MATTHEW 6:33c(part three)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:33c (part three) “. . .first. . .”
Seek God’s kingdom “first,” beginning with letting it determine the whole course and direction of our lifetime. Next, put it “first” on our calendars weekly and daily. Third, seek God’s kingdom “first” in our affections. Prefer the spiritual not only before, but also above, all else. Some do their spiritual duties first, weekly and daily, solely to be done with them, to get them over and out of the way so they can move on to matters deemed more important and pleasurable. This is a farce. God’s cause must be our primary, as well as our earliest, object of attention. The Bible straightforwardly commands, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (CL 3:2). I offer five challenges to spur us to seek God’s kingdom “first” in our affections.
First, seek God’s kingdom “first” in our affections, making it the controlling drive of life. Our need here is similar to what we do once we have determined the destination of a trip. On a journey, we do various things along the way, but our aim is always in mind, keeping us on the right path. The destination constantly remains the focus of our intentions. When going to St. Louis to see my folks, Ruth and I love to eat at Lee’s Chicken in Rolla. It would be ridiculous if next time we went we decided to eat at Lee’s Chicken in Dallas. The latter is not on our way to St. Louis. On the way to Mom and Dad’s, I do not think of St. Louis every instant, but it is the guiding, dominating aim which over-rules all else. Similarly, seeking God’s kingdom needs to be our ultimate quest, absorbing all our essence in pursuit of an honorable goal, and keeping our feet ever on the straight and narrow path.
Second, seek God’s kingdom “first” in our affections, even when choosing a spouse. Do not let romantic, physical, or financial considerations predominate our criteria in selecting a life partner. Seek a mate first on the basis of spirituality.
Emphasizing the physical is misguided. This is the one aspect of marriage which most often takes care of itself in time. Physical intimacy in marriage is natural and God-given. Couples who do have trouble in this area usually find it one of the easiest marital problems to fix, if they seek professional help. In choosing a mate, romance matters, but is not nearly as important as spiritual considerations.
The most successful marriages are those which begin, continue, and end in God. Over the years many troubled couples have poured out their stories to me, saying things like, we met in a bar, a nightclub, at a dance hall; or we lived together before we married. These all indicate the relationship was not birthed under the blessing of God. Something other than the spiritual was the first consideration.
My dad, a preacher, still vividly remembers the first time he ever saw Mom. He was in church, she was on the front row of the choir. The first time I saw Ruth, we were in church, and the first thing to catch my fancy about her was, she prayed over her meals when we college students went to A&W Root Beer for lunch.
Third, seek God’s kingdom “first” in our affections, resisting the crush of public opinion. If you decide to serve God with reckless abandon, expect to go it alone. When I decided as a teen to yield my life totally to God, my main opposition came from within the church. People told me not to get overly exuberant or too carried away. One couple even volunteered to sneak me to parties without my parents ever having to know about it. I thank God for a family who urged me forward, and for a wife willing to run the Godly gauntlet with me. To seek God’s kingdom “first” may mean you will have to find a whole new set of best friends.
You may be thinking, “Pastor, I do not want to get too carried away and become a fanatic.” I promise I will speak with you in private if I ever sense you are loving God too much. I have never seen anyone in this predicament, but if you become the first to develop this problem, I will help you tone down your affection.
Fourth, seek God’s kingdom “first” in our affections, including at work. The rush of our jobs can repress the endeavor to live a life earnest for God. Companies often drive their workers into the ground. Corporate America shall stand before God someday to give an account for the homes and marriages it destroyed by overworking its employees an inordinate number of hours weekly. Supervisors, we share responsibility for the health and welfare of the family life of our workers.
Sadly, many by their own choice work too much. It is easy for our occupation to become our preoccupation, first in our affections, the top item on our life agenda. For some, climbing a corporate ladder has become an obsession. Be not as concerned about landing a better job as about doing a better job of serving God.
As we stretch the envelope, expanding our work efforts, be sure to consult God first, before every business deal. If we can not dedicate every part of a new business venture to God, do not proceed. Let Him who was first, before all His creation, also be first before all our creations. Blessed is the business person who never has to deliberate when confronted with needing to choose between right and wrong, the decision having been made decisively and once for all long before.
You might say, “Pastor, we have to live.” No, we have to die and stand before God. Spurgeon quoted a good old motto, “Better death than false of faith.” It would be refreshing to see an army of men and women who have made the pursuit of God their master passion, the cause they would be willing to take a bullet for.
Fifth, seek God’s kingdom “first” in our affections, holding nothing back. I read of a missionary who, landing on a shore of India, knelt down and prayed, “Here let me burn out for God.” We too must be willing to pour out our lives in service to God’s kingdom. Elisha Hoffman’s old hymn still needs to be sung,
Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart, does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest and have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.
We have to ask ourselves repeatedly, are we merely playing games, or is God’s kingdom truly the most important enterprise in the cosmos? His cause cries out for citizens in dead earnest about it.
Nearing death, Whitefield could think of only one thing, the cause. He prayed, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work, but not of it. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for Thee once more in the fields, seal Thy truth, and come home and die!” That night, in his last sermon, he preached, “How willingly would I live forever to preach Christ. But I die to be with him.” Within hours he was in heaven.
As a young man, John Wesley began spending two hours a day in private devotions. He wrote his mother, “Leisure and I have parted company.” A biographer later added, “And they never met again.” At 87 he wrote, “I am now an old man. My eyes are dim. My right hand shakes very much. But blessed be God, I do not slack my labor. I can still preach and write.”
I urge us to spare no pain in seeking God’s kingdom first, for anything less than absolute diligence will end in our defeat. Our only hope at success in holiness is to desire it above all else. We live in enemy territory and carry a traitor in our own breast. Laggardly slackness will not avail. If we are not seeking God first, I fear we are for all practical intents not seeking Him at all. What one seeks first reveals one’s essential character. Jesus is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.