Author: Ron Graham
Putting First Things First
—Three elementary principles
Jesus was concerned about the way people focus on material possessions as being of first importance (Matthew 6:25-34). He tells us three very simple, very elementary things...
- "You cannot serve God and mammon." Mammon means material possessions and things of this world. Jesus warns that these things can become our master and we their slaves, and if this happens we will not love and serve God as we should (Matthew 6:24).
- "Do not be anxious for your life" (Matthew 6:25,34). Jesus is here talking about the basic needs of life such as "food" and "clothing"
- "Seek first the kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33). The focus and priority in our lives should be the kingdom of God and his righteousness, not chasing after the needs of the body, but those of the soul.
It seems to me that in Australia, these sayings of Jesus are among the hardest things to do; even if you wish to do them, our society doesn't want to let you. There is a constant push into the pursuit of material things.
You are expected to devote a mere token, a small corner of your life, to God’s word and God’s work. If we would be true Christians, we must resist this pressure and really put God’s kingdom first.
1 The Principle —Ranking Important and good things.
Before we proceed any further, however, we must understand that Jesus is not saying that food and clothing are bad things and that we ought to go hungry and naked. The question is simply about what we should desire and seek first and foremost, and what should take second place.
Jesus never said that we should not eat and drink or wear clothes. He said that we should not be worried and anxious about these things of earth. We should not allow them to distract us from the things of Heaven (Matthew 6:31). Jesus clearly regards food and clothing as both good and important.
We know that Jesus regards them so, because he tells us, "Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things ...and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:32-33). God would not care about, nor provide, things that are not important or things that are not good, would he?.
The Bible tells us to "Put on (as clothing) the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its desires" (Romans 13:14). This does not mean to stop working for wages to put garments on our bodies and food on our tables. We are commanded to work for our daily food and other needs and to do this well (2Thessalonians 3:10-13).
Nevertheless we should not make this the first and most important thing in our lives. We must distinguish between the needs and the desires of the flesh. God will make sure that we have enough for our needs, and we should learn to be content with that sufficiency (Philippians 4:6,11).
So we see that food and clothing, and what other basic needs there may be, are important and good, and we should work to provide them adequately, and even with some surplus to share. However the pursuit of these things should not be our anxiety or uppermost concern.
We should be first and foremost seeking and pursuing the things of the Spirit, for these things are far more important, and far better, than the important and good needs of our bodies.
2 An example — Mary,Martha, and Jesus
One of the most instructive true stories in the Bible about this matter is the account of a day in the life of Mary, Martha, and Jesus. This little glimpse into their lives provides us with much to think about (Luke 10:38-42).
Luke 10:38-42 ESV
¶“38Now as they went on their way, Jesusd entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” (Luke 10:38-39 ESV).
¶“40But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.'” (Luke 10:40 ESV).
¶“41But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42).
What Martha was doing was both good and important —she was being hospitable to Jesus. Her fault was that she made it too important, and allowed it to distract her from the most important thing. Her priority was wrong.
How could Martha have handled the day better? Could she have done a good job of giving hospitality to Jesus, yet still have given first place to listening to his teaching? Have a think about that.
3 Methods —Some ways that we can put first things first.
It is not always easy to put first things first. But there are some approaches that help us.
- The Holy Spirit works in us (Philippians 2:12-16).
- We should give attention to prayer (Philippians 4:6-7 James 1:5-8).
- We should not forsake the assembling (Hebrews 10:25).
- We should read the Bible to light our way (Psalms 119:105).
- Seek the way of escape that God provides (1Corinthians 10:13).
Whilst I have complained in this lesson about external pressures that distract us from the spiritual things of God, it is what is in each of our hearts that is the key. If our hearts are "lukewarm" for Jesus, then of course we will be distracted.(Revelation 3:16).
If we really love the Lord, then that will cause us to be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our toil is not in vain in the Lord".(1Corinthians 15:58).
If our hearts put the kingdom of God first, then we will be able to "lay aside every encumbrance... fixing our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2).