September 20, 2014

The priority of that first commandment

I’ve heard it said that whatever I value the most can be determined by what I think about the most. Is it my family? My relationships? My hobbies? My stuff? Is my heart filled with my own plans, my to-do list? Sometimes it is the things on my prayer list or the material that I study, things that seem more noble, but are they?

A familiar incident from the life of Christ strikes at one more danger that strikes at my spiritual life. It is the danger of putting God somewhere other than in first place.
The story starts with a young man who came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus first said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” Then He told the man, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
This is a really odd thing to say. The Bible is filled with words and living examples that no one can or does keep all the commandments. We are sinners through and through. By keeping God’s laws, no one is saved. (Read Romans)

Besides, Jesus just said that only one is good, pointing to the fact that any “good” deed would be out of this man’s range. Jesus said this to indicate that what He was going to tell this man was not about earning eternal life for that cannot be done. Instead, Jesus was about to expose this young man’s sin and show him that he was not able to have eternal life by doing good deeds — simply because he fell short.

Oblivious, the man asked which commandments, perhaps thinking some were more significant than others. Jesus didn’t point that out, but patiently listed most of them. He left out the first few that command God is to be worshiped and put at the top of our priority list.

The man didn’t seem to notice that. Instead, he claimed to have obeyed all those other commands. He was blind or in denial, yet at the same time seemed to sense that what he was doing was not enough. He said, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”
Jesus remained patient. He said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
We know the response. The man heard this and because he had great possessions, he walked away. The text says he walked away sorrowful, indicative of his heart. He would rather be physically rich here and in denial of his sinfulness, than spiritually wealthy with eternal life and admitting he fell short.

I can relate to that. Admitting that I fall short was necessary at the point of my salvation. However, it is necessary all through my Christian life too. Otherwise, I am stuck with my pitiful efforts to look good instead of enjoying the riches of a forgiven and cleansed heart.
This is denial too, and indicates a proud heart, a lack of integrity, and even idolatry. If I am not honoring God above all, then I’ve fallen into the same trap as this young man . . .  not that I’m trying to earn eternal life by what I do or don’t do, but that I will not give up my priorities to go with God’s priorities. If He isn’t first, something else is, like possessions or whatever.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven . . . it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were astonished and wondered who then can be saved, but Jesus reassured them, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:16–27)

When other priorities overthrow Jesus from the throne of my life, and they sometimes do, then I can run to Him knowing that He can change my attitude and fix whatever is wrong in my heart. I know that if I cannot honor that first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” then I cannot honor any of them.

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