The Bible really does say, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). In fact, Jesus himself said it. It’s in red letters. What in the world does this mean? I might better frame the question: what does it mean in this world? What does it look like down here on the ground? What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God first? If we could adequately understand and consistently do this “seeking first”, what “things” would be added to us?
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like we just pull Scriptures like this out of what Tim Keller calls our “blessing boxes” and quote them, without truly understanding Jesus’ meaning, intent, or context. Doesn’t the apparent bigness of Jesus’ declaration warrant some deeper digging, contemplation and application? The problem is that if we take it seriously and begin living as though it is true, it just might cost us something.
At this moment in my walk with the Lord, I am hedged in by this saying of Jesus on one side and by another passage by the Apostle Paul (that I’ll share in a minute) on the other. I won’t claim to have full revelation, but I have a few clues. I believe seeking his kingdom first means that Jesus is not only Savior but Lord. He’s the King of the kingdom, deserving both our wholehearted devotion and our deepest respect. It means we seek to carry out his agendas in our lives, and not our own. It means we don’t have the privilege of picking and choosing the sayings of Jesus that make us feel good and rejecting the ones that make us uncomfortable. It means that as disciples we willingly lay aside all purposes or causes that are contrary to his righteousness. It means that the distorted ethics of this “present evil age” (Gal 1:4) do not guide or interest us, because only the transformative gospel (as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere) is adequate to motivate our hearts and our actions.
This becomes costly when we realize are not to wait for the lost, lonely, and needy to come to us. We are to go out and find them, loving “the least of these” as though we are doing it for him (Matt 25). This is the priority of the kingdom of God.
If we give these things priority, what does he add? All that our bodies and souls need. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs—food, clothing, shelter, safety, belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization. Theoretically, we’ve been taught to satisfy our most basic physical and safety needs first. But in God’s kingdom, we pursue first the point at the top of the pyramid, his perfect will, and the rest of the pyramid stacks up and fills out just fine. There is no lack in the realm of body and soul when we give up pursuit of self for something better and higher. Yes, this is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, but that is why I’m convinced it is right. The hierarchy gets turned on its point. Resting upon the kingdom of God and his righteousness, everything else trickles down from there.
The second Scripture I mentioned that hedges me in is Paul’s declaration in Philippians 3 that his credentials, heritage and spiritual pedigree is no more than a pile of poop compared to the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. Really, Paul? Didn’t you work hard to become a Pharisee, with all the status and influence that brings? Are you saying that it doesn’t matter where we come from, how we’re educated, or who sees us as important? Aren’t we supposed to work hard, gain knowledge and experience, to become ‘successful’ people?
I think he might answer that it’s not by definition wrong to be successful in the world. But we can’t ever lose sight of the vast gap between what is possible to achieve in our own abilities, and the perfect righteousness of the Savior and King of the universe.
What I’ve realized is that I might say that I consider all of my accomplishments rubbish in comparison with his kingdom and his righteousness, because it sounds very pious. But if I’m honest about it, I’m not there yet. I confess that I still need to be delivered from my addiction to the approval and affirmation of people. It doesn’t have the same pull on me that it used to, but the traces of it are still there.
My intention and desire is to seek him first in all things and to keep a clear spiritual perspective on how my performance stacks up against his standard of righteousness. Are you with me? I hope so, because I’ll take all the fellow travelers I can get. We can be greatly comforted by his constant presence as we undertake what Eugene Peterson calls this “long obedience in the same direction.” First things first…..