Article: Breaking Age Old Traditions 1: Priorities | Abby K Mathews, Canada
“We do not do to become, we become and so we do..”
My parents came to the Lord when I was around seven and since then I have had the privilege to be raised mostly in the church. While I still consider having a Christian community as one of the great blessings in my life, I am also cognizant of certain ‘baggage’ picked up along the way. What do I mean by baggage? Let me explain by laying some context.
Now 1 Peter 2:2 says.. And like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
What I have found is that often this pure milk of the word is a rare commodity. I remember in Kerala how the milkman would add water in the pure milk he gets from the cow so that the volume would increase. He then gets to sell more bottles. In the same way, often the preached Word is also not pure. Instead it is packaged along with culture, experiential wisdom, misinformation from the internet and Whatsapp, emotions.. etc.
For an example of experiential wisdom someone may say as a testimony: I was in a lot of debt or sickness and God asked me to do X and Y. When I did as God asked, God rescued me. Now this person may inadvertently suggest to those listening to them to do X and Y to receive the same deliverance. This is an experience one person had but that is being elevated to the status of the Word of God. Remember that experiences can be different for different people but the Word of God never changes.
Now before we sling accusations, let me remind you that it is not always done out of bad intentions. Sometimes, people genuinely and sincerely preach the wrong thing because they believe it to be true. So where does that leave the believer? The bible teaches in Acts 17:11 that when Paul came to Berea to preach, the Bereans received it with eagerness but always confirmed the preaching with the scriptures to see if it was true. God calls them noble Bereans. So let us always examine everything that we read and hear in the light of the scriptures and then we can start removing the excess baggage from the truth.
One saying that was often told to youngsters at the time was how to measure priorities. They would say your priorities should be – God, Family, Church, everything else. You may have heard similar variations of the same and while this sounds good, is this correct as per scripture? So let us go back and see how Jesus defined it. The Ten commandments that Israel followed for years was distilled by Jesus into two:
So he answered and said, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.” (Mat 22:37)
Jesus clearly divided the law into two categories – God and Neighbours. A teacher of the law in Luke asks Jesus – Who is my neighbor? Jesus in a masterful way explains instead, ‘What does it mean to be a neighbor?’ – To show compassion and not just to those who can benefit you or is related to you by blood and culture but everyone.
However, Jesus adds another dimension in John 13:34:
I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
Here you see Jesus elevating the body of Christ even above your neighbor. How does He do that? He teaches the disciples to love one another just like Christ loved them but concerning the neighbors, he teaches them to love them as much as they loved themselves. He uses a different standard of love for each group. So scripturally, there are only three levels of importance that Jesus put forth; God, which is the first and foremost, your brethren (fellow believers) and then those outside of that circle.
Now I want to point out to something interesting, 1 John 4:20 says:
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
John is proposing here that the two commandments loving God and loving your brother is so intertwined that if you cannot do the latter, you are definitely not doing the former. It does not matter how many songs you sing, how many hours you pray or read the word, if your heart cannot love your brother for whatever reason then your love for God is a delusion. You may be able to love your brother but not God, but if you truly love God then you will truly love your brother.
Why is the teaching of the order of priority – God, Family, Church etc. without a proper context can be misleading?
1) When we usually talk about priorities, we mean importance of tasks related to time and effort but not relationship. In that sense, when we say God is one of the priorities we run the risk of diminishing God to actions that you do like daily prayer or reading the Word. That is how giving God priority means to most Christians – fulfilling a set of duties. Let me introduce you to a group of people who were excellent at meeting the quota and yet had their hearts far from God – The Pharisees. Another example is the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He had done the ‘right’ things but his relationship with his father was broken.
But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you never gave me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; (Luke 15:29)
God is more than just a priority for a true believer- God is Life. In our list, we do not include breathing because it is an integral part of being alive. In the same way, for a true Christian, ‘Christ in us’ is the hope of any glory to be received. All the things we do in life should flow out of the new identity that we have in Jesus. To be the best at anything you do is only possible if you fully embrace the new man you have become in Christ.
2) It forgets that these elements are interlinked. We just read in 1st John 4 about how our love for God is impossible without the our love for our brothers. These are not competing priorities but rather by every action that we do we have the opportunity to worship and honor God. Whether it is spending time with your family, helping a church member, or even at your work place, you can live a life of worship. If you have trouble seeing how you can be a witness at work, read the book of Daniel about how four boys managed to leave a legacy of righteousness in the midst of a heathen and often hostile work environment.
Solution: So what can we say is the only priority for the Christian? The Will of God.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matt 7:21)
Is it possible to do the Will of God and yet not have a heart for God?
The scripture teaches us that the Will of God is impossible for us to do outside of God because of our inherent weakness. This is why the Law was not able to save people and that any real pursuit of God’s will is only made possible through Him. See these verses below..
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son.. (Rom 8:3)
Those who heard Him said, “And so who can be saved?” But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” (Luke 18:26-27)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Cor 15:10)
For it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)
What is the will of God for me?
This answer is given in verses throughout the New Testament (1 Thess 4:3, 5:18) but is covered in detail in 2 Peter 1:5-8.
Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they do not make you useless nor unproductive in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ..
In conclusion, pursue the will of God in accordance with the calling with which God has called you. Sometimes we have a feeling that if we were gifted like a certain pastor or have the resources of someone richer, we could be effective in doing God’s work. We forget that God delights to work with the weak, the poor and the insignificant. Look at Priscilla and Aquila who were normal tent makers and yet were instrumental in doing God’s work. Do not mistake doing things for God as equal to doing things from God. So whether you are employed, homemaker, student or even in full time ministry, let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Abby k Mathews