If you ever feel discouraged about your lack of progress in the Christian life, remember the words of 1 Corinthians 15. Let the words you find there bathe you once again as you reflect on Christ’s accomplishments, rather than focusing on your failures. He died and was buried in your place. Though you feel unworthy and condemned, in Christ you are graciously accepted and reconciled. And he not only bore your sin but was also raised again to new life, objectively—for you. It has already been accomplished.
If I were to ask you to write down the most important things taught in the Bible, what do you think you might include on your list? Worship, prayer, discipleship, faith, heaven, grace, the Trinity?
Now this next question is a little harder. Which of the topics that appear on your list would you end up placing at the very top? In other words, what is the most important topic in all of Scripture? Would you be able to come up with a single answer to that question, or do you think it’s just too difficult to rank biblical topics in this way?
Jesus himself said that some matters of the law were weightier than others.
You may be tempted by the thought that because the Bible is God’s inspired word, all its precepts are of equal weight and value. Yet, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). Now of course it wasn’t that tithing mint, dill, and cumin were unimportant things, but according to Jesus they apparently carried less weight and significance when compared with the much more important themes such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
There is also another passage in Scripture where a lawyer asked Jesus which of the commandments found in the law of Moses was the greatest. And as you may recall, Jesus didn’t end up saying that all the commandments were of equal value and importance, but he instead cited the words of Deuteronomy chapter 6, which says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This he said, “is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).
There is an important distinction between the most important commandment in the Law and the most important thing in all of Scripture.
Perhaps, then, following Jesus, we could say that “loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength” is the most important thing in all of Scripture. Well, if we consider carefully the lawyer’s original question, he didn’t actually ask Jesus, “What is the most important thing in all of Scripture,” but rather, “What is the most important commandment recorded in the Law of Moses?” This, as we’ll see, is an important distinction.
The thing we should notice at this point, however, is that Jesus didn’t seem to have any difficulty ranking various biblical themes in the order of their importance. And so, in light of this, what do you think every Christian should place at the very top of their list? What biblical idea should be considered the thing of first importance?
The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian church of the most important thing in all of Scripture—the gospel.
Thankfully, we don’t have to go through the difficult process of weighing and comparing all the doctrines of the Bible in an attempt to answer this question, since the apostle Paul has already done the heavy lifting for us in the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
According to verse 1, Paul makes clear that he is writing to the Corinthians in order to remind them of the gospel of Jesus.
In many churches today the focus ends up drifting away from the gospel to other things.
Now, I’m convinced that in far too many churches in our day the gospel appears to be taken for granted. And because it’s something that many pastors simply assume that everyone already knows, over time our focus ends up drifting away to other things—things that are more practical, relevant and me-centered.