Jesus taught, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:26; ESV)”
Elsewhere, on another occasion, while in the home of Martha, the sister of Lazarus, when Martha complained to Jesus concerning her sister Mary, who, instead of helping to serve the guests, was sitting listening to Jesus teach, Jesus gently corrected her, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42; ESV)”
Both of these passages teach a similar principle: the principle of proper prioritization. God wants men to understand that in this life there are some things more important than other things. Your soul is more important than material possessions or the things of the world. Feeding the soul is more important than feeding the guests. And so forth.
It is an easily observable truth that a great many people prioritize poorly. They place too much emphasis and spend too much time on things that matter only a little, and they spend far too little time on those things that matter greatly.
If we were to quickly summarize, in broad strokes, the order of proper priorities, as taught in the Scriptures, it would go something like this: God is first, other people are second, you are third, and the things of the world are last.
It should be incontrovertible that the Bible teaches us that God must be first in our lives. The greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37; cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-5)” Obedience to God is shown through loving His word, keeping His commandments, and striving to please Him in all that we do (cf. 1 John 5:3). This is the great duty of man (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13). When we must choose between God, or any other thing, choosing God is always the right choice.
As for putting other people second, consider that the second great commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39; cf. Leviticus 19:9). To do this properly requires actually placing the needs (though not necessarily desires) of others before the needs of self. Thus the inspired apostle instructed the church in Philippi, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4; ESV)” This was the mentality Jesus had in His willingness to lay down His life for our sakes (cf. Philippians 2:5ff).
And then, as Jesus pointed out, while we should properly consider others before self, we should realize that we ourselves are more valuable and important than the things of this world. We each have an eternal soul, and there is nothing in this world as important as that soul. If we gain all the world, in riches and pleasure and power, but lose our souls in the process, we have made a poor trade. Gaining a home in heaven is worth the sacrifices we might have to make to gain that home. Thus did Paul, who had given up much for the cause of Christ, observe, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8; ESV)” In fact, the Bible goes so far as to teach us, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)” And Jesus warned us that we cannot serve both God and money. One of them has to take priority over the other (cf. Matthew 6:19-24).
However, this order of priorities (God > Others > Self > Things) is not how the majority of people plan their lives. In fact, if we were to be honest in our assessment of how most people plan and prioritize, we would observe that many people, maybe even ourselves, get everything exactly backwards. Things of the world take precedence over all else, and men devote their lives to money, pleasure, power, prestige. The temptations of the world prove too great, and all is sacrificed in the pursuit of temporal things. Likewise, self is frequently prioritized over the good of others. The world even teaches us to, “look out for number one,” and “take care of yourself first.” Gone is the love of Christ which was willing to be humbled, and in its place is the pride of life, which refuses to serve, demanding rather to be served.
And placed last of all in the priorities of the world is God, and the things of God. He who should be most important becomes an afterthought, if He is thought of at all. Rather than sacrificing for God, men, if they pray, think primarily of what God can do for them. Rather than praising God for all that He has done, God is blamed for all of their mistakes and troubles. God’s worship is neglected, His word is ignored, and His commands are routinely broken.
But when our priorities are all wrong, our live is backwards and upside down. No wonder the world is so frequently miserable. God, who designed us, crafted us so as to find fulfillment in a life properly ordered. Men, following their own wisdom, tears apart everything, including themselves, because they put first things last and last things first. If we wish to find our proper place in the world, we are well advised to do it God’s way, knowing that the wisdom and knowledge of God is far superior to that of men.
We should recall the Lord’s caution and rebuke to Martha. Martha was choosing those things that she would one day lose. Mary was choosing those things that would not be taken away from her. If we prioritize properly, we too can choose the better things.
If you would like to give God a greater role in your life, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.