I remember when I learned that life is not a popularity contest. This spiritual breakthrough turned out to be an important lesson. It came when I noticed that very few personal accomplishments could get by without some sort of punishment from people (criticism, jealousy, hatred, and even revenge – different forms of bullying). I saw this unnecessary behavior as ungodly and ugly in the face of my attempts to do well. I was sure it was no part of being good, and I was still in seventh grade.
I thought that anything worth doing was worth bringing to it a 100 percent effort. I wasn’t in competition or keeping score, but to me, giving anything less than my best would have been unnatural – not living up to being myself. As far as I knew, enthusiasm for living well was a natural part of my gratitude to God for His many blessings. So it was easy for me to continue in the effort to do my best and know that God would take care of the rest.
I must have sensed way back then what I have grown to understand now about God and people, including myself: God comes first! From the beginning of recorded history, the direction to honor God first is written in stone. We know it as the Ten Commandments. But back then, I hadn’t consciously connected the Ten Commandments as the guide for making decisions. One night years later, I learned about that – from comedian David Letterman.
In Mr. Letterman’s TV show, the order of his nightly feature, the “Top Ten List,” caught my attention. The list pokes fun at personalities or current events. It’s read in reverse order, from bottom to top, working its way from funny to funniest. If the list were read from top to bottom, it wouldn’t be so funny. This well-ordered list put in focus a real significance for me in God’s list. Since God’s Ten were given in a specific order, maybe we should obey them in just that order.
When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus echoed Deuteronomy 6:5 when he said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (see Matthew 22:36-40). To me this summarizes the first five commandments, since they are about our relationship with God (remember that there is one God, do not create other gods, etc.). He identified the second greatest commandment as “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This encapsulates the second five commandments, which are about human relationships (do not steal, do not kill, do not commit adultery, etc.). So the greatest is Love God supremely. No doubt about it, God comes first.
At that particular time I was responsible for making a complex decision that would involve a number of people. I had prayed about it but was still unsure of certain choices. That memorable night, the importance of the order of Letterman’s list made me see how out of order my decisionmaking was. I had been putting the second of Jesus’ commandments first. Putting people and their opinions first was counter to what I knew way back in seventh grade. How did that happen?
Somehow in our effort to love each other we can get immersed in fellowship instead of follow-ship. People-first decisions usually involve those closest to us. We idolize them. It seems natural to fall into that people-approval pit with loved ones, but it is a sure sign of reversing the order of God’s commandments. Second-rate decisions bring second-rate results, ranging from favoritism and hurt feelings to false responsibility.
Putting first things first made my decision easy to make – do the right thing based on expressing my highest idea of God’s impartial law, instead of trying to please the right people. It is the same principled choice I’d made in grade school, but this time I recognized the order of God’s Ten Commandments as the reliable law for making this and every decision.
Through study of the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, I’ve learned that our first duty is to obey God. If the primary reason for making a decision is to please people, things are in upside-down order. That wouldn’t have been good enough for Jesus.
Unless we rise above human dependence on personal sense, nothing is guaranteed good. Jesus taught the principle of putting first things first: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
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