Among believers there is general agreement that God is ultimate. But we have to be careful how we express it. Our words convict us. One pastor put it like this:
The bottom line is that we are to put spiritual values above temporal values. Serving God and being obedient to him ought to be more important to us than anything else we do, including fishing, golfing, hunting, gardening, our career, clothes, houses, lands, etc. These things are not wrong but they are not to be the primary focus and priorities of our life. God wants and demands first place.
This all sounds good but buried underneath this is a worldview that is not compatible with the Bible (or reality). Assumed in this line of thinking is the notion that “spiritual values” are in opposition to “temporal values.” Is our life really a struggle between the temporal and the spiritual? This leads us to the conclusion that some pursuits are spiritual (therefore good) and some are worldly and temporal (therefore bad). What is your job? Is it temporal and worldly? If you are not careful you begin seeing your job as a dirty ‘worldly’ experience to be endured before returning to the clean safe spiritual environment of the church. Why not instead see your job as an opportunity to glorify God and pursue Kingdom values? For school this semester I am reading Heaven is a Place on Earth by Michael E. Wittmer and he writes,
Rather than divide life into the spiritual things above and the secular things below, we realize that even the “higher things, such as worship and evangelism, may be conducted for selfish, sinful reasons and that the “lower” things, such as changing a diaper or vacuuming the carpet, may be done for the praise and honour of God.
When we misunderstand the preeminence of God we tend to see God as top of a list of other things:
The flaw with this reduced understanding of God is that it limits the love we have for God. In this model, God is ultimate as long as He is slightly more important than family, work, etc. That misses the point. God is completely other! He transcends all valuation! The other problem with ranking God in first place is that nobody can live like this! Unless you’re a monk, most of us have families and jobs and friends that make it impossible to devote our entire lives, or even the majority of our lives to “spiritual things.” We’re left feeling guilty for any time we aren’t spending ‘praising God,’ or maybe we have made a deal in our heads with God: “I’ll go to church each Sunday and on Wednesdays, if I don’t have to work, or the Leafs aren’t playing and that will clear the rest of the week for the other stuff.” We will always have very worthwhile obligations that lie outside of ‘formal worship services’ or ‘official church programs.’
Rather than viewing God’s preeminence as an obligation to rank everything else second or lower, how about instead seeing God as primary in a way that gives every other pursuit meaning. Jesus is foremost because He has attained a righteousness that I cannot earn, and has given it to me with no strings attached! (Eph. 2: 8-9). In faith, I give up on all my ‘self salvation projects’ and abandon my attempts at earning favour with God. I am buried (Col. 2: 12-14) in Christ and live the resurrected life of Jesus. (2 Cor 4: 10) Without this gift all hope would be lost. I would never have loved my children like I do. I wouldn’t play games with them if it weren’t for Jesus. I wouldn’t have the friends that I do without Jesus (I likely would have no friends at all). In a very real way, I owe everything to Jesus. Nothing would have any meaning without him and in Him, everything finds new meaning.
Paul said in Colossians, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”(Col 3: 17)
With this understanding of the preeminence of God it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, but instead it matters why you are doing it. In Jesus Christ, all (non destructive, non-addictive) purposes can be redeemed and put in service of our Lord. If I collect garbage, I no longer see that as a “secular occupation” but instead I see it as a service to our city and an opportunity to work to the glory of God. I work at it like God is my boss (Col 3: 23-24) so that God will be pleased. Collecting Garbage is worship!
I train my boys to make their beds, and put away their dirty laundry so that they will be able to someday love their wives well (and not treat them like they are a live-in maid service). Again, it’s because of Jesus. Its worship training! Training these four young men to love their wives well brings God glory.
Like a friend of mine recently said in his blog, God didn’t ask to be first, He asked to be everything!