Three men got into a heated discussion about which part of the body was the most essential to life. It began when two of the men expressed a difference of opinion about escaping life threatening situations. One said, "Nothing is as important as your legs. If you are in a life threatening situation, you have to have your legs to carry you to safety."

The other said, "That depends on the danger. Many times your hands can eliminate the danger faster than your legs can take you away from the danger."

The argument was on. "Well, if you want to argue in that way, the ears must hear the danger before the hands can act."

"That may be true, but the eyes can see the danger much faster than the ears can hear it."

The third man jumped into the argument. "Both of you are talking about external factors. Internal factors are much more important. The brain is absolutely essential in all this. It tells the legs or the hands what to do. It interprets what the ears hear and the eyes see."

"That is true, but if there are no muscles to respond to the brain's orders, nothing would happen. The brain can interpret all it wants to interpret and give all the orders it wants to give. But if the muscles do not respond to the brain, the brain will be killed."

"Well, let's get real here. The muscles cannot do anything without the bones. Muscles are useless unless they have bones. The brain can give the orders and the muscle can receive the message, but if there are no bones, nothing happens The most that the muscles can do without bones is jerk."

Does that remind you of some of the discussions that Christians have? Just ask a talkative Bible class that has Christians with definite opinions, "What is the most essential thing we must do to escape hell?" Or, "What is the most necessary thing we must do to be saved?" Or, "What is the most critical thing that must occur for the church to be Christ's church?" I predict that you will hear a very similar discussion.

  1. This situation is not a frivolous matter; it places the spotlight on Christian thinking and Christian focus.
    1. We seem to be obsessed with trying to decide what is the most important.
      1. Some declare that knowing the word is the most essential thing that should be stressed.
      2. Some declare that faith is the most essential thing that should be stressed.
      3. Some declare that love is the most essential thing that should be stressed.
      4. Some declare that obedience is the most essential thing that should be stressed.
      5. Some declare that service is the most essential thing that should be stressed.
      6. And everyone says that we do not have the proper balance in the things that are being stressed.
    2. So what is the most essential?
      1. Knowledge?
      2. Faith?
      3. Love?
      4. Obedience?
      5. Service?
    3. Can you be spiritually alive and spiritually health without any one of those?
      1. Can you have spiritual strength and spiritual health if you have knowledge without faith, emotion, or service?
      2. Or if you have faith without knowledge, emotion, and service?
      3. Or if you have emotion without knowledge, faith, and service?
      4. Or if you have service without emotion, faith, and knowledge?
    4. If you have two, do you need not be concerned about the other two, or if three do you need not be concerned about the other one?
    5. Could I ask you to give thought to something ?
      1. Don't think about this for just a few minutes tonight as we discuss it.
      2. Put it in your thoughts to chew on for a while.
      3. Have you ever considered that this discussion about what is most important is our discussion, not the New Testament's discussion?
        1. Can you think of a scripture, placed in its proper context, when a New Testament writer says, "The most important thing in being a Christian is..."
        2. Have you ever noticed that is discussion focusing on our debate, our concerns, our chosen emphasis?
      4. Any religious group who is concerned about being correct biblically, who accepts scripture as God's word and God's authority, is vulnerable to this kind of thinking.
        1. Concern for being biblical means that we want to place our emphasis where the New Testament places it.
        2. That means that we must decide where the emphasis is placed.
        3. Therein is the trap--we decide.
        4. It is too easy to focus on an emphasis that addresses our personal concerns or problems created by our personal concerns.

  2. Believe it or not, this is a very old problem, a problem that existed before Christianity existed.
    1. The Pharisees were dedicated restorationists who had two basic goals.
      1. They wanted to restore national and spiritual dependence on Old Testament scripture with a proper emphasis on the law of Moses.
      2. They wanted to spiritually return the Jewish people to the "old paths"--literally their words.
    2. In the process they were very concerned with placing the greatest emphasis on the most important commands.
      1. One of the significant discussions and debates that they continued among themselves and with others was this: "What is the most important commandment?"
      2. They recognized that all of God's commands were not of equal importance.
        1. Some of God's commands took priority over other of God's commands.
        2. It was a practical concern: when obedience to God would result in contradictory actions, which command should be obeyed?
      3. Let me give you an example of a situation that places God's commands in conflict.
        1. A neighbor runs into your house to escape some men who are trying to kill him. Realizing the danger, you hide him.
        2. Before you can telephone 911, the men trying to kill him are at your door asking if you have seen him.
        3. How many Christian commands or teachings do you confront in this situation?
          1. Christians tell the truth; they do not lie.
          2. Christians are honest.
          3. Christians love their neighbors as they love themselves.
          4. Christians are committed to doing good.
        4. Do you tell the men that he is not there and that you have not seen him, or do you tell them the truth and let them carry him away?
      4. The Pharisees were concerned about addressing this kind of conflict, so they debated the priority of commandments.
    3. So one of the questions that they asked Jesus was, "What is the greatest commandment?"
      1. Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus never answered that question with giving the two greatest commandments?
        1. They never asked him for number one and number two.
        2. He never answered without giving them number one and number two.
        3. That was no accident--number one would be abused and misapplied, if they did not accept number two.
      2. What was Jesus' answer?
        Matthew 22:37-40 And He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two comandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. The first commandment:
          1. Love God with all your heart--all your emotions.
          2. Love God with all your life.
          3. Love God with all your knowledge and understanding.
          4. The first thing you must do is love God, but love for God must be rooted in all your emotions, all your life, and all your knowledge and understanding.
        2. The second commandment:
          1. You must love people like you love your own self.
          2. If love for people is based in the same context that love of God is based (and it is), you love people with your emotions, with your life, and with your knowledge and understanding.
      3. Pay careful attention to the balance, and the balance obviously is there because Jesus never separated these two commandments.
        1. You cannot use loving God to justify not loving people.
        2. If you do not love people, your love for God becomes meaningless.
    4. The Pharisees' concern for restoring the place of scripture in Israel was a correct, good concern.
      1. Their concern to return people to the "old paths" was a correct, good concern.
      2. However, in the pursuit of correct, good concerns they misplaced their emphasis.
      3. Because of their misplaced emphasis they became the most formidable enemy of God's own son while he was on earth.
      4. I find that a terrifying understanding!
      5. If we are not careful, we can become so concerned about restoring the church and doctrine that we become blind to the Savior.

  3. So, which is the most important: knowledge, faith, service, or emotion?
    1. May I make an observation and ask a question.
      1. My observation: perhaps the answer to that question has much to do with whether you are running from hell or you are running toward God.
      2. My question: which one of them is unimportant?
    2. It is apparent to me that:
      1. An ignorant Christian is easily deceived and led away from Christ.
      2. A faithless Christian trusts himself and his deeds and is without a Savior.
      3. An inactive Christian renders both his knowledge and faith useless.
      4. An emotionless Christians goes through the motions, but has no true relationship with God.

Can I be spiritually alive without knowledge of scripture? Or without faith in the promises and power of Jesus Christ? Or without ministering to people as I serve God's purposes? Or without genuine emotion for God, Christ, people, and God's eternal objectives?

Perhaps the question is, "What is my concept of being spiritually alive?

Ephesians 4:11-13 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

Do you need to flee from the wrath of God? Have you allowed Him to remove your sins by immersion into Christ? We want to encourage you to run toward God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 8 February 1998

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