Seek First God’s Kingdom
Key Verse: 33
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
This passage is still the continuation of Jesus’ famous Sermon On The Mount. In the Beatitudes, Jesus gave us the highest standards you can live by. Be poor in spirit and meek; be pure of heart and be merciful; be a peacemaker; and hunger after righteousness; and don’t despise or avoid being persecuted for Jesus’ name’s sake. These are some of the Beatitudes that bless those who live by them. And they certainly aren’t what our natural human tendencies desire. Later on in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about the Laws God had given his people in the Old Testament and which the Jews considered as the way of righteousness (and of course, the way to eternal life as well). But when Jesus talked about these Laws, he completely challenged this idea about righteousness, and turned their world upside down! Most Jews considered themselves righteous if they simply didn’t murder or steal for example. And divorce was allowed under extreme circumstances. But Jesus explained God’s real intention behind giving all these Laws. The Laws about murder, for example, went way beyond simply taking someone’s life. Jesus talked about anger and hatred towards others as being the same as murder in the eyes of God. Also the Laws about divorce, Jesus implied, were meant to help strengthen and bind God’s family; and never intended as a means to convenience a husband or a wife. Jesus said that even a lustful look violated the contract of marriage in the eyes of God who seals all marriages, and who invited disaster on the offender.
Jesus did not stop there! He turned our world upside down with New-Old laws that set standards for every one who wants to be righteous before God. “If you want to be righteous; if you want to please God; if you want to make it to heaven; you’re going to have to be perfect”, Jesus said “and as perfect as God in heaven in perfect!” God’s One Law for righteousness seems to be nothing less than “perfection”. And perfection doesn’t stop here either! Jesus took his disciples to spiritual places (or heights) no one had imagined! For example, the act of Giving or sacrificing is very much a part of what it is to be a righteous man or woman. We are born selfish. But Jesus wants his people to give and to sacrifice! The act of “fasting” or the equivalent “self discipline” is also very much a part of what it is to be a righteous child of God. Fasting isn’t easy, and neither is disciplining one’s body and mind and heart in surrender to the will of God and to his plan in one’s life. God has a plan for each of us. But it takes self discipline! It’s a hard thing to fast— to give up your way of life— and to give God the full reins in your life. Prayer is no different! It takes humility to admit that you are weak and helpless; that you need God in your life to guide and help you! All this is also a part of what it means to be a righteous Christian. To be Righteous isn’t easy. But Jesus helps us learn from him, to seek this righteousness with all our hearts until we find it. And we can only find it and exercise it in Jesus! Now that we have reviewed what Jesus had already been teaching them and us in the Sermon On The Mount, let’s see how this teaching develops.
There were other things to learn in the pursuit of perfection or righteousness. According to Jesus, one of the greatest things which hinder people from finding righteousness is none other than the world and its many treasures. Worldly treasures! What’s that? Is it money, or fame, or fortune, or success? Or could it be the desire to be recognized, appreciated and established by the world? Worldly treasure is anything the heart goes after which blinds a person from seeing what is really a treasure— what is really worthy of going after. So many people go after what is worldly treasure, but in the process lose their souls.
What should I seek in my life? That’s the question? What’s important enough in life that’ll make me give up everything else and go looking for it? That’s also the question. And when I find it, what then are some of the snares and dangers that I must avoid in my treasure hunt? Jesus knows that one of the greatest possessions a person has in life is life itself. That’s also why God made us to cherish and preserve life! And we’re not talking only about this physical life here on earth, but we are also talking about life eternal. So Jesus gave this teaching about treasure— both worldly treasure and heavenly treasure. And his teaching isn’t something arcane but is as plain as daylight! It’s a simple teaching on what sort of treasure hunt you should carry on in your life. Actually every human being will somehow carry on a treasure hunt of sorts and that’s because from the moment we are born we come out seeking something, wanting something— going after something, even though most people don’t really know what they are going after! But Jesus knows what you and I are chasing after. We are chasing after life! We want to preserve life and we want to make something beautiful out of it. We are seeking righteousness and we are seeking the kingdom of God. And we shouldn’t let ourselves get caught up and hindered with lesser things.
Read verse 19. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” People have all kinds of ideas about what treasure might mean. As the saying goes: “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure”. So, you can interpret the meaning of treasure like this: A treasure is anything of value to a person. It is something worth cherishing. A treasure is that thing that gives a person joy, and a sense of security. And the world is filled with things that the heart desires as treasure. Children are a priceless treasure. Sometimes husbands and wives are a treasure to each other. Friends are a great treasure, although not many people look for this kind of treasure anymore! Material goods which make life easier are mundane but necessary treasures. The dreams and hopes of young boys and girls are also a treasure. Most of all, everyone considers life itself to be a treasure of awesome value. But Jesus tells us the common tragedy of life. Regardless of how precious are the treasures we go after and cherish, there is one flaw in all of them— none of them last!
So, what are we to do? Should we stop going after treasure? Jesus doesn’t say that! According to him there is a kind of treasure worth going after and hording as well. Read verse 20. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Jesus doesn’t tell us not to seek after treasure. But it’s the kind of treasure most of his followers seek— that’s our trouble! So, Jesus teaches us to store for ourselves things that don’t perish— things that will last even beyond our short lives. So, what are those things that don’t perish but last forever? What’s worth storing up for us? And we find that the most worthy things to store up in our life isn’t what most people expect or want. Jesus doesn’t want us to waste our lives storing up things for ourselves that won’t last. Instead, he wants us to store up thing that God considers to be everlasting.
What things then are everlasting? Consider the acts of prayer are everlasting. There is no time that you give to prayer which is considered wasted. That labor is stored up and rewarded in heaven— kept in a safe place for the day when everyone will rise to meet God. At that time, our houses and lands and whatever else we consider precious will not rise up with us. It’s what time we’ve given to prayer along with those blessed through our prayer that will rise up to greet us as heroes of the kingdom. Sacrifice is also a glorious heavenly treasure which never perishes. In this world most people sacrifice only if that sacrifice is (paid back) reciprocated. If people sacrifice for their job, they expect to be rewarded with pay or recognition. But that’s not the sacrifice which will rise up on the last day to greet them in heaven. Let me tell you about M. Rene and M. Remy. They didn’t horde up their lives nor treasures for retirement day. Instead they sacrificed everything for the sake of maintaining a small gospel ministry in the suburbs of Chicago. Their sacrifices are not visible to the world. But on the day of reckoning, every sacrifice they made for this small gospel ministry will rise up to greet them as heroes of the kingdom. And consider the sacrifices of the Pittses, the Heusels, the Kasongos, the Moons, the Morlas, the Magnos and all those who have sacrificed so much in order to build up God’s family!
There are also many other treasures to store up in heaven. There is love and forgiveness. There is Bible study given to the children of God starving for God’s word. There is also a life sacrificed in the mission field like the Marjis and the Sagels who are obscure nobodies in the world. Those offering their children to the service of God— all of which seem strange and ridiculous to the people of the world! But on the day when God brings all things to light, every heart given in the service of God— every penny given to the blessing of God— every service rendered in the name of the Lord Jesus— will rise up to greet those who chose to be poor on this earth in order to make heaven rich. Consider carefully what you will store up for yourselves here on earth, a good education, a glamorous position, a security fund, a comfortable home! Consider also what Jesus is saying about where our labor must be, for earthly treasures or for heavenly ones! There is a treasure worth everything in life! It’s our mission to live as gospel workers, kingdom servants and Bible teachers for those who do not know the real way to heaven.
And there’s a good reason why Jesus spoke so honestly about worldly treasures versus spiritual ones. Read verse 21. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There are so many uncommitted and hesitant people in the church who say: “I can serve God and still have my heart set on the things of this world. I like making a lot of money and being recognized by others.” But Jesus says: “No, you can’t! If you treasure such things, your heart will go to them, and in the end you will lose your heart to them!” Read verse 24. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Jesus doesn’t exaggerate. What he says here is not a figure of speech or an allegory but a truth— a certainty! God has given you one heart. Whether your heart is too small or too big, the truth is you still have just one heart to deal with. And you can give your heart to only one thing or another. So, a decision has to be made to what you’ll give your heart to while you’re still breathing— because you cannot store up treasures both here on earth and in heaven at the same time, just as you can’t serve two masters either. It is impossible regardless of what you think!
Look at verses 22 and 23. Interestingly here Jesus talks about eyes. What he’s saying is that he considers the eye responsible for what the heart desires and then goes after it. Most people don’t have an eye for heavenly treasure. What this means is that they don’t see what’s really worthy of their hearts and of their labor. They can neither see Heaven nor heavenly things. So they end up going after what they can see. And what they see is a good life here in this world. They see the recognition of their peers. They see the expectations of their parents. They see the misery of what life would be like without money or without a measure of security. And then they judge life by what they see with their eyes. But Jesus tells us something about the eye that only sees what’s before it! He says that’s a bad eye. A good eye doesn’t trust only what’s visible. It will look beyond what’s visible and will see that which is really worthy of its heart’s quest. A bad eye on the other hand is like someone who wants to quit his education in order to clean bed pans all his life. He makes some money to keep from sinking. But at what cost! He neither sees the future, nor the foolishness of a life without education. Most people are like that when it comes to spiritual things. They want to clean bed pans now and forfeit the fullness of what God created them for. There is great wisdom in Jesus’ words to store up treasures in heaven. He wants us to have a good eye to see the world and its treasures cautiously in making life decisions that shape our destiny.
Jesus was teaching his disciples to go after what is worthy of their lives and labor. And we know that that’s not an easy teaching. You need to guard your heart! You need to be alert about the things that hinder your pursuit of higher things. But what should you be careful about? Read verse 25. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” I think “worrying” is common to everyone. But we should know that it’s a hindrance to your spiritual growth and to going after heavenly treasures. Here’s an example of what this is all about! I want to serve God by praying and studying and teaching his word, by sacrificing myself to bless others. But then I worry that if I do that, I might not be able to have a normal life like everyone else. I want to influence others in a godly way. But I worry that if I live by Jesus’ teaching, I might lose all those friends who already think that I’m a bit weird because of my faith. And there are ten thousand other worries that clutter up people’s hearts and which makes them give up what’s eternal for what’s mundane and worthless. Jesus tells us that we could be overwhelmed by every kind of worry. Some worry about every little thing that seems big when these worries aren’t really worth time nor thought. People worry about their basic necessities of life mainly because they’re desperate to preserve their petty lives in this world. But when they do, they lose their focus in life— which is to preserve their lives in heaven. While they’re worrying about how to preserve their life in this world, they end up losing their lives to ordinary things like food and clothes. Many believing Christians don’t really want to be your ordinary run of the mill Christians. But somehow they become such petty and mundane beleivers who work hard for better pay to buy better clothes and better foods. Jesus warns you and me that we shouldn’t worry about such things. Rather you and I should guard our hearts against giving in to this awful temptation to worry. Jesus teaches us that life is too great to worry over little things. Not only that, he tells us that worrying is useless. It is certainly a waste of time for the children of God. Read verses 26-32
Jesus warns us not to worry, not only because it is abnormal for the children of God but also because it’s a sin to worry. Read verse 30. “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” According to the Lord, the problem of worry is a faith problem— mostly a lack of faith problem. You who trusts God especially with your salvation and eternal life, cannot stoop so low in faith to doubt God with your basic needs of life. Many have given up their jobs and their future, even the future of their children to live as missionaries in the world. These people have every reason to worry about how they will survive, what they will eat, drink and wear. But the record tells us that by God’s grace almost every one of them is blessed and provided for. God promises you that worry is futile and faith is a blessing, more than you can imagine. Why? Because your faith tells God that you trust him— and trust is all that God wants from you and me. But there are so many who say they trust God but whose practical lives tell otherwise. They trust themselves a lot more than they trust God with their lives. You and I shouldn’t be like that. Instead we ought to serve God in any way God chooses for us to serve. There will be worries, especially when you try to make decisions that require trust and faith. At that time, don’t trust your hearts— trust God instead. That’s faith! It’s your faith that makes you righteous to God. Nothing else you do is greater than giving yourself to God and to serving him in faith! He is your Father. And our Father will surely take care of us in every way. This’s what Jesus is saying!
Finally, Jesus gives all of us a clear life direction as to what you and I must seek with our lives— and what’s really worthy of going after. Read verse 33. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Jesus tells us to give the one heart we have to seeking God’s righteousness and his kingdom always— and in all circumstances. “Seek” is a strong word. Trying once or twice and then giving up isn’t seeking at all. “Seeking” is a constant search, like a missile launched that won’t stop till it has found its target. To seek his kingdom “first” means to seek what’s worth more than the petty small things of life. And what’s more worthy to seek then than Jesus! Seeking righteousness is to seek Jesus because only in Jesus you and I can we find true Righteousness. Seeking his Kingdom is setting your life direction to live a gospel centered life— doing gospel centered things— and achieving gospel centered blessings. So many people seek first love thinking it’s a worthy thing to seek. But after a long search most are so utterly disappointed. Some seek recognition and success and eventually turn into cold-hearted businessmen and women who have a lot of things to their name but have no conscience. Jesus wants you and I to know for sure that there’s nothing we seek in this world that’ll satisfy our hearts’ desires. I think a lot of us already know this! God made you to seek his righteousness and his Kingdom. Until you have found them, it’s impossible to find anything that satisfies your hearts and brings you joy and contentment! Read our key verse 33 again. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”