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 (Manna 55: What Really Matters)
Seek First His Kingdom and Righteousness
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Seek First His Kingdom and Righteousness

Jason Hsu—Baldwin Park, California, USA

            But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Mt 6:33)

One of man’s purposes in life is to seek after God. He has set the pre-appointed times of all men and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they might seek after Him.1

Yet, today, we see very few people seeking after God. This has to do with our priorities. Jesus said no one can serve two masters, for He wanted us to know that each of us must make a choice as to who or what will be our first priority.2

Our priorities are quite important because they determine the goal and direction of our life. Where we end up, whether or not our life has a good ending, depends a lot upon our having the right priorities.

Let us therefore study what it means to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

SEEKING

A Matter of the Heart

A concerned parent may strictly discipline a wayward child. However, strict discipline sometimes fails, and the wayward child’s path is still not set aright. Although a son may outwardly obey his parent’s wishes for a time, nothing has truly changed if there is no inward change of heart.

Our heart directs our path and the direction we travel.

The things we seek—our priorities—are matters of the heart. Like almost all matters of the heart, a willing heart must lie at its core to bring meaning. Just as the foundation for a meaningful love or faith rests upon a willing heart, seeking only becomes meaningful when it is founded upon a willingness to seek. Therefore, the heart to seek is fundamental to our priorities.

There is a distinct difference between looking and seeking. Looking may simply refer to an outward act. Seeking, however, runs deeper, for it derives from an inward motive—from a heart to look. While looking may be forced upon a person, seeking cannot be forced because it originates from within, where no human hand can reach.

Therefore, unless a person first has a heart to seek, that person will never find.

When Jesus taught us “seek, and you will find,” He was teaching us that “finding” is intimately connected with the heart to seek.3

A heart to seek stems from an inner desire to find. It’s that inner desire—that heart—to seek that is precious in God’s sight. This is the heart God blesses.

Having the heart to seek, therefore, is vital to receiving the fullness of God’s blessings in our life.

We will not accidentally stumble upon God’s kingdom and righteousness in our life; we must seek it.

Seek the Right Things with the Right Focus

            Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. (Mt 5:6)

When a person is hungry, their focus is on food. When a person is thirsty, their passion is for drink. There are so many hungry and thirsty people in the world today, many of whom hunger and thirst for success. But Jesus said if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are blessed.

Seeking can be viewed from two aspects: what we seek, and the way we seek. Successful seeking reconciles seeking the right things with having the right focus.

Seeking the right things means seeking what is good and right in God’s sight.

For example, a man who diligently seeks material security might have a good focus and passion. His mind, his heart, his best are all focused on this goal: to retire early and live out the rest of his life in comfort. But the focus of his life may be entirely wrong. If he gained the whole world and lost his soul, did he really seek the right things?

Having the right focus means having a strong inner desire for what we seek, just like a hungry and thirsty person has for food and drink.

The story of Bartimaeus illustrates what it means to seek with a strong inner desire.4

Bartimaeus was blind and probably often sat by the roadside begging. One day, Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by. He grasped the opportunity to cry out, “Jesus…have mercy on me!”

Others commanded him to be quiet, but Bartimaeus only cried out all the more, “[Jesus]…have mercy on me!”

The Bible says Jesus heard his cry and stood still. He then called for him and asked, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Bartimaeus said, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” That day, he received his sight.

Bartimaeus sought Jesus with the type of inner desire a truly hungry and thirsty person would have for food and drink, so he successfully received what he sought.

Successful Seeking Requires Persistence

Luke 11:5-8 records the Lord’s parable about a persistent friend. In His parable, a man went to his friend at midnight and asked for three loaves for his guest. It was quite late, however, and his friend was already in his bed, had already put his children to sleep, and had shut his door. So his friend replied, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut…I cannot rise and give to you.”

Faced with such a circumstance, most of us would retreat, if only out of respect, but this friend would not leave. Instead, he remained persistent to the point of being shameless. Although his friend would not rise out of friendship, he would rise and give as much as his friend needed because of his persistence.

We also must be persistent in seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. Apostle Paul encouraged the Galatians not to lose heart in doing good, which also serves to remind us not to lose heart as we do God’s work.5 So if we are to be successful in pursuing God’s kingdom and righteousness, let us persist in seeking it.

FIRST

The essence of priorities is placing first things first. To put something first means we place an importance on it.

Priorities of the World vs. Priorities of the Kingdom

Jesus once said, “[M]any who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mt 19:30). Many of the priorities of this world are not priorities in God’s kingdom. Rather, the principles of this world are often at odds with the principles of His kingdom.

In the Sermon on the Mount,6 Jesus gave many blessings, or beatitudes. We notice that He called the “poor,” “mournful,” “meek,” “hungry,” and “persecuted” blessed.7If we were to judge such people by the standards of this world, they would be called accursed. Yet Jesus calls such people “happy” or “blessed.”

This teaches us that the priorities of God’s kingdom won’t always align with the logic of this world. Very often, we may find that the principles of God’s kingdom do not make sense in the general scheme of human understanding or justice.8

Therefore, living by the principles of God’s kingdom will not always come naturally to us and will often require a deliberate act on our part.

Jesus said,

            “If you love those who love you, what reward have you?...[I]f you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even [sinners] do the same?” (Mt 5:46, 47)

To live by the precepts of God’s kingdom, then, often means we must actively seek to engage the principles of God’s kingdom in our lives. They won’t always come naturally to us, so we must prioritize how we will act.

In this world, if someone slaps us on the right cheek, we naturally slap him back with equal or greater force. That’s fair. And if somebody takes away our shirt, we would be a fool to give him our coat, too. But the priorities of God’s kingdom may not be the priorities of the world.

Priorities can be viewed from two perspectives: (1) time and (2) importance.

First in Time

First in time relates to order. We all know that, in nature, everything has a natural order. The sun rises and sets. Both the earth and its seasons follow a natural order. From creation, then, we know that God is orderly.9In fact, every divine institution—from marriage, to family, to church—has an order.

So when Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we could interpret this to mean we must put God’s kingdom in its natural order. This is an important way we understand priorities—by what we order first in our lives.

Many times we put our own things, not God’s things, first. Yet, in Acts 17:26, Paul said God determined man’s pre-appointed times and the boundaries of his dwelling. In other words, even a man’s life is ordered by God. In some important way, God has ordered man’s life to seek after Him.

Man, however, is not always aware of God’s pre-appointed times. Many times we don’t even know where we will be next month, let alone where God set the boundaries of our dwelling. Therefore, we should try only to step where God would have us step and walk where God would have us walk.  

For this very reason, we need to seek after God throughout our lives. But how can we do this when we don’t even know where we will be or what we will be doing a year from now?

Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man’s steps are of the LORD; How then can a man understand his own way?” Even though we don’t always know where we are going or the complete order of our lives, we know this: we walk by faith and not by sight.

Our forefather Isaac also learned to order his life by faith. When Isaac first dwelled in the land of the Philistines, he faced many challenges. Wherever he pitched his tent or dug his well, the Philistines would force him to move.10

Then he came to Beersheba, and the Lord appeared to him. God told Isaac, “I am the God of your father Abraham” (Gen 26:24), and He confirmed His covenant with Isaac. After this pivotal moment, Isaac built an altar first, then pitched his tent, and then dug his well.11 This was the order established by faith, and it bore the fruit of peace among men and God’s complete blessing.12

Sometimes, God takes us along the path of our life and through many trials to teach us this very thing: what is important and comes first. Because if we fail to know this, we, too, will fail to find God’s complete blessing over our lives.

Be the First to Act

When God’s kingdom and righteousness becomes first in our lives, we are often called to be the first to act in accordance with God’s righteous principles.

Many times, we require others to act first. We live by the motto “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”

But Jesus taught us differently. He said, you take the initiative and act upon God’s righteousness.

Thus, Jesus taught that if, before you make your offering to God, you remember your brother has something against you, first be reconciled with your brother and then make your offering.13

Similarly, Jesus taught us to look to ourselves first before we condemn another’s wrongdoing. Jesus said,

            “[W]hy do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?...Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mt 7:3, 5)

Putting God’s kingdom and righteousness first in our lives often requires us to take the initiative to act first.

First in Importance

“First” can also mean “first in importance.” This is related to our values. For instance, a person seeking to enter university may place entrance into the top universities as his first priority. This means, at this point in his life, entering the top university is what is most valuable to him.

Where do we find value? Many people value wealth and material security, and this is what often becomes the priority.

Jesus said that the Gentiles worry about what they will eat, what they will drink, and what they will wear, but your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.14 So Jesus told us not to be anxious over any of these things. 

He said that God feeds the birds of the air, who do not know how to sow seed in its season or reap a harvest. God clothes the flowers of the field, who do not know how to make clothes; yet, are not the flowers of the field still gloriously clothed?

Jesus’ teachings are very simple yet easy to forget. That’s why we often exchange the Lord’s promises for things of lesser value. Yet, Jesus said, “‘But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you’” (Mt 6:33).

“All these things shall be added to you” means God will provide all our needs if we would only learn to engage this truth: to seek first His kingdom and righteousness.

So what is important? What is valuable in our life?

Seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness is the most valuable pursuit we could have in this life.

GOD’S KINGDOM AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

The Rule and Character of God

Two important biblical images of God are King and Judge. God is our King because He rules and orders our life as He pleases. God is our Judge because His righteous judgments and precepts govern our lives.

Today, we should relate to God in both His capacity as King and as Judge.

To take priority in our life, God’s kingdom and righteousness must first become relevant to it. God’s kingdom deals with God’s kingship. How is God’s kingship expressed in our life? God’s righteousness deals with how God’s character and actions govern our lives. God’s righteousness is most clearly expressed through His law. To be relevant, then, we must come to terms with how God’s law applies to our life.

In Christ, we are no longer under law but under grace. At the same time, God’s grace should not be used as pretext to live a sinful life.15

Many people today remove the applicability of God’s ethical laws to their life. Some even attack public displays of the Ten Commandments. However, the outward display of the law is secondary to the more important display of God’s law through our lives.

Because we live by God’s word, we are still under His rule and righteousness.

God Is King

We show God is first and King by living a righteous life. Jesus said: Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Jesus spoke not only of God’s rule but also of His rule in conjunction with His righteousness. By living according to His principles—by living out a righteous life—we show God is King through the witness of our lives.

Christians often speak negatively about the Pharisees, equating them to “hypocrites.” Yet, the original goal of the Pharisees was actually quite noble; they were the “separate ones.” Pharisees were the ones who separated out their life to seek wholly after God’s law. They were the ones who determined they would not be defiled by the popular pagan culture of that time.

In other words, they were those who sought to live a holy life before God, and there is something very important we can still learn from them.

Some say Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:20 is the theme of His Sermon on the Mount. He said,

            “[U]nless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What Jesus taught, then, was not to forsake righteous living under God’s grace but that our righteousness must even exceed that of the Pharisees. This goes to the very heart of the matter.

Living in God’s Righteousness

Therefore, when we place priority on God’s kingdom and righteousness, we will turn away from our former way of life apart from God. Because His righteousness is our priority, our heart, our principles, and our values are different. Because our priorities have changed, our world changes.

Formerly, we may have valued money most; now we value God most. Formerly, we may have worried over our material needs most; now we worry about whether we’re living as God would have us live.

The law says, “You shall not murder,” but we should strive for more; we strive not to even be angry with our brother.16 While the world values those who are materially rich, we seek something different—the blessings of the poor in spirit.17 While the world would seem to reward those who assert human justice and autonomy, we seek something better—the rewards of the meek who will inherit the earth.18

Those who seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness are asking, seeking, and knocking on the door to the kingdom.19They are striving to enter the narrow way.20 They are seeking to do the Father’s will.21 They do all these things because they understand what comes first.

Jesus concludes His sermon:

            Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken to a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hear these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be a like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (Mt 7:24-27)

CONCLUSION

All of us want to seek after the things that matter most—the things that will provide a strong foundation for our church, for our family, and for our life. To find this, we need to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

For it is in hearing these teachings and doing them that we are like the wise man who built his house on the rock. That house can withstand all manner of attack.

May the Lord bless each of us with such a solid foundation. Amen.

 

1.        Acts 17:24-27

2.        Mt 6:24

3.        Mt 7:7

4.        Mk 10:46-52

5.        Gal 6:9; cf. 2 Cor 4:1, 16; Eph 3:13

6.        Mt 5:1-7:29

7.        Mt 5:3-11

8.        Cf. Mt 20:1-16

9.        1 Cor 14:33

10.     Gen 26:15-21

11.     Gen 26:25

12.     Gen 26:26-33

13.     Mt 5:23, 24

14.     Mt 6:31, 32

15.     1 Pet 2:16

16.     Mt 5:21, 22

17.     Mt 5:3

18.     Mt 5:5

19.     Mt 7:7

20.     Mt 7:13

21.     Mt 7:21

 

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Author: Jason Hsu
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