Do This First

Number One

In every area of life, there are certain things that must be done first before something else can be done (e.g., you must put your socks on first before putting on your shoes). That does not mean that the secondary action is less important, but the sequence is.

Sometimes, the order in which we do certain tasks are of necessity. The wise man said, “Prepare your work outside and make it ready for yourself in the field; afterwards, then, build your house” (Proverbs 24:27). Housing is important, but if the planting is not done at the time to plant, there will be no harvest. The house will be useless if one does not have food to eat.

Other times, the order in which actions are to be carried out is of divine decree. Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). If one is baptized before he believes, he has not done what Jesus said he must do to be saved. One must believe first, then be baptized in order to be saved.

Matthew recorded a few times in which Jesus taught that something must be done first before something else could be done. In this article, I want us to notice what Jesus said on these occasions and see what lessons we can learn.

First Be Reconciled to Your Brother

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Worshiping God is important. When Jesus made this statement, the Old Law was still in effect; therefore, He mentioned the offerings made at the altar. But the principle of making worship a priority is still the same. God is worthy of worship (Revelation 4:11) and desires our worship (John 4:23). However, we must not neglect peace among brethren.

Before offering worship to God, Jesus said to first be reconciled to your brother. Unity among brethren is important. The psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). We must be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Of course, we are not to seek unity at the expense of the truth (Ephesians 5:11; 2 John 10-11); but we should seek unity rather than having unnecessary division.

Jesus mentioned the case in which “your brother has something against you” (Matthew 5:23). Why would this be? One possibility is that you sinned against your brother. If that is the case, then you must repent and ask him to forgive you (Luke 17:4). Another possibility is that your brother thinks you sinned against him. In this case, he ought to come to you and address the grievance (Matthew 18:15). However, if he does not come to you, and you know he “has something against you,” you do not need to wait for him. You can go to him and seek a peaceful resolution to the perceived wrong. Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). In either case, we can take the initiative and approach our brother for the sake of unity.

Let us not think that we can overlook needless division just because we are making worship a priority.

First Take the Log Out of Your Own Eye

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

Helping others make necessary corrections in their lives is important. James wrote, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). It is good to help others overcome some spiritual fault. However, we cannot ignore sin in our own lives.

God wants us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Jesus said, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We are to continually seek to improve our lives, “putting to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:15). Paul told the brethren in Ephesus, “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Many believe that the passage above (Matthew 7:1-5) is a blanket condemnation of all types of judging. It is not. Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus certainly did not condemn righteous judgment, but hypocritical judgment. His point was that we must remember that the same standard applies to us. Paul recognized the need to apply the same standard that he taught others to himself: “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The scribes and Pharisees were condemned because they would “say things and…not do them” (Matthew 23:3). Paul said, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). We can and should help others overcome their sin, but we must never forget our responsibility to remove and keep sin out of our lives.

Let us not think that we can overlook our own sins just because we are trying to help others with their sin.

First Clean the Inside of the Cup

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28).

Appearing righteous before others is important. Jesus certainly was not condemning that. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The Lord wants His people to let their light shine and be examples to others (cf. 1 Peter 2:12), but we need to make sure our heart is right.

Jesus said elsewhere, “God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). The Hebrew writer said, “For the word of God is…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13). Even if we can fool others – appearing to be righteous when, in our hearts, we are not – we will not fool God.

Appearances are not everything. “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Appearing to be righteous or moral in the eyes of the world – which the scribes and Pharisees did (Matthew 23:25) – is not enough. Jesus said, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). It is not enough to claim to do things in the name of the Lord, we need to actually do His will (Matthew 7:21-23). Our outward appearance may be clean, but inwardly we can be corrupt.

The wise man said, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We must be “obedient from the heart” (Romans 6:17), not just put on a show of righteousness before others. Our heart must be clean first and our outward deeds will follow.

Let us not think we can disregard the condition of our inner man just because we are outwardly acting godly.

Conclusion

Jesus condemned those who thought they could ignore part of their responsibility before God because they focused on another part. We must strive to do all that the word of God teaches us to do and not make excuses for neglecting any of it.


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