When Putting Yourself First Means Putting Yourself Last

This is a post I wrote for onemoneydesign.com.

Putting “Me First” is the worst financial move a Christian can make.  Jesus clearly said, “The last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matt. 20:16, NASB)  The phrase itself is a little bit enigmatic at first (and definitely speaks far deeper than finances), but closer inspection reveals the wisdom of God.  We have a tendency to put ourselves first.  Big surprise I know, but we must begin to realize that our natural tendency is to make ourselves numero uno.  

Putting ourselves first —or perhaps I should say paying ourselves first—while it might sound a little arrogant, it seems like the path to finding the most enjoyment in our financial life.  Spending our money on ourselves seems like a logical way to get the most satisfaction from our finances.  The Bible says otherwise.  Observe this passage from Haggai:

“Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?’ Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways!  You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.” (Hag. 1:4-6)

The people of God lived in luxury at the expense of the Lord’s house.  There is nothing inherently wrong with luxury or “paneled houses”, only when our pursuit of such things leaves the Lord’s work “desolate”.  The Lord’s response is something I think a lot of American Christians, if they are completely honest, can identify with.  He responds to their self-centered “Me-first-economy” by saying that their hard work reaps little harvest, their food and drink doesn’t satisfy, their clothes aren’t warm enough, and their financial life can be wrapped up in the phrase: easy come, easy go. 

This is a really challenging passage for the contemporary church to reflect on.  How much have we focused on “our house” before “the Lord’s house”?  I know that we don’t live in the old covenant with the Temple of the Lord, but how real is this principle today?  There are so many of us that have so much, yet reap so little—that consume so much to so little satisfaction.  How many of us might feel like we are putting money into a pocket with holes, finding ourselves at the end of the month scratching our head wondering where our paycheck went?

While there are a multitude of reasons for this effect, I think one of them is that God’s kingdom lies somewhere far down on the list of our financial priorities.  We do not give first.  We must consider our ways:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways!  Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the LORD. ‘You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.” (Hag. 1:7-11, NASB)

While it might seem self-contradicting, the following principle is true: when we put ourselves and our satisfaction at the top our list, we lose every time.  We “look for much, but behold, it comes to little.”  The first will be last.  We must begin putting God first, and by doing so, actually do what is best for ourselves.

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