“Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” Matthew 6:33, is one of the most famous verses in the Sermon on the Mount, which spans from chapter five to chapter seven. Its context, Matthew 6:25-34, reveals much about the nature of the verse: the heavenly Father feeds the sparrows and cares for the lilies in the field, so why be anxious about our lives?
At first glance, it looks like Jesus is giving us some fairly basic encouragement: God will provide our needs. But when one looks a little closer, it’s evident that there is so much more going on here.
25 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? 26 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? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
The Cares of Life
The first and last verses serve as the lid and the bottom for the passage; they both carry a similar idea: in verse 25, “Take no thought for your life”; in verse 34, “take no thought for tomorrow.”
The King James translation is a bit too strong here. The idea is more like “Do not be anxious about your life” (v.25). “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” (v.34). Philippians 4:6 carries the same idea when it says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”
Jesus’ message is not primarily about looking to God as our provider; it is about rising above the anxieties of life so that we are kingdom-focused.
Jesus was talking to a crowd that was likely very poor, so a lack of food and clothing was a major source of anxiety. They didn’t have Goodwill or the county food bank. Thus, Jesus encouraged them to trust God as their Provider. That message still applies: those who follow Jesus may lose material possessions, but God will provide their needs.
However, Jesus makes it clear in verse 34 that his words against worry apply to more than just bare necessities; they apply to all of the worries of life: he says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow…Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
You probably aren’t worried about what you will wear or what you will eat. But you are probably worried about something that tomorrow brings. Jesus said, “Don’t worry.”
If anyone has ever told you “don’t worry” or “calm down,” you know that it’s easier said than done. Life is full of anxieties. These anxieties vary from age to age.
For older people…
“How will I pay for my insulin?”
“How will I make it up the steps if my back keeps getting worse?”
“How will my family afford my funeral costs?”
For middle-aged people or young married couples…
“How will I pay my income tax?”
“What if my children don’t serve the Lord?
“How will I ever meet these work deadlines?”
“What if my car stops running?”
“What’s wrong with my marriage?”
“What if my spouse passes away? Who will care for my children?”
Of course, teenagers have their fair share of stresses, too…
“Where will I go to college?”
“Where will I get my first job?”
“Will I pass the job interview?”
“Will I play on varsity?”
“What if I never get married?”
“What if I’m alone for the rest of my life?”
“Why don’t I have any friends?”
“What if I bomb the SATs?”
Stress at school. Stress at work. Stress in sports. Stress in relationships. Financial stress. Stress from emotional trauma, like the death of a loved one. Stress from a serious medical illness. Stress as the side effect of medication. The stresses of life can feel like an unending swarm of bees buzzing around in our head. Even if we swat away one of the bees, another one comes back to bug us.
Missing the Point of Life
This is what Jesus is warning against. When the anxieties of life consume our thoughts and our activities from day to day, we are missing the point of life. Jesus said in verse 25, “is not life more than food and clothing?” Is not life more than hard work and fulfilling responsibilities?
Some of us are like the priest or the Levite, who scurry past the person in need because of our duties. Too busy to help a neighbor. Too busy to read our Bibles today. Too busy to witness. Too busy for church. Too busy to pray. Too busy for family devotions. Too caught up in the whirlwind of day-to-day living to give attention to our inner spiritual lives. The bottom line is, we are too busy for God. We are too busy because we have not taken Jesus’ words seriously: “Do not be anxious about your life.” Our minds are too wrapped up in earthly things.
We are too busy for God.
Anxiety is like a big, green, hungry monster that is never satisfied. An anxious person is a slave to his anxieties. Until we break free, we will always have something to do and somewhere to go. We will always be in a hurry. The cares of life will rob our joy. Matthew Henry contended, “There is scarcely any sin against which our Lord Jesus more warns his disciples, than disquieting, distracting, distrustful cares about the things of this life.”
Pressing Through the Distractions
Of course, Jesus wasn’t just scolding people for being anxious. He didn’t just tell them what not to do. He told them how to turn the ship around: “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” Romans 14:17 says, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” To seek the kingdom means to go deeper in our salvation experience. What joy!
We are to seek a deeper life in the Spirit — the kind of life that leads to abiding joy and a reassuring peace with God and man. Ellicott says that by “seek first the kingdom,” Jesus means that we are to seek “the higher spiritual life in its completeness.” If we are focused on seeking the kingdom, we will not be overwhelmed by the cares of life. We must press through the distractions and lay hold of Christ.
Seeking first the Kingdom starts on our knees as we pray and seek God with our whole hearts. Only when we discover that Christ is wonderful and all-satisfying are we able to make the kind of sacrifices that are necessary to live a life of radical joy. Only when we catch a glimpse of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) are we able to transcend mundane, earthly matters and “take no thought for the morrow.”
We must seek “the higher spiritual life in its completeness.” (Ellicott)
The Life of a Kingdom Seeker
A seeker of God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness knows that everything else must be second. A seeker gets his priorities straight. He recognizes that his to-do list will never be finished and that his God refuses to come after anything.
Paul illustrates this beautifully in 1 Corinthians 7. He says,
Let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealing with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. … I say this…to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Marriage, grief, happy times, job situations, and other life circumstances, however good or bad, should not distract us from Christ. Marriage is good, but marriage is full of anxieties; we cannot allow it to distract us from our devotion to the Lord. Work is good—it’s God’s idea—but it is full of anxieties. We cannot allow work to consume our focus at the expense of spiritual matters. School is good and knowledge is beneficial, but we should not allow a high school, college, or grad school education to distract us from seeking first his kingdom.
Trust, The Sustaining Key
This kind of life requires unwavering dependence on God. Following Jesus in our marriage, job, or school, may mean significant changes to our lives. We may wonder how we will endure the change. This is why Jesus spends much of the passage reassuring us, “If you focus on seeking me, I will take care of the rest. I feed the birds of the sky. I clothe the grass of the fields, where the lilies neither toil nor spin. Do you think that I will not sustain you if you follow me?”
We shouldn’t be surprised at how few young people attend Bible college or study for the ministry if we constantly talk about how expensive things are and how hard it is to make a living in this world.
Do you have faith in his promise? If God led you to quit a well-paying job that is compromising your spiritual life, would you obey him? If God asked you to go to a different college, would you follow him? If God asked you to set aside your career path and enter the ministry, would you obey?
When Jesus warns us against anxiety and distraction, he confronts head-on our desire for security. We shouldn’t be surprised at how few young people attend Bible college or study for the ministry if we constantly talk about how expensive things are and how hard it is to make a living in this world.
Radical devotion to the Kingdom requires radical trust. Philippians 4:6-8 says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It’s often been said that some people are so spiritually minded that they are of no earthly good. In fact, the opposite is true: if more people were spiritually minded, they would actually be of some earthly good. Jesus was the most spiritually minded, singly-focused, Kingdom-oriented person that ever lived. He worried not for tomorrow — only how to do the Father’s will.
Are we distracted and anxious? Or are we true Kingdom-seekers?