Most Bible students can readily name Methuselah as the oldest man who ever lived. In the first list of genealogies in chapter 5 of Genesis we are told, “And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years” (Gen. 5:27).
However, few Bible students can as readily tell where Jared, the father of Enoch, stands in that same list of genealogies. Genesis 5:20 informs us, “And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years,” making him the second oldest man who ever lived. Jared must have been a great man to have reared a son who was so righteous before God that God made an exception to the rule and “translated” him without him having to die. In his list of great men and women of faith, the author of Hebrews writes of Enoch, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).
I mention these two men to illustrate the difference in first and second. While the first oldest man is on the tongues of most Bible students, few could tell you the second oldest man. Let’s notice the emphasis on first and second in the Bible.
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Few things are more important than worshipping God (John 4:24). But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us that being reconciled to a brother takes priority over worship. Reconciliation is to be sought first before worship.
Most Bible students can quote Matthew 6:33 which shows the importance of putting first things first. The passage reads, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” God’s kingdom and righteousness is to be sought first before food, clothing, and shelter. Jesus even promises that if this is done, the necessities of life will be provided for us as well. How tragic it is that many have not learned this important principle.
Jesus even tells us that there is a first and second commandment: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37-39). This was Jesus’ response to a question posed by a lawyer: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (v. 36). These two commandments were so important that Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (v. 40). The same two commandments, under the new covenant, would still be first and second. If we love God with everything we have, and love our neighbor as ourself, we will be obedient to all the commands of God (John 14:15, 21, 23).
Other examples can be given. Matthew 7:4-5 teaches us to “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” In the first part of this verse Jesus calls the one who fails to observe this proper order in correcting a brother, “Thou hypocrite.” Paul used the churches of Macedonia as examples of great giving. After stating “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (II Cor. 8:2), he tells us that the secret of their liberality in giving was from the fact that they “first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (II Cor. 8:5).
All commands are important and must be followed faithfully. But these examples clearly show that some things are to be done first. Are you putting first things first?
Paul M. Wilmoth