Putting God First
By Merrill F. Unger
Today in a grossly materialistic society, people for the most part think in terms of profit and loss. Multitudes are too busy either making or spending money to think about God. God is reckoned largely on the basis of financial advantage. Success is calculated from a purely monetary standpoint. Whatever does not promise a return in money or the things money can buy is avoided like a plague.
In his cold, calculating grasp for gain, however, the modern materialist in the end invites irreparable loss. His materialism makes him short-sighted, so that he sees only time and present advantage and is incapable of glimpsing eternity and true imperishable wealth, which can never be reckoned in terms of material possessions. He has never realized the truth of Jesus’ words: "A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).
It is incomprehensible to him that the highest gain will eventuate only to those who put God first regardless of present advantage.
The danger of covetousness, however, is not confined to worldlings. The believer is continually exposed to the contaminating influence of the widespread materialism about him. He must be constantly alerted to the danger of relegating God to a subordinate place in his living. He must be periodically reminded of the gain of putting God first, and what such a procedure involves.
Putting God First Involves Unfaltering Faith
The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath illustrates the importance of faith. Unless we believe God "is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6), we shall never put Him first. It was the widow’s faith in the Word of God coming to her through the prophet that brought her the blessing.
"Make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son" (1 Kgs. 17:13).
It was a staggering request considering the widow’s poverty and the dire straits to which she had been reduced by a prolonged famine. She had meal and oil enough for only one more cake. Should she give this to a complete stranger when it was all that stood between the starvation of herself and her son? But the Word of God came to strengthen her, and she believed its promise to her.
"For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, the barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth" (1 Kgs. 17:14).
God did not ask the woman to give up one world without offering her another. He asks us to believe His Word implicitly and to trust ourselves to Him completely. In doing so, however, we do not give ourselves into the hands of an executioner, but into the arms of a loving Father. Could we but see with the eye of faith, we would have little difficulty understanding that He has much more to give us in return than we could ever give Him in surrender.
It is beautiful to note, too, that God tenderly prepared the poor widow for the severer test by an easier one. As the prophet of God, tired and weary from a long journey, at eventide saw the woman gathering a few sticks to prepare the last morsel of food she had for herself and her son, his first request was not for food but only for water.
"Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink" (1 Kgs. 17:10).
In the protracted drought water was scarce enough, but food was more precious than fine gold when famine stalked through the land like a ravenous beast.
As the widow’s faith rose to meet the petition for water, God prepared her for the request for food. "And as she was going to fetch it," the prophet called to her, and said, "Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand" (v. 11). It was then that faith received its supreme test. "Fear not; go and do as thou has said, but make me thereof a little cake first" (v. 13).
Had she failed in the lesser test, she would never have had the opportunity of the greater, nor the inestimable privilege of knowing God, like Abraham and all God’s people of faith, as her "exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15:1).
Putting God First Involves Uncompromising Obedience
When the petition came for water we read of no doubt or hesitation on the part of the poor widow, who is a type of the true consecrated steward of God. It was indeed a hard request. Was not her son dying of thirst? Was not this man, despite the dignity of his appearance, a mere stranger? Why should she take of her meager supply of water in her dire need and give it away?
What was more staggering, why should she part with her last handful of food when starvation was staring her and her son in the face and give it to this chance wayfarer first?
But faith does not rationalize or ask questions. It obeys – simply because God commands. The widow’s obedience was thorough because her faith was genuine. We shall never obey God and put Him first in our lives until we believe God. Faith is the foundation upon which the superstructure of obedience is erected. It is not difficult to see why unbelief is the cardinal sin.
Putting God First Involves Willing Sacrifice
God does not always require the sacrifice of the nearest and dearest in this life. But He often does to test our love. Abraham must be willing to give up his Isaac. Moses must give up a throne. Hannah must surrender her little boy. Jesus must give up His life a ransom for many. The widow must relinquish her last handful of meal and commit her life and that of her son into the hands of Elijah’s God.
The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love. Love is the ruling principle. Obedience, often involving sacrifice, is the proof of our love. No one will ever put God first in his life unless he loves Him supremely. The kingdoms of this world are ruled by self-love. Men live for what they can get out of one another. Christians ever face the subtle temptation of living for what they can get out of God.
The supreme sacrifice at Calvary was never made at such tremendous cost to purchase a cheap reprieve from punishment or to furnish an escape from self-denial, or to grant divine indulgence to men to go on living an easy, carefree, selfish existence. We do not enter the fullness of the meaning of Calvary until the same spirit of sacrifice is repeated in our lives and we yield ourselves completely to God’s will.
Putting God First Eventuated in Assured Gains
It brings reward in this life. Who will say this Sidonian widow did not gain by consecrating her little (but her all) to God? Her own supplies were multiplied. Her own needs were met. Her life and that of her son were saved. Her entire future was guarded and blessed by Him whom she had trusted. Her act of faith lifted her out of oblivion into perpetual fame, out of littleness into highness, and enabled her also to perform a great service. For an entire year she supported one of the greatest of God’s prophets, a man who was taken to heaven by a whirlwind without ever dying.
Putting God first brings reward in the life to come. Jesus, in His sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth, referred to this woman of remarkable faith.
"Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah...but unto none of them was Elijah sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow" (Luke 4:25-26).
God honored her above all the widows in Israel because she had faith to put Him first.
Her faith will yet be rewarded: "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:29).
No one can be the loser who puts God first. The crass materialism of our age needs to see a living proof of this great truth in the life of every child of God. Then men will begin to see the folly of relegating God to an inferior place or crowding Him out of the life altogether.
– Taken from an earlier issue of Herald of His Coming.