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Grace Notes

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CAN WE, OR SHOULD WE, PRIORITIZE THE COMMANDS OF SCRIPTURE?
by Philip Owen

          Since there are so many exhortations in the Word of God, where does an earnest believer begin?  It might be tempting (and even possible to some degree) to prioritize the responsibilities of a believer.  For example, few would quibble over the thought that “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (also, “soul,”  “mind,” “strength” in Matt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27) expresses the primary responsibility and privilege of one who has been redeemed by Christ and born again.  But what about the plethora of other exhortations?  For example, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).  “Pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17).  Resist the devil” (Jam. 4:7).  “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world (I John 2:15).”  “Examine yourselves” (II Cor. 13:5).  “Consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24).  “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  “Flee also youthful lusts” (II Tim. 2:22).  “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21).  “Be ye separate . . . and touch not the unclean thing” (II Cor. 6:17).  “Bear ye one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).   As we read these few (of many) commands, our minds may start whirling.  Again, how do we, or can we, in any sense prioritize our responsibilities in fulfilling these many injunctions?  There are at least three responsibilities that will help us clarify this issue.

 The perpetual responsibility.  The unavoidable reality is that these commands call for perpetual application.  The Lord calls upon the New Testament saint to wear many hats, to juggle many things at once, to multi-task, if you will.  At any and every given moment, believers should be manifesting the fruit of the Spirit.  There can be no conscious, calculated prioritizing of these duties.  They are to be the continual life of the believer—they are the life of a believer.  To prioritize the necessities of the spiritual life in this sense, then, is as senseless as trying to prioritize inhaling or exhaling, brain function or heart function.  They are equally essential for life.  Prioritizing, then, does not consist in a mechanical or mental picking and choosing of virtues to emphasize.  It consists of breathing in and breathing out—of moment-by-moment yielding our minds, hearts, and wills to the Lord.

The occasional responsibility.  Some commands, however, are clearly occasional.  That is, they are to be obeyed as an occasion to which they apply arises.  At that moment, they take immediate priority.  For example, the moment temptation arises, the command to “resist the devil” takes priority.  When we have a choice between something worldly and something godly, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” takes immediate precedence.  When a brother is in need, then the command to “Bear ye one another’s burdens” comes to the foreground.  In other words, the day-to-day circumstances of our lives occasion the need to obey the appropriate scriptural directive in each instance.  Circumstance often may dictate priority.

The spiritual responsibility.    Solomon states the responsibility this way: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl. 9:10).  The apostle Paul expresses it in this manner:  “Walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25).  In one sense, this idea is not different from the first.  In another sense, it suggests the method for fulfilling it.  As day-by-day God brings to our hands sometimes routine duties and sometimes exceptional opportunities or challenges, we are to “walk in the Spirit.”  We are to live lives that are directed and empowered by the Spirit of God so that our choices, decisions, responses, attitudes, desires, etc., conform to the Word of God.  It is not, then, so much we who prioritize, as it is Christ Who dwells in us.  May we yield to Him.

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