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What if we begin with a few things that should not be the most important things in your life.
What would you say is the most important thing in your life and family?
It is imperative that you are clear on the most important thing in your life because that thing will be the grid through which you will do life with God and others. Let me illustrate my point with two fictional case studies. The first one is a husband, who has made the sanctification of his wife his chief aim in life. The second one is a dad, who has made the salvation of his son his primary objective.
Jerry’s wife, Cyndi, is what some have labeled a shopaholic. She loves to shop, and she loves to spend money. She can no longer walk into her walk-in closet. From floor to ceiling, front to back, the closet is packed with the bounty of her shopping adventures.
Jerry is frustrated. He has cut up her credit cards, took away the checkbook, and put her on an allowance. Last week she took the grocery money and bought a new pair of shoes.
On the way to their Sunday church meeting, Jerry noticed her shoes and questioned her about them. She lied. He later found the receipt, which was two days old. Jerry gave her a piece of his mind, which went on for three days. (It was a big piece of his mind, which was not good for either of them.)
For this chapter, I want to interact with Jerry’s problem since it’s not as evident. But first, my second illustration.
Cal is a preacher in a small rural town. He has three children. Two of them have made professions of faith. The oldest, Tommy, has not made a profession. He’s sixteen years old. There are signs that Tommy is not embracing his daddy’s religion.
Last week, Cal found out Tommy had been smoking weed. Similar to Jerry, he went ballistic. Cal lectured his son about how he needed to be a Christian. He’s probably right. Tommy might not be a believer, and if not, he should be born again (John 3:7).
There is a degree of rightness to what Jerry and Cal want. Their desires are not unbiblical. Cyndi needs help for her addictive behavior. Sin has objectively and measurably caught her (Galatians 6:1).
Tommy is also rebelling against God, as observed by his weed smoking and other rebellious behaviors. Though he is not the first Christian to ever smoke weed, it seems like a fair assumption that he may not be a believer.
The problem, at least in this chapter, is that what Jerry and Cal want is not governed by what should be the most important thing in their lives. They have elevated the sanctification and salvation of their family members to a place that may be in opposition to the Lord’s blessing.
The risk in aiming at a secondary goal is that you may attain that goal–or at least an unbiblical (or sub-biblical) version of it while missing the most important goal in your life. This risk does not mean you should avoid secondary goals. God forbid. But it does mean you should be aware of some of the pitfalls of over-focusing on secondary goals.
Cyndi is representative of one of the more popular secondary goals in Scripture. It’s the Ephesians 4:22-24 model of putting off a bad behavior while putting on good behavior. To put off and put on is an excellent idea. It is essential information to know to live well in God’s world. But it can be misinterpreted and misapplied.
For example, it will not work for Cyndi to just put off a bad behavior and put on a good one, which is what Jerry is demanding. That approach is too simplistic and behavioristic, as well as incomplete.
If she does stop her bad behavior and begins a better behavior without dealing with the real motives of her heart, she could quickly become something similar to what Jesus talked about in Matthew 23:27: being pretty on the outside, but putrid on the inside.
The Pharisees were the classic Scriptural examples of people who looked good on the outside but were corrupt on the inside. It is likely that if she does not interact with her heart sufficiently, authentic and sustaining change will not happen. Our modern term for this is behavior modification.
Because the change process can be grueling at times, a discipler, as in Jerry’s case, may fall prey to the quick-fix mentality. He can instinctively circumvent the sanctification process because he knows what the desired results should be, which could be a temptation to become more pragmatic in his care for his wife.
Just stop it!!
Jerry is looking for immediate results more than he is making sure his wife is changed from the inside out. Demanding behavioral modification, regardless of your good intentions, will blow up in your face.
Jerry is so dialed-in on changing his wife’s behavior that he is hindering the process of change. Aren’t you tempted to err that way? You can see where the self-destructive behaviors of some individuals can go, so you ratchet up the intensity of your demands on them to change.
A quick-fix sounds reasonable on the surface, but without proper care, you will not get what you want, which is long-term, substantive change.
Cal, the preacher, is making a similar mistake. If you put all your energy into leading a son or daughter or friend to Christ, you may become disappointed, especially if that is your primary focus. Over time you could become discouraged and even bitter, critical, or cynical because your chief aim for them did not happen.
It is a natural temptation for a parent to give in to the sin of “controlling worry” because their child is rebellious. There is a vital principle here: The thing that matters the most is the thing that will control you the most. For example, if you are a worried parent, you’re controlled by the wrong thing.
This begs another type of question, namely, are you saying that caring about souls, whether it’s the salvation or the sanctification of them is not important? No, that is not what I’m saying at all. You should tell people about Jesus until He comes back. There should never be a time when you are not sending the gospel forth. But if conversion is your primary focus, you will miss the main thing.
There is no question that it would be monumentally sad if our children rejected the God we serve. We pray regularly for our children, that they will repent of their unbelief and become converted by the gospel. Their need for Christ is one of the reasons we have family discussions, attend church meetings, fellowship with other believers, listen to Christian music, and seek ways to serve.
We do these things because we believe they are the right things to do. Lucia and I know that our children need “gospel exposure” in as many ways and contexts as are appropriate for our pace and season of life. With that said, getting our kids salvation is not our primary goal in life.
If your primary goal was to lead your children to Christ, you could, for example, fall into the pitfall of placing the main accent of your life on doing religious things.
In Christian homes where there are Christian activities instead of God-centered relational priorities, those actions could be devoid of substance. Those religious activities could easily slip into routine, behavioristic, and filled-up calendars, all for the sake of saving the children.
Many so-called Christian homes do Christian things. I’ve counseled hundreds of people who did devotions every day of their young lives, only to grow bitter and wayward after they became adults.
Their parents did the activities of Christians because they hoped to keep their children from messing up their lives. I’m not saying these parents were not Christians. I’m not even saying they were insincere. I’m saying they allowed secondary considerations to become the top priority.
Homes with priorities that are not in the right order will be weak. They will miss out on forgiveness, repentance from personal sin, confession, humility, serving each other, personal integrity, transparency, and biblical modeling of Christ.
When the main thing is to get the children saved, there is a good chance they may get saved. What else would you expect? Expectations demanded are usually met when the children are young. Like Cyndi, though unwittingly enforced by her husband, it is still yet a manipulated behavioral change.
Paul forever solidified what the most important objective for anyone’s life should be. His chief aim was more important than (1) getting people saved or (2) helping them in their sanctification.
Be Warned: If this is not your greatest aim in life, there will be a high chance you will hurt your relationships, especially those you love the most.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
Paul’s chief aim is an all-inclusive, transcending goal for your life. Nothing surpasses it. Nothing is of greater value. To glorify God is the chief end of all humanity, and there will be a day when it will come to full fruition. When the Lord rolls up the carpet on time, all people in heaven and hell will glorify God throughout eternity.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11
There are several ways to define the term “glorify God” as your chief aim in life. One way to say this is to “spread the fame of God.” You could say to make “His name great in all the earth.” It also carries the idea of “giving Him all honor and respect.” It’s like standing in holy awe of Him, for who He is.
There are gravity and weightiness to God that humbles you while motivating you to live for Him. This kind of goal compels you to give every part of your mind, soul, strength, will, and heart to Him. (See Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:30.)
Whether things are coming to you or you are exporting things to others, the glory of God is the filter through which you make all transactions. Living for God’s glory releases you from fear and frustration while giving you the right motive to respond to others.
And this is where Jerry and Cal have been failing. The most important thing in their lives is the obedience of their family members. For Jerry, he wants his wife to stop her sinning ways. For Cal, he wants his son to become a Christian.
Both of these desires are good and great, but because those aims have supplanted what should be the chief aim for Jerry and Cal, they are missing the mark. They are shooting themselves in the foot, as they sabotage their relationships. Their good desires have blinded them from the main thing they should be exhibiting to their families.
Jerry should be exporting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) to his wife. Rather than being controlled by his wife’s behavior; the Spirit should be controlling Jerry. You’ll know if you’re controlled by a person’s behavior by how you respond to them.
If the chief end of all humanity managed Jerry, he would be free from her control, while released to bring a better kind of care to her–a Spirit-empowered, Spirit-illuminated, Spirit-enabled care.
Cal should not be pressuring his son to get saved. He’s essentially doing what Jerry is doing—forcing righteousness on another human being. Neither one of them understands how repentance is a gift from the Lord, not a thing manipulated by spouses or parents (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Having the right perspective is what makes Jesus so amazing. He was not controlled by people’s actions, even if those people were blood kin (Matthew 12:46-50). He always zeroed in on His primary purpose in life, and He would not deviate from that main goal.
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. – John 6:38
You will have to decide if you’re going to do the main will of the Father. Paul told you what that is. If you allow any other aim to transcend that objective, you’re going to get off track, which will hurt other people.
You are to water and plant, but you are never called to give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Be released from the pressure and the deception of expecting or forcing others to change according to your agendas, plans, and timetables.
Because of the grace of God in you, it is possible to glorify God regardless of what your spouse or children do. But be warned: if you make your chief goal in life (1) the sanctification of your wife or (2) the salvation of your children, you could very well live a frustrated, disappointed, and anxious life.