A true disciple of Jesus Christ is one who confronts the issues which Jesus raises, confirms the claims that Christ made, and consents to the plan Christ outlines. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt. 16:24).
Romans 12:1 says to "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." That cross is taking up sacrificial service to God. Too many don't take up that cross. Some talk about a cross where the old man is killed, but what about the cross which Jesus said we must take up, that of cross-bearing service?
The church at Philippi was still loaded down with pride and selfishness. I would to God that everybody who got saved could be rid of every hindrance and would become a perfect Christian, but that's not so. When we get saved, we're born again, but we have lots of things which we need to rid ourselves of and many things which we need to lay hold of. If that weren't true, we wouldn't need pastors/elders. When God saves a new convert, he places him in the hands of pastors/elders to perfect him and make him a true disciple.
A man can be born again, but he has to be made a disciple. What is the commission? I realize that the King James version says to go teach all nations, but the Greek text says to go make disciples.
We want to study something which may not mean much to many, but it means a lot to Jesus. He knows what it takes for us to be a soul winner, and every message He sent was to build people up to the place of being disciples for one reason: so we could go make other disciples.
We need to start evaluating our lives according to the Word of God. Too many just rest on the stool of do nothing and rejoice in the fact that they don't do "this or that" Again, we need to evaluate ourselves by the Bible, and answer the question, "Am I a soul winner?" If we're not, then we aren't really worth anything to God, because He saved us to save others. If we get the experience of salvation working right in our life, it will be impossible to keep from affecting others.
No Man Can Serve Two Masters
Jesus let us know that when the church is where she needs to be, she's as a city set on a hill that can't be hid. Some say they can't see the church; however, if the church will be the church, she can't be hid. If we will lift up our eyes, God has more for us than we're getting hold of. He's not satisfied with us working as we are. There are greater things to be accomplished.
When God poured out His Holy Spirit on the morning church, they were in one accord, and that's still necessary. If we want precious outpourings of God in our midst, we must reach that one accord. I'm not talking about agreeing on every point of doctrine. There was a lot of doctrine which the morning church didn't understand, yet they were in one accord. They were sold out to God and they had one thing in mind: being a useful instrument for God. They wanted the Gospel to go forth to a lost and dying world. They knew it was the only hope of the world being detoured from hell.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave some definite teachings to His disciples. I realize that what I'm dealing with is something that many, if not most look at as unnecessary. On the contrary, one could not say anything is unnecessary when it's in red letters in the Bible, because those are the words that Christ Himself spoke.
In Matthew 5:1-2 we read: "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them..." This was a message to teach His disciples. I'm dealing with the thought of who His disciples are; He started out by telling them who is blessed and who is not blessed.
Jesus showed that the New Testament standard was bringing morality back to God's original law. God had granted some things because of the hardness of hearts, but now Jesus was once again bringing it back to the standard of God's moral law which had been established from the very beginning. Then in the sixth chapter, he warned about doing righteousness before men just so that men will see. Certainly, we want to be seen of men, but we can't do it for the purpose of men seeing us. He let us know that He was looking on the motive of the heart.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:24-30: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you [in other words, "Because you cannot serve God and mammon, I say unto you...", Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
"Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" Jesus didn't think His disciples had much faith. He had His disciples apart on a mountain. He wasn't talking to some mass multitude when He said, "O ye of little faith."
Christ's Disciples Have Different Priorities
In verses 31-33 He said: "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. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Through this Sermon on the Mount, as well as other times when Jesus privately taught His disciples, he taught them that they were to be a unique people and live a unique life, completely different from that of the surrounding world. He went on to teach that one of the greatest differences about true disciples is that they have different priorities: they are not seeking after that which the rest of the world is seeking.
Jesus made it very plain that if we're going to be His disciples, we must have different priorities than the rest of the world. The way we handle our priorities has much to do with the way we live our lives. Jesus emphatically pointed out the priorities which most people have.
If we would stop right now to write down our priorities, some would probably say, "I don't have any." Well then, lets list the things which we are the most anxious about. We may profess one thing, but whatever we would list are our priorities. This point right here is keeping many from seeing the Kingdom, or the church. If we're truly anxious about something above all else, that's what's important to us.
Notice down through those verses that He spoke about things which the Gentiles, or the unbelieving world, seeks after. Most are anxious about what they'll eat and what they will wear. Oh, what stress some people are under to stay up with the fashions. Their closets are full of clothes that have not begun to wear out, but the fashions have changed.
The devil is ever changing the world to get everything we have. The style goes from wide neckties to narrow ones, from a wide lapel on a coat to a narrow one, from short dresses to long dresses. Smile, I teach the sisters to just leave them modest and they will be in style going both ways: they'll be in style as they're going up and as they're coming down).
The devil has created a snare, not only in the clothing fashions, but also, he's doing it on every angle. God expects the world to be caught up in it, but He expects His disciples to be a little wiser.
In too many cases, people can't promote the missionary program, which is needed to encircle the globe with the truth, because they're caught in this snare, and to much of their finances are being spent trying to keep up with fashion trends. When it's time to give of their finances to help spread the Gospel, they can truthfully say that they don't have anything left. If that's our circumstance, God, not only is taking our answer that we don't have anything left, but He also wants to know what we spent it for.
Others are anxious about fitness, or how can they extend their lives. They don't have time to pray because they say they have to run so many miles every morning so that they can live a little longer. I believe we need to eat what's right and exercise, but the devil's getting people overly anxious about a lot of things.
Identifying Our Priorities
In Matthew 6:19 Jesus dealt with finance and said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth..." I'm not talking about making ourselves a little secure in laying something up, but I'm talking about and against a spirit that will cause an anxiousness to get hold of us to the place where our mind and heart become set on things in such a manner that we can't extend the Kingdom.
The people about whom Jesus spoke were anxious concerning these many things. They weren't unusual. They could have lived in our day. The things which they were anxious about are working the same way today. He pointed out their activities in His teaching: they were running here and there, buying, selling, building, and planting.
We can identify our activities when we identify our priorities. Let's face it, we always find time to do what we really want to do, and this is what gets many into trouble. Jesus looked at ambitions and spoke of things that people are anxious or concerned about. Let's look at verse 32 which says, "For after all these things do the Gentiles seek..." The Greek rendering for this comes very close to being translated, "You have become obsessed with these things; you are bound with them."
We can hear a message that comes right down and shows us our condition, and say, "I see it. I'm going to go home and do differently." However, we can't do differently. If we could, we would have already been doing so. These things have worked on us to the degree that we need help from God.
Second chronicles 7:14 says, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray [not just pray, but humble themselves and pray], and seek my face..." Why see God's face? Because we can't change our mind and do better. If we were able to, we could have gotten saved by changing our mind and doing better.
We need to seek God's face. We need the power of God to help us get loose from some of these things which have taken hold of us. They come in very deceitfully. We never openly walk into them. We never think they'll get such a hold on us, but we find that they do, we must turn to God. He's the only one who can help us. In verse 32 Jesus let them know that they were grasping for the same things which the pagans were.
If we can see what our ambitions are, we will discover where our priorities lie. When we discover our priorities, then we need to evaluate them, because priorities can get out of line.
Jesus let us know that the things which we believe to be important are truly less important. There's nothing more important than praying, studying the Word or laboring within and for the Kingdom of God. Now, God is not a hard taskmaster. He's looking on the heart, and when He sees that we desire from the heart to do these things, but circumstances beyond our control prevent us from doing so, He will work with us. He's a faithful God. He won't leave us for that. On the other hand, when He looks on our heart and sees that we could, but we merely seek excuses, then we're in trouble.
Having A Criteria to Build By
When Jesus sent His servant to bid many to His supper, He said that the Kingdom is prepared and all things are now ready. That's enough to prove that His Kingdom was already in existence. In other words, all things are ready; we don't have to wait years from now to get into the Kingdom of God. The Scripture lets us know that those who were invited began to make excuses.
When we bring our priorities into line with His priorities, our lives move in a different direction. This is one place where our uniqueness and our winsomeness lies. Some may ask,"Well, don't you think we need a criteria to build by?" We certainly do. If we were to go out and start building a house, we wouldn't line it up with some tree, or stand back and eye it and say, "That's pretty good, nail it right there." We have too many today who are going by the way they see things. They "eye it" and say, "Well, the way I see it, this is all we have to do." May God help us.
We must have a criteria, just as we do when we build a material house. To build a house , we need a plumb line, a square, and a level. God said He would not go by Israel because they were building crooked and sideways. He told the prophet, "Just drop the plumb line." God still drops the plumb line right out of Heaven today, and if our life doesn't line up with it, we're crooked, regardless of who we are.
There are some critics who say that because the Word of God crowds them, they are going to push it over a little. Well, we might push it over, but as soon as we take our hands off, it will come right back to where it was. Movement after movement has tried to push it over a little by saying, "This or that is not necessary," but as soon as God could get somebody to take their hands off, it would come right back to where it has always been. The truth will always stand.
What is the plumb line? He tells us in Matthew 6:33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Too many feel, "All I have to do is just work for God and then go sit down; He will supply all my needs." No, that verse rests in the light of James 4:2 which says, "Ye have not, because ye ask not."
God knows what we need before we ask. The promise is ours, but we receive it by asking and working for God. Too many are resting on Matthew 6:26 which talks about the fowls of the air: "They sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns..." That's for the birds; He told us to sow and reap and to have barns. If the Kingdom of God is first, then clearly entering into and experiencing that Kingdom in our lives should be our top priority.
The Kingdom of God
I don't find fault with Nicodemus as some do. Some bring up the fact that he came to Jesus by night. First of all, he was a busy man; secondly, that's when the rabbis did their studying. He came right at the right time and said, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:2). Jesus stopped him right then and said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see [or enter into] the kingdom of God" (verse 3).
Nicodemus didn't understand Jesus' words, and we'll never understand them until we're born again. Jesus hit it both ways when He said that you cannot see the Kingdom without entering into it. It's not something that we can stand off and look at; we must enter into it to see or understand it.
If the Kingdom is top priority, then entering into it or getting an experience of salvation is first necessary. The doctrine concerning the Kingdom of God is one of the most confused doctrines in the minds of most religious people today, and because of it, there are millennial teachings of every kind.
In the Old Testament, God's people didn't have an earthly king who ruled over them for many years. However, other nations so influenced them that they also desired an earthly king, so they made many moves to find a man to be their king. We can read in the Book of Judges how that after God called Gideon and used him in such a marvelous way to overcome the Mideonites, Israel wanted Gideon to become their king. Eventually, they moved God and He gave them Saul, proving that if we hold out long enough, God will let us have what we want, even if it's wrong. God gave Israel good kings and bad kings, but they suffered much because of those human kings.
God said, through the prophet Ezekiel, "I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is [to be king, speaking of Christ's coming]; and I will give it him" (Ezekiel 21`:27). For over four hundred years, from Malachi to Christ, man never heard from God; no prophet spoke.
After that period of time, a man came out of the wilderness wearing a leather girdle, eating locusts and wild honey, who started preaching, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). In other words, "God is going to take over again. Just as God was King before, God will be King again." This is still exactly what the Kingdom is: God who has always desired to be our King, would become the King of our life.
The Kingdom is called the Kingdom of God and also the Kingdom of Heaven. Some may ask, "Why is it called the Kingdom of heaven?" In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus taught us to pray for His Kingdom to come and that His will would be done in earth (or in us) just as His will is done in Heaven.
In Ephesians 2:1 Paul said, "And you hath he quickened [or in other words, "you hath he raised up."]..." We, as saints of God, are raised up together with Christ to sit in heavenly places. What are those heavenly places?---where the will of God is done in us, just as it is done in Heaven. This is the Kingdom that we must seek.
Born From Above
True disciples understand that the Kingdom is first. So entering the Kingdom and experiencing that Kingdom is top priority to those who follow Christ. The first of that "first" is to experience the Kingdom. Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born from above. When the power of God comes into our life and changes us, through a mighty work of transformation, He takes the old heart out and puts a new heart within us: He takes the wrong spirit out and puts a new, right Spirit (His Spirit) in us, and we are born from above and our name is written down in Heaven.
As Christians, we don't belong to this world: we are strangers here; our citizenship is in Heaven. We are not left here to try to change this world; this world can't be changed. Instead , we're to try to get men and women saved. God has never once sent us to change the government or to change the world. He sent us to get people out of the world just as we are out of the world.
Jesus said, "Ye must be born again (John 3:7). Today everybody is supposedly born again: drunkards, alcoholics, and even first-class crooks. Christ set the standard for being born again: we must be born from above, having God's power when the King of kings comes into our life, and He sits on the throne of our heart and reigns over our life.
The kingdom is that era of experience where the King functions in His correct capacity. To experience the Kingdom means that the King becomes king of our life and we discover a whole new realm of living.
I once heard a story of a man who got saved and went into the Salvation Army over in England. He was so happy. His wife wasn't a Christian, but she was happy because he was happy. One Sunday, he came home from church very downhearted and sad, and his wife asked, "What's the matter, you're not happy anymore? He replied, "No, I'm not, because everybody there wears a red sweater and I haven't got one." So she sat right down and knitted him a red sweater, and he went away happily.
The next time, he came home he was again sad, and she asked, "What's the matter now?" He said, "Well, they all have red sweaters, but they have yellow letters on them." So she said, "All right, I'll try to put yellow letters on your sweater." She couldn't think of what to write on it, so she looked at a shop across the street that was going out of business and saw that they had a sign up. She copied the letters and put them on the sweater.
When he came home from church the next Sunday, he was so happy, and she asked him, "Did they like the letters on your sweater?" They liked my letters better than theirs," he said. Come to find out, the letters on that sweater read, "Under new management." He had found the Kingdom; he had been born from above and was under new management.
When King Jesus establishes reign on the throne of our heart, we will start marching to a different beat; we will be out of step with this world. We will be as the little boy who was marching in a Boy Scout parade: he was out of step because he was listening to music through his earphones.
We Are Not Our Own
When we "sell out" to God and all things become new, not only will we be out of step with this old world, but people will also begin to ask why we're different. We are in a day and time when false love is trying to work, and also a time when people are trying to smooth things over. Many require no major changes in their lives. They want just enough religion to make them feel better. There are things that we can do religiously that will cause us to feel better, but we will never come to the place of radical transformation until we come clean and the King moves into our heart. He won't move into a dirty temple.
We only come to grips with regeneration when we realize the meaning of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which says: "What? know ye not that...ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore [since we are not our own and we belong to Him] glorify God in your body [Some believe that the body doesn't count anymore; however, he mentioned the body first.], and in your spirit, which are God's." Our body and spirit belong to God, and in fact, everything we have belongs to God. God, in His love and mercy, makes us stewards, but it all belongs to Him.
Jesus went a little further than just saying, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God." He also went on to say, "and his righteousness." In other words, not only are we to experience the Kingdom, but we are also to express it by living righteously and godly in this present world. If we claim to have this experience of salvation, then we must be living right, expressing it, and showing it forth so that others may see. This should be a disciple's top priority.
The key thought which we need to continuously keep before us is this: we need to stay committed to what is good, what is right, and what is true. It's very easy to fall to the level of this old world and become committed to what is popular, what is profitable, and what is comfortable. If we will allow both of these sets of values to work in our life, it won't be long until we'll have to decide where our real priority is. It may be more profitable or more comfortable to go a particular way, but it may not be the right way.
We need to be careful when we preach so strong on what is wrong with something that we balance it off with what is right. Let me illustrate it like this: It's our duty to cry out against abortion and let people know that it is wrong; however, we must also be ready to offer help to that one who may need help. Let's suppose that a preacher hit this subject really hard one Sunday, and in the service there sat a young girl who was in the family way, afraid to tell her parents and not knowing what to do. What the preacher should add when he comes down hard like that is, "We'll be glad to open our home, take you in, and help you bear the expenses." But too many times, what happens? People will shout when you hit it hard, but then when you ask someone to raise their hand, "Who would be willing to take a young lady into your home and help her?" you couldn't get anyone to help because it would upset their comfort.
It's one thing for us to tell the world how wrong and how dark something is, and quite another thing to stretch out a helping hand and say, "We will help you." Too many times, this is not what is being done. Instead, judgment is laid on them, and they are left to try to work out a way for themselves the best they can. What am I talking about? Priorities: seeking first the Kingdom, and living by that which is right, true, and good.
When we truly find Christ, the Kingdom will become a reality in our heart. Seeking first the Kingdom of God gets into our daily living in a greater way than many realize. I repeat, we have to keep what is good, true, and right ever before us, and not let the spirit of the age cause our minds to focus on what is popular, profitable, and comfortable. The cry today is, "Well, everybody is doing it." No, Christ's disciples are not "doing it". I've had businessmen tell me, when I wouldn't be dishonest, "Why, everybody does that," and I said, "No, everybody doesn't, and I am one who will not." You may say, "Why, that's foolish." If something would keep us out of Heaven, it's not foolish.
The devil is working. He will try to get us to overlook that little thing which we think doesn't amount to anything; nevertheless, if it has killed our influence and our outreach for God, it amounts to something, and that's what the devil wants. The world can tell who the true disciples really are.
When our heart is washed white, we will want to make our garments clean, and we will want our life to be clean. Revelation 7:14 says, "These are they which...have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." The little things which the enemy makes people feel don't amount to anything are keeping them from being true disciples of Jesus Christ.
I once read about a young man who worked for a certain bank, and the president of the bank that had hired him went by this desk one day and said, "If So-and-So calls, tell him I'm out." The young man inquired, "Are you going to be out?" and the president said, "No." The young man replied, "Then I cannot tell him you are out if you are in."
The boss's face got red and he was ready to fire him, until the young man calmed him down and told him, "Now, mister, if I don't lie for you, I'll never lie to you; but if I lie for you, I would probably lie to you." The banker said, "I like that. Give him a raise." Again , we need to keep in mind what is right, what is good, and what is true.
Seek First the Kingdom
In seeking the Kingdom, we seek God's righteousness. Somebody might say, "No one is good but God." That's true. However, when He gets in us, we start being good. The King, Jesus Christ, is the one who directs the steps of His disciples. This experience produces a different people, a people that others look up to. Every honest hearted individual will take notice and will want to be like them.
Seeking first the kingdom means that we take the Word of God seriously. Jesus said, "And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14). This means that those who have the Kingdom as a priority will have it working in experience, in expression, and also in extending it. The Kingdom is not being extended as it should be. Extending the Kingdom rests on experiencing it and expressing it. If we will do those two things, there will be an extension of the Kingdom.
When people get so comfortable in experiencing the Kingdom that they have no burden or concern for its extension, something has happened: another spirit has worked on them. We need to get our priorities reevaluated. What has been the move today? Many try to make themselves more comfortable. For example, a church building is just a place where God's people assemble themselves to be schooled and taught the Word of God. From there, we are to go out into the world and work. If we are not careful, a wrong attitude will take hold of us, and after we get schooled and taught, we will not take it out to the world as the Lord would have us to.
The big move today is merely to try to get people to church instead of trying to get them to Christ. The morning church went out and won them to Christ, and then they brought them to church. Our priorities can get mixed up.
If we are the true church, when we meet people we will introduce them to our Husband, Christ. No man could join the morning church. Why? If anyone tried, they would say, "You need to be joined to the Lord, not us." The church is the bride of Christ, and we are to so live and allow the priorities of our lives to be such that we point people to Jesus.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:25, "Take not thought for your life..." There's too much thinking and meditating being done on what is going to happen to us physically. Oh, the fears that people are filled with. If fear is present, faith cannot work. If we will truly be the church, we're going to make it through with victory. God knows we have need of earthly things, but nowhere does He tell us to seek those things, but rather, to seek first the Kingdom.
If we're bound with the habits of life, let's seek first the kingdom. We're thankful for any move that man is making to help people, but they are still bound in their sins. I listened one time to a man speak on a talk show on the radio, and he said, "We just make it clear to people that there is no cure for alcoholism. All we can do is help." When I heard that, I shook my head and said, "God we ought to be on there telling people that there is a cure for alcoholism. There is a cure for sin of every kind!
The Bible lets us know that Jesus went about dong cures. He doesn't give treatments; He will cure us. When we meet the King of kings, and repent and turn our life over to Him, acknowledging that the prince of this world has taken us captive, asking Him to free us and become the King of our life, the power of sin and the power of Satan will be broken from that moment forth.
Too many today are trying to fix themselves up. I worked with a man who said, "I know what you preach out there, and when I get things straightened out in my life, I am coming out." I told him to seek first the Kingdom. Why? Because if we go make restitution and try to get our life straightened out before we come to Jesus, we will most likely have to do it again, because when we do it without God, we do it for our own glory. The Lord wants it done to His glory. He wants us to be able to say, "God saved me and cleaned me up. I am here making this right because God has led me to do this." May God help us to get our eyes completely off what we experience and enjoy, and do some expanding.
The Fruit of the Righteous
Regardless of who we are, we can't have everlasting joy without working for God. There's a joy that comes from His service that we cannot partake of if we don't work. When we lead somebody to Christ that joy will make us feel as though we have gotten saved all over again. The same joy of salvation that came into their heart touches us and blesses us.
Let's ask ourselves, what are our priorities today? Are we anxious about something that will make us comfortable or give us a good livelihood? Or are we truly interested in experiencing, expressing, and extending the Kingdom of God?
The Wise man said in Proverbs 11:30, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life..." I never fully understood that verse of Scripture until I was out West to hold meeting, and a brother took me to where he was working. There he showed me where he had cut big trees down, but every twenty-five feet or so, he had left a tree standing for seed.
Coming right back to the Bible pattern, the fruit of a spiritual congregation is raising up another one. There are new congregations continually being raised up on foreign soil. Some may say, "Well, those people are poor." Well, is God going to have to make us poor before we get down to business?
Our priorities move us about. People are living in places where the Kingdom is not being promoted or preached. Many settle for less than the standard of God's Word because their children live there, and that's their priority. Others move where they have to drive many miles to attend church. could it be that they neglected to seek first the Kingdom? Perhaps all they wanted was a comfortable climate or a nice hone, and after they got everything else, they started looking for a place to attend church.
Our lives need to be so lived that we express the Kingdom of God. We need to let the world know by our living that we are not our own: we are bought with a price. Jesus made it very plain that if we are experiencing, expressing, and extending the Kingdom, other things will fall into place.
Doing these three things will affect our everyday living: our eating, our relationship with our family, the clothes we wear, where we go, and what we do. True disciples have different priorities than this old world. Jesus laid out plain teachings that tell us how we can be blessed in our efforts and be effective in winning the world. His last commission was, "Disciples, be disciples, then go and make disciples just like you."