I recently read 2 Chronicles 1, the passage in which God gave Solomon, at the beginning of his reign as King of Israel, the opportunity to “ask for whatever you want me to give to you.” A blank slate, a whole world of requests is open before him—what will he ask?
What do kings need? Strength, power, a guard of strong and loyal protectors… Just for a start. Close behind on that same list might be those giddy daydreams of fame, fortune, and admiring legions to surround him.
But Solomon makes a humble request. “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” At least for now Solomon sees that God himself is the most important reality to consider. The people he’s ruling belongs to God. God must be his first concern. So he asks not for wealth, honour, or military might, but wisdom to handle the trust God has given him.
God’s famously responds that because Solomon did not ask for those secondary things but rather has sought to be given wisdom, God will not only give him wisdom but will throw those other things in as a bonus. By asking for the central thing, and keeping other things in their right (and subordinate) place, Solomon’s life is freed up to accept those other things appropriately.
If you put riches first, power first, success first, all you have is an idol. But if God is first, certain other bonuses may be thrown in and find their proper position.
We all find ourselves tempted to put second things first, because so many second things are so good. Among secondary things are any things that are not God, so that would include our families, our jobs, our moment-by-moment comforts, our hobbies, sports, you name it. Each of us knows what challenges God’s supremacy in our own life. God first, then everything else in its place. Other things first, and you you wind up with disorder of one sort or another.
Why is this so? Because all second things can’t bear the weight of being the gods of our lives. All we do when we make something or someone the god of our life is crush them under an impossible burden.
C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in… put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”
Of course, that’s what eventually would happen to Solomon: he let himself be carried away by the appeal of his riches and his wives and his kingly splendour. He ended his life having lost God’s approval (first things) and knowing that only a fraction of the kingdom of Israel (second things) would remain in his family’s trust.
Solomon is a cautionary tale. But his early wisdom in asking for God’s wisdom is a clear pointer to what Jesus said about first things in Matthew 6:33:
Seek first (the Father’s) kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (everyday concerns) will be given to you as well.
Jesus’ words aren’t a blanket promise that we will get everything we want in this life, but rather a reminder that when God is first, he will not keep from us anything that is truly necessary for our life and our soul’s flourishing.
A rule of thumb that’s almost too simple: First things first.