I’ve sat through countless sermons in my life—thousands, no doubt. I’m too lazy to do the math, but anyway, it’s a lot. One thing I can tell you about all those sermons is that I don’t remember hardly any of them. Mostly (sadly) they are in one proverbial ear and out the other. But one sermon I remember vividly, because the central thesis has thoroughly reshaped my understanding of the way to arrange the things that I value in life.
The pastor said this: most Christians think that God should come first in their life, and after that, their families; and after that, their church; and after that, their work; and after that, their friends, and after that—well, you get the idea.
This gentleman said, that’s not right at all. God shouldn’t come first in your life, and after that your family, and so on.
Because if we live a life that is organized around pleasing and honoring God, then that means we have to measure up to God’s standards for how we treat our families, and how we go about our work, and how we interact with our church, and so on.
And as you might guess, these are extremely high standards. And consequently, we will be better husbands or wives, better workers, better church members, and so forth, because God’s requirements for those are very stringent indeed.
So why am I on about this?
Why am I holding forth on sermons and values and prioritization?#God shouldn’t be the first priority—he should be the only priority. Click To Tweet
My thinking on this was occasioned by a friend of mine, Grace, who recently posted to her blog regarding things that can come between us and God.
She said this: “I don’t worship false gods. I don’t bow down before a large golden statue of a cow. I don’t idolize celebrities… But when I put family, school and friendships before my relationship with God, even if only slightly, those things, which were good things, are now idols in my life.”
I think Grace is on to something important here.
Notice that she says, “those things, which were good things.”
What does this mean?
It means, I think, that family, school and friendships (and we could all add other things to this list) are good things, important things—things that we should definitely pay attention to, and take seriously, and invest in. But these good things can become bad—can become idols, even—when they replace God at the center of our affection and devotion.
Jesus, Your Life
This is why Jesus can say such challenging and difficult things like, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Does he mean that we have to hate them in an emotional sense to be Christians? Of course not.
But does he mean that we have to love him more than all those others—to the point of being willing to give them all up—to follow him? Absolutely.
Jesus isn’t a gym membership or Kiwanis Club—he doesn’t want to become an important part of your life. Jesus wants to become your life.#Jesus isn’t a gym membership or Kiwanis Club Click To Tweet
Grace’s post resonated with me because of some reflection I’ve been doing regarding my church. I love the people in it, and long to see them involved in a way that is deep and vital, where they contribute as they are gifted, growing and helping one another grow, serving others and being served themselves.
But Jesus intended for his new community, the church, to supersede these other demands. When Jesus’ own family came looking for him, his disciples said, “Hey, man, your mother and brothers are here to see you.”
And how did Jesus respond? ”He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50, vv. 48-50 quoted).
For Jesus, true family is no longer simply biological: it is made up of the community of people who are gathered in his name—in other words, the church. This church is an essential part—perhaps the essential part—of the day-to-day reality of what it means to be a believer.
Jesus is the head, the church his body. Jesus is the bridegroom, the church his bride. Our devotion to and participation with Christ’s church is central to our relationship with God. We should think carefully about what it would mean to put school or family or friends ahead of that central calling to be part of Jesus’ church.
An Idol-less Life
Now, I certainly can’t claim that I am perfect in actualizing this kind of commitment to my church and to my faith. I am deeply flawed and fail regularly to take seriously my involvement with my church.
Yet, I have the sense that I have made gains over the last several years in realizing the importance of the church in God’s plans, and in living out a life that takes seriously the level of commitment that I should have to the church.
My desire is that I would realize that as important as school and family and friendship and work are—as good as they genuinely are—they must be processed through the filter of living a life that is pleasing and honoring to God. Because if that is my life’s one priority, then I dare not make them an idol to replace my God.