HABIT #1: PUTTING GOD FIRST
10 Healthy Habits for Building Strong Families ❧ Part 3
This morning we’re going to pick up where we left off in our series: 10 Healthy Habits for Building Strong Families. By now you’ve guessed the 10 habits are God’s 10 Commandments. Written thousands of years ago in Divine shorthand, they serve as a flawless blueprint for growing healthy families. They are the key to fulfilling relationships, first with God, second with each other. In the words of Adrian Rogers, They are God’s perfect ten for families that win. Follow them and you’ll grow a strong family. They’re needed more than ever today!
This morning we’re going to look at the first habit – the habit of Putting God First. It comes from the first commandment found in Exodus 20:2-3: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:2-3). Putting God First is the main ingredient for growing strong families. Let me make a very important observation as we begin. This primary component for healthy families comes from God, the ultimate Authority and Creator of the family. His Authority is higher than any man, government, institution, or king. In other words, it is absolute and non-negotiable. So, what does putting God first in our lives look like? How does it benefit us? I want to suggest three ways, 3 Benefits of Putting God First: 1) It promises us a life of fulfilment. Anything less than putting God first holds us back from getting the most out of life. 2) It protects us from living a life of failure. We don’t need to worry about getting to the top of the ladder only to discover we set it against the wrong wall! 3) It prepares us for a life of faithfulness. The payoff of putting God first is more than worth it. We’ll not only have made a great contribution to our present world, but we’ll leave the greatest legacy we can for the next. 1 Samuel 2:30 says God honors those who honor Him. The greatest life-investment you can make is honoring God by putting Him first in your life. The first benefit of putting God first is:
I. It prepares us for a life of fulfillment. You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3). Sometime ago someone texted these words to me: Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil – it has no point. In essence that is what God is saying in this verse: If I am not first in your life, your life will be pointless. When you put Me first, your life will have a point. You won’t wander through life lost and unfulfilled.
These eight words: You shall have no other gods before Me, serve as a roadmap to the greatest and most fulfilling relationship you’ll ever have – a personal relationship with God. Circle the words: have no other gods. They are packed full of meaning! They’re all about relationship. God is literally saying: Don’t have a relationship with other gods. In the original language, the kind of relationship He is talking about here is the closest most intimate relationship we can have – marriage. In the Bible God often uses the analogy of marriage to describe the level of closeness and importance He desires to have with His people. In Jeremiah 31:32 God says He is a husband to Israel. He uses that same meaning here. God is saying: When you make Me the most important relationship in your life, you will find fulfillment. You were made for relationship with Me, and your life will never be complete without it. Jesus could not have been clearer in His answer to the question: what is the greatest commandment? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).
For many, it’s not that God is not important, it’s that He is not important enough. Many don’t know God wants to have a personal relationship with them. God for them is nothing more than a religious relic, or a family tradition. The truth is, you were made for a personal relationship with God and your life will never be complete without Him.
I was deeply impressed with this many years ago through the life of a man named Harvey O. Hoff. As a young boy I boarded a plane for Dallas Texas. I happened to be seated next to a kindly elderly man and his wife. Their names were Harvey and Dorothy Hoff. I’ve spoken about them numerous times over the years. Little did I know then the enormous impact they would have in my life for Jesus Christ. We were not very long into our flight when I soon learned the Hoff’s were sold-out followers of Christ. Harvey would share about Christ at the drop of a hat no matter where he was whether in a jail, prison, nursing home, in the store, or on a plane – wherever, it didn’t matter to him. But that hadn’t always been the case.
He spent many years of his life building a highly successful family lumber business. He had everything it seemed a man could want – a wonderful wife and children, thriving business, beautiful home, good health – everything we think of that makes us feel fulfilled in life. But something was missing, something deep in his heart; a deep haunting sense of unfulfillment.
One day he came home from work, sank into his favorite easy boy chair and asked himself: What does all this really mean? He began a serious quest for what was missing in his life. It wasn’t long before he realized what was missing in his life – God. Shortly after this, he invited Jesus Christ to be his Lord and Savior. He discovered a personal relationship with God. Suddenly, his life turned a corner from success to significance, from emptiness to fulfillment. Despite having so much, he realized without God his life was empty. Mr. Hoff never found fulfillment until he met Jesus Christ. Jesus asked: What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? (Mark 8:36-37, NLT). The first benefit of putting God first is it prepares us for a life of fulfillment. Second…
II. It protects us from a life of failure. I think one of the greatest and needless tragedies of life is for people to reach their final years on earth only to suddenly realize with startling clarity and terror they’d run life’s race in vain. All their efforts, achievements, investments, hopes and dreams were for nothing! Why? Because they didn’t put God first! The psalmist describes the abrupt end of not putting God first: …they are destroyed in a moment. They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors (Psalm 73:19, NAS). All for not! Swift, final, irreversible failure. And, worse, much worse, is the realization that it didn’t need to be that way.
How does putting God first protect us from a life of failure? It safeguards us from wasting our lives. You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:2-3). When some hear this today, they immediately write it off as archaic and irrelevant to real life. They reason God is talking about worshiping the mythological ancient gods of Egypt – Amun or Ra, the gods of sun and wind, or Osiris the god of the dead. Or their like ancient counterparts, the gods of the Canaanites, Baal and Asherah. They think no one worships these gods today. The gods of yesterday belonged to an ancient and ignorant people. So, they write off the first commandment as being out of touch with reality. They believe that the shelf-life of this outdated commandment was up more than three-thousand years ago.
While I was working for UPS in college, I remember a co-worker once snapped: I don’t believe in the Bible! It’s obsolete and irrelevant! Is this right? The truth is, the Bible is not obsolete, it’s absolute. We have as many gods today as they did when God first gave the Ten Commandments. The only difference is we call them by another name.
Noted author and speaker Dennis Prager, (as well as Hebrew scholar who has spent more than twenty-five years teaching the first five books of the OT – the Torah in Hebrew), reasons this is the “mother of all other commandments.” He points out that if we follow it, it will remove one of the greatest barriers to a good world – false gods. In other words, serving false gods equals a failed life.
The Bible is very clear there are no other gods: Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me (Isaiah 44:6, NAS). Prager points out believing in one God benefits our world in a number of ways. First, because there is only one God and Creator who made man in His image, it means there is only one human race. There goes the race card! Second, because we are one race created in the image of God, we are equal in value; no one is intrinsically more valuable than another. We’re all equal. Third, one God means having one moral standard for all people. If God says murder is wrong, then murder is wrong for everyone. If God says lying is wrong, then lying is wrong for everyone. There is only one human race that are one in equality having one moral standard. You can’t go to another god for another moral standard.
Prager reminds us, bad things happen in the world when anything else is worshiped. What are some of the things we worship today? Money, power, pleasure, love, education, art, patriotism…
Let me give you a couple of examples. Education. Getting a good education prepares you for life. We all recognize it is important. But if you worship education; when you make it your moral compass apart from God, bad things often happen. Many of the best-educated people in Germany supported Hitler and the Nazis. The same was true in the Soviet Union under Stalin, or China under Mao. And, the same is still true today. Many of the highest educated people in America are strong supporters and promoters of racial division, abortion, atheism.
Or, take love for example. Everyone loves love. But if you set love above God; make it the end in and of itself, bad things happen. Why? Because love without God is doesn’t promote and protect others, it hurts them. Love without God is called enablement. People who have put love of others over love of God have done atrocious things (Dennis Prager, The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code, pp. 11-15).
Years ago while I was in India, I visited the Tash Mahal (Crown of Palaces), a huge ornate marble white mausoleum hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the world as well as an epitome of true love for the emperor’s Shah Jahan’s wife who died while giving birth to her 14th child! The 17th century tomb and surrounding buildings cover a sprawling 42-acre complex. Our guide told us it took 22,000 workers some 22 years to build. Once emperor Shah Jahn’s magnum opus of love was completed, he ordered the thumbs of all the architects and workers cut off so they could not reproduce the work they did for him. When you set love over God, bad things happen. It does more harm than good.
Turns out, God’s warning of having no other gods is far from obsolete. It is absolute! It prepares us for a life of fulfillment and protects us from a life of failure. Third…
III. It prepares us for a life of faithfulness. The third benefit of putting God first means making the greatest investment in our children and grandchildren we could ever make. This means making God first in our homes. If your kids see you making other things more important than God – money, education, pleasure. If God takes a backseat in your life and they see you are only giving Him lip-service, you will leave them disillusioned, even cynical about God. Fathers, . . . bring them (your children) up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord (Ephesians 6:4, NLT). We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders. For he issued his laws to Jacob; he gave his instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them— even the children not yet born— and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. Then they will not be like their ancestors— stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God (Psalm 78:4-8, NLT).
During the 1800’s a successful merchant lived in Germany who happened to be Jewish, and he had a son. He faithfully led his family in their Jewish faith, until they moved to another German city. There the boy’s father discovered business was not going as well as he’d hoped. It seems if he wanted to do well at his business, he’d have to make some changes where he worshiped. Soon after they arrived, the father announced they would no longer be attending the synagogue, instead they would be going to the Lutheran church. Surprised, the boy asked his father why they were changing places of worship. The father told him: For business reasons. There are so many Lutherans in this town that I can make good business contacts at the Lutheran church. It will be good for business. The boy, who had a deep interest in God, became so disillusioned with his father’s empty faith that his quest to seek God was shattered. He realized his father had no real convictions of faith in God. God was not first for him. Something deep inside this little boy died and he turned against faith in God with a vengeance.
This same young boy eventually grew up and moved to England and began to write. His name was Karl Marx. He became the father of communism writing the Communist Manifesto. Marx believed religion was: Opiate of the masses. Marx’s own legacy went from bad to worse. Two of his daughters and a son-in-law committed suicide. Three of his children died of malnutrition. He drank heavily. Didn’t work. He eventually died in despair. I wonder what Marx’s life would have looked like if his father had put God first?
What are the benefits of the habit of putting God first? 1)We are promised a life of fulfilment. Anything less than putting God first holds us back from getting the most out of life. 2) We are protected from a life of failure. We don’t need to worry about getting to the top of the ladder only to discover we set it against the wrong wall! 3) We are prepared for a life of faithfulness. We will not only have made a great contribution in our present world, but in our children’s world as well.