This week I finished reading a book I had always heard about, but had never read: Herman Melville’s The White Whale or Moby Dick. In it he tells the story of Captain Ahab, who was obsessed with killing the great white whale which had caused him to lose his leg. For every ship he met as he led his own boat around the world in search of the whale, he had one question: “Hast seen the white whale?” Once Ahab’s ship passed another which had an amazing catch; their boat was full of whale oil; their crew was all dancing and drinking and celebrating, and as the ships crossed paths, they invited Ahab to come over; they were holding a bottle and a glass for him. But monomaniac Ahab had only one question for them: “Hast seen the white whale?” The other captain hadn’t; he said he didn’t even believe there WAS such a whale. Ahab immediately commanded his crew: “Forward! Set all sail!” He had only ONE aim: the great white whale, and the great white whale only. He had to eat, drink, sleep, wear a cloak in the storm to stay alive — but all of that was just the means to the end: to kill that white whale. Nothing else really mattered.
That kind of singular focus is rare in our day, when we tend to be so “scattered” and tossed between priorities and events. Or if we ARE focused on one thing, it is often the WRONG thing: money or sports or so-called “success” or some other very temporary worldly thing. But Jesus has a word of challenge here in Matthew 6:33, where He commands us and all who would be His followers:
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
I. Context is important:
One of the problems that we often have with interpretation and application of scripture is that we so often just “lift” a verse out of its context and quote it, without really taking into consideration what was said just before, which is VITAL in interpreting and applying most scriptures.
And Matthew 6:33 is one of those scriptures that people love to quote, and it IS a great verse, even standing alone. But as with most scriptures, it helps us somewhat to consider its context.
Those of you who were here last week know that for basically the whole second half of Matthew 6, Jesus is talking about worry: that we should not worry, because it doesn’t do us any good, and in fact it takes our focus OFF of the Lord, because we can only either focus on Him, or the worry, but not both. You can’t serve two masters; either Jesus, or that worry is going to be your master, but not both. So He tells us repeatedly in these verses to keep our eye on our Heavenly Father. We saw last week that at least FOURTEEN TIMES in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to our “Father” in heaven. So we are to keep our eyes on OUR FATHER as the antidote for our worries.
Now we do have needs in our lives, and God knows that: Jesus says “Your Father knows that you need all these things.” You DO have legitimate needs in this world, and it is not wrong to want to be provided for — and especially to care for your own family, which we are commanded by God elsewhere to do.
But knowing that we can really only focus on ONE primary thing; we can really only have ONE master, Jesus tells us in :31-32, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, Or ‘What will we drink?’, or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Jesus says these material worries are what most people focus on. And He doesn’t deny that you need some of those things, but because you can really only have ONE master of your life, He then utters these famous words: “Seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” In other words, He is saying: Focus on the main thing, and I’ll make sure your needs are taken care of.
It’s like someone who serves in the military. The government takes care of your material needs: food, clothing, shelter, etc., so you don’t need to focus on all that. YOUR concern, as a soldier, is obeying your orders and protecting your country. Your government knows that you need food and drink and clothing and shelter in order to do that, so they take care of those things for you, to let YOU focus on that most important business of protecting our country.
That is EXACTLY what Jesus is telling us here as His disciples. He has called us OUT of this world, where everyone is busy chasing bigger homes, newer cars, nicer clothes, expensive gadgets, huge retirement accounts — that’s what most people just LIVE for. But He says as My follower, those things are not to be your focus. As My follower, like a soldier in the army or navy, you are to focus on the Kingdom of God, and let GOD take care of your needs.
That’s the context in which Jesus spoke these words. He knew that only one thing can really drive your life. He wants that one thing to be God and His Kingdom, NOT material things. So He says “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Make God and His kingdom your priority, and then let HIM take care of your material concerns. That’s the context and the general meaning of this verse.
So a Christian’s focus is NOT to be on the possessions of this world, like, quite honestly, most people are. Unfortunately, the religion we most often find here in America is not really “Christianity” per se, but a kind of “hybrid” Christianity, really a “pseudo-Christianity”, which is not “Christianity” at all, but a worldly substitute for it. One person on Twitter said it well this week: “Christianity isn’t the primary religion of the United States, Capitalism inundated with spiritual platitudes and self protective dogma is.” It think that’s pretty well put. Capitalism — getting things and making money — is is the real religion of most people in our country. And many people put just enough God in it to justify whatever they want to do.
So unfortunately most Americans who are supposed to be “Christians” are chasing the same things their lost neighbors are: the same homes, the same cars, the same gadgets, the same toys, the same awards, the same beauty, the same bank account, the same retirement — the same everything — we just “sprinkle a little God on it” and call it Christian, but it’s not “Christian” at all. We have not sold out to the Kingdom of God, we’ve sold out for the things of this world. We are NOT “seeking first the Kingdom”, we are seeking first “all these things” — the things of this world (and we show it by the way we make our choices every week)
But Jesus says, “Follow Me.” He wants us to turn our backs on the material “gods” of this world, and seek God’s kingdom first instead.
II. What does it mean to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”?
A. SEEK TO ENTER HIS KINGDOM FIRST
This refers first of all to salvation. You need His righteousness in order to enter the Kingdom and be saved. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus said you must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect to enter heaven. We can NEVER be that righteous on our own. That is why we MUST be saved through Jesus Christ, whom Romans 3 says freely GIVES us “the righteousness of GOD through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”
To seek His righteousness means that you do whatever it takes to get that righteousness. You repent of whatever sin you need to; you give up whatever you have too. There are some people who say things like: “Well, if I become a Christian, do I have to give up drinking?” — or whatever. This kind of person is not seeking first the Kingdom. Do you realize that you are lost, and separated from God, and that unless you are saved, you will “perish” forever apart from God in hell? You need to be desperate; you need to seek His kingdom FIRST, and be willing to do whatever it takes to be saved.
Again, most of us — even those of us who say that we are Christians — aren’t doing that. We want a version of Christianity in which we can keep on doing whatever we want to do, and still be saved and go to heaven. Well, as they say, that’s a nice gig if you can get it — but that’s NOT Christianity. That is NOT what Jesus teaches in His word. He said “Unless you REPENT you will all likewise perish.” “Repent” means to turn back from your sin. You cannot just continue contentedly in the same sins you’ve always walked in, and think you are “safe” and have the righteousness of God, and are going to heaven.
Remember in Acts 16 the Philippian jailer desperately cried out to Paul & Silas: “What must I do to be saved?” And the implication was, whatever I must do, I will do it. He was desperate. He would have done whatever Paul had told him to do. THAT is seeking first His righteousness. It is doing whatever you have to do, in order to be saved.
Well what Jesus commands us to do to be saved is to repent: to turn back from our sins, and turn to follow Him from that day forward as our Lord & Master.
That is what it means to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Make sure that nothing matters more to you, than that you are in His kingdom, and that you have His righteousness. And the truth is, NOTHING else in your life matters more than this: not your house, not your car, not your bank account, not your daily food and clothing. NOTHING matters more than this, Jesus says. Everything else in this world is temporary; this is eternal.
This week on Eric Metaxas’ podcast I listened to the testimony of an African man who converted to Christ from Islam, and the Muslims found him, and poured acid on his face, which disfigured him, and left him almost blind. That is high cost to pay. But amazingly, this man has great joy. It was a radio broadcast, but Eric Metaxas said this man in his studio had the biggest smile on his face, and the greatest joy — because all his hardships are temporary; his salvation in Jesus is eternal. It is worth paying whatever cost, in order to KNOW that you are in the Kingdom of God, and that you have His righteousness.
That’s why Jesus says, Seek FIRST to know that you are in His Kingdom, and that you have His righteousness. Don’t let anything in your life keep you from it; because NOTHING ELSE IN YOUR LIFE matters more than that.
But seeking first the Kingdom doesn’t stop when we get saved …
B. SEEK TO LIVE FOR HIS KINGDOM FIRST ALL OUR LIVES AS CHRISTIANS.
So once we do enter the Kingdom by turning from our sins and following Christ, then for the rest of our lives, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to continue to seek His Kingdom first. This applies in all kinds of areas of our lives:
— That means that we are to seek first His kingdom in our DECISIONS. For the Christian person, the question when we make decisions is not “What do I want to do?” or “What do I feel like doing?”; it is “What is best for the Kingdom of GOD?! What best witnesses to Jesus Christ in this world? Not what makes us the most money. Not what makes us look best to others. Not what makes us feel the most comfortable. What is best for the Kingdom of God?
Unfortunately, rare is the person who does this. Most of us are just watching out for ourselves, not the Kingdom of God first. It’s just like Paul wrote in Philippians 2:21, “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” Even in the church, honestly, for most of us it is all about our comfort, our program, our preference, our convenience, our classroom, our money, our kids, whatever — we don’t TRULY care what happens to others, or to the church as a whole, we just care about ourselves, and our own interests. Sadly, even in the church, you rarely see someone make real, personal sacrifices for the Kingdom of God both here and around the world — when that was ALL that Jesus lived for! And you have to wonder what right do we have to call ourselves His disciples, when we are NOT following in His steps, and we are NOT sacrificing like He did, and we are NOT putting His kingdom first in all our decisions.
— Seeking first His kingdom means we are to seek Him first in our DAY. Our time with God should come first. We’ve talked about this so many times, but we’ve got to DO it!
We are learning in our MasterLife class on Sunday nights to spend time with God first. Last Sunday night I shared my own personal testimony that spending time with God every morning in His word & prayer made a HUGE difference in my life — and it still does. David said in Psalm 5:3 “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice.” Seeking first His kingdom means to give Him the first part of our day.
— Seeking first His kingdom means that in a lot of practical ways we will put Him first: like seeking Him first with our MONEY. When the Israelites gave their tithes in the Old Testament, the Bible says they were to give the FIRST-FRUITS — in other words, the FIRST of what they got— not the “last fruits.” They gave the first, the best, to God, as a sign of His Lordship of their lives. And when we really “seek first His kingdom” with our lives, that means that we will give the FIRST of our income to Him, as a sign that He is the most important One in our lives, and that His kingdom is the most important thing to us.
Again, this is not what a majority of professed Christians do. Instead we give what is left over; a few bucks here and there, or “when we can.” That is not a tithe. A tithe is the FIRST 10% of what God has graciously given you the life and health and strength and the ability to earn, and you show whether you really believe that by giving that first-fruit back to Him.
I shared a couple of weeks ago about our family budget, that for years we’ve used the old Larry Burkett system, of taking some money out each week to put into “columns” to save up each month for our house payment, insurance, so much each week for groceries, and so on. But THE first thing out of our budget, every week, the FIRST thing we calculated when we wrote down our salary and started to figure our budget, was the tithe. THAT is what it means to “seek first the Kingdom” in your finances. It means you take out God’s Kingdom’s part FIRST — and let all the other things be added to you. Whatever you have left for house, for car, for clothes — or not — that’s great — but you seek FIRST the Kingdom in your finances. It’s not that you say “I’ve got to have this kind of car, and if I have some left I’ll tithe.” NO! It means “I am going to tithe FIRST, and whatever kind of car I can get with what I have left, I get.” See the question is: is your car first, or is the kingdom of God first? You can SAY you are putting God first in your life, but you SHOW what’s really first by what comes out of your budget first, and what gets the leftovers. If you’re really seeking first the Kingdom, then you give to the Kingdom first.
— And it means seeking Him first in our CALENDAR.
When we are seeking God first, we will make worship, and the events of God’s kingdom, priorities in our schedules. Our time is just like our money: we have to plan what to do with it, or we won’t have any left. God commands us in His word to worship Him regularly, and we should make worship a priority.
You know, on the one hand, we don’t want to be legalistic; we all need vacations; we all are going to have time away from church — but on the other hand, we need to make sure that God’s kingdom meetings are the most important meetings on our calendar. It’s one thing to have a couple or three or whatever weeks of vacation when you aren’t here; everybody has that. I have that too. But it’s another to just say, “Well, it’s pretty out today; I think I am just gonna go to the lake today.” Where is the worship of God in your priorities?
The reason I emphasize this, is that worship services are less a priority today for many people than they were a generation ago. I read a survey that was analyzing the declining church attendance in a lot of places. And interestingly, it said that it was not that less people were going to church today, but that in many cases, the people who do go to church, are going less often. Instead of coming 3-4 times a month, we’re coming once or twice a month. We’re putting a lot of other things in the place of worship — even on Sunday morning.
It used to be that there would never be a kids football or baseball game on Sunday or Wednesday night. Those were church times, and everyone knew it. Now it’s: “I’ll be at church if I don’t have a game” or whatever. (I wonder what would happen if a bunch of Christian parents would tell coaches and sports organizations, “Sorry, we can’t be there then; we have church.” It would make an impact. Things could change.
But let me tell you: the biggest impact of all this is on the children themselves. I told some people in Louisiana, where people were just routinely getting in the habit in recent years of taking kids out of church to play ball: Don’t spend the first 20 years of your kids’ lives taking them to all kinds of sports and events instead of church, and then when they get to be 20, wonder why they ditch church and God. You don’t need to wonder what happened: you just spent the first 20 years of their lives showing them that all these other things were more important than God. They are just living out what you’ve taught them! Seek FIRST the Kingdom in your scheduling (and all kinds of things will be added to you — maybe even your own children …)
— “Seeking first the Kingdom” applies to every area of our lives — even FAMILY! Folks, Jesus says here it’s not “family first;” it’s GOD first. It’s His kingdom first. In fact He says later in Matthew 10:37 “He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” He said, “He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Jesus makes it very clear: it is not family first; it is GOD FIRST. Now, do you need quality time with your family? Yes. Do you need to take care of your family? Yes? God commands you to do that, or you are worse than an unbeliever. Do you need to love your family? Yes. He commands you to do that. But He says seek FIRST the Kingdom. And if He is first, then everything else will fall into its rightful place, and will be taken care of, but there is no question for any serious follower of Jesus that He is to be FIRST!
In every area of our lives, we are to seek Him first: with our time, with our scheduling, with our money, with our decisions — in EVERY way, HE is to be FIRST.
And He says, if you will seek Me first, then I will see that “all these things” that you need, that everybody else is worried about and is seeking, will be taken care of. They will be “added to you.”
This phrase “added unto you” is an interesting one. It is actually an old Greek business term that means “thrown into the bargain.” When sellers in the ancient market were weighing out their produce, they would toss a little extra in, just to make sure the customer was getting everything they were paying for, and a little more.
Some business people still do that today. For our 20th anniversary, Cheryl wanted an antique dining room set. We were in this shop and had been seriously looking at this table and buffet, but we had also been eyeing an antique game board. We said, well we just better wait on that, and focus on getting the dining set — but when we bought that set, the guy just “threw the game board in” along with it.
That’s what God did in Kings 3, when young Solomon became king over Israel after David’s death, and God asked him what he wished Him to give him. Solomon knew he was young, and he needed wisdom to lead God’s people well, so he asked for that. God told him, because he asked for wisdom, instead of for riches and long life, like a lot of people would’ve asked for, that He would indeed give him that wisdom — and that He would “throw in” riches and long life on top of it!
THAT is what Jesus is saying here: Focus on ME. Focus on My Kingdom. Don’t serve the gods of material prosperity and success that everyone else is spending their whole lives seeking. Seek HIM instead. And if you will, you may be surprised at how much He “throws into the bargain” — even of material things — when you commit to seeking HIM first!