Recently a Googler asked “why should I put God first in my life?” Good question. It is very different to what people usually ask – HOW do we put God first – and the answer isn’t obvious.
No ready explanations are found in the Bible and many people won’t even entertain the question. They can’t. It’s too much like questioning God’s right to have first place and believers tend to shy away from that type of discussion, although I think God would encourage it.
Most avoid saying anything about “why” God should have first place other than quote Jesus who suggested the only place God will have is first:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness… (Matt. 6:33)
The first of all the commandments is…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… (Mark 12:29-30)
But aside from these two statements, He didn’t give much in the way of explanation. Obviously, He thinks we are clever enough to figure it out and if that is true then it’s only the lazy or fearful person that avoids the question. So, we will have to do a little thinking.
Let’s begin by asking a few associated questions. There are several to consider:
- What’s your motive? Why should any person have first place?
- Is first place always associated with only one person?
- Are we talking about material needs, i.e., making sure the needs of another for food, clothing, education and shelter are met before our own.
- Are we talking about emotional considerations, i.e., giving another person’s interests first choice and providing the time and attention they need first.
- And there is the obvious question; If God isn’t first in your life, who is?
There is only one reason to put anyone ahead of yourself and that is you care about them.
- Parents will sacrifice a pension fund to put the children’s educational needs before their retirement needs because they care.
- Soldiers stand in harms way to defend others because they care. Joshua Abrahamson is one example. Some pay the ultimate sacrifice.
- Husbands and wives have made personal sacrifices to meet the needs and even desires of their mates just to show their love. (The Gift of the Magi)
- Relatives, friends, neighbors and even strangers donate livers and kidneys to help others live longer and better and they do it because they care.
All of these actions put others in first place, or at least ahead of self, for a while and they go way beyond casual concern. These expressions of love, which are evidence of virtue in the giver, reassure the recipients that they are special.
And why shouldn’t this be true? We are drawn to and cling to others because, alone, we are insufficient. We need people and cannot get along without them. We do well when others do well and vice versa.
The real question is, does anyone stay in first place always. I would say not. On a human level, the person in first place can change often.
If society is a chain then the weakest link must be tended to first whomever that might be. Sometimes it will be me. Sometimes it might be you. It won’t constantly stay the same.
In a family unit, if one member is ill and requires special medical care all the resources are focused on that one member. Or, at least that is what happens in many cases. They put the person with the most need first. Everyone acts in their behalf and rightly so. When the problem passes all things are more equalized.
All of the above suggests that if first place is served properly the person filling that place will constantly change. Because each person’s personal needs change, the limited pool of resources to meet those needs is divvied up accordingly and differently from one day to the next. Because humans change they can never inhabit first place eternally.
That, however, is exactly why God should come first. He doesn’t change and only has the best interest of others at heart. No one knows better how to minister to each person in every conceivable situation than God.
When we put God first we are encouraged to balance relationships. He directs us rather than absorbs us. He isn’t needy and therefore doesn’t consume us. He requires acknowledgement, which is fair, but what we give to acknowledge God is very small in terms of what we have to give and it all goes to helping others anyway. Most of our energies and resources, under His direction, are deflected toward others. Putting Him first means we will:
- Love our neighbors even when they are enemies.
- Turn the other cheek instead of retaliate.
- Go the extra mile instead of doing only what is required.
- Share our resources rather than be stingy.
- Talk to offenders rather than about them.
Even tithing, worshiping, studying, working and praying, done to put God first, lend support to others.
It’s all about people and God not only cares about people He also makes use of them as His primary tool for meeting the needs of people. He, therefore, speaks to all human relationships and teaches how to respond to people in every situation. Putting God first means putting everyone on the map properly.
What about “self”?
But, don’t misunderstand; putting God first and meeting the needs of others before you meet your own isn’t the same as denying self. In fact, sometimes we take care of our own needs first so we can better serve others. Even the airline industry encourages passengers to install their own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. “Self” is a resource not the antithesis of others.
Jesus said you should love your neighbors AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF and you should do unto others, AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. “Self” features prominently in His teaching and becomes a marker for managing the hierarchy of human and divine relationships. It is kept in view at all times and never eliminated.
In that regard the Christian theology of “first place” is very different to humanistic altruism. Jesus teaches us to love God first but not only. Self-love has a place on the list although it no longer commandeers fist place.
So, if God isn’t first in your life, who is?