Priorities. The word conjures invisible battles of choice, where emotional fixations, logical realities, and spiritual demands are stacked within our hearts in whatever pattern we allow them to be. Then, we “let the chips fall where they may” as the proverbial saying goes. Many feel comfortable with the way their chips fall, but the question before us is how do these chips fall in relation to where the kingdom ranks among our priorities?
While it appears self-evident, let us ask the simple question, “what is a priority?” From Dictionary.com we find:
noun. the right to precede others in order, rank, privilege, etc.; precedence.
adj. highest or higher in importance, rank, privilege, etc.: a priority task.
From how we conceive of the word by our English usage, when we speak of priorities, it refers to a matter or person which has the right to demand a place (a ranking) which outranks the importance of others. In other words, “what comes first?” There are perhaps as many sets of priorities as there are people.
We may style this question of priorities in another way, however, by using the word value. What do you value the most? What has that worth which demands that “first place” in your heart, and for it you always hear and answer its beckoning call? For some it is their job and their money, for others it is their hobby projects, others invest their heart into sports, or others just simply in the comforts of life. No doubt, this kind of list can roll endlessly off into the distance.
While all of the above are not inherently wrong focuses, nevertheless, they highlight the question at hand: what do we value the most? What in our world comes first? How are we prioritizing the issues of our lives? We hope in the space remaining to provide some perspective of a biblical sort, in order that we may stack our priorities after a godly order.
One God, One Focus
From the beginning of creation, humans have always struggled with priorities. Moses does not provide a timeline but he zeros in on the moment of the fall, when Eve eats the forbidden fruit along with her husband (Gen. 3.1-7). When confronted with temptation, Eve gives in to alluring nature of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3.6; 1 John 2.15-17).
It is here that the entire order of things is “turned on its head”. God had invested in Adam and Eve an authority over the creation (1.26-30), they were to “have dominion” and “subdue” the creation as those made in the image of God. This authority is delegated, however, as evidence by God setting the “ground rules” for this authority, and for living in the garden (i.e. “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” 2.17).
In Eve’s decision to give in to the prodding of the creation and violate God’s law regarding the “forbidden fruit”, she elevates her own desires over God’s. Eve’s priorities shifted due to her fixations on what she could have, but should not have. In this instant we see that sin stems from the disruption of values, placing our priorites over God’s will. The apostle John would later describe this disruption as “the love of the world” (1 John 2.15).
Later in biblical history, as Israel embarks upon a new life in the Promised Land to live as God’s chosen people, Moses declares:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (Deut. 6.4-6 ESV)
This portion of Scripture brings back the point at hand: priorities. God demands that there is only one God to whom we give all our focus, allegiance, and devotion (Matt. 22.36-40; Mark 12.28-34). It is Him and no other, our values and priorities begin with God and His holy will.
The Kingdom Comes First
Much like Moses in Deuteronomy, Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” sets forth many of the principles for living as God’s people which serve as the foundation for Christian values and priorities (Matt. 5-7). In one section, the Lord emphasizes the importance of trusting in God’s providential care to provide for His people, whether it be food or clothing (6.25-32).
Jesus teaches the importance of trusting in the God of heaven; consequently, instead of being “anxious”, Jesus calls for “faith” and “faithfulness”. In this light, Jesus teaches:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6.33)
The Hebrew writer speaks in a similar way: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11.6).
To seek God, means to seek His kingdom first. Matthew 6.33 reminds us of the struggle to prioritize, to make proper placement of our values. We do not wait for God to bless us before we place him “next” on the “to do” list. He is first before our blessings; never mind the fact that God is already blessing us with more than we can imagine.
Let us be clear on this point: Jesus teaches us to place God first, to place God’s will first; which is the same as to mold our priorities after the instruction found in the word of God. In fact, this also means that we place Jesus preeminently in our lives (Col. 1.18), for Jesus is our “life” (Col. 3.4).
By Your Fruits You Will Know…
Consider the possibilities below honestly. You will know if you are seeking the kingdom first, or if you need to change the genuineness of your faith.
Is your weekly contribution a planned effort to give God your best, or is it an afterthought filed last in your financial budget?
Are you attending the services of the congregation, or are you missing in action by forsaking the assembling of the saints?
Do you volunteer your time in the various works of the congregation you attend, or does it take “guilt trips”?
Are you reaching out to your friends, family, neighbors with the loving gospel of Jesus Christ, or are you lacking trust in the message of God?
Do you showcase your faith in God and his Word by living as a Christian ought, or are you embarrassed when you have to make a moral or spiritual stand?
There is a new way of living for those who have put on Christ in baptism (Gal. 3.26-28; Rom. 13.14); men and women named Christians (Acts 11.26). This name worn by those “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3.5) signifies that they are now “an adherent of Jesus”. Our priorities and values, consequently, need to be Jesus-based. Jesus spoke of always doing things that were pleasing to his Father (John 8.29). We must remember that Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6.46). So what are you going to do?
- William E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr., 1968-1980, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Repr. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson, 1984), 2:101.