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SETTING OUR TRUE PRIORITIES
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
27 JANUARY 1991
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Jonah 1:1-4, 15-17
1 Corinthians 7:29-35
Preparation Verse: (Psalms 62:1-2)
1. My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
2. He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Anyone can set priorities, but not everyone is willing to set true priorities.
Our true priorities are those that are in accordance with God's will, and
thus will be everlasting.
Those things that are not in accordance with the will of God will all pass away, and setting our efforts and money upon these endeavors is a waste of our time and assets.
Not everyone who knows the truth about God's ways is willing to do what God desires.
The prophet Jonah was such a person.
His priorities were opposite those of God when it came to non-Hebrew people.
Putting it simply, Jonah was jealous.
Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Jonah, and see something about the setting of our true priorities.
From the time we were little children, we have been told the story of Jonah – or at least the first part:
How the word of the Lord came to Jonah to go and prophesy against the great city of Nineveh, and how he fled from the Lord, and got on board a ship bound for Tarshish. (1:1-3)
And how the Lord sent a great storm to place fear in the hearts of all who were aboard the ship. (1:4)
And how the men of the ship cast Jonah into the sea and that a great fish, appointed by God, swallowed him; and that he spent three days in the belly of that fish. (1:15, 17)
We also know that after these three days, the fish vomited Jonah up onto dry
That's the gist of what most of us know about the book of Jonah, for that is
where we place our emphasis – but there is much more.
In verses 1:15-16 we see that when the men cast Jonah into the sea, the sea became calm; and because of this miracle of God and Jonah’s faith in knowing that this would happen, the heathen men of the ship believed in the Lord and were converted.
These men set aside their former priorities and established a new and true priority: to follow the Lord.
Let's pick up the story at chapter 3, beginning at verse 1:
1. Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2. "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you."
God doesn't give up on us who believe; He continues to call to us, just as He did with the young boy Samuel and just as we are seeing here with Jonah.
Jonah went through many unnecessary trials because he wouldn't set his priorities in accordance with those of God.
Look carefully at the people of the world around you; aren’t most of them experiencing the trials of not following God?
And because over the years believers have not made their stand upon the true priorities of God, we suffer the trials of the rest of the world.
Sometimes we reluctantly do as God desires, just as Jonah did:
3. So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk.
4. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown."
Jonah's appearance must have been enough to attract a lot of attention, and his explanation of what had happened to him, coupled with the proclamation of the Lord, had a profound effect upon the people of Nineveh.
Note the results:
5. Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
6. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes.
7. And he issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.
8. "But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hand.
9. "Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?"
The people of Nineveh, just like the people here and like the people of other communities in our world, know of their own sins.
But these people of Nineveh formally put on the signs of repentance: they put on sackcloth and sat down in dust and ashes.
They even had done many evil things with their animals, and because of this, they knew that even they must repent.
The vast majority of people, even in this little community of ours, won't even put on the outward signs of repentance.
Instead, they flaunt their sins before others.
But here we are told that the whole great city of Nineveh repented.
The people of Nineveh changed their priorities.
They did away with their false ones and took on the true and everlasting ones.
Do you think they were sincere?
God, who knows the intent of the heart, knows they were.
Note verse 10:
10. When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
Let's move ahead in time to when our Lord was incarnate upon this earth, and listen to what we are told in Mark 1:14-15.
14. And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,
15. and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Doesn't this sound like that which Jonah spoke forth to Nineveh?
But unlike Jonah, who knew the truth and the true priorities of God but was reluctant to follow them, both John the Baptist and Jesus had willingly established the true priorities of God within their own lives so that when the call came from God, they willingly spoke forth their call to repentance.
And since this call has been written down in the pages of our Bibles, it is also a call to us.
Note what happened as Jesus spoke forth, as we continue with our reading at verse 16:
16. And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.
17. And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."
18. And they immediately left the nets and followed Him.
"They immediately left the nets!"
There was no hesitation.
They realized the direction of their true priorities, and they set that path to walk in.
They left their former priorities behind, as the men on the ship with Jonah and as the people of Nineveh did.
But the call of our Lord is not over yet. Listen!
19. And going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets.
20. And immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.
They also immediately left.
They also established their true priorities.
But not so, with their Father and the hired servants.
And what about us?
What are we doing?
Who are we following?
What are our priorities?
If our priorities are not as those of God, we are without excuse; for I know with absolute certainty that the Lord our God has called to each and every one of us at least once, and more than likely many times. Are we also reluctant prophets?
The apostle Paul had this problem in the beginning, and he had to be struck temporarily blind before he responded and established new priorities.
From the depth of these new and true priorities, in 1 Corinthians 7:29-35 he tells us and the Corinthian Church something about our fully living for God, and that there is no family life that is better than the family of God.
What Paul is saying is that now, since Jesus has already come and will come again, we have set the wrong priorities.
Listen carefully as we read this passage of Scripture:
29. But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none;
30. and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess;
31. and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.
Let's look at these verses from our position in the world, and in particular, as depicted in verses 30 and 31.
We are in the world, but if we are truly Jesus Christ's, then our hearts and minds should be on heavenly things and not earthly ones.
We get emotionally involved with the things that go on in the world, and in that worldly emotion, we quite often forget about God.
If someone dies or is suffering, we weep, and in our sorrow we sometimes question God's motives and even blame Him.
But if our hope is in our eternal life with Him, then there should be no lasting sorrow that makes us emotional wrecks; for our own time upon this earth is also fleeting and afterwards, together we shall be eternally joined to the Lord.
Similarly, we rejoice over the birth of a baby; perhaps we should instead have some fear that the child may not grow up in the Lord and thus may not go to heaven.
Our priorities should not be in our physical birth, life, and death, but in our spiritual and eternal life with the Lord.
And the same holds true for our possessions.
We want things and comforts that money can buy, and there is nothing wrong with that if we are also willing to give them all up in an instant, for we can't take any of it with us.
And we are not to function in the world only to achieve our goals, as those who do not know the Lord, for the world and its ways are all passing away.
We skipped over our family relationships in this discussion. Let's return to our reading at verse 32 and let Paul explain what he is telling us:
32. But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;
33. but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,
34. and his interests are divided. And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
35. And this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
It's important that we understand this last portion of Paul's explanation.
He's not telling us this as some new law or as a restriction upon us, but as a way of helping us all to have an easier journey to heaven.
The question and its answer is one of setting our true priorities.
If a family is truly faithful to the Lord our God and they place Jesus first in their lives, then there is less likely to be real and lasting problems.
This is why I have such a struggle with marrying a couple when I see little or no commitment to Christ, for they will have more problems with their marriage, and in these problems they will be drawn further away from the Lord and thus stand an even greater chance of going to hell.
There are many people who think I am a fool for spending as much time in the ministry as I do, and that I also refuse to receive any payment for it.
Those people are the reason I do what I do, for they are looking from a worldly and materialistic point of view that is leading them into hell, or at least away from God; and my heart aches for them.
By setting the example I do, and as Paul did, and even as reluctant Jonah did, I try to show everyone I can that there is a better way.
I try to show what and where our true priorities should be.
And I pray that everyone I touch will be even a stronger Christian than I am and set even better examples for me to follow, as some have already done at times.
Will you do that for me and for yourself?
For if you do that, I will receive far more than all the money in this world.