Seek Ye First

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” —Matthew 6:33

THESE words of our Lord, taken from his sermon on the Mount, make an excellent theme text for our lives. If we follow this key advice daily, we are absolutely guaranteed that we will be faithful and pleasing to the Lord, will ultimately reach our goal, and will receive our reward! It is important for us to continually remind ourselves that seeking the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, has first priority in our lives.

The Master had been preaching to great multitudes of Israelites. Many had followed him throughout Galilee all the way to Jerusalem in Judea, and even from beyond the Jordan River, realizing what a great teacher was in their midst. (Matt. 4:25) They saw his marvelous works and heard his ethereal words, and were moved to leave their homes and families to follow him wherever he traveled. But our Lord had special words which were only for the ears of his disciples. And so he climbed high up into the Mount, “and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them.”—Matt. 5:1,2

The sermon on the Mount comprises three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel—the fifth to the seventh. This was Jesus’ special message to his true followers; he was their teacher, and these chapters include important lessons concerning his new doctrines. This sermon was not meant for the ears of the multitude, it was not for the world, but it is for you and for me, as we endeavor earnestly to be his followers, just as the disciples were in Jesus’ day.

The Lord’s lesson on Christian priorities actually begins with verse twenty-four of Matthew 6. Here he states, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate [love less] the one, and love [more] the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Our first reaction to this statement might be that it cannot have any reference to us as Christians, because there is no possible way that we could ever hate our Lord and Master! We love him. He is our Lord, our Redeemer!

Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott gives a slightly different perspective of this verse; it says, “No man can serve two masters, … for at least he will attend to one and neglect the other.” This is a lesson in priorities! The master whom the servant loves more will receive his best service, and the other master will be given whatever time and energy the servant has left over after he has done well by his more favored master. It is impossible for anyone to serve two masters well, giving them both full, undivided attention and service.

The expression in the Diaglott, ‘at least’, conveys the idea that the servant is actually trying to serve both masters well, but is finding it impossible to reach this goal. We simply cannot serve two masters; the things that one master wishes us to do for him will, no doubt, be in conflict with the other’s wishes. And if this is not the case, we still cannot be at the instant beck and call of both.

In the life of a Christian there comes a time when he must decide whom he will serve. Will he serve God? Or will he serve Mammon? Once he has determined to serve the Lord, he becomes his only Master and must be served fully. We cannot divide our service between several masters, and still be completely faithful servants to our one Lord.

Who might this other master be, who is attempting to have us become his servants? Our initial answer to this question would undoubtedly be—our great Adversary, Satan. But it seems as though in this lesson Jesus is conveying the thought more particularly, that our own flesh, with its desires to gain the mastery over our old natures, is a formidable adversary. Mammon, which, of course, Satan is quick to advantage himself of to ensnare us, is the competing master. This word ‘mammon’ simply means ‘earthly riches or wealth’. The acquisition of wealth, bringing ease and pleasure to our flesh, is indeed very tempting to contemplate, although it is diametrical to the sacrificial nature of a Christian’s life. Therefore a state of constant warfare exists between the “new creature,” seeking for the spiritual things, and the “old nature” which constantly seeks after earthly things, be they good or be they evil.

The Apostle James has something to say on this subject. His words are few, but very succinct: “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8) An unstable person is one on whom we cannot rely; a person who is double-minded would certainly be unreliable—not only to others, but even to himself. He cannot decide whom he wishes to serve, or how he wishes to serve them! This is certainly not a trait which we find in our Lord Jesus, and it should surely not be a characteristic found in the followers of Jesus. If we are double-minded, we are unprofitable servants.

The words of Matthew 6:24 set the stage for the remainder of the chapter. After stating unequivocally that no man can serve two masters, and following that statement with the words, “Ye [followers of me] cannot serve [both] God and mammon,” Jesus goes on to give us some powerful illustrations. He helps us to understand how we should view the satisfying of fleshly aims and ambitions in our lives. Nowhere are we told that it is wrong for us to satisfy the needs of our flesh. But what is wrong for us is to allow the acquisition of earthly wealth or possessions to become more important than the acquiring of spiritual treasures. Our Great Teacher’s lesson is that if we become distracted from the pathway of sacrifice, giving more attention to our earthly lives and possessions than we do to our spiritual lives, this would constitute wrongdoing on our part.

In the next few verses Jesus gave several illustrations concerning eating and drinking, and being clothed—all of which relate to our necessities as human beings. (Matt. 6:25-32) Everyone requires food and drink to sustain their lives; we find clothing essential to protect us and to keep us warm; we need shelter from the weather. Immediately we see that by using these simple examples, Jesus is not instructing us that we should not provide for these things. But what priority we give the acquisition of them, is the important lesson.

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (vs. 25), said our Lord Jesus. The phrase, ‘take no thought,’ could just as easily be translated, ‘Do not be distracted.’ Let not the earthly things distract you from what is most important. Which is more important, what you eat or drink, or what clothes shall adorn your body; or is the life you possess, and how you live it, more important?

“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (vs. 26) Birds are a wonderful illustration of faith. They are so tiny and helpless. They are beautiful, airy little creatures, having brightly colored feathers, and delightful mannerisms. But they cannot go out forcefully, like a lion or a tiger, and overpower another animal for food. They must rely on what the Lord provides for them to eat. And although they evidence no anxious thought concerning their next meal, they receive abundant provision of their needs—seeds, and berries and bugs. “Are ye not much better than they?”

Sometimes in a family with several children, the mother might panic if she runs out of milk! Or even worse, if she runs out of laundry detergent! Once in a while, the insignificant things of the flesh can become overly important, and can get the best of us. Occasionally we become a bit anxious about earthly provisions.

Our Master continues with the question, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (vs. 27) He knew that we poor frail human creatures would worry about all sorts of things! These concerns will harm us, and will not help us. As Christians we should particularly remember that our lives have been given to the Lord. We are not our own, we are bought with a price, and we are precious in His sight. It is not at all proper for us to become anxious about anything, because we have put all our concerns into the Lord’s hands, and we know that he will provide for us far better than we could ourselves.

Then Jesus gave us another illustration which puts an additional earthly need into its proper perspective. Man today, as well as in past centuries, emphasizes the importance of fine clothing. It is a status symbol, and a person’s worth is often judged by how finely he is dressed. But the Lord asked, “Why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith.”—vss. 28-30

Every springtime the wildflowers come up in profusion, they bloom in a whole rainbow of colors; they are beautifully and delicately shaped, and man does nothing to make them grow. God provides the sunshine and the rain which nourishes them, and they carpet the landscape with their glory. Not even King Solomon, the wisest and one of the richest men in the world, could clothe himself more gloriously!

One robe was all that our Lord Jesus possessed when he went to his death. But it was a beautiful one, and well made; certainly it was white and spotless. Today, at least in this country, everyone owns more than one suit of clothing, more than one dress, no matter how poor they might be! And how much more richly will God clothe us when we have been faithful to our calling. “The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework” (Ps. 45:13,14), is one description of the bride, the Lamb’s wife.

It is interesting to notice the reference Jesus made to concern over material needs, indicating that this anxiety is due to a lack of faith. It is certain that one who evidences symptoms of being over-anxious concerning earthly things is putting undue emphasis on their value, and shows a lack of faith in and appreciation for the far more weighty matters of a spiritual nature. Setting wrong priorities in life is a clear indicator of possessing only a “little faith.”

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) If we are distracted by storing up earthly treasures, how are we going to be successful in seeking after the spiritual treasures? Just as a man cannot serve two masters, neither can he have as his priority goal the gaining of both earthly and heavenly treasures!

Concluding this line of reasoning, Jesus went on to say, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” (Matt. 6:31-33) Sometimes in our thinking we limit God’s providences in our lives to the spiritual aspects. And there is no doubt that they are by far the most important part of our lives. But God overrules and directs the provision of our temporal needs in life as well. Therefore we should not feel that we must carry all the anxiety and care pertaining to our needs, or our family’s needs by ourselves, leaving the care of the spiritual needs in God’s hands. No, he realizes the necessity for our having a job, a home, food, and clothing, and he makes ample provisions for our having what we need.

This thought is put into such beautiful words in verse 34, which reads: “Take therefore no [over-anxious] thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” There are people in the world who are ‘compulsive planners’; they plan their whole lives out—sometimes for months or years ahead! But we do not know what may happen tomorrow to upset all our finest plans. It is far better to wait patiently on the Lord’s leadings, and to follow his direction day by day. Our one goal in life toward which all our plans should be directed is to make our calling and election sure; to be faithful, to be obedient to the Lord; to carry out our vows of consecration.

Verse thirty-three is our theme text: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” The emphasis is upon the word ‘first’. This means not only first in order of time; but first in importance. The kingdom of God is our hope. It is the hope of the entire groaning creation. We seek for glory, honor, and immortality as rulers in that heavenly kingdom. We seek the kingdom of God because we long to see God, to be with him, to share his fellowship, and the fellowship of his dear Son. We seek the kingdom of God because we desire to have eternal fellowship with others who likewise have this same hope. We seek the kingdom of God because we have a tremendous yearning to bless all the families of the earth. We seek the kingdom of God because we want to be used of God in the ages of eternity in whatever plans and purposes he has in store for his great universe.

But without a doubt, the reason that most completely sums up why we seek the kingdom of God, is one that our Lord Jesus gave concerning himself. In John 17:1, he said: “Father, the hour has come, glorify thy Son that the Son also may glorify thee.” This is our highest motive for seeking the kingdom of God—that we might be able, if faithful, to glorify God in a perfect and far more effective way than we can at the present time.

Not only did Jesus say that we are to seek first the kingdom of God, but we are also to seek his righteousness, his godliness, and we know this must be accomplished if we are to attain to the kingdom of God. None will be worthy to live everlastingly in the kingdom of righteousness unless they themselves are righteous. At the present time we are imperfect beings, with the need to be clothed upon with the robe of Christ’s righteousness to cover our imperfections.

How do we seek righteousness? Even as our human bodies need food and drink, clothing, and shelter, so also do we have need for spiritual food and drink, clothing, and shelter. In John the sixth chapter we read Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” This symbology indicates how necessary it is for us to appropriate his message, his pattern, his sacrifice, his precious blood. We must keep his robe of righteousness on, and we must embroider it to add to its beauty by developing the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit in our characters. This is what is meant by ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ the bread and water of life.

We are assured that “all these [needful] things shall be added” unto us (Matt. 6:33), if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. God will see to it that we have everything necessary in life, so that we can serve him. The Diaglott says all these things shall be “super added” to us, which carries the thought of great abundance. How generous is our God!

The following questions will present a little test we can apply to ourselves of just how properly we have set our priorities in order in our lives. If we answer ‘yes’ to any of these six questions, we need to apply some remedies, which are suggested by the Scriptures following the questions:

  1. Do we have a desire to pamper our fleshly bodies? Romans 7:18
  2. Do we spend a great deal of time or means catering to earthly matters? Ephesians 5:16,17
  3. Do the thoughts of our minds dwell habitually on real or perceived human needs? Romans 8:5-14
  4. Do we feel a measure of discontent when we think any of these perceived needs are not satisfied? I Timothy 6:6-8; Philippians 4:11
  5. Do we have the desire to accumulate temporal wealth or possessions? I Timothy 6:10,17
  6. Do we work at prolonging our human lives as long as we possibly can? Matthew 16:24,25; John 12:25

The questions above are not intended to be discouraging, but rather a simple, useful tool to measure the progress we are making in keeping our hearts closely in tune with the pattern the Lord has set for us. We will all need to apply some of the “remedies” from time to time to keep our human natures in line.

At the conclusion of this sermon on the Mount, Jesus summed up by saying, “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”—Matt. 7:24,25

The LORD Will Provide
In some way or other, the Lord will provide,
     It may not be my way, it may not be thy way,
And yet, in his own way, the Lord will provide.
At some time or other the Lord will provide:
     It may not be my time, it may not be thy time;
And yet in his own time, the Lord will provide.
Despair then no longer; the Lord will provide;
     And this be the token—no word he has spoken
Was ever yet broken, The Lord will provide.
Then we’ll trust in the Lord
And he will provide;
Yes we’ll trust in the Lord,
And he will provide.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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