There is a certain excitement about “first things.” Most of us find it easy to remember our first day at school. Our parents probably remember the first time we walked and the first words we spoke. Many of you probably remember your first date. Because they are among the first things we did, we place them among our primary memories.
There is another use of the word “first” that suggests priority. Setting proper priorities in life is one of the biggest problems we face. It is important to assess the value of things in order not to give first place to secondary matters. We often make the mistake of “majoring in minors and minoring in majors.” An examination of the New Testament book of Matthew reveals some priorities we need to establish.
The first priority for our consideration is, First the spiritual, then the temporal. Jesus said that we should seek the kingdom of God above everything else (Matt. 6:33). Connected with this admonition is the promise that God will provide our daily needs. God knows all about our material needs – food, drink, clothing, and shelter (Matt. 6:31-32). He is willing to supply them according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19); however, there should be in our life a spiritual emphasis that is superior to our quest for material interests.
Another priority is, First judge yourself before you attempt to correct your brother. Jesus urged us to cast the beam out of our own eye before we criticize another person’s shortcomings (Matt. 7:3, 5). How blind we often are to our own faults, and how quickly we observe the faults and failings of others! The Searcher of hearts urged us to be careful of our attitude toward others. It is much more profitable to mend and restore than to criticize and tear down.
Matthew 8:21-22 provides a third priority for our consideration: First, what Christ wants and then what you want. A man came to Jesus and requested permission to bury his father before following the Lord. At first, it may have seemed compassionate for the Lord to have granted his request, but Jesus knew the man’s heart. He knew he was just making an excuse to delay his commitment. We frequently do the same thing. We say that we will become a disciple of Jesus, provided we are given the opportunity of doing “our own thing” first. A self-centered person goes his own way instead of the Lord’s way. There is only one answer to each of the following questions: Why do you continue that doubtful habit? Why do you pursue that harmful relationship? Why do you allow that crooked method in business? Why do you continue to use profanity? Why do you still visit undesirable places? Why do you not obey the gospel of Christ? The answer to each of these questions is the same. At this time, you do not want to put the Lord’s will first in your life.
Jesus chastised the hypocritical Pharisees for outwardly conforming to God’s will while they inwardly neglected submission to His will (Matt. 23:25-26). The Christian life is not just an outwardly reformed life; it is primarily an inwardly cleansed life. When the inward cleansing is thorough, the outward transformation is soon evident. God does not want merely outward confession, but He desires inward possession.