The Kingdom First Matthew 6:33

But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. - Matthew 6:33

"Seek ye first." It is interesting to note that the word translated "seek" in the text has for one of its meanings, if not for its primary significance, "to beat the covers for birds." It is the sportsman's method of seeking. How does a sportsman seek? Many readers of these words will know from experience what it means in the way of work, even under the most favourable conditions, for a sportsman to fill his bag - how he must be prepared to wade swamps, climb uplands, push through brake and brier, watch, wait, wriggle, and in fact do everything but fail, for no sportsman worthy of the name cares to come back with an empty bag. If, however, he is to succeed, his whole soul must be in his quest. Hand and eye and ear must all be working in concert. For note it is "birds under cover" to which the word relates, and, that being so, the bird is up only for a brief moment, and must be taken as it flies. What a startling suggestion is this - the Kingdom of God like a bird on the wing! It is a passing thing - here now, and to-day within present sight and range; but it is speeding past, and we must take it as it flies lest to-morrow it should be "under cover," and "these things be hid from our eyes."

1. First - that is now, and without further procrastination, if the fresh dawn of existence is no longer mine. It is suicidal to persist through another hour in filching from my soul its proper patrimony. My times are uncertain; my health is brittle; hardening and ossifying influences are incessant in their action; God is free to take His departure. Is it not the folly of follies to stand in jeopardy for one instant more? First - that is, when I rise in the beginning of each day. If I have sought and found the Kingdom's gold and crystal and pearl and gem, let me renew acquaintance with them every morning. To them, and to the Lord who makes and keeps them my own, let me return, when mind is clear and thought is vigorous and weariness is far away. So they will gleam into warmer loveliness and greater worth.

We would fill the hours with the sweetest things
If we had but one day;
We should drink alone at the purest springs
In our upward, way;
We should love with a lifetime's love in an hour
If the hours were few;
We should rest not for dreams, but for fresher power
To be and to do.

We should waste no moments in weak regret
If the day were but one;
If what we remember and what we regret
Went out with the sun;

We should be from our clamorous selves set free
To work and to pray,
And to be what the Father would have us to be,
If we had but a day.1 [Note: Mary Lowe Dickinson.]

2. But to seek the Kingdom first means more than this. It means an act of deliberate preference on the many occasions in life when counter claims come up. Again and again it may be that, in our inner life, in our family life, in our business life, in our public life, there come, and will come, times when the forces of the world, of self, of sense, of earthly affection, of taste, of ambition, pull one way, and the interests of the Kingdom of God the other, and for an hour, a day, a week, a month, perhaps, there is a struggle as to which is to be put first.

The major problem of life is that of its dominant note, its central issue, its great first thing. The one supreme business of living is to get that decisive emphasis on the thing that is first. The supreme tragedy of life comes to the man who gets the major emphasis on something else than the first thing. All life is then out of proportion, all experience a tangle, and all tasks in confusion. There are strong lives that stagger and sink because they have missed the course. There are men of genius who go out in despair because they have put the major emphasis on the wrong thing. It is no more possible to bring strength to a life with a false axis than to keep the solar system in order with some other body than the sun as its centre. Poe and Byron, and Burns and Shelley, and De Quincey and Napoleon, and Nero and Saul were men who got the emphasis in the wrong place, and their splendid lives crashed to inglorious ruin. Lesser men in lesser measure exhibit the same tragedy of misplaced emphasis and disordered lives.

The sister of Nietzsche tells us that, when the thinker was a little boy, he and she once decided to take each of them a toy to give to the Moravian Sisters in support of their missionary enterprise. They carefully chose their toys and duly carried them to the Sisters. But when they returned Nietzsche was restless and unhappy. His sister asked what ailed him. "I have done a very wicked thing," the boy answered. "My fine box of cavalry is my favourite toy and my best: I should have taken that!" "But do you think," his sister asked, "do you think God always wants our best?" "Yes," replied the young philosopher, "always, always!" The lad was then, at least, following a true instinct. Professor William James, in his Lecture to Teachers on "The Stream of Consciousness," says that every object is either "focal" or "marginal" in the mind. That represents with psychological precision the difference between the sanctities of life as they appeared to my Syrian bushman [who made a god out of only "the residue" of the tree he had felled] and the sanctities of life as they appeared to the boy philosopher. In the one case they were merely marginal; in the other they were grandly focal. Surely, if they have a place at all, they should be in the very centre of the field - regal, transcendent, sublime. The whole matter is summed up there.1 [Note: F. W. Boreham, Mountains in the Mist, 66.]

3. Of course the ideals of Christ and the world are not opposed as good and bad, or as right and wrong, but as first and second. It is a total misapprehension of our Lord's words to say that He forbids His followers to think of getting the wealth of the world, or of securing "what they shall eat and drink or wherewithal they shall be clothed." Men's fault and folly lie in seeking them as if they were primary and essential; in making them the treasures of the soul; in thinking of them with anxious and absorbing care, as if they supplied the supreme need of life. The Kingdom of God is not set in opposition to the things of the world for which men seek; it is set above them. It belongs to a realm that is higher than the physical and the material. It has to do with the essential life of man - a life that is more than existence, more than meat, more than riches. Man is a child of earth and time, but he is also a child of God - a spiritual being, made in His image, with power to think His thoughts and live in fellowship with Him. All thought and effort which are dominated by a lower conception of man's nature are misdirected. They leave him unsatisfied and undeveloped. The riddle of our life is never solved until we say, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

It is as if a company of sculptors should spend all their time and effort providing pedestals, - some able to get only rough boulders from the wayside, others polishing and finishing fine shafts of purest marble, - but nobody thinking of carving a statue to set thereon. Or as if a company of painters busied themselves exclusively with finding and stretching their canvases, some getting only coarse sacking, others silks of the finest web, - but nobody ever painted a picture. Now Jesus is saying here, "Don't bother so much about the pedestals and the canvases. They are absolutely insignificant beside the statues and the pictures. These are the paramount concern." The roughest boulder that carries a noble statue is better than the finest shaft of polished marble that carries nothing. The coarsest sacking upon which some rude but great etching has been sketched is better than the most delicate silk which is absolutely blank. So the meagrest living upon which a life of human service and spiritual significance is built is infinitely better than the most luxurious existence which but cumbers the ground with its purposeless and useless occupancy of space and time.1 [Note: C. D. Williams, A Valid Christianity for To-Day, 281.]

4. Jesus is asking men to do what He did Himself. He knew the numberless spiritual perils of poverty. He suffered hunger, and had power to make the stones of the wilderness bread. But to use His power in that way would have shown that He put self before God, and the satisfying of hunger before the interests of His Kingdom. He saw that "life is more than meat," that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." He set the Kingdom first, and the angels ministered unto Him. Because He was tempted thus He is able to succour those who are tempted by the same pressure of need. It is in divinest pity that He says to the poor, "Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." He knew the tragedies of the souls of men, knew how the soul could be lost in the strong and urgent pressure of the demands of the body. Therefore He spoke so convincingly and so persuasively of the Heavenly Father's care, and gave the great assurance of His loving watchfulness. To Him man is dearer than to himself. He bids men trust God to provide what they need for the body, and give their anxiety and strength to the doing of His will. God will not deny Himself. Faithfulness on our part will be answered by faithfulness on His. His name has ever been "Jehovah-jireh": "The Lord will provide." If men seek first the Kingdom of God, He will not fail to add "all these things."

Trust in God, an unshaken confidence in God, which is never dismayed at the changes or surprises of life - he who has this faith will not be distracted by anxious care concerning the things of this life. He will make God the supreme object of his choice and service, will seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, confident that the Father, who knows all his needs, will confer the minor benefits. This confidence that God will approve and bless us in all our life if we seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, and seek all other things second, is the faith which "removes mountains" (Mar 11:23); it is adequate to the greatest difficulties and perplexities of life. It steadies, strengthens, and unifies all our efforts, preventing us from wasting our energies by dividing life between two inconsistent objects, and from wearing our hearts out by corroding cares, needless anxieties, and unbelieving fears. There can be no doubt that Jesus would include this concentration of life upon spiritual good and the trustful spirit which it inspires, in that love to God which comprises all forms of service which we can render to Him.1 [Note: G. B. Stevens, Theology of the New Testament, 110.] 

to be continued