MATTHEW 6:33a-c(part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:33 Introduction
This verse could qualify as the text of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The passage forcefully combines the message’s two main thrusts: the kingdom of God, and the righteousness God requires in His kingdom. Our text is a golden verse, each word needing to be carefully weighed. Memorize it and hide it in your heart.
Matt. 6:33a “But. . .”
Do not overlook this conjunction of contrast. Prechristians, failing to deem God as their Father, thus having no concept of trusting Him, and not knowing of a better world, expend their energy to “seek” (6:32) this world’s stuff, “but” believers should rise above this mindset of worry, and “seek” better, heavenly things.
Matt. 6:33b “. . .seek ye. . .”
“Seek” implies effort. We do not overcome worry by accident. Trust and its resulting inner calm are by-products of planning and intent, not coincidence. Our text, telling us what we can do in a proactive way to overcome our anxiety, provides us an aggressive counter-offensive we can launch against our own worry.
The key to defeating worry is capsulized in Thomas Chalmers’ phrase, “the expulsive power of a new affection.” It is possible for one passion to be so overwhelming that it drives out every other interest or worry in life. An obsession can monopolize a mind’s thought patterns, purify motives, and cut away mental clutter.
This premise underlies our text. Jesus is telling us worry will be banished from our lives when God becomes our all-encompassing fixation. Christ hereby gives us something positive to do to preclude anxiety, to squelch it before it begins. As we are filled with spiritual goals, earthly worries have to take a back seat.
To help us beat worry, we need more than just being told God cares for the birds and flowers, or being apprised God already knows our needs, or being scolded and cajoled by reminding us our anxiety is a prechristian attitude. In addition to these helps, we need something proactive and positive. Our text fills this need by telling us how to displace worry. An obsession for a supreme heavenly object will leave our minds no room to worry about less important earthly stuff. Concentrating on spiritual things is an effective cure for worrying about physical things.
God obviously gave our minds the ability to muse and mull things over, to deliberate, to be concerned about matters. The brain can ponder, weigh things, and dwell on them. The question is, does this mental capability have to be fulfilled by worthless worry, or can it be turned into something useful and beneficial?
Our text reveals how this brain trait can be productive and positive. If we want to concentrate, to tie up our thoughts and expend mental effort on something, our text shows what we are allowed to focus on. Do not be anxious about stuff. Consume brain cells on more important concerns, on matters worth thinking on.
Give the mind to something greater than this world. Yield our thoughts to a cause bigger than self. No life is complete until wholly engrossed in an enterprise of value, in an effort worth being part of. Fulfilled Christians, ones with energy of soul and inner congruence, feel something holy and worthwhile driving them. A divine enthusiasm impels them. Caught up in something big, they are consumed, letting “every nerve tingle and throb, and every artery flow with force” (Morgan). Anxieties about earth can dissolve in the wake of stronger concerns about heaven.
We were made for God, to know and love Him with nothing held back, to obey and serve Him without hesitation or reservation. We are to press life and its passions toward Him as our main object of pursuit. This is not to say we shall become perfect–the word “seek” itself implies we never fully arrive–but we nonetheless seek Him as He enables. Never rest the quest to become our best for Him.
Matt. 6:33c (part one) “. . .first. . .”
Worry is a sin not only because it is a prechristian disposition and a distrusting of God, but also because it fails to put first things first. Many of our worries stem from our own failure to prioritize, to keep the main thing the main thing.
Blessed is the one who determines accurately the relative merit of the many claims made on our lives, who grasps Peter Drucker’s distinction between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things. For believers, there is but one first right thing, one great purpose in life–to pursue God. This must be kept first of all. Other needs legitimately call for our attention in their place, but one first right thing must always have priority.
There are several ways in which we are to “seek” God “first.” As a beginning, we need to seek Him first in our lifetime. Our text is addressed to Christians, but its meaning should be heeded by prechristians, also. When choosing the direction of our life, seek God first. D.L. Moody, before becoming a Christian, was one day hoeing corn in a field with an older man who began to cry. When Moody asked what was wrong, the man told the story of his life. When he was young he left home to make a fortune. His mother’s last plea to him that day was our text, but he paid no attention. After travelling a while, he decided to attend church. The pastor preached from this text. “That is my mother’s text,” the man said, “I wonder if that man knows me.” He said to himself he would get rich first, and then think of religion. Later, in a second church, the same thing happened again. The message deeply touched and impressed him, but he was not ready to commit, wanting to wait until he made his fortune. Later, in a third church, he heard the same text preached again. He said he felt God call, and sensed the Spirit striving mightily with him, but fought it and chose to wait till he got rich. Moody said the man then claimed all the sermons he had heard since made no more of an impression on him than “on that stone,” and he struck it with a hoe. Years later, when Moody became a Christian, the first man he thought of was that fellow in the field. He journeyed home and asked of him, but Moody’s mother said the man had been sent to an insane asylum, because when anyone spoke to him, he immediately pointed his finger and said, “Young man, seek first the kingdom of God.” Years later, Moody again returned home and learned the man’s mind was still gone, but he had been sent home. Moody quickly went to see him, and tried to reason with him, but the man only looked with a blank stare and said repeatedly, “Young man, seek first the kingdom of God.” Moody said, “Reason had reeled and tottered from its throne, but the text was still there. God had sent that arrow down into his soul. Long years had rolled away and he could not draw it out.”
Seek the kingdom of God first in your lifetime. I have lived long enough to see the bankrupt lives of many of my childhood friends who chose to “seek” the kingdom, but not “first.” My best friend at church married outside the faith; his whole adult life has been lived without reference to God. My second best friend at church committed the only triple murder in the history of my hometown. A third good friend has gone through much wealth and many wives. My sixth grade patrol duty partner later caught his wife in bed with another man and used a pistol to send the adulterer into eternity, and to send himself to prison for life. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, she was the fairest of them all”–our stalwart example for Jesus, but in her late teens she chose a different path. I saw her at a twenty-year class reunion; at 38 she looked 58. I could go on and on describing the wrecked carnage of people I have personally known who chose not to seek the kingdom of God first in life–broken homes, shattered lives, smashed dreams, splintered resolutions.
You be the judge. I submit for our consideration that the vast majority of the misery we see every day can be traced in one way or another to the rejection of the truth in our text. Friend, we cannot afford to disobey God; it demands a price too high to pay. Look around. Yield, dear people, submit while the heart is soft. Do not run the risk of letting our heart become as hard as stone. Seek God first.