Priorities in Spiritual Life
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
Just as a natural child will express his or her natural life, so a true child of God will express his spiritual life. Furthermore, just as, when a natural child develops to years of understanding and maturity, he chooses how to express his natural life, so a true child of God, after he has developed beyond spiritual infancy, is responsible to choose how to express his spiritual life and capabilities. This involves deciding on priorities which will lead to the formation of a character most truly reflecting that of our heavenly Father. His priorities should be ours, or our lives will be out of harmony with His nature, mind, and will. It is the purpose of this paper to set out what those priorities are, and to indicate the reasons why each facet of spiritual life should have the place which is here assigned to it.
Accordingly, it is maintained that the first priority in the expression of our God-given life should be:
Our Worship of God Himself.
This is the expression of our appreciation of, and devotion to, Him for who He is and what He has demonstrated Himself to be in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glory of His only-begotten Son.
Without this, all else will fail. The eternal life that is ours is said to consist in the experimental knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, John 17. 3. According to 1 John 1. 1-3, our participation in the eternal fellowship of the Persons of the Godhead lies at the heart of a child of God's experience and knowledge. Indeed, the creation of the universe and the whole plan of redemption have as their primary object the glory of God, the revelation of His own nature, character, and attributes; God's primary purpose in ever creating and redeeming us is that we might be "to the praise of the glory of his grace". All else is secondary and incidental. God Himself should be the primary subject of our thoughts and object of our lives. God's priority of the worship of Himself, in all the glory of His triune being should be ours also as His beloved children. Therefore, in every sphere of our lives, both as individuals, in our families, and in our assemblies, let us give priority to the expression of our loving and devoted worship of the Person, worth, and works of our great Creator and Saviour God and the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, in the energy of His indwelling Holy Spirit.
Next to this fundamental priority of our worship of God Himself for Himself alone, it is submitted that:
Our Reception of the Word of
God into our souls is of the greatest importance for moulding and directing our spiritual lives. That it should subserve our worship of God, however, must be clearly understood. If this is not so, our study of the Scriptures, whether privately or corporately in the local assembly, is likely to become either academic (and so both morally and spiritually barren), or misdirected towards purely human and selfish ends. A knowledge of the letter of Scripture without the knowledge of its Author is the mark of many an unconverted theological professor in Christendom, while in a truly converted man an exclusive adherence to the letter of Scripture without a fundamental devotion to the Lord of Scripture leads to a lack of grace in the application of the truths of Scripture to others. For the infallible and divinely-inspired Scriptures, while being a unique and wonderful treasury of doctrine, are not an end in themselves, but are simply the means by which God desires to reveal Himself, His mind and His will to our souls. 2 Timothy 3. 15-17 asserts that they are intended and able to lead us to salvation through faith in Christ, and then to teach us conduct consistent with God's character, thus equipping us to serve Him most effectively. Therefore, in our study of the Word of God let us seek first a greater appreciation of the Lord Himself, because this appreciation will lend a grace and loving devotion to our lives and service that will otherwise be lacking. Remember how Mary sat at Jesus' feet in humble adoring worship, while she drank His word into her soul, Luke 10. 38-42. Obedience to the Word of God is always good, but how much more must the Lord appreciate an obedience to Him that springs not simply from fear or a sense of duty, but rather from a willing and joyful love to Himself, because of who and what we appreciate Him to be.
It is our reception of the Word of God into our souls that prepares us for the next priority in the expression of our spiritual life, namely:
Our Warfare in the Heavenlies Against the Enemies of God.
Every child of God, as being "in Christ" in the heavenlies, is inevitably involved in the spiritual conflict which the powers of evil, also in that unseen realm, are constantly waging against God and His holy angels in this age of grace. We make a great mistake if we think that our foes are merely human and so to be combated on an earthly and material level by purely carnal and wordly means. On the contrary, it is Satan and his demonic agents who use not only unbelievers and the forces of a disturbed material creation, but sometimes even failing believers, to try to wreck God's testimony on earth in the corporate body of the local assembly as well as in the individual believer's life. We dare not underestimate his power, finite though it is, nor try to resist him in the energy of the flesh. Rather, like the archangel Michael, we should say "The Lord rebuke thee", Jude 9, using the spoken Word of God, applied in the power of the Spirit of God, as our only effective weapon against him. It is therefore clear that, in order to do this, we must first have studied the Scriptures thoroughly, and received them into our souls in submissive obedience. If we are to maintain the victory over the evil one that Christ has won for us at Calvary and, having done all, to stand firm against Satan's attacks, our lives must be lived in vigilant and prayerful dependence on God, as understood in His Word. The arm of flesh will fail us, in whatever form we use it, but "the sword of the Spirit" will triumph.
The three priorities so far explained have all related primarily to our private relationship with God our Father, and are not clearly seen or understood by the world or even by our fellow-brethren. The three priorities which follow all relate to our outward life in the assembly or in the world, and can be clearly seen. Hence they are sometimes given a higher place in our priorities as a whole than the previous three, perhaps due to a wrong desire to please man rather than God alone. On the contrary, the effective maintenance of the three outward priorities depends entirely upon the effective maintenance of the three inward priorities. Where there is little worship of God, obedience to His Word, or understanding of the spiritual nature of the believers' warfare, outward life is sure to be wrong or deficient in many respects.
The first of these outward priorities must be
Our Walk with God in the World.
The fundamental principle of a child of God's relationship to the world is stated most concisely in the words of 1 John 4. 17, "as he is, so are we in this world". In other words, we stand in the same relationship to the world as does Christ Himself, because we are identified with, and united to Him. Our conduct in the world, therefore, must be governed by our understanding of Christ's present relationship to it. Today, in the age of God's grace and longsuffering towards men, Christ is hidden and separate from the world, not yet coming in manifested glory to assert His rightful authority in the world. At His first coming Christ came not to judge the world, but before the time of judgment to save out of it individuals to form His heavenly people and bride, the Church. Believers today should therefore remain separate from the world's politics and social systems, becoming involved with unbelievers primarily for the purpose of presenting the claims and gospel of Christ to them. We will act as the salt that preserves from corruption and as the light that reveals the truth primarily by our godliness of life. How careful we should be that our salt does not lose its savour, nor our light its brightness. Men should be able to take knowledge of us, as we go about our daily business, that we "have been with Jesus", and we should be careful always to practise what we preach, to practise before we preach, and to practise more than we preach. There should be a positive love to do good to all men, as well as a clear separation from the evil systems of this age, thus preserving a balance in our testimony to Christ, who is Himself full both of grace and truth. May it be said of us as of Enoch before the judgment of the flood that he "walked with God: and he was not; for God took him", Gen. 5. 24. May our reward in heaven at Christ's coming for His own be His response to our having pleased God, as Enoch did, and not to shame in the presence of our Lord, Our primary outward priority in spiritual life must be to "walk humbly with our God", doing in this age what Jesus would do if He were here in physical presence as we are led by His indwelling Spirit.
Our walk with God in the world must be consistent, before the next outward priority,
Our Work for God in the Assembly, can be acceptable. For, just as doctrine governs conduct, so conduct affects service. Yet, because every believer, as a member of the body of Christ, has God-given gifts, each one of us must be exercised before the Lord as to what his gifts are and develop them diligently and faithfully as a good steward of the manifold grace of God. Otherwise our spiritual life will stagnate. Failure to serve in any way at all in the assembly is usually indicative of failure in the previously-mentioned aspects of our spiritual life.
Our Overall Witness to God Before the World is largely the unconscious result of the observance or non-observance of all the preceding priorities, both inward and outward. Witnessing is not simply preaching the gospel, or doing Christ-like acts, but primarily being what Christ would Himself be in today's world. We are meant to be a savour of Christ in every place, whether that attracts men to Him through love or repels them through disobedience, 2 Cor. 2.14-16. To summarize, it is here submitted, therefore, that this is the order of priority that should be followed in expressing our spiritual life:
1. Our worship of God Himself.
2. Our reception of the Word of God.
3. Our warfare in the heavenlies against the enemies of God.
4. Our walk with God in the world.
5. Our work for God in the assembly.
6. Our overall witness to God before the world.
To neglect any of these things, or to change their order, will in some way inevitably detract from the Lord's glory. Rather let us examine ourselves and seek by observing these priorities consistently to be perfect children of our perfect heavenly Father.