Developing Proper Priorities


Dr. John Hoole – June 18, 2017




In an earlier lesson, we saw how each of the four Gospel writers depicted Jesus in a different manner.  We know that Mark primarily shows Jesus as a Servant – One who came to serve.  Luke pictures Jesus as the Son of Man – focusing on His humanness.  John portrays Jesus as the Son of God – focusing on His divinity.


But Matthew very forcefully portrays Jesus as a King.  In the very first verse of the Book of Matthew, the writer establishes that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David.  I believe the Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto of King Jesus, where He delineates how He wants his followers to live.


Christ wants us to realize what His kingdom is, and how to live as members of it.  He gives instruction on how you and I can reign in life and live like a king’s child.  The Sermon on the Mount is a glorious explanation of what life is really like when you reign through the power of an indwelling Christ.


In this sermon, Jesus is calling His followers to live according to a distinctive lifestyle, guided by a distinctive philosophy which is rooted in the eternal Word of God.  Early in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches how true righteousness is to be a prime character of those who follow Him, and are part of the Kingdom over which He rules.


In Matthew 5:6, we are taught to hunger and thirst after this righteousness.  In 5:10, we are told this life of righteousness is so distinctive, there is a good chance of being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  But He hits the nail squarely on the head in 5:20.


20     For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.


Followers of Christ must possess a righteousness that exceeds those who were considered by most people as being the most righteous.


Verses 21 through 48 depict 6 illustrations of what this kind of righteousness looks like.  Primarily, we are talking about a righteousness that has its residency in our heart.  And then in the first 18 verses of Matthew 6, Christ cautions His followers to make sure they have godly motives for any act of righteousness they do.


Today, we embark on the second half of Chapter 6, where Jesus is concerned with our “secular” or “public” actions in ordinary venues of life.  These are things that every person gets involved with, whether they are a follower of Christ or not.  This would include things like, money, possessions, food, drink, clothing and ambitions.  Let’s read the remainder of Matthew 6.


Matthew 6:19-34 NKJV


19     "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;

20     but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

21     For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22     "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.

23     But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24     "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

25     "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

26     Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

27     Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28     "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;

29     and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30     Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31     "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'

32     For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

33     But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

34     Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.


Every one of us live with a variety of tensions – where we are simultaneously pulled in different directions.  Christians are constantly bombarded with conflicting philosophies or “world views.”  There are many voices trying to get your attention to listen to them, and many of these are contrary to the truth as we know it in the Bible.  We are constantly faced with evaluating how to live in the world, and at the same time not to be of the world.


Many people solve these tensions by saying: “There are religious, or sacred, responsibilities and there are secular responsibilities.”  In other words, “What I do at church is one thing, and what I do in business is another.”  Actually, such a distinction is very misleading.  As believers, we cannot separate pieces of our life into two or more watertight compartments, where one section has no influence on the others.


Trying to divorce the sacred from the secular has been disastrous in church history.  If we are Christians, everything we do is “religious” in the sense that it is done in God’s presence, and done either according to, or in conflict with, His will.  When I talk about the secular, I am talking about shopping, cooking, jogging, building, adding up figures in the office, mowing the lawn, playing basketball, attending a concert, etc..  In the Bible, there is no distinction drawn between secular versus sacred portions of your life.  All parts of our life should be sacred.


One of the emphases Jesus makes in this chapter is precisely on this point.  God is equally concerned about all areas of our life, whether it be private and public, or religious and secular.


On one hand, in Chapter 6, we read, “Your Father sees when in secret you give, pray and fast (vss 4, 6, 18)” and on the other hand, “Your heavenly Father sees that you need ‘food, drink, and clothing (vs 32).


As I stated earlier, the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is a call to be different from the popular culture.  In the first half of this chapter, Jesus says to his followers, “Be different from the hypocrisy of the religious.”  In the second half of the chapter, He says, “Be different from the materialism of the irreligious.”


Ever since Adam and Eve’s creation, God has placed alternatives before us.  Giving you and me a free-will to choose has, from the beginning, been important to God.  He desires people to love and serve Him because they choose to, not because they have to.


Jesus also places alternatives before us at every stage in his teaching through the 2nd half of Chapter 6.


They are:


Two treasures                     On Earth                           and                      In heaven                           vss. 19-21


Two bodily conditions         Light                                 and                      Darkness                           vss. 22, 23


Two masters                       God                                  and                      Mammon                           vs. 24


Two preoccupations           Our bodies                        and                      God’s Kingdom                 vss. 25-34


In setting these alternatives before us, Christ lays it on the line.  He says, “You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t sit on the fence any longer.”  He is saying, “This is the way I want you to live,” and it applies to the marketplace as well as the place of worship.


In verse 24, Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters.  The words of Joshua are pertinent here, where he speaks to the leaders of Israel.


Joshua 24:15 NKJV


15     …choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."


         The prophet, Jehu, when it was God’s time to judge the wicked queen Jezebel, come riding into town and asks, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” (2 Kings 9:32).


God has never left us without evidence to aid us in making our choices.  And Jesus does the same in the Sermon on the Mount.  He is very pointed as to what the right choices are, and what the reasons are for that choice.  And, back at the beginning of the Sermon, Jesus set the stage, by promising blessings to those who choose correctly.  They are called the Beatitudes.


One of our biggest problems in this topsy-turvy world with conflicting philosophies, is to recognize our priorities.  For all our lives, we have been encouraged to “put the first things first.”  The problem is how to discover what is really first.




German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe grasped the importance of priorities. He said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”


Stephen R. Covey in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People put it this way:

“As a longtime student of this fascinating field [of life and time management], I am personally persuaded that the essence of the best thinking in the area of time management can be captured in a single phrase: Organize and execute around priorities.


He also wrote: “One of my favorite essays is ‘The Common Denominator of Success’ written by E.M. Gray. He spent his life searching for the one denominator that all successful people share. He found it wasn’t hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, though those were all important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest … [was] putting first things first” (1990, pp. 148-149).


To prioritize is to put in order of importance.  It is to rank your preferences.  What are the priorities of your life – and mine?  Setting the right priorities is vitally important for success.  And, it turns out, not just for material success.  The Bible sets priorities that lead to eternal life


When God gave the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, He thundered these words:


“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).


God does not want us to place anything before Him.  His desire is that we worship Him and Him alone.  He must come first in our lives.


The Bible tells the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, who were loyal friends of Jesus Christ.  When Christ visited them, they wanted to serve Him in the way each considered was most important. Let’s pick up the story:


A certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’


“And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42).


Serving others is highly commended in the Bible, and it is certainly not wrong to serve.  But in this instance priorities were an issue.  Listening to Christ’s teachings was even more important than food preparation.






                   It is to glorify God!!


1 Corinthians 10:31  (NAS)


31     Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.


II Thessalonians 1:11-12  (NAS)


11     To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power;

12     in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Who gets the glory in your life and mine?  That’s really a rough question.  We don’t often face the reality that we have a natural tendency to desire personal recognition and importance.


Life is lot like a coin – you can spend it any way you choose, but you can spend it only once.  Choosing the one thing over all the rest throughout life is a difficult thing to do.  This is especially true when there are so many choices placed before us.  It is relatively easy to say, “Major on the majors, and minor on the minors.”  But how do you determine which things are really minor.


Some people are well-organized in this regard.  They make a list, one-two-three.  But you may not be that kind of person.  My wife, Paula, is like that – she is very organized.  And it is fortunate for me that she is.  I am not – I’m the type of person that needs to make a list but doesn’t always do so.  Paula asks me to pick up a few things, and I think, “I can remember that.”  I return with five things, but she asked me to pick up three, and none that I returned with was on her list.  She’s gotten smarter – now she makes the list and puts it in the center of my desk.  All I’ve got to do is not lose the list, or forget to go to the store.


The fact of the matter is, we all have difficulty putting together a list of our life’s priorities.  So our answer must lie outside ourselves – specifically the Word of God.  I find it interesting how Jesus helps us establish the priorities of our lives.


In the 2nd half of Matthew 6, Jesus takes the ultimate priority we have to glorify God down one level.  He gives us priorities that will ensure we glorify God.


Verse 33 says; “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…”  Doesn’t that sound like a priority to you?  He tells us what’s first on the list.  He is saying that whatever else is on your list, pursue this first.  We will never fly like an eagle in our Christian life until we are willing to determine who and what comes first.  Our choice of priorities determines which level we soar.


 Verse 20 - 21 (NAS)  says;


20     "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

21     for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


Doesn’t that sound like another priority that Jesus is placing before us?


Life places before us hundreds of possibilities (alternatives).  Some are bad.  Many are good.  Only a few are the “best.”  But each of us must decide.  What is my choice?  What is my reason for living?




         I could determine most of your priorities by observing:


                   1.      What you spend most of your time doing.


                   2.      What you worry a lot about.


                   3.      What constitutes the goals of your life.


         In other words:      by observing your 1) activities,  2) anxieties, and 3) ambitions.


In the passage of Scripture we are addressing today, Jesus touches on each of these three areas of our lives.  In Matthew 6:19, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”




He is saying, “be careful where you spend your time and energy.”  They indicate very conclusively what your priorities are.


And Jesus has some very pungent things to say about our activities and the way our priorities become visible through the things we spend our time at.  The priorities we hold dearly will be seen in the activities that consume our time and energy and talents.  Are our energies and time being spend on amassing, or hoarding, things on earth or are they being used to store up treasures in heaven.




Our anxieties also are a gauge of our priorities.


In verse 25 Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”  We all have our anxieties, and Jesus touches on most of them here dealing with finances, food, fashion, fitness, and the future.


Matthew 6:31-32  (NIV) says:


31     So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'

32     For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.


Jesus urges us to look at our needs from God’s perspective, realizing that He can and will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory.  The things that consume our time with anxiety and worry indicate the things that have a high priority for us.


Our lifestyles and our priorities are determined by our attitude toward God’s ability to supply our needs.  I must live my life in the light of one tremendous fact: My heavenly Father knows my needs and is abundantly able to meet them. My anxieties, or worries, will indicate whether or not I believe that.


By checking both our activities - where I spend most, or a good deal, of my time, and the things that we are most anxious about - spending time worrying about we will soon discover what our current priorities are.




And then Jesus addresses our ambitions as another clue as to our priorities in life.


Matthew 6:32-33 NIV


32     For the pagans run after [seek] all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33     But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


The Greek word translated “seek” in each of these verses means, to search for, to strive for, to strongly desire and pursue.  The tense of the verb indicates continuous actions -- meaning “keep on striving for, keep on searching after, keep on desiring.”  It represents the much time in pursuing the items that are high on our priority list.


If my goal (or ambition) in life is to be born-again and pleasing God, then I will not get hung up on lesser things like becoming an All American or a millionaire.  If becoming more like Christ is my priority, then all other aspects of my life will fall into proper perspective.


The things we treasure and pursue and spend our energies seeking after, those are the things that ultimately control our lives.  What we value tugs at our minds and emotions.  It consumes our time with planning, day-dreaming, and effort to achieve.


         Again, verse 21 says that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”


People who “want what they want” so intensely that they will do anything to reach their goal can ruin lives around them.  Getting to the top of the pile is more important to them than the people they must step on to get there.


On the opposite end of the scale is the person who is without ambition of any kind.  This person is equally an insult to the God who made him because he has no desire to become the person God made him to be.  Again, it all boils down to priorities.


The bottom line of this section of Scripture is a strong re-emphasis on what we have learned thus far in the Sermon on the Mount.  If asked what a follower of Christ looks like, Christ would answer that his followers are to look different, and be different.  Their actions should distinguish them from the rest of the world.  They were to be different from both the nominal church and the secular world -- different from both the religious and the irreligious.


He is speaking about people who live in his kingdom.  Life for Christ’s followers is not living by one set of rules in their religious activities, and another set of rules for their secular arenas of life.


He is speaking of people whose entire life abhors both…..the hypocrisy of the religious….and the earthly pursuits of the non-religious.  Instead, they are to be a people who have complete confidence in Christ to take care of them.


As we stated earlier, Christ is looking for followers that will separate themselves from the world, to live unreservedly in pursuit of Kingdom priorities.


The following lines were penned by a young pastor in Africa and tacked to a wall in his house. Could you have written these words?


“My Commitment as a Christian”  


"I'm part of the fellowship of the unashamed.  I have stepped over the line.  The decision has been made.  I'm a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.


I'm finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.  I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity.  I don't have to be right, first, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.


I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift others by prayer, and labor by power.  My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear.

I cannot be bought, deluded, or delayed.  I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.  I won't give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.


I am a disciple of Jesus.  I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me.  And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me — for my banner will be clear!”


Can you and I make the same statement?


Have you properly established your priorities?  Have I?