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Seek Ye First

Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God

This morning I want to look at my life’s verse because it describes something that seems to be missing in modern Christianity. This verse has been my guide for more than 4 decades, and has proven itself to be true.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

This passage of Scripture gives us the secret to a successful and fruitful life. Let’s take a close look and see what it says, and how we can live a life that is pleasing to God.

Seek ye first

The word “seek” means to search, quest after, or to look for. In implies making a concentrated effort to find something. It is how parents respond when one of their children is lost. They not only expend their energy to seek the child, they also enlist the help of others. The longer the child is missing, the more intense the seeking.

As we go through our lives, it behooves us to seek to put the things of God first. That is really what the first and greatest commandment is all about.

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:28-31)

If we seek to follow these two commandments, the rest of the law of God falls into place. Not only this, but we have God’s promise that we shall have everything we need in this life, but not necessarily everything we want.

There are many distractions in this life, put there by Satan, to keep us from finding the way of life.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

The wide gate is the gate of religion. It is wide and beautiful. It is a gate that attracts those seeking the pleasures of this life. Look at the pomp and ceremony of most pagan religions, including Catholicism. It is beautiful to behold. Many, I suppose we could even say most, enter in through this gate because it is so attractive. The problem is, it leads to destruction, and this destruction is eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire.

The gate that leads to life is not as attractive as the wide gate. It is narrow, and you can’t take your baggage (sin) with you. You can’t go in two by two. It is there for all, but most people are attracted by the beauty of the wide gate. The thing that saddens me the most is, there are few that find the narrow gate that leads to life. It must be sought for. God brings situations into the lives of everyone to get them to search for the right gate, but most prefer the easy way of the wide gate.

We are to put finding the right gate first in our lives. If we don’t, Satan will draw us toward his wide gate of destruction.

The kingdom of God

Since the first thing we are to seek is the Kingdom of God, we should know what to look for. Most people today are looking for something that gives them an emotional high. They want something that makes them feel good and gets them emotionally excited.

As much as I hate to say this, most things we call “revivals” are geared to doing the same thing. They are not really revivals, they are pep rallies. True revivals will cause people to fall on their faces before a holy God and bemoan their sinfulness.

Forgive me that short parentheses. Now let’s get back on track. What is the Kingdom of God?

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:17)

It is not the external things like food and drink. It is not some big party. It starts with righteousness, which we will look at in a moment.

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)

Those who seek the Kingdom of God find peace with God. Once they have this peace with God, they can have the peace of God in any circumstance. When things are going well we have a kind of peace that can be mistaken for the peace of God. It is in times of trial that we really find the peace of God. It is that peace that comes from knowing that God is in control, and that He will not let anything come into our lives that does not work for good.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Over the years, this verse has brought me much comfort and peace during times of difficulty.

When we seek the Kingdom of God, we also have joy in the Holy Ghost. Happiness and joy are not the same thing. Happiness only comes when things are going well. Joy is something we can have, even when things are not going well. This joy is based upon the Holy Spirit reminding us who is in charge, and of His loving care for His children.

You can see from this that the Kingdom of God is something well worth seeking after.

His righteousness

While we are seeking the Kingdom of God, we are also to seek His righteousness. This entails two things. First of all, we need to remember that our own righteousness is not worth very much in God’s eyes. Here is what He thinks about it:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

All the righteous things we do in ourselves are no better than filthy rags. The reason is, they are tainted with our sin, and are based upon a faulty standard. The only true righteousness we have is that which is imputed to us when we are in Christ. We are only in Christ when we have been born again.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)

We can’t even see the Kingdom of God without the new birth.

Righteousness is simply doing that which is right. The issue is determining what standard is the authority for what is right. Here are a few possible standards:

  • The individual’s opinion,

  • Our peers,

  • Religious leaders,

  • Religious writings.

There may be others, but this is enough for my purposes here.

The question is, how do we determine which of these, if any, are the real standard by which we will be judged when we stand before God?

It is not as difficult as it sounds. The first three are not a good standard because they are all subjective. They depend on the opinions of fallible men. One man’s opinion is just as good as that of another man.

Religious writings are a bit more difficult because most of them claim to come from God. We must determine which of these religious writings bear the marks of God. If God is really God, He doesn’t make mistakes. The first thing to do is look for mistakes it the words that claim to come from God. Historical mistakes are easy to find in all religious writings except the Bible. If you look carefully, you will find contradictions in all religious writings except the Bible. Many have tried to find mistakes and contradictions in the Bible, but when all the facts were in, no one has succeeded.

Bible out shines all other religious works is in prophecy. I don’t have time to go over the accuracy of Bible prophecy. It is sufficient to know that most religious writings shy away from prophecy because their authors were not God. Those that do have prophecy are either too vague to check if their prophecies are accurate, or if they really to come to pass as predicted.

The only reliable standard for right and wrong, the only standard that does not evolve with societal opinions, is the Bible. Therefore, the only reliable standard for what is right and what is wrong is the Bible. All other religious writing have errors and could not come from God. God is the Creator, and He sets the standards by which He will judge when judgment time comes.

Once a person is saved, he is expected to live according to the righteous precepts of God.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Sin is the transgression of God’s precepts.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (1 John 3:4)

One day we will all answer to God for how we followed the righteous precepts of God’s law.

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27)

This is just as true for the saved as for the lost. The saved will answer for their works at the Judgment Seat of Christ and the lost at the Great White Through Judgment.

Are you ready to stand before God at the Judgment Bar?

These things shall be added unto you

When we first seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, we are promised that all of “these things” will be added unto us. What are “these things?”

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. (Matthew 6:31-32)

This passage tells us that food, drink, and clothing, which are necessary for life in this world, will be given to us. There is no promise that we will not have bad thing happen in our lives. Actually, the Bible teaches just the opposite.

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)

Living a godly life in Christ Jesus will bring problems. These problems, however, are only temporary, they will end when we join Christ in Heaven.

What is the worst thing this world can do to us? It can kill us, and that sounds pretty bad on the surface, but, is it? What happens when a true Christian dies?

We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)

Death takes the Christian out of this evil world, and into the presence of our Lord. What could be better.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

And if that isn’t enough, listen to this next verse:

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; (2 Corinthians 4:17)

We need to wrap our minds around the fact that our life on earth is but temporary. There is more to follow. For the lost, it is eternal suffering in the Lake of Fire.

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

For the saved, it eternal life in the presence of our God.

Practical Issues

There are some very practical things we should learn from what we have seen so far. First of all, we need to examine ourselves to be sure we are in the faith.

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

There are many religious people who have never come to Christ on His terms. They believe in Him intellectually, but have not truly trusted in Him for salvation. They are still trusting in their own goodness, or in some rituals like baptism, for their salvation. After all, they are good people, and the did “pray the prayer.” The Bible says there are none good but God, and where in the Bible do you find that a prayer saves anyone? Isn’t prayer something you do? Doesn’t that make it a work? Are we saved by believing, or by working?

It is not wrong to pray when one gets saved, but it is not the praying that saves, it is the believing behind the prayer that saves.

Once we are saved, we are to live according to God’s precepts. Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. Every means every. We don’t have the right to pick and choose which words we obey. It is wrong (sin) to say that this or that passage was for a different time unless the Bible says it was.

The ceremonial law was given to the Jews to point them to the coming Messiah. They have been done away with. The law that says to remember the sabbath and keep it holy has not. This does not mean remember Saturday, it means remember the special day that is set aside to rest from work and to worship God. For the Jews, that was Saturday, for the New Testament believers, it was the first day of the week, or Sunday.

How many times have you heard someone say that all the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, except the keeping of the sabbath? Well, is that true? No, it is not! Listen to this next verse.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)

Not only are we to keep that day of assembling together to worship God, we are to do it more and more as the end approaches.

There are many other things I could mention where we tend to ignore what God says in His Word, but I am going to have to stop here for today.

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America’s Only Hope

I don’t think I need to tell you that America is in really bad shape today. We often lay the blame on the fact that we are in the last days. We use passages like 2 Timothy 4 to justify the decline.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

One thing that we seldom do is ask why this time has come upon us. Is it just something that God has ordained so it had to happen? I know that God foresaw it and recorded here so we would understand what happened, but I don’t think that is what He really wanted to happen. I am sure He would rather that we would remain faithful to His precepts. This does not take away from God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty does not mean He always gets what He wants, it means He has the right and power to correct and punish.

We also blame it on the liberals who have no moral compass to guide them because they have rejected the God of the Bible. They will do absolutely anything to get their way. If you will think about it, they are this way because there is no real righteous example for them to follow.

A French political scientist and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited America to seek the secret to America’s greatness. Here is what he said:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

The secret to America’s greatness was found, not in her resources, her institutions, or even in her Constitution. It was in her goodness that came from the pulpits of her churches being “aflame with righteousness.”

Here are some sad statistics that give insight into why America has lost her greatness.

  • 4,000 Churches close their door every year
  • 4 out of 10 American attend Church weekly
  • 4 out of 10 Church attendees will Divorce
  • 3 out of 10 Pastors report that their Children are not in Church
  • 9 out of 10 Pastors believe the Bible speaks to the controversial political issues of our day
  • 1 out of 10 Pastors preach on these controversial political issues
  • We “win souls” only to see most of them disappear in a few weeks or months (more later)

Neither President Donald Trump, nor any other politician, can make America great again. America has lost her greatness because she is no longer good. She is no longer good because American pulpits are not aflame with the preaching of righteousness.

We are all familiar with 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

This was the solution for Israel of old, and it is the solution for America today. This will not happen until our preachers put on their big-boy pants and start making our pulpits “aflame with righteousness.”

Paul’s message to Timothy was:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

All preachers, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, revivalists, or any other name you want to give to a preacher, must follow the principles in this passage. Nothing else can stop the drift away from sound doctrine. It has been my experience that if we do this, those who are true Christians will love our preaching, and many of those who are not will respect us and want to know more. This is how I turned around three dying churches and got them back on the path to both spiritual and numerical growth.

Preach the Word

The first principle is that we must preach the Word of God. Notice that it doesn’t say teach the Word, it says preach the Word. Teaching is good and necessary for spiritual growth, but the Word must be preached if it is going to change lives. “This is what the Bible says,” is not enough. It must be “Thus Saith The Lord.”

I may offend some here, but verse by verse is good teaching, but it is seldom good preaching. I challenge you to find verse by verse preaching in the Bible. Bible preaching always preaches on topics. Don’t misunderstand me, we should do verse by verse teaching, but if we want our people to be sound in the faith we must teach doctrine. I have been told that verse by verse covers every doctrine in the Bible, but this is not wholly true. It does touch on every doctrine, but it does not get into the depth of doctrine.

Ask your church members if they can defend the deity of Christ to a Jehovah Witness. Can they defend eternal security to a Pentecostal? Can the prove, from the Scriptures, that it is God’s will to save all men, and not just a few that He chose in eternity past?

Read the writings of the old time Baptist church members and you will see that they could. I am not talking about pastors, I am talking about ordinary church members. I once asked these questions to one of our good and faithful church members, a man whose heart is set on serving God faithfully, and he could not defend these issues.

Be instant in season, out of season

This just means be ready at all times, when it is convenient (in season) and when it is not (out of season).

Reprove

This means we must be willing to point out error, even when it offends.

Rebuke

This means to make it personal and charge the person with his sin.

Exhort

Exhort means to encourage, through the use of strong language, to do what is right.

How are we to do this?

First of all, we are to do it with longsuffering. This simply means that we are to do with even though we may suffer some undesired consequences. It may cost us church members. We may suffer resistance from our deacons. It may offend the brethren. If we don’t do it we offend the God of Heaven, to whom we will all answer one day.

Secondly, we are to do it with doctrine. When I was a baby Christian, we never talked about discipleship or discipleship classes. They were not needed because our pastors taught doctrine from the pulpit. If you were in church you learned what we believed, why we believed it, and how to defend what we believe against those who teach false doctrine.

Why aren’t our pulpits aflame with righteousness?

We have been spoiled by men’s philosophies and traditions.

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

It starts with a fear of man. We would rather offend God, and be accepted by men. We have been taught to be positive in our teaching because negativity drives people way. We have tailored our presentation of the Gospel so as not to offend the sinner. One of the first things we tell the lost person is, God loves you. Then we quote John 3:16. Next, we present all of the benefits of being saved. We make it all about the person, rather than all about God.

We do reap many benefits from salvation, but that is not why God saves us.

That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)

In our invitations, we use man’s psychological methods to get people to the altar. We ask inoffensive questions and have the people answer them by a raised hand. We ask these questions to prime the pump and take away any fear that the lost may have about raising their hands. We then ask those who are not sure of their salvation to raise their hands. Then, during the invitation, we use the fact they raised their hand to shame them to coming forward. Of course, we do it inoffensively, but we do it.

Where in the world do we find this in the Scriptures?

In Acts Chapter 2, Peter’s message told them that they were in dire trouble with God because they had just crucified His Son. On Mars Hill, Paul told the philosophers they would have to answer to the unknown God who created the universe. In Nineveh, Jonah told them that the city would be destroyed in 40 days. Steven’s message to the religious leaders when he was stoned told them how they, like their fathers, had rejected God and His precepts, and that they would be judged for this.

There was no invitation, yet people got saved in each case. I am not saying invitations are wrong, but that is the Holy Spirit that is to do the convicting and bring about a reaction.

In Acts Chapter 2, 3,000 got saved. On Mars Hill, a few got saved, and through them, the Gospel came to Europe and America. In Nineveh, it is estimated that something like on million souls repented and turned to God. Steven’s message only reached one soul that we know about, but it was the great Apostle Paul who was used of God to give us most of our New Testament.

Our problem is, we don’t believe what the Bible says about how souls are saved. I am not talking about the fact that it is by grace, through faith, without works. I am talking about what it takes to bring people to understand their need and desire to know how to be saved.

For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

It is the preaching of God’s Word, not men’s plans and methods, that brings sinners to seek salvation and believe the Gospel. When preaching has its proper place in our soul-winning efforts we will see a good harvest. We will see professions that do not fade away in a few weeks or mounts.

The only hope for our nation is a return to God’s precepts and methods by God’s people.

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Real Revival

In North Carolina it seems that there is a season when churches have what they call revival services. Each time we go through this season, I think a lot about revival. The questions I have been asking are: What causes revival? How do we know when revival comes? What does revival look like? And what are the results, or fruit, of revival?

The starting point in my study has been looking at the revivals of the past and comparing them with what we see today in “revivals.” Today we see a lot of shouting and praising God. We see people jumping up and giving testimonies of how good God has been to them. This is not necessicarily a bad thing, but it is not what we see when we look at the great revivals of the past.

While it is true that there was, in some cases, a lot of noise, they did not start with rejoicing and praising God. The noise of the great revivals of the past was crying and lamenting over sin. People fell on their faces in tears crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness.

In Isaiah 6:1-8 we see personal revival breaking out in the life of one man, Isaiah.

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his1 train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one2 cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole3 earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. (Isaiah 6:1-8)

In this passage we find the answers to all of my questions. It started by getting a vision of God. Isaiah saw God in all of His glory. Romans 2:4 tells us that the goodness of God leads us to repentance. When we see God in all of His holiness (goodness) it reveals our badness (lack of true holiness) and leads us to repentance. This repentance is what causes true revival.

When we see God as He really is we can respond in one of two ways. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 speaks of two kinds of sorrow. The first is the sorrow that works, or causes, repentance. The second is the sorrow of the world that works death. The first is being truly sorrow for having offended God and recognizing our guilt before Him. The second is being sorry that our sin has been found out and wanting to excuse it just to avoid punishment.

We know that revival has come when we see godly sorrow. We see this in Isaiah when he cried out “Woe is me! for I am undone.” You will notice that he not only confessed his own sin, but also the sin of his people. This is what true revival looks like. There will be an acute sense of our sinfulness and broken and repentant hearts.

In true revival there will be a crying out for mercy and forgiveness. Repentance will be clearly seen in those who are revived. They will turn from their wicked ways. They will search the Scriptures to learn what God expects of His people. They will change their lives to match what they find. Then, and only then, God will make us fit for His service and remove our iniquity.

One of the most important results of revival is that people hear the call of God. In Isaiah 6 Isaiah hears God say “Who shall I send, and who will go for us?” When this call is heard, those who are revived will volunteer for the mission at hand. This does not mean that they will all surrender to what we call “full-time ministry.” It means that all will surrender to minister for God where He has placed them.

If we want real revival we must first seek to know God. We must see His holiness and our sinfulness. We must have godly sorrow and repentance. We must be willing to do what God desires regardless of the cost.

Revival is expensive, it requires all that we have. The end result of true revival is that God is glorified, souls are saved, and then there is great rejoicing in Heaven and on earth.