“But seek firs the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”—Matt. 6:33; NKJV
As we look forward to the coming year it is natural to ask ourselves what we hope to accomplish during that year. And that, in turn, suggests a couple of deeper questions. What exactly are our priorities in life? What are we, in fact, living for?
For most people the answer is likely to be their personal ease and comfort – good health, happy relationships, economic success. For some it may be personal ambition — success in business, sports, entertainment or politics. And for some it might even be something cruder – a life a sex, alcohol, drugs or crime.
But for what should we as Christians be aiming? Jesus stated it very succinctly in His Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .” But what does that mean in actual practice?
We ask firs, what does it mean to “seek the kingdom of God”? What is “the kingdom of God”? The phrase harks back to certain prophecies in the Old Testament Book of Daniel in particular. On various occasions Daniel prophesied about a succession of human empires which would be followed by a divine kingdom that would last forever. When John the Baptist, then, and after him Jesus, began their public ministries, what they proclaimed was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Much of the Sermon on the Mount, then, is an elaboration on that message; and at one point Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), and that our prayer should be, “Our Father in heaven, / Hallowed by Your name. / Your kingdom come. / Your will be done / On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9,10). Our eternal destiny, then, as well as that of others, should be our overriding concern. This means a life of nonconformity to the surrounding society, as well as the proclamation of the gospel.
There are, however, certain obstacles that stand in the way, and Jesus discusses them in Matt. 6:19-34. The first of these is the snare of materialism. Jesus is quite blunt about this: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24 – “Mammon” is the Aramaic word for “riches,” here used as a personification as a deity). The plain fact of the matter is that one cannot be both earthly minded and heavenly minded at the same time. Your attention is fixed on either one or the other. Those who are preoccupied with success in this life inevitably lose their interest in spiritual things.
But ironically the same thing is true if we are lacking money as well, for here again we are preoccupied with our temporal, physical circumstances. And so Jesus goes on to say, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (v. 25). Jesus goes on to point out that “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (v. 32).
It is in this context then, that Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (v. 33). Here we are given a promise – that if we keep our priorities straight, that if we put God first in our lives, that He will provide for our physical needs – food, clothing, shelter. But the command requires faith – faith that God exists, that God is in control, that He genuinely cares for us. The challenge to faith is that we cannot see that immediately. We cannot actually see God, and we cannot always see Him working in our lives. But we must step out in faith first, and then God promises to provide.
Our first priority for the coming year, then, must be God’s glory, the advancement of His kingdom, and the salvation of the lost. A significant portion of our time, energy and money must be directed toward these goals. If God is our Creator, if Christ is our Lord and Savior, then we owe everything to Them, and we should be living for Them.
The major question facing us at the start of the new year, then, is what can we do to serve Christ?