Have you ever heard someone say that our priorities should be thus: God, then spouse, then family, then job, then self (or something like that)? Preaches well, right? But if what if these distinctions aren’t as clear-cut as such a list suggests? For example, what if you love God by working hard at your job in order to take care of your spouse and your family? In that case, which was your priority? As you can see, there’s definitely the probability that one category can and will spill into another –and that’s not really a problem. That’s just real life – life doesn’t happen in boxes. What IS a problem is when one doesn’t recognize such overlap, and inappropriately “prioritizes.” For example, when someone says, “God is my priority, so I can’t do ‘such and such’ for my wife.” Or, “God is my priority, so I need to spend three weeks per year away from my kids in order to maintain my relationship with God.” Or, “God is my priority, so I hardly ever need to exercise and eat responsibly – I just need to focus on my walk with the Lord.”
In each of these cases, one might say that God has become too important – but a more accurate way of stating it would be this: we’ve used God to justify our neglect of others. To say it a different way, we’ve spiritualized our mistreatment of others. We’ve called something evil, “good..” Instead of admitting that we’ve not been good spouses, moms, dads, employees, etc., we say it was because “God is the most important thing in my life.” Um, not so much. Sometimes the people who proclaim God’s utmost importance in their lives are those for whom God is actually the least important. This is Jesus’ point in the following passage – quite interesting if you read it closely:
“ Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” (Matthew 15:3-9)
In Jesus’ example, people dishonored their parents – and then had the nerve to pass it off as something godly. They essentially said, “We dishonor our parents in order to honor God.” Can you see how ridiculous that is? To us e a modern example, I once heard the story of a man who said that God had called him to leave his wife and family in order to do missionary work in the third world. Why? Because God was “most important” to him. I wonder from which “god” he was hearing?
So here’s my point. If you’ve ever said, “God, then spouse, then family, then job, then self…,” your motive is probably pure – you want God to be #1 in your life, and that’s awesome! However, be careful that you don’t draw such stringent boundaries that you end up thinking that there are only a few acceptable ways to love God. If you do that, you may end up treating someone inappropriately, and then justifying it by saying, “That’s because God is #1 in my life.” But God doesn’t require that you treat others poorly in order for you to treat Him rightly. One more passage to consider:
“One of them, an expert in Moses’ Teachings, tested Jesus by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is just like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:35-40)
God can never be “too important, “as long as you define properly what it means for “God to be most important.” However, if I start mistreating others under the banner of spirituality, I might need to revisit what it means for Him to be important at all.