From the January/February 2016 issue of Discern Magazine

Christian Priorities: Putting God First

Establishing the correct priorities in our lives is vital for our success as Christians. We must always be putting God first.

German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe grasped the importance of priorities. He said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

Stephen R. Covey in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People put it this way: “As a longtime student of this fascinating field [of life and time management], I am personally persuaded that the essence of the best thinking in the area of time management can be captured in a single phrase: Organize and execute around priorities.

He also wrote: “One of my favorite essays is ‘The Common Denominator of Success’ written by E.M. Gray. He spent his life searching for the one denominator that all successful people share. He found it wasn’t hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, though those were all important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest … [was] putting first things first” (1990, pp. 148-149).

Setting the right priorities is vitally important for success.

And, it turns out, not just for material success.

The Bible sets priorities that lead to eternal life

The Word of God tells us that it is vital to put our priorities in the right order and then carefully cultivate each one with zeal and enthusiasm.

Consider three of the most important eternal priorities.

Christian priority No. 1: God must come first

When God gave the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, He thundered these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

God does not want us to place anything before Him. His desire is that we worship Him and Him alone. He must come first in our lives.

The Bible tells the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, who were loyal friends of Jesus Christ. When Christ visited them, they wanted to serve Him in the way each considered was most important. Let’s pick up the story:

“A certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’

“And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42).

Serving others is highly commended in the Bible, and it is certainly not wrong to serve. But in this instance priorities were an issue. Listening to Christ’s teachings was even more important than food preparation.

How do we demonstrate that we truly love God and want to put His teachings first?

The apostle John provides the answer: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The evidence that we love God is our striving to keep His commandments.

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him” (1 John 2:4-5, emphasis added).

We have to be honest with ourselves. Are we putting our personal relationship with God first, or are we allowing other aspects of our lives to come before the worship of the true God?

Priorities that are in error

The Bible records an incident in which Peter, James and John, who Christ was calling to become His disciples, had their priorities right: “So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

On the other hand, the Bible records examples of people who had distorted priorities, and who actually rejected Christ’s offer to become one of His disciples. Read Luke 9:57-62. Apparently, physical comfort and prosperity were of greater importance to some. For others, taking care of family matters was more crucial than supporting Christ in preaching the gospel.

None of their excuses were of themselves wrong. Is it wrong to stay with a father until he dies or to devote an extended period of time to saying farewell to family members? Certainly not! However, Christ was teaching an important lesson: God was not first in their priorities.

Frequently it is difficult to choose between the affairs of this world and Christ’s teachings. Christ stated: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate [love less by comparison] his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

Christ did not mean we should stop caring for each member of our family. He was simply teaching that we are to put Him first in our lives. Leaving God out of our planning is unwise (James 4:13-16).

Remember Christ’s words: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Once we have set following Christ as our top priority, there is no going back (Hebrews 10:37-39).

Christian priority No. 2: Develop godly, righteous character

What is godly, righteous character?

A well-known educator in religious matters, Herbert W. Armstrong, wrote the following definition of perfect character: “It is the ability, in a separate entity with free moral agency, to come to the knowledge of the right from the wrong—the true from the false—and to choose the right, and possess the will to enforce self-discipline to do the right and resist the wrong” (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 138; see more about Mr. Armstrong in our article “The Church: A Worldwide Work”).

In his book The Death of Character, James Davison Hunter wrote: “Does character really matter? The collective wisdom of the ages would say it matters a great deal. In both classical and biblical cultures—civilizations that have been so deeply formative to our own—people well understood there to be a direct association between the character of individuals and the well-being of the society as a whole. Individual character was essential to decency, order, and justice within public life. Without it, hardship was not far off. … Indeed, much of the history of the ancient Hebrews can be told as a story of blessing for faithfulness to God—abiding by God’s standard of holiness—and punishment for abandoning those standards” (p. 4).

Mr. Hunter cites Deuteronomy 30:15-19 as support for his statements.

Our will or God’s will?

When it comes to important decisions, whose will usually takes priority in our lives? Is it our self-will or is it the will of God?

The apostle Paul admonished Christians to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).

To be led by the will of God is to embody the character of God—to become like God.

Christ set the perfect example

Christ taught His followers to pray often that God’s Kingdom be established, and that “Your [the Father’s] will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). He said He came to earth to accomplish and carry out His Father’s will (John 6:38).

Even when faced with a horrifying trial of physical pain and mental torment, Christ prayed, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Overcoming our selfish nature and replacing it with God’s character should be uppermost in our minds. As Christ taught: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Christian priority No. 3: Seek first the Kingdom of God

In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught some of the most meaningful principles of Christian living in the entire Bible (Matthew 5-7). One of these is: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [mentioned in the previous verses] shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

This verse not only summarizes the first two priorities—focusing on God and His righteousness—but it brings to our attention the importance of the Kingdom of God.

What is the Kingdom of God?

It is the perfect and just government of God that will be established over the earth at the return of Christ, when “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15).

Don’t forget these priorities

  1. God must come first.
  2. Develop godly, righteous character.
  3. Seek first the Kingdom of God.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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