Your best friend clings helplessly over a precipice, while 45 commuters race toward their death; whichever you help, the other will die. What will you do?
Making hard decisions according to a set of priorities was part of the subject matter in our family Bible study using the book Claiming Christ.
Even though Jesus reveals that loving God and loving neighbor are conjoined as the greatest commandment, there remains within them a necessary priority. Consider the dilemma of Abraham and try to overlay the greatest commandment on his decision to sacrifice Isaac.
On one hand, he faced the clear command from God to sacrifice his only son. On the other he knew that God had promised descendants (and much more) specifically through Isaac, and killing him would undermine God’s promise. Culturally, only pagan gods demanded such human sacrifice, and there was simply no way at all to justify killing his son as “loving your neighbor as yourself”.
Abraham chose to put God first and, while not denying his love for his son, proceed in obedience even though his actions would blatantly undermine the second part of what became known as the greatest commandment.
It is in the extremes that our real motives and the core of our integrity are tested, matured, and displayed in high definition. Perhaps that is why we are told that suffering can produce such solid character traits as perseverance. Of course, that result is not automatic, but it is the environment within which lasting character forms.
How do we determine the priority when facing conflict between biblical commands like:
Love covers over a multitude of sins.
Their sins should be exposed publically.
Be hospitable. Do good to everyone, but especially those of the household of faith. Forgive one another.
You must not associate with anyone who call himself a brother but persists in sin.
Be gentle with everyone.
Rebuke sharply. Turn them over to Satan. Do not greet them or bid them Godspeed.
Consider your words carefully.
Give no thought to what you will say, because God will give you what to say.
This kind of listing is near endless, and we know that such internal conflicts flash before us all. For skeptics, these conflicts are evidence of the foolishness of the gospel, but for believers in Jesus, we know that the word of God cannot be in conflict with itself any more than a kingdom divided against itself can remain standing. The issue is one of determining priorities.
Sadly, the way many church-goers seem to resolve such challenges in their lives is to apply the Nike priority: If it feels good, just do it. For others, a good set of legalistic rules seems to soften the edges of navigation through such uncertainty.
But for genuine Christians, who apply the admonition to live according to the Spirit, we face each set of circumstances with an active ear for divine wisdom. We pray often, read Scripture voraciously, willingly subordinate our desires to even the slightest indication of divine preference and seek to uphold biblical priorities.
This is what some of those divine priorities sound like:
Love God with all you have; you cannot serve two masters (at the same level of devotion).
Do good to all men, but especially to those of the household of faith.
Provide for the needs of others, but first to the needs of your own family.
Obey whatever authority exists, so long as you can also remain submissive to the higher authority.
Put the interests of others ahead of your own.
Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.
There are many good things in life, but not all are intended to operate at the same level of commitment or devotion. The number one, top priority of all is represented in Jesus: So that in all things he might have the supremacy.
It is through our own adherence to his word in Scripture that we demonstrate our own comprehension of his priority.
Through the challenges of life, how are you demonstrating that Jesus is your top priority?