It seems these days that it is easier than ever to get our priorities out of order. If I understood correctly, it was apparently more important for us to shop at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving Day than to spend time at home with our families actually being thankful. I guess we were supposed to be grateful for the privilege of spending hours in line waiting to get one of the coveted door buster specials that we probably didn’t need at all.
The apostle Paul seemed to be dealing with a similar challenge with the church of Corinth when he wrote the famous words, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…”. He had spent quite a bit of time dealing with all kinds of specific problems in the church and then decides to end his letter with a reminder of what was most important. Of all the things he had taught them, these three things were the most important:
- Jesus was the Messiah and had died for their sins as the scriptures said
- He was buried and then raised to life again as the scriptures said
- He appeared to Peter, the twelve disciples and 500 others including Paul to prove that He was in fact who He said He was.
For the early church, keeping these three things as of first importance was not easy. Lots of things were vying for that spot in your life. It was not easy to be a Christian and to be bold in your faith. You were not simply a Jew or a Roman or a Greek any longer, but a person with a new identity and allegiance. So many distractions entered your world on a daily basis. Lots of people were just figuring out what it really meant to be a true “Christ follower”.
We are certainly blessed to have the full canon of scriptures now and nearly two thousand years of teaching to help us understand our faith. Despite this, we too get so easily distracted. If Satan can get us focused on debating various doctrinal issues that are not of first importance, he has us right where he wants us. We may not be discussing circumcision, the Sabbath or unclean foods much these days, but it doesn’t take long to get a rousing debate going on the role of women, the origin of man or whether or not there was a real Adam.
While I am a big fan of orthodoxy and do think that some of these conversations really matter, I am dismayed at how rarely we ever discuss things of first importance any more. To be clear, I also think this is so much bigger than just a discussion on our lack of witnessing or inability to see converts coming into the church. If Jesus really is the Messiah, really died for our sins once and for all, actually rose from the dead and then appeared in person to over 500 people – that is life changing news. He is not just our savior; He is also our all-powerful Messiah that makes everything new.
As we enter this advent season, let us be mindful what it is really is all about. A real God sent His real son in human form to save real people from their real sins. This was not just so that they could get to heaven, but so that He could redeem a people for himself and transform them into His own likeness. We are His people and “the sheep of His pasture”. Let’s recognize that the role of the shepherd is to guide the way and that we often wander off the path. The best way to keep first things first is to keep our eyes on the shepherd himself. Only He has the power to give us the singular focus that we need in a season of immense distraction.