When Worlds Collide: Life and its Priority

Survey your friends at school or in the workplace. Ask them, “What is the most important thing in life?” The replies will vary and will also likely vary by age group. For some it will be family and relationships; others will place the emphasis upon achieving life goals. For many, and possibly the majority, the answer will be happiness or having fun.

Paul’s description of last day expectations includes men and women being “lovers of pleasure” (2Ti 3:4). While the pursuit of pleasure has been endemic to the human condition since Genesis 4, it has been honed to an art form in our generation. What has multiplied the mania for fun is that the pursuit of pleasure has now been matched by the multitude of ways in which it can be obtained. We have industries devoted to amusement and entertainment that are among the most prosperous in the business world. The American creed of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has never had so many devotees as at present.

There is nothing inherently wrong with happiness. But it must always be a byproduct and not a goal. The moment it becomes a goal it is destined to self-destruction.

A worldview which sees nothing beyond this life instinctively seeks everything possible out of the “now.” A secular philosophy which denies the unseen and supernatural and espouses only the material will find its fulfillment in either acquiring or experiencing. Nothing else could be expected from the kind of thinking that shuts out eternity, God and His Word.

Inevitably, societal norms begin to warp our thinking. While we do not openly proclaim “fun” as the priority in our lives, we may see it as a necessary attachment to all we pursue, even our “spiritual” goals and activities. There is no virtue or spiritual profit in being morbid; we are not intended to be poster children for “American Gothic.” But fun can never be a legitimate goal for a believer in Christ, who was the “Man of Sorrows.”

Sorting out the priorities in life is the priority itself in life. In Paul’s prison prayer in Philippians 1, one of his requests for the believers in Philippi is that they might be able to “approve things that are excellent” (1:10). He wanted them to be able to discern what really matters in life. The remainder of the epistle is taken up with “things that really matter.” But as though to capsulize his thinking at the very outset, he states his ultimate priority in life: “For to me to live, Christ” (1:21). Lest we smugly assume that this simply means placing spiritual things first and applaud ourselves with being on the right track, consider what this does not mean.

“For me to live is the assembly.” High and lofty goal and aspiration that it is, this falls short of what Paul has said. “For me to live is to preach.” Sadly, I am replacing Christ with my labor for Him. Examine your own life. Is there a spiritual activity you would insert in the blank, “For me to live is ___”? Or would it honestly be Christ alone?

While I do not wish incapacity for any nor for myself, a hospital bed cannot hinder “For to me to live, Christ.” Disability cannot hinder it either. It may hinder my preaching, my gospel activity or my shepherding ability. But it cannot hinder a life that has Christ as its goal. If the priority of my life is to know Him and to reflect Him to others, then I am able to do that amidst, and even through, whatever circumstances God may bring into my life. To write these words is a sobering task, as I recognize that I am far from this level of spiritual development, and do not invite illness or a disability. But truth stands on its own even when we fail to live in light of its full measure.

As Paul penned his letter to the assembly at Philippi, it was as if he were telling the assembly, “Make sure the most important thing in your life is the most important thing in your life.” In chapter 1, Christ is his priority. The result is that in chapter 2 he will display the mind of Christ to others by selfless, sacrificial service. In chapter 3 it is the surpassing “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8), which results from his desire to live Christ. And in chapter 4 it is the peace of God in all circumstances that serves as the anchor of his soul. He is keenly aware that every trial and circumstance framed and fitted by an all-wise and all-loving God can only conform him more to the One for whom he was living.

If you were to ask Paul if it were fun, he would likely wrinkle up his forehead and look in amazement at you. It was not fun to be beaten and stoned; nor was it fun to have his every word sifted by critics and his every step dogged by his opponents. I wonder if “fun” was even in Paul’s vocabulary; it certainly is absent from his writings! But joy, peace, fulfillment – they abounded in his life and letters.

Beware, then, the tsunami of peer pressure from a secular and materialistic society that measures everything by the amount of “fun” it produces. But beware especially the pseudo-spiritual standard that substitutes our activities for Christ for Christ Himself.