In reading the New Testament I have been impressed with the number of times the word “first” is used in what I consider to be strategic passages. It is a word that indicates primacy, that which is to be paramount, foremost, and pre-eminent, that which is of the highest and most urgent importance. Consider the following.
1. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Paul is here defining the gospel—that is consists of the death of Christ for human sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again. Paul affirms that this is that which he first preached to the Corinthians. Earlier he had said, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul was first and foremost a gospel preacher! He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16).
It must be that way today. Regardless of what else may be said of a preacher, if he is not a gospel preacher he is of no benefit to his hearers. If he does not preach the gospel it makes no difference what else he preaches. His “polish,” his poise, his personality, his oratory, his learning, his attractiveness are of no value to his hearers spiritually. Unfortunately, there are preachers who are first of all everything but gospel preachers! Their sermons have little scripture in them, they preach human wisdom, the doctrines and commandments of men, their denominational traditions, or they are always on some “issue” or religious “hobby.”
The importance of preaching the gospel is seen in the fact that the word of God is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). If the seed is not sown, the plant will not be grown! If the gospel is not preached Christians will not be produced and the kingdom will not exist.
The truth is that which makes men free (John 8:32), and God’s word is truth (John 17:17). If the truth is not preached, people will remain in bondage to sin and error. They can be made free only by the truth of the gospel.
One is begotten to spiritual life by the word of truth (James 1:18). If that word is not preached, people will not be brought to spiritual life. Without the proclamation of the word of God one cannot be born again (John 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:23-25).
The word of God is able to build up Christians (Acts 20:32). If that word is not preached, God’s people will remain spiritually weak and anemic; in fact, they will eventually die (see Revelation 3:1-3).
Thus, first, last, and always we must recognize the primacy of preaching the gospel. Christ did (Mark 16:15). Paul did (2 Timothy 4:2).
2. “…knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). There was something that Peter wanted his readers to know, and he wanted them to know it first! What was it? That no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation!
This verse has been misunderstood because terms have not been adequately and properly defined. “Prophecy” is literally “the speaking forth of the mind or will of another.” A prophet is a spokesperson, one who speaks for another. The prophets of God spoke for God by divine inspiration. Sometimes their proclamations involved the foretelling or predicting of certain events, but such was not inherent in the meaning of “prophet.” “Prophecy of Scripture” is the mind or will or another (in this case, God) set forth in writing or script (the root of the word “scripture”).
“Private interpretation” has been used to teach that we are not to interpret the Scriptures, but the fact is that anything we read (or hear) has to be interpreted in that it has to be correctly understood. This is true whether one is reading the newspaper, a magazine, a book, the Bible, or listening to a television news broadcast. It is of course true that in reading the Bible one does not have the right to assign any meaning to a text that he/she may choose. But when Peter said that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” he was declaring that the Scriptures did not arise out of the private, personal, subjective thoughts and ideas of those composing the Scriptures. In the very next verse (2 Peter 1:21) he states how the Scriptures did arise: “…for prophecy never came by the will of man (private interpretation), but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
David declared, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was in my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). Peter said of David, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16). What was true of David was true of all of God’s faithful Old Testament spokesmen.
In the New Testament Christ promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Paul stated, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches (private interpretation of the speaker/writer, hf), but which the Spirit teaches…” (1 Corinthians 2:13). He affirmed that God made the New Testament known “by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:3-5). In a grand, all-inclusive statement he declared, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16).
In any study or discussion of the Scriptures this understanding of their divine origin must come first. Nothing will ever be settled or solved by them until it does. Let us recognize and honor the primacy of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures!
3. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The child of God, the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, will never experience lasting joy and happiness until the kingdom and righteousness of God become the paramount pursuit of his/her life, his/her all-consuming passion. There must be a total surrender of one’s self to the Lord, a total abandonment of oneself to the cause of righteousness. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, ASV).
There is much more to “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” than simply “going and giving.” Surely, these things are important, and no one putting the kingdom first will neglect these matters (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Acts 20:7). But to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” means to do God’s will in every way every day of one’s life. It means to trust God completely. It means to recognize, honor, and submit to the reign of Christ in our life. It means demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in our life, living in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26), living by the Spirit’s instructions and guidance as set forth in Scripture (see # 2 above). It means becoming “transformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29) and becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4). “Seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” means diligently adding the Christian graces of virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to our lives so that ultimately we can have an abundant entrance into “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-11).
Not much progress is going to be made for the kingdom of God here on earth until its citizens learn that it must be absolutely first in our lives!
Here, near the first of a brand new year, let us recognize the primacy of these “firsts” of the Christian faith.
January 12, 2021