First Things First

FirstThingsFirst

We cannot overemphasize things of highest importance. But, conversely, we can overemphasize that which is of secondary value, though equally necessary or true. All truth is true (duh), all necessities are necessary (duh), but not all truth and necessities are of equal importance. This should be fairly obvious.

Think Jesus’ emphasis on the Greatest Commandment, “Love God, love people,” or his words to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, hypocrites! For you tithe, yet have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Or Paul, “Now faith, hope, and love abide; but the greatest of these is love” and “of first importance: that Christ died for our sins…” Followers of Christ should be known not for nitpicking things of secondary importance, but rather for embodying the love of the crucified Lord of creation. My cynicism aside, this is generally my biggest frustration with Christians on social networking.

Sharing Christ is more important than damning homosexuality or a sin you particularly dislike; worshipping the Lord is more important than singing songs to your musical or theological preference; loving your neighbor is more important than arguing against his political views; identifying with the broken body of Christ is more important than identifying with Texas pride or the Cowboys; living out New Testament ethics is more important than captioning a Bible verse with your selfies and Instagram bio; contributing to the church is more important than complaining that you can’t consume what you’d like from it; damning global injustice is more important than bashing Obama; demonstrating authenticity through weakness is more important than faking the happiness and strength that you don’t always have; celebrating great music and cinema is more important than hiding from anything with the F word in it; being an agent of change is more important than voicing what’s wrong with our generation; and evaluating me based on how I love God and love people is more important than thinking I’m solid because I post a Facebook status you like.

C.S. Lewis writes, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.” We should not neglect things of secondary importance; and I cannot draw a universal line and define what’s of greatest and least value. But, I can echo Christ’s words in the sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

“The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.

The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only temporary pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman—glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But, clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

Of course this law has been discovered before, but should stand re-discovered. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made…You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.”

– C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

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