Seeking God's Kingdom
2000 William R. Cunningham
There are so many things that we can strive to receive or become during our lifetime. Some pursue a certain level of education. Others pursue such things as promotions, higher salaries, a spouse, wealth and prosperity. Are these worth pursuing? What if we spend our whole life pursuing something only to find out that they meant nothing really? Such is the case from the Bible's perspective, especially in the book of Ecclesiastes.
I'm sure you have heard stories of rich people that are still lonely and depressed. Not that riches make you that way but riches are not the panacea for such. Wealth, prosperity, prestige, and power are not worth much at all from a heavenly perspective (See my talk on the heavenly perspective).
What then should we pursue and what truly is meaningful or ultimately worth pursuit? Is there any one thing that we can pursue that would truly make a difference in our life. I believe that the answer to this question is a hearty yes.
We are going to examine a valid answer to the above questions. We are going to examine the priority of the Kingdom of God in our lives and what that means from a grand perspective.
Let's now look at a very well known scripture that provides much insight into the type of questions that were asked in the introduction section of this lesson.
Matthew 6:33 (NKJV) But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
We know from glancing at this scripture that Jesus says to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and we will acquire all these things. However, do you really understand what this scripture is telling you? What is the Kingdom of God? What does He mean by "first?" What is righteousness? What things is Jesus talking about? Let's go deeper into this scripture to uncover its simple yet very powerful revelation.
Notice right away that this passage of scripture begins with the word "But". This implies a relationship to previous scriptures that are part of the entire discussion or teaching. Whenever you read a scripture that begins with a conjunction (for example the words and, therefore, then, and but) or is a conjunction in some way (For example the phrase "afterwards he said") , then you should read further backwards in the scripture so that you can get a complete picture of what the author was trying to relay to you. This is the process of acquiring the proper context of the scripture so that you can obtain the correct meaning of the scripture.
The word "But" implies a conjunction of the current verse and previous scriptures. Our task is to therefore acquire the proper context of the current verse by means of examining Jesus' entire current teaching or discussion. If we do not review the entire discussion then we are prone to develop an understanding of the scripture that was not intended due to lack of sufficient information.
I believe that you can obtain the proper context be going back to verse nineteen (Matthew 6:19). Here Jesus begins (or seems to begin) a discussion on the importance or priority of godly things as opposed to worldly things in the context of basic life on this earth. It also describes the two basic objects of pursuit, namely things of the world or things pertaining to heaven (God's Kingdom). Please note that the word "heaven" in these verses is not particularly referring to the place Christians go after they die (leave the earth) and spend eternity with God. It is more referring to a realm and not a specific place. This realm is the realm of God's existence, which is spiritual and not physical. Therefore, I could generalize Matthew 6:19 - 6:34 as a discussion or teaching on ultimate human pursuit (worldly versus godly) and the priority in one's life.
Human pursuit derives from those things that we consider valuable or of great priority (treasures). If we value more than anything the things on the earth then we will tend to pursue those things above all else. If we consider godly things (heavenly) more priceless then anything else then we will tend to pursue those. This is also consistent with the entire discussion presented in Matthew Chapter six.
For example, if your motivation is for worldly recognition then your prayers in public will be geared for notability instead of sincerity. That is, your prayers will be designed to get you noticed instead of accomplishing a desired result according to God's will. Similarly, if you treasure the recognition of people above godly things then your giving to the poor will be a righteous act in itself, but the overall activity is not due to the care you have for the recipient. Rather, your activity of giving is motivated by your desire to be noticed and you use giving as a means to accomplish it.
So again, in general, I would say that the context of the subject scripture is that of pursuit, which derives from true inner motivations or desires of the heart.
Jesus said to seek first the Kingdom of God. To truly establish the message or teaching of Jesus Christ, we should really be sure that we are defining terms in the same way that the writer of the particular scripture would have intended. It is sometimes too easy to forget that these scriptures where written roughly two thousand years ago and therefore terms and phrases might not have been understood in the same way that we would understand it (Westerners: United States for example). In addition, the translators of these scriptures would have used words that do not have the same meaning or understanding today as they did then.
First let's look at verse thirty-two for reference.
Matthew 6:32 (NKJV) For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
Notice the use of the word seek in this verse. However, the underlying Greek word is actually different than the word used in verse thirty-three. Let's look at the underlying Greek just for reference. I normally don't include these things in my studies but I think that it may be helpful if you could see it instead of me just telling you.
The Greek word that was translated into the word seek in verse 32 is epize teo . This word means to search (inquire) for; intensively to demand, to crave. Note also that the context of its usage suggests something worldly that is craved. Examples of this would be riches, prestige, or some other object of infatuation. It could also apply to basic needs that we have, which we crave for. Also, since Jesus states that the Gentiles epize teo (seek) and that the word Gentile basically means without God relative to the Jewish people, then this seeking activity is not heavenly oriented at all but is instead confined to the things that this world has to offer. The word "gentile" also came to be known as referring to someone that was not a Jew. So we might infer that those that are not of God only have worldly things to pursue, which would lead to a life of worry and little hope.
The Greek word that was translated into seek in verse 33 is ze teo . This word means to seek (figuratively or literally), specifically to worship God. The word, when compared to another Greek word for seek, implies searching for something that is hidden. This is consistent with Jesus' teachings in His parables as well as the parables themselves.
So first Jesus said to seek God in a manner that is not merely for information or for personal gain and enjoyment. Jesus, by usage of the Greek word, refers to a spiritual activity (worship) in seeking for God. The seeking that Jesus is therefore describing is one that is heavenly oriented and not just confined to the world (earth).
The word first is translated from the Greek word pro ton and it means firstly (in time, place, order, or importance):-before, at the beginning, chiefly. This word implies importance or priority and not merely first in a series, which would lead to ritualism and therefore true meaningless of the worship of God.
So these two words, "seek first", instructs us to make the Kingdom of God a priority in our lives. It heightens the importance and place of worship in our efforts to live godly lives on this earth. So make the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (God's system and rightness) the number one priority in your life. Again, this doesn't mean that you should pray before doing anything else as a rule because that is ritualism and not true worship. It means that the things of God are most important to you and that you are pursuing those godly things.
What is the Kingdom of God? The word kingdom means a realm over which someone rules or the rule itself. It could also refer to a particular place of rule. In any case, the Kingdom of God refers to the realm of God over which God rules. This realm is more than a place because Jesus said that God's Kingdom was at hand in his preaching. So God's Kingdom is also a system of operation or a mode. His Kingdom is the realm over which God's Way is the mode of operation. This is why the world is contrary to the ways of God because the world uses a different system. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God where His ways are in operation.
I should point out that the New Testament contains two very similar phrases. It contains the phrase "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven." These two phrases mean exactly the same thing. Jesus spoke Aramaic. However, when the disciples wrote down his "sayings" they translated it into Greek. Many times the underlying Greek phrase or word was translated to "Kingdom of God." However, Matthew chose to translate the same Aramaic word into the Greek "Kingdom of heaven." So they are the same word (what Jesus said) but rendered differently in the Greek.
The Holman Bible Dictionary defines righteousness as follows.
This is a very important distinction. We tend to base our understanding of righteousness on the concept of following the rules (the ten commandments for example). However, true righteousness is more than that. Consider the following verses of scripture (from the King James Version).
Isaiah 64:6 (KJV) But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Ezekiel 33:13 (KJV) When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.
Daniel 9:18 (KJV) O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.
Let's concentrate on Isaiah 64:6. He says that all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags! However, I know that my righteousness is through Christ. That's right! The thing is that the two words are different. The word righteousnesses mean acts of righteousness and is not referring to righteousness itself. Righteousnesses merely refers to the things that righteous people do due to their righteousness and unrighteous people do in order to appear righteous or good (or merely to follow the rules). For example, evil people can do something that is considered good but that doesn't make the evil person good. They simply did a good work or deed.
So when considering righteousness, remember to relate it to your relationship with God and not with "godly" rules. Rules and regulations will take you away from God but a closer relationship with God will enable you and cause you to tend to do things God's way, according to His Kingdom.
So God's righteousness refers to His Way, which is bound to us by relationship and not merely following the rules or adhering to rituals (as in the Old Testament for the most part). This differs from the basic religious (man-made) realm where rules are the key of operation. Religion requires adherence to law and not establishment of relationship with God.
Jesus goes on to say (Matthew 6:33) that if we seek first God's Kingdom and Way, then all of our needs will be provided. This is taken from the context established by the previous few verses where Jesus discusses the need for clothing, shelter, and food. How is this so? Remember that seeking God's Kingdom refers to worship and the pursuit of God's way (through that worship). It also implies a personal relationship with God through true righteousness. So it would only seem reasonable to believe that God would take care of His own people. If we pursue God then we will understand more of how his Kingdom operates and therefore operate according to His Way. This will definitely mean that our basic needs would be met because God is not out to destroy us. Also, note that we are not pursuing these things in the absolute sense. Yes we need food and shelter for example, but we have the knowledge and confidence that our loving Father will provide these things to His children.
A Glimpse at Faith
This also involves faith, which a detailed discussion of such is beyond the scope of this lesson. We see that faith in God is more than to know the rules. It too is founded in our relationship with Him through Christ. Our faith in God is founded on the results of obedience to Him. We do what God says, experience the results of such and therefore depend on Him in the future. We then come to know the trustworthiness of God and will do what He says to us in His Word.
A Good Illustration
Consider the following verse of scripture.
Matthew 7:7 (NKJV) "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Let's focus our attention on the "seek" portion of this scripture. The word "seek" here is the same word that was used in Matthew 6:33. It refers more than just to inquire for knowledge or information. It involves more than just a pursuit to get. It involves relationship based on the context of the Greek word used. It relates to worship of God (as understood by the Jewish people at the time). So seeking is done through worship. Now get this. Worship is the expression of the worthiness or importance of God. It is our response to the perception of the presence of God and how He is worthy of our adoration or worship. To worship God is to recognize the great importance of God to your life and that recognition is expressed in a form of worship.
Just for your information. Worship is much much more than a slow church song as some believe. I have gone to churches where praise songs were fast songs and worship songs were slow songs. This is far from the true understanding of worship. Worshiping God transcends a song because it comes from the heart. Consider the following scripture.
John 4:23 through John 4:24 (NKJV) But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
So seeking or the Greek ze teo is more than a intellectual activity to acquire something that is tied to this world. Seeking and therefore seeking God's Kingdom is an act from the heart because you realize the importance or value (if I can say it that way) of God and His Way. You understand the priority of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Nothing else really matters in the overall scope of things because anything tied to this earth are temporal (and therefore ultimately an illusion) and anything tied to heaven (God's realm) is eternal. Where are your treasures? Are you treasures on the earth or are they in heaven? Therefore, what are you seeking? Heavenly things that will last forever or earthly things that will eventually pass away.
What is the most important thing to you? What do you ultimately seek for? The answers to these questions should be God's Kingdom and His righteousness. Above all, we should pursue those things that are of God because only those things are eternal and therefore truly meaningful. You may not feel like it and the things of this world may appear to give you greater satisfaction and enjoyment. However, they are a fleeting moment in time and a chasing for the wind. You should learn to pursue a personal relationship with God through Christ regardless of how you feel or how much enjoyment you think you can get elsewhere. Your pursuit for the truth must transcend your emotions in order for you to seek heavenly things.
Pursue God and His Kingdom as the number one priority and all of the things that pertain to life will be added to you. It is meaningless to pursue those things that are tied solely to the earth. Consider the following scripture.
Matthew 6:19 through Matthew 6:21 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The treasures are those things that are greatly valuable to you (in importance). Your treasure may be prestige, wealth or money. Your treasure may also be God and His Kingdom. In either case, you can only ultimately pursue one thing. Either you pursue God and His righteousness or you pursue those things that are worldly and therefore temporal. Is your mind heavenly oriented (godly) or earthly oriented (of the world)?
So pursue God and you will find Him (See Matthew 7:7). Make the things of God (including God) of great importance to you. How? It starts with a decision and renewal of the way you think (See Romans 12:2). Begin to train yourself to go after God instead of things as the ultimate goal of your life. Learn to experience God and he will show himself faithful and of far greater value to you than anything else that this world has to offer. Seek God and His Kingdom first and all of your needs will be met. Remember that seeking God involves relationship and not merely the acquisition of information. Therefore, get to know your heavenly Father as a means of seeking Him and His Way and make that the greatest priority of your life by your decision as opposed to your feelings. Amen.
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