Key Scriptures: John 2:13-22, Matthew 21:12-17, Matthew 6:33, Luke 12:22-34, Exodus 20:3, Luke 10:38-42, Mark 8:36-37, Matthew 6:24, Mark 12:28-31, Colossians 3:2, 1 Timothy 4:8, Philippians 2:4, Proverbs 8:10-11, Mark 10:17-31, Ephesians 5:16
Guiding Question: What should our priorities be as Christians?
Introductory Activity: Have students help create a master list as a class of the various ways they could spend their free time. Then have students individually pick their top five and rank them in order of importance. Ask a few students to share their rankings and explain how they decided which things were more or less important than others.
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Read John 2:13-22 and Matthew 21:12-17. Why did Jesus do what he did? The priests were tasked with interceding between the people and God. Their primary function was to assist with the tasks needed to care for the Temple and help people with their required sacrifices. In short, they were to make worshipping God at the Temple happen as smoothly as possible.
Yet somewhere along the way, the priests had lost track of their priorities. What may have started out as a way of helping pilgrims purchase the things they needed to sacrifice at the Temple – instead of having to find a place to purchase it in an unfamiliar town – had turned into a money making enterprise. But not just breaking even or making a small profit. It appears the priests were cheating the people out of their hard earned money.
Instead of their top priority being to help the people worship God, it had become lining their own pockets with lots of money. In fact, the high priest at the time – Caiaphas – lived in a mansion with a vaulted ceiling, a room with three ovens and a bathtub – an extremely rare luxury at the time! No wonder Jesus, who had been raised in a family so poor they could only afford the sacrifice poor people made after the birth of Jesus, was so upset. Jesus knew the priests had their priorities wrong and were stealing from the many poor people who came there to worship.
So what are priorities and how do we know if ours are the way God wants them to be? The idea of priority is that some things are more important than others. We have limited amounts of resources like time and money. Without knowing appropriate priorities we may make unwise choices like buying a television instead of food for our families. Priorities are one of the tools a wise person uses when making decisions.
You may already have noticed that different people have different priorities. One friend of yours may think it’s more important to study for the test tomorrow during his free time at home, while another may decide to play video games instead. Often different priorities lead to different choices which also lead to different consequences. In this case, the friend who made studying a priority will probably get a better grade on the test than the friend who made playing video games his top priority.
As with most important topics in life, God has some things He wants us to know about what He wants our top priorities to be. There is some room for variation within that framework, but let’s examine the basics first. Read the following scriptures. What does each scripture tell us about the priorities God wants us to have?
- Mark 12:28-31
- Matthew 6:33
- Luke 12:22-34
- Exodus 20:3
- Mark 8:36-37
- Matthew 6:24
- Colossians 3:2
- 1 Timothy 4:8
- Philippians 2:4
- Proverbs 8:10-11
- Ephesians 5:16
Notice, God doesn’t want us to give selfish pursuits our top priority. It doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and occasionally do something just to relax. In fact, Jesus modeled healthy, Sabbath type rest. What it does mean is that those pursuits that are about us having a lot of money to spend on ourselves or spending all of our time doing things merely for our own pleasure are not the things God wants us to focus on in life. In fact, the Bible is pretty clear. God should always be first in our lives.
When we allow money, things or fun to take that top spot, we are not pleasing or obeying God. Why? Because our priorities reflect what our hearts value and even worship. If God isn’t first, the thing that is has become an idol to us. It may not look like a golden calf, but it is just as real of an idol as that golden calf was.
So what does that look like in real life? Read Luke 10:38-42. Why did the rich young ruler think his priorities were in order? What question did Jesus ask that revealed the young man’s true priorities? Why did the young man walk away when Jesus pointed out the one thing he needed to do to please God?
The rich young ruler was okay with obeying God’s commands as long as they didn’t interfere with his top priority – having as much money as possible (and it sounds like he was also spending it on himself). When Jesus asked him to make God his top priority and demonstrate he had by selling everything he owned and giving it to the poor, the man refused. His self deception was revealed to those around him and quite probably himself.
It may seem like an easy choice to make to share what you have with others. Or to put God first over participating in sinful pursuits. Sometimes though the choices aren’t that obvious. Sometimes we must decide which is more important between what appear to be equally good options. Read Mark 10:17-31. What were the two options Mary and Martha chose? Was preparing a meal for Jesus wrong or sinful? Did it need to be done? What did Jesus mean with his reply to Martha?
It wasn’t that Martha shouldn’t have fixed food for Jesus. It wasn’t that Mary shouldn’t have helped Martha cook, freeing up more of Martha’s time to listen to Jesus. The truth is that Jesus could read their hearts. In that moment, Martha had forgotten who Jesus was and how important it was to learn at his feet. Her top priority was cooking. Learning from Jesus had moved way down her priority list. Mary, on the other hand, had made Jesus her top priority. It was about their hearts, not just their choices.
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Work in pairs and then as a class to develop a decision making rubric for assigning priorities. The rubric should include questions to be asked about a particular choice to help determine what priority it should be given in a list of priorities. The rubric should include an understanding of the resources that will be required for that priority.
After students are confident they have a good working rubric, look back at the list they created in the introductory activity. Pick five random items and use the rubric to prioritize them. Tweak any weaknesses in the rubric. Try it with various combinations of choices that may or may not be obviously connected to the concept of putting God first. Point out that in the example of the two friends choosing between homework and video games, putting God first is obeying Him in being responsible by studying for the test – it’s the teen equivalent of working as for the Lord. But also point out that the test could have been studied for a little every day…..so if the choice had been going to Church for two hours or studying for two hours, they could then put God first by going to church since they wouldn’t need as much time to study. They could do both, because they had made choices earlier that made it easier for them to put God first.
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. What are some choices you make every day? How do they reflect your priorities? How often does God fall out of first place in your priorities? What changes can you make to keep God as your top priority?