First Things First by Tony Cooke

First Things First
Tony Cooke

first-firstThe degree of fulfillment and success we experience in life is highly contingent on how well we establish and maintain our priorities. Someone said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” When we accept Jesus’ Lordship over our lives, we are yielding ourselves to the authoritative influence of His Word and Spirit, and we are authorizing God to set the agenda for our lives and to establish not only our priorities, but also our pursuits.

Here are “Three Firsts” that God prescribes for believers.

1. First Love

After commending the Ephesian church for several positive traits and practices, Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your FIRST love (Revelation 2:4). Having fallen from a high degree of love, Jesus admonished them in very intense terms to get back on track. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the FIRST works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).

When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, The FIRST of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the FIRST commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

The NLT captures both aspects of these two great commandments in its rendering of Revelation 2:4, “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!” God’s priority for us is that we love Him and that we love each other. Let’s never forget, lose, or fall from our first love!

There is a legitimate journey of going “on to perfection” in which we progress from the “elementary principles of Christ” (see Hebrews 6:1). However, God’s priority is that we not neglect the first things—the foundational truths. We don’t go beyond our foundation; rather, we build upon it. We never outgrow love.

2. First the Kingdom

When Jesus spoke of how focused and obsessed people are with worldly things, he admonished His followers to, “…seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Notice that Jesus taught that when you put God first, your provision—what you really need in life—will increase, not decrease. C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”

Having a “Kingdom First” mentality means that we see our lives in the context of Jesus’ Lordship and God’s will. God is not merely an afterthought to us, nor is He someone we turn to only when we are in trouble and in need of His assistance; His influence is preeminent in our lives. Proverbs 8:17 (AMP) says, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me early and diligently shall find me.”

Putting God first and trusting Him should precede (and preclude) complaining, worrying, murmuring, fretting, or anything else we might tend to do as a natural reaction to life’s challenges. That’s why we are instructed, “Therefore I exhort FIRST of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

When Paul was praising the generosity of the Macedonian believers, he said, “They even did more than we had hoped, for their FIRST action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do” (2 Corinthians 8:5, NLT). Money wasn’t the primary issue; their hearts were. Money that is given is to be a reflection of a life that has already been given.

When Proverbs 3:9 tells us to, “Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the FIRSTFRUITS of all your increase,” it’s not just because God wants our stuff; it reflects the fact that our hearts are to be entirely His, and our giving is not only needful to bless others, but it is a continual reminder that we are completely His.

3. First… Your Brother

The Word of God places a tremendous emphasis upon our relationship with others.

The Apostle Andrew demonstrated a tremendous heart of selflessness when he made it a  top priority to bring his brother to Jesus. John 1:40-42 says, “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He FIRST found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.”

God’s heart for preferring and honoring others is expressed through Jesus’ teaching as well.

Matthew 5:23-24
23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. FIRST be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Remember what Jesus said: “…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). We can’t claim to be moving on with God if we are neglecting, alienating, or offending others—causing them to stumble. We can’t grow in God and be self-centered.

God’s emphasis concerning and priority for our lives relative to our relationships is seen in various places throughout Scripture:

  • It was after Job prayed for his “friends” that his losses were restored (Job 42:10).
  • Peter admonished husbands that if they didn’t treat their wives with honor and respect, that their prayers could be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).
  • James told believers, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

In these three situations, the receiving of the blessing was contingent upon the obedience of the individual making things right with the other person, or simply treating the other individual properly. I realize that when another person’s will is involved, we don’t have total control over the outcome of the relationship, be we are called to do everything within our power to promote wholeness in relationships (see Romans 12:18).

First things first. If we keep God’s priorities for our lives, we’ll stay healthy, balanced, and productive in our lives. Further, because His priorities have become our priorities, we’ll have His full support in all that we do.