Lesson 4 Priorities in Discipleship

The follower of the Lord Jesus cannot fail to notice how His sense of mission led directly to life filled with great accomplishments. He understood clearly the meaning of what are called priorities. It means preferential attention to what is most important among many demands. He put first things first each day, and He knew what they were from God’s perspective. He knew life was a one-time-only opportunity, and He would not be able to repeat the course later. Scriptures dealing with the length of life emphasize its brevity. The Lord was not a procrastinator, because time was not to be wasted or opportunities lost in doing less important things. The writer of Ecclesiastes said that there is “an appointed time for everything” (Ecc. 3:1-8) but there is not enough time to do every possible thing that we might like. A wise man decides his priorities in life and lives by them. A fool does not. A diligent man directs his energies to accomplishing priorities, but the sluggard does not. The disciple should be like His teacher in being a person who lives according to wise priorities, in either personal decisions or in use of his time.

Putting God First

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). Mark 12:30 adds, “and with all thy strength.” This summary statement of human obligations states what is first. The command to love our neighbors as ourselves is numbered second. Both are obligations. The first must precede the second. That is a priority. “Thou shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod. 20:3).

Whatever men may venerate, real or imagined, should not come before the only true God. He must take precedence. That is a priority. Whether speaking of God in the Old Testament or the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament, He is called the First and the Last (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:11,17; 2:8; 22:13). He is the Beginning and the End (Rev. 22:13). He has the title of priority, “firstborn” (Rom. 8:29; Psa. 89:27), for in ail things He must have “the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).

He is the First in time and the First in eternity. We are to seek His kingdom and its interests first (Matt. 6:33). Offerings that are given to Him must be “the first-fruits” (Exod. 13:2). As Ruskin has said, “He who offers God second place offers Him no place.”

Rather, we have insulted the Most High God when He is not afforded first place in our lives.

Developing God’s Priorities

The concept of “God first” is difficult to implement without an understanding of God’s perspective. What are God’s priorities? The following general considerations are principles that should direct our thinking when weighing responsibilities and making decisions, because they are rooted in God’s character.

1. Priority Of The Eternal Over The Temporal. God is an eternal Being. He lives beyond any limitation of time. We are more temporal (time oriented) in our thinking. The following things are significant only in time: earthly fame and honor, investments in property, comforts, sight-seeing tours, pleasures of earth, thrilling or romantic sensations. The following are eternal in value: God’s Word (Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:23,25), doing God’s will (1 John 2:17), the salvation of souls and work in the Kingdom of God. The disciple must learn the greater value of the permanent over the temporary. “Look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). An investment return which lasts for eternity is much superior to one which lasts for a speck of time. If lasting quality matters, we ought to invest our lives for an eternal profit.

2. Priority Of The Spiritual Over The Physical. “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). We are more apt to care for the body than the soul. Jesus told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14). Spiritual water is more significant and enduring than physical water.

Building in this life a house of godly deeds is better than accumulating earthly real estate (1 Cor. 3:11-15). “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). His words are spirit and life (John 6:63), unlike man’s best words. One observes in these comparisons that the nature of spiritual things makes them superior to the things of this world. Obviously, we ought to invest our lives in spiritual priorities whenever possible.

3. Priority Of People Over Things. The Lord told a story of a certain rich man who lived only to accumulate goods. He called the man a fool (Luke 12:16-21). Things are subject to decay, deterioration and destruction. All that is part of our present material world will pass away. By contrast, man is constituted an immortal soul. He will never cease to exist. That is why Jesus asked, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).

The soul of a man is so precious that Jesus laid down His life to save it. He did not do this for things. He told us that kindness to others (a cup of cold water) and giving our assistance to prisoners, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the stranger for His sake would not lose its reward (Matt. 25:35-40). The Lord Himself showed a great concern for people but very little concern for things. Wherever possible, we ought to invest first in people! The Lord loved people and used things. His disciples should do the same, not the opposite.

Fulfilling Our Responsibilities

Scripture does not leave us with a view that man is to spend all his time just contemplating God. From the earliest days of Creation, man has had responsibilities (Gen. 2:15). He also had privileges and blessings. Unfortunately, he used his privileges of marrying, eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, to shut out God from the place of priority (Luke 17:27-32; Matt. 24:38,39). The judgment of man came when he had no time for God.

How shall our days be ordered in proper balance? The following areas of responsibility are dictated, in order of priority, by the Word of God:

1. Responsibility Toward God. In a general sense, the Lord should be a part of every area of our lives. But here we consider that which intimately concerns our fellowship with Him. The Psalmist cried, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Psa. 27:8b). He said, “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Psa. 84:2). The disciples spent time alone with the Lord Jesus, even as He took time out to be alone with the Father (Mark 1:35). We are often worried and bothered about many unimportant things, “but only a few things are necessary” (Luke 10:41,42). In fact, really only one thing is supremely important. It is giving priority to sitting at the feet of Jesus even when one is a busy disciple.

2. Responsibility Toward God’s People. “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). The Church of Christ is our spiritual family. Believers are our brothers and God’s child ought to feel this way. Spiritual gifts are granted to us that we might build up other believers to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). The goal of Paul was to see every believer perfect, or mature, in Christ (Col. 1:28). The Lord asked Peter if he loved Him. When Peter said that he did, the Lord three times told him to feed and tend “My sheep” (John 21:15-17). We are told not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). Rather we are to minister to other believers in the body as active functioning members.

3. Responsibility Toward Those Without Christ. When millions are perishing around us without Christ daily, the disciple cannot be indifferent. Early in their ministry, the disciples were called by Jesus to be “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17; Matt. 4:19). His “Great Commission” to them was to go forth and preach the Gospel to every creature. Before His resurrection, Jesus called them to be “witnesses unto Me” (Acts 1:8). We are to warn the unsaved of their peril (Ezek. 3:18-19; 33:8-11). The task, then, of every disciple is to continually witness to the lost, rather than to relegate it to the work of a few believers.

4. Responsibilities Of Normal Living. There are certain activities that are usual and customary for all people and which take time. The wise handling of these responsibilities will keep us from being consumed by them to the extent that the priorities previously mentioned fall by the wayside. Examples are:

a) Wives, children, family. These closest to us in earthly ties should enjoy a very high priority. To neglect our family obligations is “to act worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Quality time investment and Christlike sacrificial love are necessary in the family (Eph. 5:25; Tit. 2:4). Yet plainly Christ and His spiritual family, the Church, take priority over even the closest family ties. How could we otherwise explain Luke 14:26 and Luke 8:19-21? Some who reject this sound teaching seek to use Genesis 2. They say the family existed prior to the church and therefore takes precedence. However, the Church was in God’s mind from eternity (Eph. 1:4; 3:10-11).

Furthermore Paul’s insight into the ultimate meaning of Genesis 2 reveals the eternal relationship of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:31-32). In view of the world’s temporary nature and the shortened opportunity to serve the Lord, Paul exhorts those who “have wives to be as though they had none” (1 Cor. 7:29). This clearly teaches an understanding of greater priorities. Remember that, when history has run its course, temporal relationships will be no more. However, the Bride of Christ, the family of God, will remain and be glorified.

b) Job performance. Career or work involvements more often cripple service for Christ than family demands. A believer should always be a profitable worker (Col. 3:22-24), knowing that all labor is to be “as to the Lord.” He should also be honest and fair (Luke 3:12-14). However, pouring time into jobs over and above the required amount, and thereby neglecting the things of the Lord, is an offense against Him. We need to be concerned primarily about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49), not slaves of men and work (1 Cor. 9:23).

c) Routine duties. These can claim a disproportionate amount of our time. Listening to the Lord is more important than doing household chores (Luke 10:39-41), even though the latter must be done. Even necessities should not be the occasion of anxiety (Matt. 6:31). Many believers are encumbered with the routine and so are lagging in the things of God.

d) Rest and recreation. For those working tirelessly in His service our Lord advocated rest from time to time (Mark 6:31). He grew physically and socially (Luke 2:52). Yet we cannot conclude from observing His life in the Gospels that He spent a great deal of time taking it easy or engaging in everyday sports. Keeping in good condition is helpful. A rest can improve our ability to serve Him. Recreation, however, should be kept within bounds.

Making Right Decisions

Lofty principles on priorities must be translated into day-to-day actions. Decisions have to be made in determining and then implementing godly priorities in daily living.

1. Time Use. Many decisions hinge on time availability. We do not have time for everything that might be done or that others want us to do. Each day we do have time for everything we ought to do and that we can do. This can only be true by prayerfully and carefully “redeeming the time” (buying up opportunities). These steps may be helpful.

a) Analyze your present time use by keeping track of a typical week.

b) Cut out lower priority items and consider how to salvage fragments.

c) Consider how to do two things at once that do not conflict (eating/reading, riding/listening, exercising/fellowship, dishwashing/memorizing).

d) Be careful about commitments. If you make them, keep them, but make them on a priority basis. Learn to say “No.”

2. Major Decision Areas. Our priorities are usually tested under one of the three areas considered below. Wrong priorities in these areas will impair or destroy the disciple’s effectiveness for God.

a) Job or educational decisions. These ought to be made on the basis of divine priorities, not on the basis of career advantage. How is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ being considered primarily in this decision?

b) Geographic moves. A move must be made on the same basis, whether it be relocation in the same community or moving to a distant city or state. Jonah was not anxious to go to Nineveh, but that is where God wanted him. A divine burden is more important than personal preference about climate, location near family and friends, etc. Ministry objectives and personal growth must be considered.

c) Relationships. These must be evaluated in the light of the interests of Christ, not on the basis of personal preference. Paul may have preferred the company of Jews to Gentiles, but he was called to be an apostle to the latter, not the former. Romantic interests in particular must be so evaluated by the single person. Hospitality in the New Testament clearly goes against normal preferential lines (Luke 14:12-13).

3. Evaluation Of Decisions. When critical issues are under consideration, we ought to ask about the possible consequences of a decision. Will I carry it through to completion? How deeply will I be involved? How will this fit in with my life commitment to the Lord and to the ministry? The costliness of discipleship is clearly manifested when decisions are being made. Our priorities become evident in deeds, not high-sounding words spoken in discussions and conversations.

Conclusion

The following checklist, from Lesson 3 in Basic Christian Training on “The Lordship of Christ” bears review here:

Does every day begin with a fresh commitment of my body to Jesus? Does every other interest take second place to His interests? Does every decision consider Him first? Does every commitment live up to my commitment to Him? Does every relationship have His approval? Does every activity enable Him to be present? Does every area of life come under His rule?

When we have finished life’s course, most believers will wish they had lived differently, according to a higher standard of responsibility. When God’s investment in us is considered and the return to Him is evaluated (Matt. 25:15-30; Luke 19:12-27; 16:9-13} at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10), we may have cause to regret that our priorities on earth were not in order. Now is the time to set them straight and live accordingly. Then we will live as wise men or women and not as fools.

Lesson 4 Priorities In Discipleship

First, carefully read Matthew 6:19-34 and answer the following questions.

1. Our priorities are those things we put first in our lives. What often comes first in the eyes of the world (vv. 19,25)?

2. How would you define “Treasures in Heaven”? Contrast the advantages and disadvantages of treasures in heaven versus treasures upon earth.

TREASURES UPON EARTH

TREASURES IN HEAVEN

Advantages

Disadvantages

Advantages

Disadvantages

3. What is the connection between verses 19 and 20?

4. From verse 24, what is the major issue involved in determining right priorities?

In what ways do wrong priorities lead to reduced effectiveness for Christ (2 Tim. 2:4)?

5. What comfort and promises does Christ give to those who choose God’s priorities (v. 33)?

What does Christ say about those who put material needs first (vv. 27-30)?

What does Christ’s emphasis in the areas of eating, clothing, and shelter tell us about the probability of priority problems in these areas?

6. How would you apply Matthew 6:31-34 in your responsibilities of everyday life; in your responsibilities of making major decisions for your life’s direction?

7. In connection with “treasure in Heaven,” read Matt. 25:15-30; Luke 19:12-27 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. Make one personal application to your life from any of these passages. What does “treasure in Heaven” mean to you?