Priorities are and will continue to be one of the biggest issues in every marriage. When your priorities are out of whack, it hurts. And when they’re properly ordered, everything just feels right.
We posted this simple reminder on our Facebook page recently. It seemed to resonate well:
This list and its order are nothing new. But why do reminders like these continue to resonate with so many people? I believe the answer is simple: because it’s a struggle. We can know in our heads what is right, but we don’t live it.
This post is to elaborate on the above reminder and help root you (and myself) in why they’re scriptural and ever important.
Priority 1: God & His Kingdom
Good fruit always comes from good roots. We must be rooted in Jesus first if we’re to live authentically loving lives. Let’s look at two of Scripture’s most overt directives about priorities:
- “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
- “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Let’s focus on the first passage. Jesus is quoting the Old Testament (Deut 6:5) when he commands us to love God most…the primary command hadn’t changed since then and nor has it changed up until now.
Here’s the thing: when we read these passages, it’s tempting to try and work harder to be better. Is that what Jesus was saying? Try harder to be better? I don’t think so.
Everything about Jesus’ life points to our desperate need for a savior and the fact that it can only be him. At one point in Matthew 5, Jesus says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) This statement was made at the tail-end of the Sermon on the Mount, where he piles up a list of oughts and ought-nots for everyone listening. Surely those people felt the way I feel when I read through the whole of Matthew 5… helpless and hopeless.
I think he was saying something like this (my words): “You NEED a savior. You CAN’T do everything necessary to be perfect. You MUST trust me in order to be called perfect. Without me, hope is lost.”
I’m just scraping the surface here, but I hope you hear me. We must keep Jesus FIRST in our marriages/lives; not because it’s what we’ve always heard, it sounds good, or because we want happier lives. We must keep Jesus first because he is our only way to salvation, he’s our only eternal hope, and he’s our only source for unconditional love.
How to make God your first priority
Read scripture. Pray. Ask God to stir your affections for him. Set aside a time each day to connect with him through worship, prayer, and Bible study. Surround yourself with people who share your affection for God. In fact, we wrote a devotional to help you start your own habit of studying God’s’ word together.
Priority 2: Your spouse
In the above Jesus calls us to love others after loving God (Matt 22:29). But why should your spouse be the first person on your “others” list? We’ve heard people object to loving their spouse above others, given the language used by Jesus. Let’s clear things up.
If we read the whole of the Bible, it becomes clear the priority we are to place on loving our spouses in light of who Jesus is. Look at Ephesians 5:22-25:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…
Christ’s first priority after loving and obeying the Father was his bride, the Church. In the same way, our next love after God should be our spouses. Christ gave his life for his bride out of obedience to God. He loved us even to the point of death! How much more are we to give our love to our spouses?
Additionally, throughout Scripture we see the priority God places on covenantal relationships… the earthly pinnacle of which is the bond between husband and wife.
How to make your spouse a priority
Schedule date nights. Have meaningful conversations. Put down your phones, and spend quality time together. Cherish your spouse as a gift and a treasure. Be honest with him/her, and put their needs before your own. Here’s the kicker: that last one will be impossible without a identity defining relationship with Christ.
Priority 3: Children & family
It stands to reason that, given the priority placed on the marriage covenant and spouses becoming “one flesh”, we are to love our children next. It sounds nice–and you probably agree with it–but is it scriptural?
Proverbs 22:6 says:
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
We’re now parents of two beautiful little girls. Raising them takes work…LOTS of work. Every parent will agree. Selena and I spend countless hours instructing, molding, teaching, disciplining, and training our oldest daughter in the “way she should go”. How can we possibly do that if she’s not a priority? If I fail at training her (and by God’s grace, I hope she falls in love with Jesus), how can I proceed in any other relationship? If I build disciples and fail at discipling the little ones God has given us, what victory do I have?
Ephesians 6:4 reads:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
These are commands for parents. We’re called to wisely (see verse above) and diligently raise our children to be the next generation of God-loving disciples of Christ. But what about how we’re commanded as children to behave? The most familiar command is that we are to “honor [our] father and [our] mother…” (Duet 5:16) that it may go well with us.
Regarding family, I’ll let 1 Timothy 5:6 do the talking:
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Note: brothers and sisters in Christ are to be considered family. Scripture is chock full of exhortations to build each other up, sharpen each other, and look after other believers. What joy we can have with others who share our affection and need for Jesus!
How to make your children & family priorities
Again, make time. Create margin in your life wherever you can so you have time & energy to give.
Priority 4: Others
No one will argue that we’re called to love others. The primary passage in Priority 1 continues to say, “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:39) The big question is how are we called to love them? The best way is to point them to Christ:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
When you’re filled with and enamored by Jesus, the only natural outpouring will be to tell somebody! Let it happen. Talk about Jesus with unashamed enthusiasm. All disciple-making starts there. Let the Holy Spirit change hearts and minds, then follow his lead with confidence.
How to make others a priority
Let your joy in Christ overflow into every area of your life. Ask others how you can pray for them – this is often the best way to express your trust in Jesus to those who don’t trust in him, whilst simultaneously loving them in a very tangible way. Give what you can to those in your life who need it (time, money, food, shelter, you name it).
The Big Caveat
While this is an order of priorities for loving God and others in our lives, none of them are to be completely removed. One may be tempted to read this and think that loving others isn’t important because it’s last. Quite the contrary! As believers in Christ transformed by the Gospel, the entire outflow of our lives should be grace and love. This will naturally cause us to love others in every little interaction: at the store, at work, passing on the sidewalk, and everywhere else. But it must start with loving God, your spouse, and your family the way you’re called to in Scripture.
I hope you found this post helpful. I know it was very beneficial for me to finally articulate why the traditional priority list is scripturally sound.
In all things, love God first and let the Gospel transform your heart from there.