First Thing First

Last night I had the privilege to preach Matthew 6:33-34 to the congregation that I serve. The following is my sermon entitled “First Thing First.”

FIRST THING FIRST

When we approach a passage like this we must understand it in light of its context. This particular text is part of a unit that goes back to 6:16. That is why we cannot isolate our text from its big picture. This evening we are about to engage the heart of this big picture. It contains the final command from our King, which serves as final application to this particular thematic section. From our text I see two connecting truths, namely a command and then its consequences.

I. Command

Before we look at this particular command that Jesus gives here, I would like for us to notice the first word that is mentioned in this verse in our English translations, namely but. As you know this is a conjunction (meaning this particular verse is directly connected to previous verse and verses), and here it’s making a huge contrast. If we would to miss this contrast, we miss out on the force of this command. And since I would like for us to feel the force of this command by Jesus let me draw your attention to this first word.

The great contrast that Jesus is making here is for us to see the difference between what the non-kingdom citizens seek and what the kingdom citizens seek. Jesus says in verse 32, “For the Gentiles eagerly seek these things” and then he makes a great contrast in verse 33, “But you (my followers, my disciples, my kingdom citizens), seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. You can’t feel such force of this command if you ignore this particular conjunction word “but.”

The Gentiles in Greek is ethne, reference to anyone who is not a Jew. For Jews anyone that is outside of their ethnic community is considered non-kosher or unclean. Hence this term in Jewish sense often means idolaters or pagans. But in the context of the Gospels and the Epistles in the NT, this term is generally viewed as non-Christians.

Notice Jesus gives two types of seeking: one by idolaters (v. 32) and the other who belong to God’s kingdom (v. 33). Exegetically there are two different Greek verbs used by Jesus: epizetousin in verse 32 and zeteite in verse 33. The former is mentioned only three times in the NT with two of the three times it is connected to nonbelievers. The verb in verse 33 is in present active imperative 2nd person plural, which literally means “You all seek,” reference to all the kingdom citizens. And this particular verb is mentioned 22 times in the NT and mostly a reference to believers in Christ.

The implication that this seemingly unimportant word “but” in verse 33 is huge. Jesus is contrasting the difference between you that are followers of Christ and them. The people of this world chase this life without God. What’s scary is that people don’t realize how short this life is. According to James, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (4:14). How scary to gamble the brevity of this life without God! And this is how the people of this world live. They are consumed with temporal things of life. To them life is all about having stuff and having more of them (clothes, shoes, cars, food, real-estate, and so on). It is as John Piper says a wasted life.

Now here’s the force of this command: but you! Do you see what Jesus is doing? There is a clear distinction made between you and them. There is a line of demarcation drawn. But you! You that are my disciples, my followers, my kingdom citizens, my elect, you are different! While those people treasure treasures of this life, you treasure God! You prize me! In essence that is what Jesus is saying here.

You all seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” And under this command that Jesus gives, I would like for you to notice two aspects of this command, namely a command to pursue and a command to prioritize.

A Command to Pursue

You all seek first.” This particular verb here means to pursue with the totality of your life.[1] Do you know why we are commanded to seek God? I offer you two reasons. First, we are to seek God because it is God who first sought us. God was the initial seeker in our redemptive history. We did not seek God first, he sought us first. Ephesians 2:5 states, “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” The basis for our seeking God is God. And the Bible teaches that no one can seek God unless God draws him/her. In fact that’s what Jesus said in the John’s Gospel:

  • NAU John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
  • NAU John 6:65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

As I seek God, by his grace, I begin to learn about him. I begin to see him not as a daily Santa Claus, a cosmic genie, a universal grandpa that gives me whatever I want, but a holy God who hates every unrighteous deed (mine included) and every unrighteous doer (me included) and is fully capable of pouring his rightful judgment and condemnation to every individual who is guilty before God. But God chose to pour his wrath on his son instead and his son willfully obeyed to die on the cross to satisfy all demands of his father’s wrath so that those whom the father has chosen would be granted to believe and repent and be saved. As a result of this glorious work of God, the recipients of his saving and sovereign grace joyfully seek and pursue God. All that is to say God is the basis for our seeking him.

And when you begin to have such a high view of God, you’ll realize as John Piper has written that God is the gospel. That means the ultimate focus of the gospel is not man nor his needs but God! I would even argue that the ultimate goal for the gospel is not even the salvation of man but the exaltation of God! Hence the purpose of the gospel is not so that I can have the health and wealth, but solely for God’s glory.

And when your life is driven by such view of God and his gospel, you realize that there is nothing really worth pursuing in this life than pursuing God. And that is the second reason why I seek God. Think of it. Who else can satisfy my deepest longing? What else is worth living for than for God’s pleasure and his glory? Like the psalmist who wrote Psalm 42:1-2, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Or like David who said in Psalm 63:

  • NAU Psalm 63:1 O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. 3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. 4 So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. 5 My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. 6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, 7 For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.

Do you pray like that? Do you long for God like that? Do you pursue and seek God like that? That is the type of seeking and pursuing God’s people desperately need and should pray for. You have not because you ask not.

[stay tune for the rest]


[1] Although this is my definition, it certainly is congruent to its context. A lexicon such as BAGD defines the verb to mean “try to obtain, desire to possess.”

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