What the Bible says about
Seeking First Kingdom of God
(From Forerunner Commentary)
"Lot lingered." This statement does not describe his whole life, of course, but it seems to catch the essence of a dominant characteristic. He was not really focused on the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). Lot was not focused as his uncle, Abraham, was. If a person who was truly focused on the Kingdom of God yet who lived in Sodom had two angels come to saying, "Get out!" would he flee or would he linger? This tells us something about Lot: He was a man who was distracted by other interests that caught his eye and thus his attention.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 3)
There is only one "end" no matter how many "ways" that man might take. There is an American way, a Japanese way, and a German way. There can be family ways. People can walk all kinds of ways, but there is an end to all of them, and that is "the way of death."
In his ignorance and presumptuousness, mankind has thought that any old way will do. What God wants us to understand is that may be true, but it all depends on what we want to produce at the end. What do we want to produce at the end of our lives? If we want to produce the same things that God wants to produce, then we will walk, conduct our lives, a certain way. And that way, of course, is the way of God.
Thus, in this verse, He is giving us an overview of life. The conclusion He wants us to take from it is that we should have a long-range view of life; He wants us to understand and conduct our lives according to this principle: It is what happens at the end that counts.
Present appearances can be deceiving. There are people who may look good, respectable, discreet, and civil. Then there are others who do not look so credible. Yet, in the end, the ones who are not currently respectable may turn out to be the ones who have eternal life, whereas the ones who appear good and civil may be the ones who end up failing.
If we had looked at Solomon at the beginning of his relationship with God and then at someone thought to be a harlot (like the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with precious oil), on the surface who would we think had the better chance? Present appearances are deceiving. God says to aim for the end. "Seek first the Kingdom of God" is the unspoken directive here.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus informs us what our primary focus regarding work should be:
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Undoubtedly, earning a living is important to life. However, we can easily drift into over-emphasizing the day-to-day, wage-earning job above Christian responsibilities. At the same time, the Kingdom of God can easily suffer from the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. To guard against this happening, we must consciously put God's Word and work as our highest priorities. This is not to say that Christian works should be given the greater time but that we must have a higher regard for them. We must consider it an absolute necessity not to neglect them.
Work is defined as “the physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of a project one has either been assigned or undertaken on his own volition.” God, in whose image we are being created, is our overall Model. The first image God gives mankind of Himself is of Him working.
Genesis 1:26 establishes the early time-setting when work was shown as an assigned responsibility of mankind:
Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Most of the Bible's first two chapters are comprised of showing God working. In our culture, people generally think that as one rises in importance, he is relieved of most work, a flawed concept to say the least. In His culture, nobody is higher than God, and in John 5:17, Jesus states that God works continually. Genesis 1 and 2 provide as clear an example of His activity as is found in Scripture.
Hebrews 1:3 further clarifies the Creator's continuous work:
. . . who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty.
His “upholding” indicates continuous, purposeful, and energetic movement toward carrying out a purpose.
Genesis 2:15 adds to our understanding of God as our Model of work and of work being an assigned responsibility: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” If we follow the orderly, step-by-step sequence of events as God creates, He did not create Adam and Eve until everything physically necessary for living was in place and operational. The narrative shows that He led them to the Garden, and His first command to mankind, represented by them, lets them know that they had to work to guard the Garden from deteriorating and to make it productive.
Note three significant things from this opening revelation about work:
1) God gives no indication to man that he is entitled to something for nothing.
2) The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin, so we must understand that work is not a penalty for sin. Genesis 3:17-19, God's pronouncement of Adam's curse, makes this point plain:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
The curses for their sin definitely made work more difficult, but the responsibility to work continued otherwise unchanged.
3) Therefore, Ecclesiastes 2:24 highlights God's original command regarding work: “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.” Thus, work is a blessing, a valuable gift from God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works
Even when Satan says truth, even when he quotes Scripture, he puts a perverse twist to it. How did our Lord fight Satan? With truth! That is how one defeats Satan: being confident that Jesus Christ has already secured the victory and that God has put a hedge around us so that we will not fall into a situation confronting Satan that is beyond us, and being absolutely reliant upon the truth of God! Even though we may not be able to see how it is worked out, even though we may feel that following the truth of God is going to require a considerable sacrifice on our part, we have the example of Jesus Himself fighting Satan by relying upon the truth of God. He trusted what God said.
One might wonder why Satan used "if." He did not use "if" to get Jesus to doubt His Sonship. Jesus knew who He was. Rather, he was trying to get Him to reflect on the meaning of "if." Satan seems to be saying, "Surely, if You are the Son of God, You have the right to expect Your needs at the moment to be satisfied."
Jesus did not fall for it. As hungry as He was, He knew it was a trap. He knew He did not have to be concerned about supplying His material needs because God would do it for Him. Did He not later say, "If God so feeds the birds of the field"?
This was a temptation for Christ to use His Sonship in a way other than its God-ordained purpose. What is the God-ordained purpose of our calling? "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). That is the truth of God. God will supply what we need. So Jesus' answer was, "Thank you, but I'll just wait for God to supply My need."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 5)
At first, the question "What is righteousness?" may seem like a "no-brainer" because we know it means "rectitude," or more simply, "right doing." By quoting Psalm 119:172, "All Your commandments are righteousness," we feel equipped with a direct biblical definition of this important biblical concept. None of these is wrong, but the Bible's use of "righteousness" is both specific and broad—so broad that in some places it is treated as a synonym of salvation itself (Isaiah 45:8; 46:12-13; 51:5; 56:1; 61:10).
Though the Bible uses "righteousness" so broadly, its comparison with "salvation" does not help us much in understanding it because "salvation" is one of the Bible's most comprehensive terms. Since none of us has fully experienced salvation, we look through a glass darkly trying to comprehend it.
Righteousness is used in a similar sense in the very familiar passage given in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus commanded, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Here it has the sense of seeking all of God's spiritual blessings, favor, image, and rewards. We see in this verse not only a broad New Testament application of the term but also, more importantly, its priority to life. This dovetails perfectly with the hunger-and-thirst metaphor. It is not enough to ambitiously yearn to accomplish. According to Jesus, God's Kingdom and His righteousness are the very top priorities in all of life. Seeking God's righteousness is that important.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness
Jesus urges single-mindedness! The teaching here involves simplicity of intention in living one's life. In light of verse Matthew 6:33, verse 24 shows we must focus our attention on our highest priority. When that is done, it indicates devotion to purpose and undivided loyalty to the object of that purpose.
In geometry, it is impossible to draw more than one straight line between two points. Though other lines may start at the same point, only one will reach the second point. All others end up somewhere else. Likewise, a person who tries to focus on several goals at once has no clear orientation, and he will wind up elsewhere.
Some commentaries note that the ancients believed that light entered a person through the eyes, the "windows" of the body. If the eyes were in good condition, the whole body benefited from the unimpeded light. If the eye were not sound or "single," the whole body's effectiveness was diminished. Thus a person who single-mindedly pursues God's Kingdom and His righteousness will have moral healthiness and simple, unaffected goodness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Simplify Your Life!
Here the term righteousness has the sense of seeking all of God's spiritual blessings, favor, image, and rewards. We see in this verse not only a broad New Testament application of the term but also, more importantly, its priority to life. This dovetails perfectly with the hunger-and-thirst metaphor in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:6). It is not enough to ambitiously yearn to accomplish. According to Jesus, God's Kingdom and His righteousness are the very top priorities in all of life. Seeking God's righteousness is that important.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness
What do we actually do to "seek first the Kingdom of God"? How do we in our daily actions put God first? How do we take Christ's abstract statement and turn it into concrete steps that we can employ in our lives? One answer is Luke 21:36. Seeking God—is the solution to all our problems. Luke 21:36 gives us the first step in implementing that solution—praying always. This is a foundation on which to build eternal life.
By being in conscious and constant communication, we are acknowledging God. We are bringing Him into the picture, obeying Matthew 6:33 by seeking Him first. When we do that, we create the opportunity to put some interesting dynamics into action that will facilitate overcoming.
Could we have any better companion than God? With no other could we possibly find better fellowship. God designed prayer to be an act by a free-moral agent who consciously chooses to be with Him to develop their relationship. When we pray, we acknowledge that we are in the presence of God, giving Him the opportunity to rub off on us, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).
When person A rubs off on person B, it implies that B becomes a little more like A—he begins to take on the other's characteristics. The same holds true with the relationship between God and us. Who has the easier time dealing with temptation—God or us? Of course, God does (James 1:13)! It follows, then, that if the more God rubs off on us, the more we become like Him—the more successful our battle against temptation becomes. The more God rubs off on us, the more the battle becomes God's, not ours.
To have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God, we have to be aware of the reality that we are always in His presence; He is "a God near at hand" (Jeremiah 23:23). Because God has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and since we are the Temple where His Spirit dwells (I Corinthians 3:16), God is constantly with us. For His children, the question is never whether He is present, but whether we acknowledge His presence. Praying always accomplishes this.
If being in the presence of a friend of fine character improves us on a human level (Proverbs 13:20), how much more true is this when we are in the presence of God Himself, the very definition of character and wisdom? That is how He can rub off on us: We are with Him, in His fellowship, in His presence, through prayer. When it comes to His children, He is never way off somewhere, if we would but acknowledge this fact.
God designed human beings to adapt to their environment. Before conversion, this world and its influences were molding us into an anti-God form. Acknowledging God's presence is the antidote that counteracts the influence under which we have lived since birth.
God's calling is an invitation to fellowship with Him, and getting to know Him is our salvation (John 17:3). If this is so, then the means—prayer—is a vital part of the foundation on which we need to build. That is the message of Luke 21:36. Praying always leads to overcoming, and both will lead to an escape from God's wrath and fellowship with Christ on into God's Kingdom.
Notice another illustration of the power of presence. What happens to us when we are around people who are pessimistic, angry, fearful, whining? Compare that to our reaction when around those who are positive and enthusiastic, facing life with gentle humor, determination, and energy. The former can quickly drain and depress us, while the latter can energize and enthuse us. In these situations, a literal transference of a spiritual attitude takes place. However, as we increase our physical distance from either of these examples, their power to influence erodes.
What happens on the human plane is no different from what happens spiritually. The spirit—good or bad—of people radiates out from them. It can affect, even change our spirit. Likewise, Satan's spirit permeates our environment, influencing us unless we choose to counteract it.
That choice is praying at every opportunity, willingly submitting ourselves to the persuasion of the most positive, righteous, and unchanging attitudes that exist in the entire universe! This is why after prayer, after spending time in the presence of God, people can feel peace, joy, or confidence. On the other hand, they can also feel humbled and chastened because God has led them to remorse and repentance. Prayer changes things—us.
Praying Always (Part Four)
Our Savior is trying to explain the relative values of our physical lives and what we can humanly accomplish to what awaits us in what is commonly called the afterlife. In short, there is no comparison!
Notice the Bible's consistency on the value of human life apart from God:
» Ecclesiastes 1:2-4: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.
» Job 14:1-2: Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue.
» Psalm 90:10: The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
» Isaiah 40:6-8: All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.
» James 4:14: For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
» I John 2:17: And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
The physical life we would live now is a bowl of lentils compared with eternal life. It is nothing more than a vapor, a breath, a shadow. The passing pleasures and cares of the world will only gratify and satisfy the immediate desires. If our only interest is the immediate gratification that the world has to offer, we are indeed saying, "What profit is the Kingdom of God to me now?" Like Esau, we will despise our inheritance and go our way apart from God.
Our inheritance is the Kingdom of God. By seeking it and His righteousness first (Matthew 6:33), we are telling God that we place high value on it, that we want it, that we want to be like Him and think like Him, and that we can be trusted to take care of His estate and to live and reign with Christ.
What Is Your Lentil Soup?
At this point in His ministry, Jesus tells themnot to be concerned with procuring extra provisions for their journeys as they went to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. He specifically instructed them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece" (Luke 9:3). A short time later, He gave similar instructions: "Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road" (Luke 10:4). The parallel account in Matthew 10:7-10 mirrors these directives:
And as you go, preach, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
Jesus Christ was not issuing a blanket prohibition against sandals, or against money, or against owning more than one shirt. However, for a limited interval of time, He directed them to travel lightly, for a number of reasons.
First, for these initial activities, Christ did not want His disciples to be concerned about physical preparations. He wanted them to focus on the job that He had given them to do—preach the gospel and report back to Him—rather than on worrying about obtaining extra clothing or footwear. His emphasis was on the mission He was sending them on, but He knew human nature's tendency to worry about the details of its own comfort and existence. He did not want the disciples caught up in any preparations that would delay or distract them from His work through them.
Second, Christ was helping them to build faith in God as their Provider. He was teaching them to live and do His work without concern for their physical lives. He states clearly that if we are seeking His Kingdom first, and all that it entails, God will provide for all of our real needs (Matthew 6:33). The Father provides for even the birds and flowers, and we are of much greater worth than these (verses 25-32). God even has a name that reflects this: YHWH-Jireh, the Lord will provide as He thinks fit.
There is an alleged contradiction between the accounts given by Matthew and Mark. In Mark 6:8-9, Jesus says, "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts—but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics." In Matthew 10:9-10, He instructs, "Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs." This problem is easily resolved when we realize that He is really talking about two different things. In Matthew's account, Jesus does not forbid wearing sandals or carrying a staff, but only forbids their providing themselves with more—getting extra ones. Instead of being concerned when their current trappings wore out, they should trust God to supply their need and go just as they were. On this verse Albert Barnes comments, "The meaning of the two evangelists may be thus expressed: 'Do not procure anything more for your journey than you have on. Go as you are, shod with sandals, without making any more preparation.'"
Third, Christ did not want His disciples caught up in the spirit of materialism. Certain elements within the culture of the day would "preach" for money, either religiously or philosophically. Charlatans would sell "snake oil" cures. Mediums and spiritists could do seemingly miraculous things—for a price. People in this society would do anything to turn a quick penny just like today.
Christ's words in Matthew 10:8 are meant to counteract this mindset. He had given the disciples miraculous power to heal and cleanse, as well as authority over demons. Yet, because He had given these spiritual gifts to them freely, Christ told them to carry out His instructions without seeking monetary or material compensation. God's workers are worthy of their hire but should not build personal fortunes through the services they render for Him. God is certainly generous, and provides for His servants as He sees fit, but He prohibits them from using His gifts for their own gain. He will bless them as it pleases Him!
David C. Grabbe
Living By the Sword
Though physically disabled and disfigured by her stooped spine, she, just like the man with the withered hand (Luke 6:6), does not allow her problem to keep her from formal worship of God on the Sabbath. Her physical condition makes it very difficult for her to go to the synagogue and sit through the service. It is also humbling for her, since people often feel awkward around those with disfigurements. She goes anyway.
Surely, she has prayed and asked God for help, yet she has not been delivered. However, God's seemingly neglectful and unconcerned lack of intervention does not make her bitter or resentful. She attends synagogue despite the obstacles, appreciating her spiritual opportunities and cherishing the worship of God. Her dedication and faithfulness do not go unrewarded.
How many blessings do people give up when they skip going to church? Spiritually and physically, we benefit by regularly attending where we can hear God's Word and worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). This woman learns that the best help she can give her body is to be first concerned about her spiritual health. Had she not been concerned enough about her spiritual needs to be in the synagogue in spite of her condition, she would never have been healed. As Jesus promises, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Stooped Woman (Part One)
At this point in His ministry, Jesus was gaining attention, and to avoid arousing even more attention and directly clashing with the Pharisees, He moved His work north into Galilee. The shortest route there was through Samaria, the land of the Samaritans. Verse 4 says He needed to go that way. He had a choice of two roads to get to Galilee. One went around Samaria, the other through it. The latter was obviously the shorter route. Most Jews took the longer route to avoid having to deal with the Samaritans. The Greek indicates that Jesus was led to choose the shorter route: He had to go that way.
By the time the group reached Jacob's well, Jesus was exhausted. Most of the modern versions fail to give the force of His tiredness because it takes a great number of English words to parallel it. They may say He sat down, "just as He was." It indicates He wearily flopped down, as if it was more than just being tired from traveling. We can easily think of Jesus as the all-conquering and mighty Messiah who swept aside every obstacle in His path as if they did not exist. John, however, shows us a Jesus who had to struggle against His humanity.
It is good for us to remember that the Word became flesh (John 1:14). Hebrews 4:15 says He was tested in all things as we are. Yet, even when He was bone weary, He did not allow his weariness to justify sin or failure to carry out His God-assigned obligations in serving and setting an example for mankind. Experiencing the kinds of obstacles we must overcome fully prepared Him to function as our High Priest. When Jesus speaks, we need to be confident that He has every right to speak, not merely because He is God but also because He has experienced the limitations and weaknesses of humanity. Jesus' manhood was not something that was merely apparent but a real participation in humanity's frailties. His work was just as fatiguing to Him as it would be to us.
This story of the woman at the well begins with a bone-weary, physically worn out Jesus. The disciples leave Him to go into the city to buy some food. When they return, they find Him in an entirely different state: His hunger is gone, His exhaustion ended, and He is full of fresh vigor, ready to go on doing His work.
Their first thought is that someone else had supplied Him with food and reinvigorated Him, but this is not the case at all. Jesus' reply is that something entirely different reenergized Him. Commentators commonly conclude that Jesus said doing God's work stimulated him. It is true that involvement in work produces further stimulation. From our own experience, we know that a job we dread doing seems to erect a barrier that keeps us from even starting, leading to procrastination. Finally, we drag ourselves into beginning, but once we get going, the work produces its own energy in us, our attitude changes, and we really get into the job.
Yet, that is not quite what Christ said. McClaren's Commentary on this verse makes an interesting observation, one worth mentioning because it more accurately reflects what He said:
Notice that the language of the original is so constructed as to give prominence to the idea that the aim of the Christ's life was the doing of the Father's will; and that it is the aim rather than the actual performance and realization of the aim which is pointed at by our Lord.
His words, then, are better rendered, "My food is that I may do the will of Him that sent Me and finish His work." His reinvigoration derived from making the accomplishment of the Father's will His every impelling motive. In this case, it was not the actual doing of the work but the motive for doing it that was so energizing and stimulating.
The Revised English Bible translates this verse as, "But Jesus said, 'For Me it is meat and drink to do the will of Him who sent me until I have finished His work.'" "Until" properly indicates He was being sustained and energized from the motivation to see the work done. The apostle Paul expresses a similar motivation in I Corinthians 9:16, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" These men felt driven to do the work God had appointed for them.
If our lives are going to be at all worthy, it will be because of two factors: What we aim for in life and recognizing who we are. The first may be simply described by saying, "You gotta have high hopes," and we can have no higher aim in life than to do the will of the Father. The second can be understood by grasping why psychologists keep trying to persuade parents to work to build their children's self-esteem. They have observed that, if children do not think they are anything or can do anything, are of no value and unloved, or have absolutely no skills, they will not do anything. They will spend their lives cowering in self-pity and spinning their wheels in ineffective, low-level activity.
Anything connected to doing the will of the Father supersedes all other ambitions in life. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Five): Who We Are
Paul is telling us where the focus of our attention needs to be. We can give our minds over to a lot of things, for instance, to our jobs - and there is a place for that. We can give our minds over to physical things - exercise, eating well, and so forth - and there is a place for these, too.
Indeed, humans need to set their minds on many things, but they need to be prioritized correctly - put into the right niche and position. Then each of these things has to be seen in relation to the Kingdom of God. Our priorities must be set according to this standard - the overriding goal of our Christian lives.
"Set your mind on things above" adjusts the focus of our attention so that we do not become distracted by things that are less important for any longer than needed, so that they occupy the right proportion and amount of time in our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
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