Much of how we live our day to day lives depends on our priorities.
What is most important to us?
Where do we pour our time and energy?
What comes first, second, third?
A quick online search will reveal numerous self-help books about prioritizing, most of which are aimed at helping people become more efficient or less stressed. The world at large recognizes the need for good priorities.
So how do we determine what our priorities should be?
As with any important life question or principle, we look to the Bible. There we find that Jesus has clearly spelled out the priorities for us to live by.
Very simply, the well-ordered life is based on these priorities: love God, and love others. That’s it.
Loving God is most important, of course. Jesus called this “The great and first commandment” (Mt 22:38). But He went on to say, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39).
Jesus says the command to love others is like the command to love God. It is of vital importance. In fact, John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, wrote, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:8).
Just before His death, at the Last Supper, Jesus had these words to say to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Love is our priority. Love is the means by which to point others to Jesus. Love is to define us. Love is what we are to be about. Paul the Apostle put it this way: “Let all that you do be done in love” (I Cor 16:14).
So how do we go about it?
Putting Others First
Jesus set us the perfect example of love. “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 16).
The first way to live a life of love for others is to imitate Christ in putting others before ourselves. Romans 12 talks about “preferring one another” (vs 10, ASV). Philippians 2 exhorts that we should each “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vs 4).
In a culture that promotes self as the highest good and exalts the individual over all else, we are to think of others’ interests, and even put others before ourselves. As believers in Christ, we recognize the all-important truth that we are not autonomous, but rather “members one of another” as part of the Body of Christ (Rom 12:5).
Along with laying our lives down for others comes the attribute of kindness. Paul exhorts that we be “kind to one another, tenderhearted” (Eph 4:32). The apostle Peter similarly encourages us to have “sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8-9).
Paul beautifully distills it this way: “Walk in love” (Eph 5:1).
In order to love as Jesus loved, we need to be able to forgive others. We cannot put someone else’s interests first if we are bitter toward them or holding on to a grudge against them.
It is interesting to see how often Bible verses about love include references to forgiveness. The words of Paul about our needing to be kind and tenderhearted are followed immediately by the words “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).
Peter, too, writes about “loving one another earnestly,” and adds, “since love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). He similarly warns that we not “repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (I Peter 3:9).
Living 1 Corinthians 13
One of the best known passages about love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. The chapter gives a working definition of love, and thus a clear picture of what it means to “walk in love.”
The heart of the chapter says this: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (vs 4-8).
The British author Elizabeth Goudge, in her book The Scent of Water, wrote, “Love is not some marvelous thing that you feel, but some hard thing that you do.” This is not always true of course: sometimes God does give us the marvelous feeling. But often it is a choice – the hard decision to put another person before yourself, to forgive or overlook their shortcomings, to be humble and patient with them.
But the wonderful thing is that we don’t have to do this on our own. We don’t have to muster up the willpower to love someone. Romans 5:5 tells us the glorious truth that as believers, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
We can love others with the perfect love of God, following the perfect example of His Son, because of the perfect work of the Holy Spirit.