m much older than you are.” Then Joan said to Mikey, “But someday grandpa is going to be brand new.” Then Mikey said, “Can I get a new grandpa right now?”
You see, the longer time goes on, the more tendency there is for love to go into decline. We need a resurrection of love, right now.
ILLUS: Go through the ‘stages of death’ such as denial, anger, and finally acceptance and death itself in relation to the loss of love, and liken it to the hospital team in the saving of physical life – or the emotional stages of dealing with bad news being the same. Talk about the remedies for loving again – quit complaining about sin and fix it with love.
The lessons of life come from the issues of life if we have a desire to see God.
This service is the siren of an ambulance coming for you (ER – mom’s crisis).
Put self aside for the ‘greatest of these’ – love. Jesus wants to know where we stand – whether we are hot or cold.
The First Thing:
“1 ¶ Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” (1Co 15:1-5 NivUS)
“Protois” is a plural adjective meaning all these elements of the gospel are equally important.
Relationship between the Gospel and Love:
“3 ¶ We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel” (Col 1:3-5 NivUS)
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Ga 5:6 NivUS)
The first thing (gospel) is expressed best by the greatest thing (love).
The Highest Thing:
“1 ¶ If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Php 2:1-11 NivUS)
This passage shows the relationship between the greatest thing, the first thing and the highest thing. Christ’s love provided the gospel exalting him to the highest place.
All the issues that affect the impact and importance of the church today can be solved by keeping the love of the gospel of Christ foremost which is sure to succeed because it puts him in the highest place.
“10 Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." 12 "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16 "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." 17 The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Re 22:10-17 NivUS)