A Taxonomy of The Christian's Top Ten Priorities
.....................\...........................................Value Towards the Godhead............................../....
............................\...........Church (local congregational membership, responsibilities)....../...............
..............................\.............Value toward government, law-abiding citizen concept....../....
................................\...........................Occupation and/or home-making...................../......
..................................\........................Value toward material stewardship................../......
....................................\.....................Physical fitness, health, recreation..................../....
......................................\............................Praise and veneration of men................/.......
.. .....................................\ ..................Value toward the building of wealth............/......
1. Value of the individual toward the Godhead. Undoubtedly one's value and devotion as an individual toward God through Jesus Christ is the highest priority to those who would attempt to live "soberly, righteously, and Godly in this present age." The commandments and statements in the Bible about the priority of "God first" are the most absolute, allow for no exceptions in relation to other priorities, and have the most long-lasting effects. In the Old Testament, the individual's priorities toward God were represented in the first four of the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament, Jesus said it simply as "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Paul said that each of us [as individuals] must stand before God in the judgement (2 Corinthians 5: 10). So here we are talking about man's priority toward God as individual people. Man's priority toward church (as a member of a local congregation) are listed here as number four, for reasons to be discussed there. I am not saying in any way that a person can be acceptable to God without being a member of His church. But church membership alone will not suffice either.
Duration: "Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life" Revelation 2: 10. The duration of this priority surpasses that of any other, even marriage, for which a person is committed as long as he and his spouse both live. The duration is longer than that of the time that his children are at home and under his direction. The duration is for longer than a person might be considered a member of a specific congregation, for there are 13,500 congregations in the continental United States, and for various reasons he might place his membership at first one and then another church. The commitment to the Godhead through Jesus Christ must continue no matter what form of government is in place. It exists through all vocations and occupations.
Yet, as we consider this Number One priority, we notice passages that tell
us that we cannot approach this priority in isolation and "let the world
go to Hell in a handbasket." Jesus said that if we remembered at the altar
that we had something against our fellowman, we should leave our gift at the
altar and make it right, and then come back to do our devotion to God (Matthew
5: 23, 24). We must meet the conjugal needs of our mates so that our prayers
will not be hindered (I Peter 3: 7; see also I Corinthians 7: 5). Not raising
our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord may prevent us from serving as elders
or deacons (I Timothy 3: 4, 12; Titus 1: 6). And so on. So while our relationship
to God through Christ Jesus is the highest priority, we must meet that priority
by meeting some of the lower priorities as well (I John 4:20-21 "If anyone says,
"I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does
not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love
2. Marriage, mate. The priority of the Christian towards his/her mate is second. It is second in duration (until death do you part, Romans 7: 1-3) and is still very restrictive in terms of the number of ways in which the priority can be removed--two causes, death or unfaithfulness (Matthew 19: 3-9; Mark 10: 2-12). The claim of a married person upon the very body of his mate is second only to that claim of God. I Corinthians 7: 1-5 "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." and "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." I Peter 3: 7. Husbands are not to be bitter with their wives (Colossians 3: 19). Wives are to be subject to their husbands (Ephesians 5: 22) and respect them (5: 33). The husband and wife who love each other in the Lord will help each other get to Heaven.
There is a way in which the first priority (that of the individual Christian toward God) actually stabilizes the second priority. Let us say that the husband is truly committed to the Lord, and the wife is also committed to the Lord. For some reason they quarrel. Because both are serving the same Lord and reading out of the same Bible, they will eventually end up "back on the same page." It is like two people driving two tractors and plowing the same field. If they are plowing next to each other and looking at each other (making their marriage priority #1 instead of God), they will eventually collide. If they are looking straight across the field in front of them, they will arrive at the far side of the field with straight plow-rows and without running into each other.
3. Children and immediate other family. Children are parts of our lives for the third duration, not "until death do us part" but typically for 18 to 20 years. It is God's design for children that when they are grown, they will leave the nest and make homes (marriages) of their own. For this reason, this priority is number three. Genesis 2: 24--"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Children are to obey their parents while they are children and are at home ("Children. obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.") Note the important exception in this command: Children do not have to obey their parents if the parents' command is not "in the Lord." (Ephesians 6: 1) Parents, expecially fathers, are to provide for their children and immediate family--1Ti 5:8 "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Fathers are to "raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" Ephesians 6: 4. Unfortunately too many of them, particularly fathers, are failing at this priority because they are allowing work or recreation to take a higher priority than it should.
The priority of family cannot rise to the level of the priority of the individual with God. Mat 10:37-38: "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me."
4. Congregational responsibility. Not all churchwork is God-work. If we are in the proper frame of mind, it will approach that, and some of the things listed here as Number Four priorities will rise to Number Ones if the participants are doing those things out of pure devotion to God. Ideally all church work would be God-work. But the Pharisees were masters at "church work" and far from the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 23). There are people today who care for church lawns, wash communion trays, build church websites, and vacuum carpets not so much for the priority of serving God, but rather because they like the looks of well-kept lawns, clean communion trays, technologically advanced websites, and comfortable buildings. There are song leaders who lead for the aural experience of enjoying the music rather than to praise God. Sadly, there are preachers who preach not to save souls but to gain attention or for other reasons. (This isn't new; Philippians 1: 15-18). If these are our reasons for doing "church work," that priority may not deserve to rise even as high as Number Four.
The command to "not forsake the assembly" is a Priority One (Hebrews 10: 25) but the expectation of being in attendance at a specific congregation is not listed as a command. Neither is there a command that says that people must place membership at a congregation geographically nearest them. People sometimes change congregations because the leadership is weak, programs are few or don't match their needs, or the teaching is unscriptural. There is no commandment binding people to continue worshiping at specific congregations if these things are true. Among the seven churches of Asia that were written to in John's Revelation, five were spoken of unfavorably. "Evil companionships corrupt good morals" Paul warned in I Corinthians 15: 33. People sometimes change congregations for the better spiritual welfare of their children or spouses. Being acceptable to God is a higher priority than being well liked at a local congregation. Because of this variability, congregational responsibility is listed here as Priority Four.
The website work that your author does for the Dover Church of Christ makes a good example of Priority Four work. Certainly producing these lessons and putting them on line for the 18,000 or more visitors per month is a good work. In some ways writing the sermons might be considered one way of carrying out The Great Commission. But there is a specific command for me to be in attendance when the church meets on Sundays and Wednesdays. Even if I am writing sermons for the website, it is not defensible for me to miss worship and class assemblies in order to write web pages. And if we move from sermon-writing to some of the more mundane things that a webmaster does--like fixing broken links or making file backups-that work is definitely not Priority One, but Priority Four.
Getting caught up in "church work" is what has caused the term "preacher's kid" to become a euphemism in some congregations. The pulpit minister becomes so absorbed in printing church bulletins and visiting the sick that he does not spend enough time with his own children to teach them what they need to know to become Christians or how to overcome temptation in their adolescent worlds. Can you imagine how that preacher is going to feel in the judgement when others are entering the Pearly Gates but his own children cannot enter because of the lack of teaching from their own father? How significant will the church bulletin seem then?
We are to give as we have been prospered to the work of the local congregation (1 Corinthians 16: 1-4) on the first day of the week. This command is not as narrow or as stern as that given about providing for his relatives and household in #3 above, which is another reason it is lower in the taxonomy of priorities.
All congregations need for its members to do some "church work." "To him therefore that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" said James 4: 17. But church work needs to be kept in its rightful priority. "So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith." (Galatians 6: 10). This is a priority that we can accomplish after we have taken care of our individual responsibility toward God and our responsibility towards spouse and family.
5. Value toward government (law-abiding citizen concept). Romans 13: 1-7 says it all: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." When government intrudes into the direct obedience of God's will, His followers should obey the express will of God rather than the government. Acts 5: Act 5:27-29: "And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, 'We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.' But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.."
6. Occupation, career, and home-making. Since the time of the Garden, man has had work to do (Genesis 2: 15). Work is not a punishment, for it came into the world before sin did. It is not demeaning and it is not asking too much to ask for any able-bodied man to work (2 Thessalonians 3: 10). He is to earn a living for himself and his household (I Timothy 5: 8, already quoted). In New Testament times, the person who did not work was almost certainly a thief, and he was admonished " . . . labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need"(Ephesians 4: 28.) Slaves, and in our day, employees, have been told "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, (Ephesians 6: 5-7).
Certainly some amount of work is expected, and doing an honest day's work for an honest day's pay is a good thing. But there is a tremendous amount of "keeping up with the Joneses" going on today. Many people have several jobs, or work long and extra hours at one job for money that goes beyond what is needed for life and health. Children are being neglected due to lack of interaction with parents. Church work whether it is Priority Four or Priority One needs to be done and isn't getting done because of the push for materialism. God oftentimes is not given to "as prospered" because the family is so strapped with credit card debt that the money is just not available. Husbands and wives should scrutinize purchases so this priority does not get out of hand.
What about wives who work outside the home? In terms of a flat prohibition against the practice under any circumstances, a scriptural reference is not to be found. Wives are admonished to be "keepers at home" (Titus 2: 5). In anything resembling ordinary circumstances, their hours outside the home should not be such that they cannot give their womanly touch to the home. And the home is much more than the house--it's the people. A wife and mother make a home. There should not be so much pressure on a woman to earn a paycheck that she cannot be a "keeper at home."
Should this priority be Number Five instead of Six? Think of the difficulties that will happen if a person puts his occupation above his role as law-abiding citizen! We build prisons for people who do that. Above his responsibilities to his congregation, his children, his wife, or his God? Our nation has become a battlefield strewn with the spiritual corpses of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, who have placed earning a living too high in their hierarchies.
7. Value toward material stewardship. We are a materially blessed people. Our blessings go well beyond the basics of food, clothing, and shelter. Numerous are the parables in the Gospels that talk about people taking care of the material things that they have been given by God. It is a shame for people to pour all kinds of money into a house or car, only to lose their investments because they do not maintain them. Matthew 25 is a chapter full of stories about stewardship, especially in spiritual matters. Whenever a family is thinking of buying a new car or boat or second home or RV, they should consider how much money and how much time it will take to properly care for those. Money is a gift from God no matter how hard we may think we have worked for it, and we should not purchase items that are losing propositions from the word "go." Paul said "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful," I Corinthians 4: 2. Three questions that should precede large purchases should be (1) Do I need it? (2) Can we afford it? (including the follow-up costs) and (3) Do I need it now?
Should this be Number Seven? How is a person going to be a steward of material possessions if he does not have the means to buy them in the first place (priority #6)?
Those of us of the old school remember being taught that we knock the dirt off the hoe and put it up before we reach for the baseball to go play ball.
8. Physical fitness, health, and recreation. 1Timothy 4:7-9 ". . .. And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation." Exercise has some value. For one thing, we are commanded to take care of our bodies, which are the temples of God's Holy Spirit living within us (I Corinthians 6: 19, 20). But the extent to which some families are taking this these days shows a lack of understanding of true priorities. We should not keep our children out so late playing sports on Saturday night that they cannot keep their eyes open in Sunday school to apprehend what their teachers are trying to teach them. Missing church to go to ball games on Wednesday nights is an absolute disobedience of the commandment about church attendance in Hebrews 10: 25. It is a horrid example of "putting first things first." It is a blatant disregard for the teaching of I Timothy 4: 7-9. So many dads who think they are raising their boys and girls to be healthy need to go back and re-read that passage to re-discover what is more important, spiritual or physical health.
Priority Eight could probably be subdivided. When we move past activities that actually promote better health and fitness to sedentary ones such as watching TV or playing video games, we are in an area that should be a really low priority in the Christian's life. Television watching is negatively correlated to academic achievement for the family members that are in school or college. It can be a waste of time.
9. Value towards the praise and veneration of men. If the Christian is living as he should, his good example will take care of Priority Nine without much special attention being given to it. Candidates for elder and deacon need to be well spoken of by those outside the church (I Timothy 3). A good name is precious. But it is low on this list because, again, if the Christian is living as he should be, it will be a natural by-product. Don't chase fame. Let it find you instead.
One of the saddest commentaries made about the Jews of Jesus' time was in John 12:43 "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" and therefore they rejected the Christ. This was a bad case of mistaken priorities.
The opinions of those outside the church are frequently not worth striving for. Jesus was speaking in this direction when he said "Mat 7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you." Non-Christians sometimes dare Christians to do things that Christians should not even think of doing. Satan did as much when he tempted Christ (Matthew 4: 1-11). This is Priority Nine because one should not give up the things that are higher in the list just in order to have people, especially those outside the Church, speak well of them.
10. Value toward the building of material wealth. Perhaps one of the most mis-quoted scriptures is I Timothy 6: 10, mis-quoted as "Money is the root of all evils." It is the love of money that is at the root of all kinds of evil. God blesses some people with money. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of the Old Testament were all wealthy. A rich man was a willing tool in the hands of the Lord for burying Jesus (Luke 23: 50-56; Isaiah 53: 9). Kept as a tenth or lower priority, making money is not all bad. It's when it rises to any higher level as a priority that it becomes evil. If we try to get money by becoming popular with men (priority nine), we may do or say things that are dishonest in an effort to succeed at the quest. So many children and wives wish their husbands would spend more time with them instead of spending their time trying to earn a larger paycheck. Mark 8:36-37 "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
I know of no other taxonomy that attempts to bring these priorities into perspective in the Christian's life. Please examine these and see if they hold together well. If you find a glaring error please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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