Yesterday’s sermon at my church was amazing. It was Senior Sunday (which refers to Seniors in high school, not senior citizens), and the pastor spoke on priorities. I’d like to outline what he spoke about, if for no other reason than to recall his main points for my own benefit.
He started by reading from Matthew 6:33, where in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In the preceding verses, Jesus is telling the people that they need not worry about the trivial matters in life – “what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (v. 25). Instead, he says, focus on what is truly important. And he says that God’s kingdom and righteousness are what is truly important. Jesus statement in Matthew 6:33 can be seen in one of three ways – it is:
- A Statement of Action – The first word in this statement by Jesus is the word seek. This word is translated from the Greek word zēteō which means “to seek in order to find by thinking, meditating, reasoning; to enquire into; to aim at or strive after.” This suggests that there is something we must pursue (we’ll talk about what that is in just a minute), but not just passively. We must set our sights on what it is we are pursuing (aim at it), and then actively strive after it. We can’t just state that we are followers of Christ, then go on living our lives. We must actively work to follow Christ – by studying Scripture, by having a deep prayer relationship with Him, and by ministering to others around us. We must be obedient to the things Jesus said for us to do in order to be followers of Him.
- A Statement of Priorities – The second word in this statement by Jesus is the word first. There are thousands of things that compete for our attention every day, but Jesus is saying that if we will set aside these things and put God’s kingdom and His righteousness first, everything else will fall into place. These things that Jesus is telling us to put first include:
- God’s Kingdom – This is God’s rule in your heart, and ultimately over everything. To seek this first means to place God first in your life – do those things mentioned above to actively seek Him, and work hard to ensure you haven’t set up idols in your life that take God’s place in your heart.
- God’s Righteousness – What God commands and what He desires are “right.” Therefore, to seek His righteousness means to live obediently to God’s directions, and to try to please God with our lives.
My pastor elaborated on this by saying that our priorities will be proven by the decisions we make. Everyday we make hundreds of decisions, and each one is a reflection of what we place first in our lives. If we are trying to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first in our lives, then for each decision we make we must ask ourselves “how will this decision show God’s rule in my heart or encourage His rule in others?”
- A Statement of Promise – The last part of this statement by Jesus is a promise – “and all these things will be given to you as well.” He’s saying that if we seek God’s kingdom and try to do the right thing, everything else will fall into place.
The end of my pastor’s message pointed out that this message given my Jesus in Matthew 6 can be problematic for us. When we try to align this teaching with the world we live in, we can quickly see that it doesn’t line up. Jesus’ system says seek God first, but the world says seek yourself first. Advertising on television is a prime example – most of the time we didn’t even know we needed something until someone told us we needed it. And we think we have to have it right now. Credits cards, and especially the aggressive marketing of credit cards to college students, is another example of how the world tries to convince us that we need stuff right now. Another way that Jesus’ system can be problematic is that it doesn’t match up with our own way of thinking. I have desires and things I hope for that are purely selfish, yet Jesus is telling me to forget those things, focus on God, and let Him take care of the rest. And that’s not an easy thing to do.
So, is the system Jesus outlines in Matthew 6 really attainable? Can we keep this kind of attitude, and will it pay off in the end? My pastor gave a passage from Psalm as an answer to this question. In Psalm 73, the author says “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” (v. 3-5). Asaph is saying that it seemed like those who were not followers of God appeared to have it good – no struggles, health problems, nothing to worry about. Asaph goes on to say “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” (v. 13). He says that he thought for a while that his seeking after God’s kingdom and His righteousness was all in vain. But then comes the truth: “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me, till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin…yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” (v.17-18, 23-24). As with all things, it’s the end that matters. You can run a race and be in first place the whole time, but if everyone else passes you at the end, you still come in last place. Asaph is saying that once he got a little perspective, once he started seeing things from an eternal point of view, he realized that although the non-God-followers seemed to have it good now, in the end, it’s the God-followers that get to go into glory. The only way Jesus’ system is attainable is if we have the right attitude and keep the right perspective – an eternal perspective.