Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ~ Matthew 6:31-33 ESV
I read the above passage this morning as a part of a devotional regime. I am once again working my way through Nancy Leigh DeMoss' Lies Women Believe. As a part of addressing lies women believe about their priorities, I read through several passages that point Christians back to focusing on God above all else.
I have known by heart the familiar verse for many years -- "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." I have sang the old praise chorus since I was a small child.
Growing up, though, I had only a vague impression of what Jesus meant by "seeking the kingdom" first. I often wondered, what exactly is the kingdom? And how does one go about seeking it? It seemed to have something to do with putting God first in life and trusting him to take care of me.
Over the past couple years, my understanding of Jesus' Kingdom has changed drastically, thanks primarily to the works of N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight, and also to the teaching I've received at my church. The vague notion of a heavenly purpose has been transformed into an understanding of Jesus mission -- God's Kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus came, in part to inaugurate a new rule in this sinful world. For lack of a better term, he was setting up a colony, only a colony actually governed by the true King. Christians are citizens of this Heavenly rule, living in accordance with the true reality. We submit our lives to the laws and precepts of this Kingdom, not because we have to but because they show us the way humans were always meant to live.
In Matthew 6, Jesus was showing the difference between the way that citizens of the world live and citizens of Heaven live. Citizens of the world seek their own kingdom, their own wants and desires for their life. They worry about what they will eat and drink and wear because it matters to them.
Citizens of heaven seek the advancement if their Kingdom first. We live out their part of "Your Kingdom come." That is where our focus is. We don't worry about food or drink or clothes because we know that we are God's workers. We know that the Son of God prayed according to the will of the Father. We know that this Kingdom is coming. Because we are soldiers in a conquering army, there is no need to doubt that our needs will be met according to the requirements of the work prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).
So we can rest knowing that God will provide for us, since we need certain things in order to carry out the good works prepared for us. Does this mean we don't work to meet our own needs? Not at all. Scripture is clear: "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV).
Rather, we work with our hands as a means of providing for ourselves, to the end that we can carry out the work of the Kingdom. When we lack, we don't worry -- we pray. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6 ESV).
And when we ask, we ask according to the good of the Kingdom. Perhaps that is the right motive referenced by James: "You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:2b-3 ESV).
In this light, Jesus command makes perfect sense. We seek first the Kingdom, trusting our needs to God, who will give us provisions for carrying out the Kingdom work. Why would we expect anything different?