What should be the priorities of every Christian? Who or what comes first in your life? And do your priorities line up with the ones God has given you?
If you asked almost any Christian (at least any fundamental, evangelical) who or what was number one or the top priority in his/her life, the almost universal response would be, “God” or “Jesus Christ”. Yet, what does it mean to have God/Jesus as the first or top priority in your life? How does a Christian specifically make or go about putting God/Jesus first in his/her life? What actions, goals, motives, attitudes, and/or speech would express or exhibit that God/Jesus was top priority in a Christian’s day-to-day life?
Let’s see what the Bible (which is our final authority on all matters that it addresses) says, and then, if you care to, compare it to what other people (including Christian leaders of any position) say. Remember that just because the majority or even all Christians believe and teach that a certain viewpoint is correct doesn’t make that opinion right, especially if the Bible teaches the contrary or is silent on the issue. And if it boils down to a disagreement of interpretation, then follow what you believe is correct with a clear conscience before God, after you have done adequate study/research on the matter from the original Bible languages, taking it in context, and seeing what the whole counsel of Scripture says.
Let’s begin by seeing what Jesus (God) Himself said was/is the great and foremost command (realizing that Jesus’ command represents His will, desire, and values). Matthew 22:36-38 tells us that it’s to love the Lord your God with your whole being. Matthew 10:37 reinforces the fact that the love of God is top priority when it says that the person who loves parents or children (the closest of natural ties or relations) more than Christ is not worthy of Christ. Therefore to love God/Jesus has the highest priority over our love for anyone else. But how do we love God/Jesus?????
Well, Jesus Himself tells His disciples how to love Him. It’s by keeping His commandments (obeying Him) – John 14:15, 21, 23. Or, as 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments…” And in loving God, we are to obey Him above any and all other people or authorities, should a conflict of commands arise. For example, Peter and the apostles said to the religious and civil authorities in Acts 4:1, 18-20; 5:27-29, “We must obey God rather than men.”
In an attempt to love God/Jesus by keeping His commandments, how do we know just how much time, energy, and attention we should give to keeping or doing each of the scores of His commands that are recorded in the Bible? Because in the keeping or doing of one command, it will most likely keep us from having the time and attention to keep or do any of the other commands of God since we can generally only focus our time, energy, and attention on one command at a time.
Well, this is where knowing the Christian’s God-given purpose in life comes in. The apostle Paul, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, says in Phil. 2:2, be “intent on one purpose”. What is this “one purpose”? Paul tells us in the context of his letter (Phil. 1:3-2:2) that it’s to be Christ-like in character and mission, even as Paul was exemplifying it.
First, we will discuss the “one purpose” of being Christ-like in mission (that is, evangelism and building believers into Christ-like maturity). Paul tells them in Phil. 1:27 to “…stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”. William Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary on Philippians says, that it’s the “spreading of God’s redemptive truth which centers in Jesus Christ and salvation in Him.” Paul’s example of this “one purpose” is stated in 1:21 when he says “For to me, to live is Christ…” J. Muller’s New International Commentary on the New Testament on Philippians says, “the apostle is one with Christ and His cause. To know Christ, to love and serve Him, to further His cause… – that is life to Paul.” And what is Christ’s cause?
Well, Luke 19:9-10 and Mark 1:14, 38 tell us that it’s “…to seek and to save that which was lost” by “preaching the gospel of God.” Paul didn’t even really care whether people’s motives for doing so were right (Phil. 1:15-18), just so long as “Christ is proclaimed.”
J. Muller says of Phil. 2:2 regarding the “one purpose”, “driven by the same urge and desire and directing their thoughts and endeavour on that one thing, the cause of Christ and its furtherance through unanimity and concord amongst the believers.”
Does the New Testament show evangelism as being the “one purpose” for Christians?
In Luke 24:13, 18, 33, 36, 46-49, Jesus, in opening the minds of these (11 apostles, the two men from the Emmaus road, and those who were with the 11) people, told them that they were witnesses (and to be witnesses) of these things (Jesus’ suffering, resurrection, and proclaiming in His name repentance for the forgiveness of sins). Both Hendriksen’s and M. Henry’s commentaries agree with this. So proclaiming the gospel was the responsibility of more than just the 11 apostles.
In Acts 10:42-43 with Luke 24:47, we see that Jesus ordered the apostles (at least) to preach to the people, and testify that Christ has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. And that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.
Then, in Matthew 28:19-20, these apostles are commanded to go and make disciples (i.e., converts) of all the nations, teaching them (their new disciples/converts) to observe all that Jesus commanded them. And one of the things that He commanded His apostles to do is to preach the gospel as we saw in Acts and Luke. Some other passages that we see Jesus sending His apostles out to preach and that that was to be their purpose in life are: Luke 9:2, 6; John 17:18; 4:38; 20:21; Acts 1:8.
According to 1 Peter 2:9, the Christian’s purpose is to proclaim (a spoken message) the excellencies of Him (the gracious dealings and glorious attributes of God). These Christians that Peter writes to are from all over the northern provinces of Asia Minor. And Peter tells them that they are a chosen people to proclaim this message – Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 2.
Alan Stibbs in his First Epistle General of Peter says that His excellencies are both God’s character and also the actual deeds by which He revealed it (i.e., by what He has done in bringing outsiders into the enjoyment of such privilege). “‘Out of darkness into … light’ is a typical NT description of the change which the Christian gospel brought into the lives of converts from heathenism.”
These Christians’ conversion or obtaining of salvation is a gracious and merciful dealing of God’s, and in proclaiming this they would share the gospel.
This makes sense as it was Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth – Luke 19:9-10; Mark 1:14, 38; 1 Timothy 1:15.
It was Paul’s purpose for life – Acts 13:46-47; 16-18; Eph. 3:8-12; Gal. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 9:16. And so it should be for every Christian. That’s why we were predestined to adoption as it says in Eph. 1:5-6. God predestined people to become Christians “to the praise of the glory of His grace”. The ultimate purpose or aim of our predestination to adoption is the adoring recognition and verbal exultation (praise) of the manifested excellence (glory) of God’s favor to the undeserving (grace) – W. Hendriksen’s commentary.
Therefore, as we verbally share the gospel of grace and our conversion testimony, we are telling of God’s manifested excellence (glory).
Combining the principles of Phil. 2:2 and Matt. 28:19-20 with Acts 10:42-43 and Lk. 24:47, it becomes evident that evangelism and building believer’s into Christ-like maturity are the Christian’s life purpose.
We also see in Acts 8:1, 4 that as the church (Christians) was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria they went about preaching the word. (Notice that the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, so that it was the average Christian that was preaching the word – gospel.). Sometimes God needs to send persecution in order to get Christians to do their life purpose of spreading the gospel.
In Acts 11:19-21, we again see the average Christian speaking the word (gospel) as they traveled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. Others from Cyprus and Cyrene (Libya) came to Antioch and spoke to the Gentiles, preaching the Lord Jesus, with the result that a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
In Acts 13:46-49, the Lord commands Paul and Barnabas to be lights to the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. The converted Gentiles, in turn, spread the word of the Lord through the whole region – F.F. Bruce’s New International Commentary.
In Luke 9:59-60, it seems to indicate that anyone who was to be a follower of Jesus was to go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God. “Go” expresses taking the initiative. “Proclaim” expresses verbally telling. The “kingdom of God” is synonymous with the gospel message as used here.
In 1 Cor. 10:33-11:1; 9:22, Paul tells these Christians at Corinth to “imitate” him just as he also was Christ, in terms of accommodating, in all things allowable, himself to all people that all types of people might be saved. Since this command is addressed to all the Christians at this church, then this command is for all Christians, including you.
Since Paul “became all things to all men, that he may by all means save some, and for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:22-23), and because Paul initiates sharing the gospel wherever he goes and because we are told to imitate him, then we should initiate sharing the gospel wherever we go, and not be a hindrance but become all things to all people too, so people might be saved.
In Phil. 4:9, Paul tells the Christians at Philippi to “practice the things that they have learned and received and heard and seen in Paul”. One of the things they heard was – that because of Paul’s imprisonment, most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord, had far more courage to speak the word of God (the gospel – Col. 1:5, 25-28) without fear. Paul says, “some are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some from good will. He was not as concerned with their motives as he was that Christ was being proclaimed – Phil. 1:12-18.
Since the average Christian was told to practice the things that they learned and heard in Paul, and Paul was a proclaimer of the gospel (Phil. 1:16), then all Christians were to proclaim the gospel. We also notice that most of the Christians were (Phil. 1:14).
In Phil. 4:3, we see that Euodia, Syntyche, Clement, and a host of other fellow-workers at Philippi had labored (strenuous and agonizing effort) in the spreading of the gospel as Paul had struggled in the cause of the gospel – Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary.
We see that all kinds of average Christians are sharing the gospel.
In Gal. 2:9, we see James, Jesus’ half-brother, neither an apostle nor an evangelist, having the responsibility of going to the Jews with the gospel – Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary.
In Col. 1:3-7, we see Epaphras, neither an apostle nor an evangelist, having brought the gospel to the people in his own hometown (Col. 4:12) – William Baker’s Everyone in the Bible.
In 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thes. 1:1, 5; 2:9, we see that Silvanus and Timothy proclaimed the gospel, and neither was an apostle nor an evangelist. They initiated speaking the gospel, even amid opposition (1 Thes. 2:2; 3:2).
In 2 Tim. 4:5, Paul tells Timothy to do “the work of an evangelist”. Kenneth Wuest in his Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 2 says, “Let your work be evangelistic in character. Always be a bringer of good news. Paul does not exhort the local pastor to engage in an itinerant ministry, going from place to place holding evangelistic meetings. That work is for the evangelist. But the local pastor should be evangelistic in his message and methods. He must ever be reaching out for the lost both in his teaching, preaching, and personal contacts.”
So we see that even a pastor whose spiritual gift is not evangelism should be involved in evangelism. Also, Paul, in writing to Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:10 states that Timothy followed his (Paul’s) purpose (among other things). And Paul’s purpose as has been already stated was to evangelize – Acts 26:16-18; 20:24; Rom. 1:1.
In Eph. 4:11-12, we see that evangelists were given to equip the saints (all Christians at large, all local assemblies too). But how would an evangelist equip other Christians? Obviously, it would be in the manner he evangelized or by using the principles that the evangelist used. And what are some of these ways?
Well, Philip the evangelist took the initiative to proclaim the gospel to any and all he encountered – Acts 8:5-6, 40.
Paul trained others by taking them with him when he evangelized – Acts 15:40; 16:1-3, 10; 18:18; 20:4.
In 1 Thes. 1:8, “the word of the Lord” is used as a synonym for the gospel – Dr. E. Hiebert’s The Thessalonian Epistles.
The gospel had sounded forth from these Thessalonian Christians to every place in the world. Christian merchants of Thessalonica who traveled in various directions took the gospel with them – Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.
Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians was such that their immediate response was to share the gospel with others – Walter Henrichsen’s Disciples Are Made Not Born.
Travelers and merchants coming to Thessalonica came into contact with these believers, saw their radiance amid suffering, heard the gospel, and then took what they (these travelers and merchants) learned with them wherever they then went – Hiebert’s Thessalonian Epistles.
Now we turn to the “one purpose” (Phil. 2:2) of being Christ-like in the mission of building believers into Christ-like maturity.
In Eph. 4:11-13, God tells believers/Christians to use their spiritual gifts to equip other believers for the work of service to build up the body of Christ to maturity, even to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. So, we as Christians should be helping to build up other believers into Christ-like maturity.
In Phil. 4:9, Paul commands the believers to practice the things they learned and saw in him. And they learned of and saw Paul training various people, such as Silas and Timothy (Acts 15:40-16:4, 12-15, 29-33, 40; Phil. 1:1; 2:22) by their being/living/traveling with him.
In Phil. 1:24-25, Paul says “to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith”.
Paul’s “purpose” for desiring to stay alive was to build up these believers – to help them in their “progress and joy in the faith.” J. Muller says that Paul’s remaining with them “in their life of faith” would help them toward “growth, development, and progress” – to know, love, obey, and trust Christ more. That’s all part of helping to build up believers to Christ-like maturity.
It was Paul’s goal/purpose to see believers brought to Christ-like maturity, as seen in Gal. 4:19; Col. 1:28-29; 1 Thes. 2:8-12 (and it was Timothy’s goal/purpose as well, 2 Tim. 3:10).
We find this happening in the New Testament Church. Just read the book of Acts and see Paul training and teaching men on his missionary journeys (Col. 1:24-29; Acts 19:10; 20:31; 18:11).
Paul trained and taught:
Timothy – Acts 16:1-4; 17:15; 19:22; 20:4; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thes. 1:1; Rom. 16:21; Col. 1:1.
Luke – Acts 16:10-14; 18:23-28:31; Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Rom. 16:21; Philemon 1:24.
Aquila and Priscilla – Acts 18:2-3, 18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19.
Silas (Silvanus) – Acts 15:40; 16:19, 25; 17:4, 10, 15; 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 and 2 Thes. 1:1.
Titus – 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6, 13-14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18; Gal. 2:1; 2 Tim. 4:10; Titus 1:4.
Christians at Corinth, Thessalonica, and Philippi – 1 Cor. 4:15-17; 11:1-2; 1 Thes. 1:6; 2 Thes. 3:7, 9; Phil. 3:17.
And Barnabas trained:
John Mark – Acts 15:39; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 1:24.
And Timothy was to teach – 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thes. 1:1, 6.
And we Christian (all believers) are to do so as well. Read Rom. 14:19; 1 Thes. 5:11.
From all of the above, we can see that evangelism and building up believers into Christ-like maturity were the heartbeat of biblical Christianity, the center of purpose and activity. And while this was taking place, Christians were becoming Christ-like in character, which is the other or second aspect of the “one purpose” (Phil. 2:2; 1:27).
Summarizing our discussion thus far, we’ve learned that God/Jesus should be the top or first priority of the Christian’s life. And the way to make God/Jesus top priority is to love Him by obeying His commandments. And since there are so many commandments to which we are to obey, knowing our life purpose (which is to evangelize and build up believers like Christ, Paul, etc. while becoming Christ-like in character during this outreach process) helps us to organize and obey all the commands of God/Jesus as they best relate to and help us fulfill this life purpose (or calling or ministry) of evangelism, building up believers, and holy living. In other words, the time, energy, and attention that we give to the doing of any of God’s commands is related to how it best helps us to evangelize, build up believers into Christlikeness, and live holy in the most effective way (1 Thes. 4:1, 10 – we are to excel in what we do for God and how we live).
Therefore, if other things, relationships, or authorities stand in our way of following Christ in being able to evangelize and build up believers in a Christ-like manner, then we should either eliminate the distraction or minimize its hindrance as best as we possibly can.
When you know that something is God’s will, you cannot let even Christian leaders stop you from doing it. Take Paul’s example in Acts 19:21; 20:22-24; 21:4, 10-14 where many Christians told him, even through the Spirit, not to set foot in Jerusalem, yet Paul did anyway because he was confident that he should. F.F. Bruce in The Book of the Acts says this, “We should not conclude that Paul’s determination to go on was disobedience to the guidance of the Spirit of God; this determination of Paul’s was the fruit of an inward spiritual constraint which would not be opposed.”
When God calls you (or commands you) to do something, you don’t need to check it out with others, including Christian leaders, to see if it’s what you should do, or if it’s popularly accepted in Christian circles (provided it’s a clear command of God’s). Take Paul’s example in Galatians 1:15-19; 2:1-9. His calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles didn’t need anybody else’s approval.
God has called all Christians to evangelism and building up believers as top priority and as life’s purpose, and needs no one else’s approval.
So who’s top priority in your life? If you say God is, then how, specifically, are you making Him first in your life?
What are you doing that expresses that He’s number one?
To minister to Christians is to minister to Christ – Matt. 25:34-45. Are you ministering to Christ by building up believers into Christ-likeness?
Are you putting God first by preaching the gospel as life’s priority?
Is anyone or anything a higher priority in your life than God/Jesus as expressed by building up believers into Christ-like maturity and evangelizing?
If so, why?
Is it because that’s what’s taught and popular in Christian circles?
Or because the Bible (God’s Word) says so?
Remember that you are ultimately accountable to God!