READ : Matthew 6:33
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Matthew 6:33 rsv
What is your ruling passion? Maybe you say, “I don’t have one. I’m not the passionate type.” Okay. I hear you. You’re saying that you don’t get highly emotional about things. You’re not excitable, volatile, fiery, in your approach to life. Well, you have a lot of company there. But that’s not what I mean by a ruling passion. I’m talking about something that everybody has. If you don’t like the word passion, call it a top priority, something that ranks number one with you. You’ve got one of those, right? Let’s say it’s your treasure, your highest good. It’s the thing, the person, the cause that means more to you than anything else in the world. Is that spreading the net wide enough? I think so. I think all of us, if we look carefully at the way we’re living, can begin to identify what holds that place.
Maybe you know what it is and you’ll say so right off. This is your all in all – and you don’t care who knows it. Or maybe you’ve never thought much about this. There is something that claims first place, but you haven’t realized that it does. You haven’t come out and said it, “This is what I’m living for.”
Or maybe you’re like a lot of us who fool ourselves. We say that one thing is our highest treasure, our chief good, but our everyday living tends to say it’s something else. The people around us, if they were asked, “What is this person really all about? What’s the most important thing in life to him or her?” might answer something very different from what you say. Not quite as worthy maybe, not quite as noble. But they may see the situation more clearly than you do.
What I’m hoping for today is that each of us will be given insight and honesty about what our ruling passion, our top priority is. And I further hope – and this is a big one – that if it’s something less than the best, that we’ll want to change it, that we’ll get a new one. What’s that line from Tennyson: “We must needs love the highest when we see it, not Lancelot or another”? That’s it. I hope we’ll see the highest today, love it, and make it our chief joy.
I think the highest and the best is in the words of Jesus Christ, in the midst of His Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 6, verse 33: “But seek first his kingdom [that is, God’s kingdom] and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” Jesus calls us to kingdom passion, to seek His kingdom first.
What is this kingdom Jesus is talking about here? It was the chief subject of His teaching. When He first began to preach, His word was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Most of His parables were intended to illumine what it’s about. He would say, “The kingdom of God is like this” and then He would tell a story. Don’t think of God’s kingdom as a territory. It’s not that. Don’t think of it chiefly as an organization, though it surely includes that. The kingdom of God is something active, dynamic, life changing. The kingdom of God means God actively reigning, His powerful saving rule in the hearts, lives and societies of humankind.
A person enters the kingdom by becoming like a little child, repenting, believing the good news that comes in Jesus, submitting to His lordship over all of life. God’s rule envisions a day when sin and strife, suffering and sadness are all done, when all the forces that have blighted God’s good creation and twisted human life are put down forever, when all the tears are wiped away, when God’s name is everywhere praised and His will everywhere done. What’s coming is a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit abound. The final coming of the kingdom means that every knee will bow to Jesus Christ and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. This is what the kingdom is about, Jesus being Lord of all, so that all that He came for, lived for, died for, rose for, reigns for, is fully accomplished.
What does it mean to seek this kingdom? You know what the word seek means. When you seek something, you desire it, you set a high value on it, you aspire to have it, to make it your own. But it’s more than a wish and a dream. To seek is to go actively looking for something, sparing no pains to find it, moving always toward your goal.
Jesus says that all of us are seekers. Listen to the words that led up to this great charge about seeking the kingdom, starting at verse 25 in Matthew 6:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Did you notice that? The Gentiles, the nations, people in general, seek all these things. What things? What we’re going to eat, what we’re going to wear, how we’re going to make ends meet, how we can get along and get ahead.
Jesus is saying that all of us are inclined to pursue these things as our chief quest. Our thoughts and energies are focused on them. Obviously it’s not wrong to seek food and clothing, not wrong to be concerned about the necessaries of life. Jesus says so. God knows that we need these things. But Jesus says it’s wrong to seek them anxiously, without trusting in God’s fatherly care. It’s wrong to seek them exclusively, as though these were the only values in life. And further, it’s a mistake to seek them chiefly, making them our highest good.
SEEKING IT FIRST
Jesus gives us the alternative: seek God’s kingdom first. Make that your chief concern. I was reading the other day a fascinating passage in Genesis, chapter 26. It’s about Abraham’s son Isaac:
The Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father; fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your descendants for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well (vv. 23-25).
What impresses me here is the order in which things happened after God spoke to Isaac. He and his people have been wandering around in a semi-desert. Their one great physical need, their urgent life necessity, is for water. But after God makes Himself real to Isaac and gives him a promise, the patriarch first builds an altar and calls on the name of the Lord. Only after that has been attended to does he have his servants dig a well. He was seeking first God’s kingdom. He had his priorities straight, as we say.
Throughout His dealings with His people, God has been trying to underline this principle. As an offering from His people, He wants a tithe of what they gather from their labors. But what He’s interested in is not simply a percentage, a tenth. He wants the first tenth. When it’s an animal to be sacrificed or a son to be given over to His service, God wants the firstborn. The call is to seek His kingdom first.
THE PROMISE FOR SEEKERS
And here’s the promise: when we do that, when we give Him first place, when we make His rule our ruling passion, Jesus pledges that the other things we need will be ours as well. Remember how the psalmist said it, “Delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”? (Ps. 37:4). Love Him first and best. Make Him your chief joy, and see how He satisfies your heart.
Think of Solomon in his best days. At Gibeon one night, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon said, “Give thy servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people” (1 Kings 3:5,9). God gave him that and then said: “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor” (vv. 10-13).
The learned church father Origen attributes a saying to Jesus that seems to go right along with this thought: “Ask for the great things and the little things will be added to you; ask for the heavenly things and the earthly things will be given you as well.” The Lord doesn’t have to do it that way. This is not a bargain. Our seeking His kingdom first doesn’t earn something for us as a wage. This is simply how God operates. The Father delights to give.
Suppose you were to venture on this word of the Lord. Suppose you were to make today a wholehearted commitment to Jesus Christ. You intend to follow Him, obey Him, serve Him as your Lord as long as you live, no matter what it costs. Suppose you settle it this day that you’re not your own, you’re bought with a price, and you belong to Him forever. Jesus says that the other things you need, the other goals your heart craves when you’re seeing life steadily and seeing it whole, they’ll come to you – in some ways unsought.
Let’s say we focus attention, energy, on seeing God’s will done. We make that uppermost, that God’s triumph over evil should be complete, that He should reign in human hearts everywhere, that His righteousness, His standards of justice should be universally accepted and lived by. Let’s say that becomes our passion. The promise is that as we do that, we’ll find that God provides. He remembers those who forget themselves in serving Him. They begin to live without anxiety as the persons they’re meant to be, like flowers that simply bloom, and birds that just soar and sing. They find that they are wonderfully sustained and provided for.
As I ponder these things, I remember that I’ll soon retire from the great privilege of this work. I ask myself: What is my chief aim for whatever months and years remain to me? What is it, really? To be rich? Is that what I want most? Famous, maybe? Is it to be comfortable? Is it to win consistently in the games and sports I like to play? Is that it? Or is it to be faithful, to serve God and serve people? I ask myself: What do I most want, crave? Is it human affirmation? Is it time to do the things I enjoy doing? Is it leisure, excitement and travel? Or is it to seek God’s “well done”? To see people won to Christ, built up and blessed?
I know I want it to be the latter; I trust that for the most part it is. So I’m saying to myself: Let this kingdom concern shape all I do as I look forward to a time of transition at Words of HOPE and to my eventual retirement. Let it shape how I use time, let it mold how I spend money, let it determine what invitations I accept and what trips I take. This is the prayer I’ve come up with. I hope you can make it yours: “Jesus, You are my Lord. You have won me by Your grace. I want to seek Your kingdom first. So, Lord, show me Your way. Let me walk with You from this moment forward, all the way to the end of life. Let every day, every hour, witness fresh commitment to Your saving rule. Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, let me be Your person, for Your praise. Thank You. Amen.”