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“I’d love to help you, but I just can’t do it right now.” Have you ever said that to a phone solicitor? Maybe you were sincere. Maybe it was a cause that was near and dear to your heart. Or maybe you were trying to sound polite and just wanted to get rid of them and hang up.
“I’d love to give an offering, I’d love to help with that project, but I just don’t have any extra funds right now, and I’m just really busy. It’s not a good time. Maybe when the kids are out of school, or when I’m retired, maybe then I’ll have the funds and the time.” Have you ever said, or maybe just thought something like that?
If you have, you are not alone. Way back in the 500’s BC God’s people, who had recently returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon said the same thing. The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.
They had had good intentions. One of the first things they did when they arrived in Jerusalem was to lay the foundations of the temple. They started to rebuild the Lord’s house. But some of the people who lived in the area opposed the project and made it very difficult for them to continue. In addition, they needed places to live as most of the housing in the area had been destroyed when the Babylonians had destroyed the temple 70 years earlier. I’m sure they were thinking, “when the opposition dies down and I have a place for my family to live, maybe then I’ll be able to contribute to the rebuilding of the temple with my time, talents and offerings. Once we are better established then we will have more time and money to dedicate to the rebuilding of the temple.”
Our sinful nature is a genius when it comes to making excuses and rationalizing selfishness. Our sinful nature is 100% selfish. By nature, we are 100% turned in on ourselves. Those who are without the Spirit of God are completely focused on me, myself, and I. Any good they do for others will always have an underlying selfish motive. And those who do have the Spirit of God confess with Paul, what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing. I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Our new man of faith really does love to give, but we still have that totally selfish sinful nature that presents all kinds of arguments why we can’t, at least not right now.
What does God say? “Give careful thought to your ways.” And he makes clear what he means by “ways.” He means priorities. Give careful thought to your priorities. He says to his people, “You have made your own houses your priority. They are beautifully paneled while my temple remains a ruin. You have worked hard and planted much, and you expected that you would receive much in return, but because you put yourself first, I have giving you a purse with holes in it. I have been trying to teach you this lesson, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. Those who want to be first will be last. I have been trying to teach you the first commandment, the greatest commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength and all your mind.” Or as Jesus said, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. The consequence of putting yourself first is that you can expect a purse with holes in it. And if you never learn to consider your ways, your priorities, and strive to put God first, what good is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul? As Jesus says, You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?
All of us struggle with our priorities. All of us struggle with putting God first, with fearing, loving, and trusting him above ALL things. All of us struggle daily against our selfish sinful nature. Yet in spite of our selfishness and our many failures to give God the highest priority in our hearts and lives, God made us his priority. He says that he is ruling the universe with this as his top priority, that we are saved from the consequences our sins and have the gift of eternal life that Jesus won for us. In fact, that’s how he shows us what his priority is. He came to earth, took on flesh and blood so that he could save us. As our representative under God’s law, he always kept the first commandment, he always made the heavenly father his first priority. When he faced opposition, he didn’t do what the returning exiles did, what we often do. He didn’t think, “this must not be the time to serve the Lord.” Instead, he set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem, to face the suffering he knew was waiting for him. He prayed, not my will, but your will be done. He proved that he did not come to be served but to serve. He served God first and put all of us ahead of himself when he willingly gave his life as the ransom price that paid our debt of sin to God.
Whenever we talk about stewardship, about giving of our time, our talents and our money, God is reminding us to give careful thought to our ways, our priorities. He is asking us to consider whether we are putting him first.
That’s what he asked Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice Isaac, the son he had waited for, the son born by a miracle of God. He was asking him, who do you love more, Isaac or me? Do you fear, love and trust in me above all things?
That’s what he was asking the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem. Consider your ways. Think about your priorities. Your actions indicate that you have selfish priorities, that you have made your own comfort the highest priority.
But, as the God of all grace, in addition to providing us with the forgiveness we don’t deserve, he promises that when we do put him first, he will bless us. When we seek him first, other things will be provided as well. That’s what Solomon learned when he asked for wisdom to govern God’s people well. Because he was unselfish in his request, putting God and others before himself, God promised not only to give him wisdom, but riches and fame as well.
This is what God told his people through the prophet Malachi. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. Your purse will no longer have holes in it.
As we talk about stewardship over the next weeks may the Lord help us consider our priorities in the light of the fact that he has made it his priority to save us, and that he has promised that when we put him first, he will graciously provide us with all we need for this life in addition to the eternal life he has already given us in Jesus.