The Kingdom Of God Matthew 6:33

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

Every man who would make life a success must have something that is always first for him. Now Jesus declared that the great first thing of life is the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. "Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness."

1. The Kingdom of God and His righteousness is one of the key-phrases of the gospel, and it is freely employed in many connexions. Christ takes it from the common stock of political phraseology, from which the men of His nation clothed their aspirations. In a theocracy the State adopts the language of the Church and advances identical claims. "The Kingdom of God," as the formula of Messianic politics, meant no more than a mere project of nationalist triumph. But Christ, in adopting the phrase, purged it of secularism, exalted it from the plane of politics to that of morals, and enlarged it until all the drama of human life could be gathered within its meaning. It stood for loyalty to the higher self, obedience to the Divine monitions of conscience, the pursuit of righteous ends, the self-dedication to spiritual service, the sustained crusade against evil within and without the man himself. Christ tells us that there is a true order of human endeavour, and that when that order is followed all the lesser concerns of human life find sufficient and unfailing guarantee. Make these your principal concern, and you lose the summum bonum itself, and do not even secure them. "Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." He unrolls before us no alluring picture of reward, no Muhammadan Paradise of feasting and pleasure, but He tells us that we are the sons of the Most High, and bids us live as such.

Nor sang he only of unfading bowers,
Where they a tearless, painless age fulfil,
In fields Elysian spending blissful hours,
Remote from every ill;
But of pure gladness found in temperance high,
In duty owned, and reverenced with awe,
Of man's true freedom, which may only lie
In servitude to law.

2. The Kingdom of God which we are to seek is a great ideal, under which all lesser aims must find their place; it provides us with a great end of all action to which the plans and purposes of our daily lives are but means; it informs our lives with a great principle by which all our acts are co-ordinated and to which they are relative. The word "kingdom" speaks of something wide, all-embracing, manifold, but with all its manifoldness made one by law, which impresses upon all its diverse elements the unity of one will, one purpose, one destiny. We are too apt to speak of an ideal as something wholly unattainable, and to excuse ourselves for not living the ideal life by saying that it is ideal; that is not the sense in which our Lord speaks of the Kingdom of God. It is rather an ideal to be realized in every act, and therefore within our reach at every moment; imperfect as we are, it is to be embodied in us, and made visible to the world through our lives. To seek for the material objects, the subordinate aims of life first, before this ideal is apprehended, is to invert the order in which God would have us live; to immerse ourselves in details, without constant reference to the ideal, is to break up our lives, our characters, our institutions, into incoherent fragments devoid of all unity. The details are not indeed unimportant, but they are important only in relation to the ideal, which gives to them all their beauty, all their excellence. Without it they are but as the random streaks of colour on a painter's palette; with it, and in due subordination to it, they are as the various brush-strokes which gradually realize on the canvas the one purpose of the painter's mind. "All these things," these lesser objects, these fragmentary aims, these partial goods, shall be not theirs who strive for them alone, but theirs who seek first the ideal, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

In all ages men have dreamed of isles of the blessed and Elysian fields. Some have dreamed of Utopias in this world. But in all these dreams only externals have been considered. Pindar sings:

For them the night all through,
In that broad realm below,
The splendour of the sun spreads endless light;
'Mid rosy meadows bright …
There with horses and with play
With games and lyres they while the hours away.

And Plato in his ideal republic, and modern dreamers, plan only for an equitable distribution of property and the elimination of poverty, that should accompany the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. But the first characteristic of the Kingdom of Heaven is that it is inward. Facts prove that men can be rich and educated and yet vile. Nations have been prosperous and cultured, but rotted away because of their sin. The Kingdom of Heaven is in the heart of men. St. Paul said, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."1 [Note: H. K. Ebright.]

3. The "Kingdom of God," to use Bishop Gore's terse and pregnant definition, is, "human society as organized according to the will of God," just as "the world" of the New Testament is "human society as organized apart from the will of God." It means the will of the Father-king "done in earth, as it is in heaven." Now to take up our ordinary daily work, whatever it be, as a ministry of human service fitting into the great plan of God for a redeemed universe, and to do it to that end, to set that high purpose and ideal over it all and be absolutely faithful to that, cost what it may of success or gain, whether in the form of wages or profits, to eliminate the mercenary motive and substitute that spiritual purpose - that is to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in our common occupations.

The Kingdom of God is an empire with three provinces. One province is a man's own heart, when the throne of Christ is once really set up in it. Another province is the Church as it is established upon the earth. And another is that final and magnificent condition of all things, when Christ shall come and reign in His glory. There are, then, before every one these three great primary objects: the first is to have the whole of one's own heart in subjugation to God; the second is to extend the Church; and the third is to long and pray for, and help on, the Second Coming of Christ. If we have begun to make the Kingdom of God our great object, then our first desire is that Christ may have His proper place in our hearts. Our great longing is after holiness. We are more anxious about our holiness than we are about our happiness. And then every day we are trying to make some one happier and better. We have in our circles inner ones and outer ones. We do not neglect the nearer for the sake of the farther one; but yet we do not so confine ourselves to that which is close that we do nothing for that which is far off. But we love the Church, the whole Church of Christ; we are trying to increase the Church of Christ; we go about with a missionary spirit. And, further, our eye is looking for the coming of Jesus. It is a happy thought to us every day, "Now the coming of Jesus is nearer than it was yesterday," because it is to us no fear; we are not watching against it, we are watching for it; it is the climax of all pleasant things to us.

The return of Christ in bodily form to reign over His faithful ones, their own bodies rescued from death and the grave, is the aim and goal of our exultant hope. For that return His early followers eagerly waited. And their eager hope suggested that perhaps they might hear His voice and see His face without passing under the dark shadow of death. That expectation was not fulfilled. And we cannot share it. But, long as the time seems, that day will come. Had we witnessed the creation of matter, and known that long ages were predestined to elapse before rational man would stand on the earth, our expectation would have wearied at the long delay. But those long ages rolled by; and for thousands of years our planet has teemed with rational life. So will pass by whatever ages remain before our Lord's return. Many reasons suggest that, though not close at hand, it cannot be very long delayed. Doubtless we shall lay us down for our last sleep. But in our sleep we shall be with Him. And when the morning dawns we shall wake up in the splendour of the rising Sun.

Yes, I come quickly.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.1 [Note: J. Agar Beet, The Last Things, 112.]

4. Thus the Kingdom is both individual and social. It begins with the individual indeed; it can do nothing unless it transforms the springs of action within him. But it does not end with the individual. It proposes to regenerate society also, and so to renew both that every individual act and every social agency shall be in harmony with the original ideal of God. Its Founder in His humility declared the Kingdom of God to be like leaven which rests not till it pervades and restores the mass unto itself. And when He sat upon His throne, He said, "Behold, I make all things new."

The Kingdom of Heaven does not mean the kingdom in heaven. The phrase describes the Kingdom's temper and quality, not its locality. It is a term spiritual, and not geographical. John Bunyan had a wonderful vision of spiritual experience in Bedford gaol. It is accurate enough so long as you make it subjective. A man ought to escape from spiritual pest-holes, and struggle out of spiritual despondency, and get the burden of his sin loosened from the shoulders of his soul, and vigorously climb hills of difficulty, and valiantly fight the devil, and get mountain-top visions of the Glory Land, before he gets to the Celestial City. But if you forget that these are interior experiences that the great spiritual dramatist is describing, and make them instead a picture of a man's actual attitude towards the world, then the pilgrim's achievement ceases to be a spiritual exercise and becomes a terribly selfish performance. For the thing that is true about the man who really seeks the Kingdom where it ought to exist - that is, on earth - is that he will not run away from the city of destruction, but do his best to make it a city of God; will not calmly desert wife and family to get personal spiritual treasure; and will not be carelessly indifferent to his companions on his trip because they are not of his sort. And if he comes to a slough of despond, he will try to drain the swamp instead of merely floundering in and floundering out again; and when he escapes from the castle of the Giant Despair, he will bombard the castle and do his best to make an end of the giant for the sake of other poor pilgrims. His business is not to get to the City Celestial as soon as possible, but to bring celestial atmosphere and celestial splendour into all the regions through which he moves.1 [Note: W. MacMullen.]

5. Our Lord adds, "and his righteousness." What does He mean? There is a righteousness such as that in which man was originally made upright; there is a righteousness which is a part of the character of God; and there is a righteousness composed of all the perfections of the life of Christ. These three righteousnesses are all one. Now, this triple righteousness is what every good man is "seeking" after: first, something which will justify him before God, and then something which will justify him to his own conscience, and to the world, in believing that he is justified before God. And where shall a man find his justification before God but in faith in Jesus Christ? And where shall a man find the justification of his faith and hope that he is justified, but in the justification of his own good works which he is doing every day? To those, then, that "seek" these two things - "the kingdom" and "the righteousness" - the promise belongs.

Righteousness, as it was understood and taught by Christ, includes the two things which we often distinguish as religion and morality. It is right-doing, not only as between man and man, but as between man and God. The Lawgiver of the New Testament, like the lawgiver of the Old, has given to us two tables of stone. On the one He has written, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind"; and on the other, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." In these two commandments the whole law is summed up, the whole duty of man is made known.1 [Note: G. Jackson, The Teaching of Jesus, 129.]

6. God's righteousness is itself the very spirit of His own Kingdom. Christ does not here tell us merely to seek righteousness, though elsewhere we are thus bidden; but to seek God's righteousness. Any righteousness which is of our own making, which we try to gain by standing aloof from Him, is worth nothing at all. His righteousness does not merely mean righteousness like His, but His own very righteousness. We must receive Himself into our hearts, and then His righteousness will spring up within us and overflow all our doings.

And we receive God into our hearts by receiving Christ. Christ is all His followers are to be; in Him the righteousness of the Kingdom is incarnate. From henceforth the righteous man is the Christ-like man. The standard of human life is no longer a code but a character; for the gospel does not put us into subjection to fresh laws; it calls us to "the study of a living Person, and the following of a living Mind." And when to Jesus we bring the old question, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" He does not now repeat the commandments, but He says, "If thou wouldst be perfect, follow Me, learn of Me, do as I have done to you, love as I have loved you."

"Unselfed and inchristed" is the phrase that has been employed to set forth the great transaction of spiritual renewal; and observe how the Apostle encourages us to serve a writ of ejection on the old tenant, our evil self, and to bring in a new occupant of the premises: "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; … and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." No betterment or reformation of the depraved tenant, who is also in hopeless arrears with his landlord, but a peremptory order to move out! Moreover, the Christian is considered to have done this very thing - evicted his former self, and set its goods and chattels out upon the sidewalk. "Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." So vividly and strongly did this conception take hold of Martin Luther that he used to say, "When any one comes and knocks at the door of my heart and asks, ‘Who lives here?' I reply, ‘Martin Luther used to, but he has moved out, and Jesus Christ now lives here.' "1 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 100.] 


to be continued