“I press [‘stretch forward’, Weymouth] toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 3:14

A GOOD definition of the word priority is, ‘that which comes first in a person’s way of life’, or, ‘what is most important to the individual’. This word is used quite frequently in the business world, as well as in the ordering of a person’s daily life. At the time of the Second World War the word priority gained frequent usage in the military. Certain orders were issued which were labeled “Top Priority—Confidential.” These orders had to be acted on immediately. They were given first importance.

We speak of getting our priorities ‘in order’. Since priorities change from time to time, it is helpful to review them occasionally, and determine what adjustments we must make: what we consider our current top priorities, and what may have become our lesser priorities.

The status of our personal affairs generally changes during the course of our lifetime. What is a priority when we are young changes as we mature; and is altered yet again in old age. But in our Christian lives there is one thing that never changes, and which we should call our first priority at all times. This is, as our text suggests, the making of our calling and election sure. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure, for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”—II Pet. 2:10

This Scripture speaks of an ongoing process of development in the life of a Christian. First he comes to an awareness that God is drawing him to run for the prize of the high calling. (Phil. 3:14) This is a tremendous idea to grasp, to realize that we are offered the opportunity of “being made partakers of the divine nature.” (II Pet. 1:4) The Apostle Paul expressed the call in these words: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1

In Matthew 16:24, our Lord stated his invitation in these words: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The next step for the Christian is to respond affirmatively to this call. Those of us who have assented to the invitation have had our top priorities established for us: to make our calling and election sure; to take up our cross, denying ourselves, and to follow in the Master’s footsteps. This is the beginning of our walk in the narrow way.

Let us consider Jesus, first of all, for he is our best example of establishing proper priorities in life. What was our Lord Jesus’ first priority in life? In Psalm 40:7,8 we read a prophecy concerning him: “Lo, I come: in the volume of the Book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” When he went to John at thirty years of age at the river Jordan to be baptized, he began to carry out that priority. It was the most important thing in his life, and for the following three and one-half years of his walk on earth it remained so.

We find in the Bible record of his early childhood, that the knowing and doing of God’s will was already first in his life. At the tender age of twelve, his parents took him to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover in order that he could be dedicated at the Temple as a son of the Law. (Luke 2:40-52) After the ceremonies were over, the group, including Jesus’ parents, left with the caravan for home, thinking that he was somewhere among the large company traveling together. They were one day’s journey away from Jerusalem when they found that he was not in the caravan. Where was he?

They traveled back to Jerusalem to look for him, and after searching for three days they found him in the Temple. He was sitting in the midst of the doctors of the Law, both hearing them and asking questions. All that heard him were astonished at his understanding—at his questions and his answers. They were amazed! His mother asked him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”—vs. 49

Although only twelve years of age, he was well aware of his first and only priority—to learn how to serve God acceptably. It is interesting to note that these are our Lord’s first recorded words: “I must be about my Father’s business!” So, throughout his life, from the age of twelve right down to the time of his death on the cross at thirty-three years of age, his top priority continued to be to carry out his Father’s will in the laying down of his life in sacrifice.

On the occasion of Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist heard God’s voice from heaven speaking to his Son, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) How we long to hear these words spoken to us by our Father, also. It is certain that we will, if we follow the example of our Master, making his priorities our priorities, faithfully even to the end of our lives. We, too, will hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”—Matt. 25:21

One example given to us in the Scriptures on the matter of setting priorities is in Luke 10:38-42. Here we have the story of two sisters, Martha and Mary. They lived with their brother, Lazarus, in a town just outside Jerusalem, called Bethany. The account reads: Jesus “entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away front her.”

Martha was the homemaker, and she was concerned about providing properly for the guest whom she had invited into her home. She was engaged in cooking and laying the tables, which was a lot of work for just one person to do, and she needed help. But Mary was enthralled with the Gospel message of the kingdom. Her joy was to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of him. That was her top priority. Martha’s priority, at the moment, was to prepare the meal and take care of the physical comfort of our Lord.

Nothing is to be taken away from Martha for her desire to serve. Both Mary and Martha deserve equal praise for their interests, because one was a doer, and the other was a learner. However, later on, after their brother, Lazarus, had died, our Lord, in speaking to each one separately, found that their faith in him and their belief in the resurrection which he taught was just as firm in the heart of one as in the other. Actually, they had both been learners! If we had all ‘Martha’s’ around us, we would have lots of good food, and service, but the spiritual aspect of our fellowship would be somewhat less. We need both the ‘Mary’s’ and the ‘Martha’s’, and together we find a proper balance. Each one has their own particular priority, but both are needed in the service to the Lord and the brethren.

Turning to John 21:1-17 we have another lesson in establishing priorities. Soon after his resurrection, our Lord made a number of appearances to the apostles to verify the fact of his having been made alive as a spirit being. After a while, these appearances became fewer in number, and finally stopped completely. The Apostle Peter became quite discouraged, and confused as to what direction in life to take. He decided to go back to his former occupation of fishing, which he had abandoned to follow Jesus for over three years. So he and several other disciples went fishing. But things did not go very well. Although they worked diligently all night, in the early morning they started back to shore, having caught nothing.

Then Jesus appeared again. They saw him simply as a man standing on the shore, and did not recognize him. He advised them to cast their nets again on the right side of their ship. They did this and drew in a net full of fish! This event made the disciples recall a similar experience with their Lord and Master; and John, the beloved disciple, then recognized the man on shore as Jesus. Exuberantly, Peter jumped overboard and swam quickly ashore to greet his Lord. He was so happy to see Jesus once again! Jesus said to his followers, “Come and dine.”

Over a breakfast of fish and bread which the Master had prepared for them, Jesus gave Peter much-needed instruction about his future work, and what his top priority in life should be. It was not to continue in the fishing business! Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs … Feed my sheep,” and later, “Follow me.” (vss. 15,16,19) This was much-needed encouragement to Peter. Despite his rejection of our Lord at the time of his trial and crucifixion, Jesus gave his pledge that Peter would have an important position as an apostle whose work would be the establishment of the Early Church. As such his work, words and example of life would strengthen all who would later walk in the steps of Jesus throughout the Gospel Age. The record of the Bible bears out that Peter was faithful to this injunction.

The history of another young man has been recorded in the Bible as an example for us. He began on what he thought was to be his main interest or first priority in life at an early age. He felt certain he had been called by God to stamp out a new sect which had sprung up in Jerusalem and was beginning to spread throughout all Israel—the Christian faith! His name was Saul of Tarsus.

Many years later we find this man, renamed Paul, standing before King Agrippa of Israel in the company of Festus and Felix, who were high Roman officials in the land, giving witness to them how his original course in life had been so dramatically changed. Paul started out by saying to Agrippa, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” (Acts 26:9-11) This, as he stated, was his priority before his conversion. It was the work he had dedicated himself to do, and, as a zealous Pharisee, he actively engaged in this interest. He had dedicated himself to the utter destruction of Christians, whom he considered to be enemies of God and his Law.

But suddenly his priorities changed! “Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord?

“And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”—vss. 12-19

Almost instantly, his priority reversed itself: instead of persecuting the church and destroying the Christians, he became one of them! He followed the instructions precisely, which came to him through additional visions and revelations from God. Paul wrote concerning these things in his letter to the Philippian church. First he described his position as ‘Saul of Tarsus’, and then went on to outline his new objectives in life.

He wrote concerning the fact that he had been “circumcised the eighth day, [was] of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”—Phil. 3:5-8

History tells us that Paul came from a wealthy family. His father, although a Jew, was, nevertheless, a general in the Roman army. Paul inherited from him his Roman citizenship, which entitled him to many privileges. The apostle sacrificed many earthly sanctions which were due him through inheritance and worldly position, to become a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and counted them as not worthy of being considered.

He continued recounting his stand to the Philippians, saying, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”—vss. 8-12

In his reference to the resurrection of the dead, Paul meant the “first resurrection,” which is described in Revelation 20:6. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”

Paul continues: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” How wonderfully to the point is this expression of his top priority—in fact, his only priority! Just one thing! “This one thing I do. Forgetting those things which are behind!”—he turned his back upon the things which he had counted dear before his conversion! All else he counted as dross compared to the opportunity of receiving the highest of rewards, the first resurrection!

This is the prize that has been set before us, also! To obtain it requires a daily striving to live up to our covenant of sacrifice by every means we can, in whatever way the Lord directs. Like Paul, all that we have—our zeal, our enthusiasm, our abilities, great or small talents, our assets, our time and energy—all must be pressed into the Lord’s service. Only by so doing can we be certain of receiving that which has been set before us, the fulfillment of our hope of the high calling. “Ye are called in one hope of your calling.” (Eph. 4:4)—there is nothing else. We have been given a heavenly hope, to be made partakers of the divine nature!

And so, through the truth, the Holy Spirit began to work its influence in our lives, and more and more we discovered that ideas, positions, and possessions once uppermost in our lives diminished in importance. They become secondary to the truth and our consecration vows. More of our time is taken up in study, and service to the brethren, and the promulgation of the Gospel. These become increasingly the most important things in our lives. They become our first priority!

What once was our vocation now is our avocation, our vocation now being occupied fulltime in the work of God. There are lesser priorities, of course, which require us to responsibly meet and provide the necessities of life. But let them not deter us from the heavenly hope set before us. Let us always remember that the making of our calling and election sure is our top priority. No matter what experiences might come, no matter what the trials of life may be, let us keep in mind the one goal before us.

If we do continue faithfully pursuing our top priority until the end of life’s pathway, we will indeed hear the words of our Lord: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”—Matt. 25:21

Dawn Bible Students Association
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