SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM
Matthew 6:19-34, Key verse: 6:33
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Last week we learned to practice the life of righteousness through giving, prayer and fasting. But Jesus warned us that we must not do these things to gain people’s recognition. If we do that, we will have no reward from God. We prayed to live before God and seek God’s reward.
While that passage was about spiritual life, today’s passage is about how we deal with our material needs. Jesus does not deny that our material and physical needs are real. But Jesus strongly warns us about letting material concerns consume our whole life. If we let that happen, we will lose what is most valuable in life. Jesus wants us to lead us to a higher and heavenly life. The saying in the key verse is so familiar among us that we might take it for granted. But when we meditate on it in context, we can see that it is God’s formula for true happiness. Let’s pray that through studying this passage, Christ may teach us to live a most meaningful and fruitful life.
First, store up treasures in heaven (19-24). In verses 19-21, the word “treasure” appears three times. Everyone likes the idea of finding or gaining some kind of treasure. In video games today, players have great joy in finding virtual treasure boxes inside the world of the game. In a more personal sense, what we call “our treasure” means whatever we value most. What is your treasure? Jesus shows us that fundamentally there are two types of treasure, and the difference can be seen from where they are stored. Look at verses 19 and 20. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
This is a warning against seeking our sense of security through earthly treasures such as money, houses, and other possessions. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work or save money or plan wisely. But we mustn’t put our hope in earthly treasures, because all earthly things are perishable and cannot give true security or joy. Moths and vermin can ruin fine clothes and expensive houses. Sometimes sudden and heavy rains result in floods that ruin our basements. These days, there are even cyber thieves who can break in to computers and empty out our bank account. If we put our hope in earthly treasure, the end result is despair. In our Friday Bible study, Missionary Mary Bahn told a story about someone she knew who had worked hard and saved about $20,000 in cash. She was keeping the cash in her home, but she became afraid that a thief would break in and steal it. Then, a friend that she trusted offered her a plan to invest the money and have it earn interest. This seemed like a good idea to her. But then the friend took all her money and disappeared. When the woman thought about how hard she worked and how she had sacrificed for that money that was now gone, her health was seriously damaged. Proverbs 23:4-5 say, “Do not wear yourselves out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”
Then how do we store up treasure in heaven? Last week’s passage taught us how to do it: it is through works of righteousness done before God. Some very practical directions for storing up treasure in heaven can be found in Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” Generally speaking, we store up treasure in heaven when our direction and purpose of life is God-centered and heavenly, not self-centered and earthly. Treasure stored in heaven cannot perish, spoil, or fade away. Its value cannot be reduced by a stock market crash. It is eternally secure.
This teaching can seem hard to accept because treasures on earth seem very real and tangible, while treasures in heaven sound surreal and vague. However, I think that’s a misunderstanding. I don’t think Jesus means that this earthly life is only for scoring some kind of points for the afterlife. Having treasure in heaven is very much a current possession. Maybe we can think of it by analogy to a rich person’s child who grows up with a big trust fund in his or her name. While the child is still a minor, they cannot withdraw or spend their trust fund directly. But the trust fund is being invested and generating interest, and the child is paid from the interest and can live very well on just the interest, while the value of the trust fund itself does not decrease and remains a source of security for the future. Do you see the parallel to treasure in heaven? God pays us interest on our heavenly inheritance in the form of peace, joy, and living hope. We can enjoy these treasures in our heart every moment.
In Verse 21 Jesus explains the present significance of having treasure in heaven. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We normally think of our heart as determining our actions. But this verse shows that it works the other way as well: the actions we take change the orientation of our heart. Our heart and our thoughts will naturally focus on the place where we have our treasure stored. If our treasure is in a new car, then our heart will be in the car. Then, if the car is dented, our heart will be dented. If our treasure is in getting tenure, our heart will be tied down to the tenure tracks. No earthly goal or treasure can ever fulfill or truly satisfy our heart. But if we have stored treasure in heaven through our life of faith, our heart spends a lot of time in heaven, and our heart becomes purer and purer, and we are very happy and have strength to overcome earthly problems.
In verses 22 and 23, Jesus makes another analogy about how our heart’s value system affects our whole life. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Here, our eye can represent the way that we view the world and judge the value of things. How our eyes see and judge things determine whether our life is healthy and full of light, or in the darkness.
How does this relate to the topic of money that we are discussing? The footnote in the new version of the NIV gives us great insight about this. The Greek words translated “healthy” and “unhealthy” also have the connotation of “generous” and “stingy.” A stingy person sees everything through the eyes of money. They are always calculating and judging everything based on how much material it costs them. Jesus says that such a person is in great darkness. They are blind to the true meaning and purpose of life. On the other hand, a person with generous judgment, who can give and serve freely because they have treasure in heaven, has a life that is well-rounded, prosperous, and a source of blessing to others. They are full of light.
A person with an unhealthy eye finally becomes a slave of money. Look at verse 24. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” This goes back to the first of the Ten Commandments, to have no other gods besides the Lord. Money is not inherently a bad thing. But when we don’t give God his proper place in our heart, the creation order becomes inverted. In the saying, “You cannot serve both God and money”, “money” is used like a proper noun. It means that when we give all our heart to making money, money becomes a god that we worship, and we become guilty of the sin of idolatry. But when we worship and serve God alone, we have wisdom to manage money well and use it for its proper purpose.
Many people study hard to learn how to make money. But not many people study hard to learn how to use money. Let’s pray that we may serve God, be wise managers of material things, and store up treasures in heaven.
Second, overcoming worry (25-34). In the next verses, Jesus teaches his disciples not to worry. Even though we try to live a life of storing treasure in heaven, still worries and anxieties come to us naturally. Worrying is a very serious problem. Uncontrolled worry and anxiety can pull us into a downward spiral that results in obsessive and even desperate thoughts and actions. In today’s society, anxiety and its related issues have become its own kind of epidemic.
Thank God that Jesus loves us and wants to help us overcome worry. What does Jesus tell us not to worry about? Look at the first part of verse 25. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” These verses indicate that the root of virtually all worrying is concern for earthly security. Worries about our job, about the government, about what our neighbors think of us, about how our children are doing in school—all these can be traced back to the root issue of security.
Here, Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t be legitimately concerned about issues that God gives us responsibility for. Jesus is not teaching us to run away from our problems to try to live a carefree life. Jesus wants us to grow in responsible stewardship. But Jesus is warning us about fruitless worrying and anxiety about things we cannot control, especially about material things. This is what we have to overcome.
What exactly is the spiritual problem with worrying? Look at verse 25b. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” I love these four words, “Is not life more”. In them I hear Jesus’ calling to live on a higher plane. God created man in his own image so that life could be about more than material concerns. In Romans 14:17 Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” If we let our life be consumed with worry about material security, what will happen to our spiritual life? It will shrivel up and die. We must know that life is more. To fulfill God’s higher purpose for us, we have to fight the temptation to only worry about the physical and material. If our life is only about food, money, and clothes, then no matter how much of those things we have, we are in truth very poor.
Then how can we overcome our worries? Look at verse 26. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” I think it’s significant that in giving us an antidote to human worry, Jesus takes us back to nature, outside the sphere of all human activity and human judgments. Jesus says, “Look how God takes care of the natural world.” Jesus wants us to learn a lesson from the birds. About ten years ago, two scientists attempted to count the number of birds in the world. They estimated between 200 and 400 billion individual birds. None of these birds know how to raise or store up crops. (Squirrels do store up, but it doesn’t seem to bother them that they forget where most of their nuts are buried.) Of course, animals do work to find their food. As the saying goes, “The early bird gets the worm.” But the ultimately it is God who feeds them every day, valuing the lives of birds. Jesus calls God “your heavenly Father.” Our Father God values people, who are made in his image, much more than birds. Surely, he will feed us. Of course, we should still work, like birds do. Yet we should not worry, but trust God. Verse 27 says “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Jesus also reminds us of the uselessness of worrying. Worrying gives no power to add even one hour to our life. In fact, worrying has been proven to shorten our lifespan.
Look at verses 28-30. “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” No matter how much money Solomon spent to obtain the finest clothes that human hands could make, he could not match the beauty of wildflowers that God creates and destroys by the millions, seemingly without any effort at all.
We know God’s value system goes beyond material things. We know God cares about us. We know the richness of God’s abundant generosity. Then why do we still worry? The problem must be that we have is so little faith in such a God! If we are full of worry, we should repent our lack of faith in God who knows our needs. Jesus further twists the knife on this rebuke in verses 31 and 32. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Jews regarded pagan peoples as lost in utter darkness and barbarism. I think Jesus here is trying to make his listeners feel a little bit of shame, saying that if they are only obsessed with the physical side of life, they are no better than pagans. Similarly, if we are only consumed with material worries, we are no better than unbelievers. Let’s take Jesus’ rebuke, “You of little faith”, into our heart, and trust God.
Now we come to our key verse. It summarizes and encapsulates all the points we have discussed so far. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” A key word in this key verse is the word “seek”. What we seek is what we truly desire in our heart. That’s what God is concerned with. We must ask ourselves, “What do I really want out of life?” Thinking that something less than the kingdom of heaven can satisfy us is a big mistake. Also, what we seek is shown by our actions. We must look at what our actions honestly say about our value system. In Romans 2:7 Paul wrote, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”
Here, “his kingdom and his righteousness” includes every aspect of the abundant, heavenly life we have when we have a spiritual life goal in Jesus. It’s the true object of human seeking and striving. When we seek that, Jesus promised to provide all other necessary things for our life, including food, clothing, and shelter. It absolutely does work. Before I followed Jesus, I fed myself with lots of fast food, especially Wendy’s double cheeseburgers. But when I began to follow Jesus’ calling, God began to feed me with much healthier and delicious yukgaejang, kimchi jjigae, and kimbap. Of course, the true reward for seeking God’s kingdom is not the other things, but the kingdom and righteousness themselves. Seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness makes us grow as a new creation. That’s why this verse can be called “the formula for happiness.”
Jesus concludes by going back down to a more practical level. Verse 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” If we cannot totally get away from all worries, at least we can focus on the problems that we can do something about today. Then, when we get to tomorrow, we can face tomorrow’s problems. When we trust God, he gives us strength one day at a time to serve him.
May God bless us to have healthy eyes to see his kingdom and his righteousness as our true goals. Then we can have the joy of heavenly treasure every day.