First Thing First – Part 2

[continuing in Matthew 6:33-34]

Now from our text we not only see a command to pursue but also a command to prioritize, namely seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

A Command to Prioritize 

Notice the word first. The Greek word is protos, where we get words like prototype (first of its kind) and professional (first or expert in certain discipline or field). The Greek word means “the foremost or the most important.” Notice Jesus did not say the second or third, but first! What this means is, in all things God is to have the preeminence and priority in our life. Hence, the first thing first. You seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

In this life we have many responsibilities and priorities. For instance, we have responsibilities and priorities to our family, to work, school, and even to church. However, the greatest priority and preeminence is God, his kingdom, and his righteousness. Now let me clarify something here. There is a tendency in American Christianity to quickly defend the importance of our family. Hence some would argue that this cannot be viewed as either or but both, meaning one should not have to choose family or God but both – i.e., family and God. Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that family is unimportant. However, I would like for you to understand that family is not God nor equal to God.  

Do you know how many times I’ve heard people say, “We’re not going to be at church on Sunday because we’re going to Johnny’s game” or “We’re going to take a break from church for awhile so that we can focus on God our own as a family” and so on? Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we can’t miss church due to personal or family vacations. All I am saying is that there is a tendency in American Christianity to use family as an excuse to justify missing many Sunday worships corporately. And in some families people use family unity as a reason to shy away from speaking the truth in love. On this regard just listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 10: 

  • NAU Matthew 10:37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

That’s one of those hard to swallow and hard to believe truths that Jesus preached and taught. Nonetheless, it is one of several aspects of the gospel. 

When Jesus commands his disciples to prioritize there is no God plus something. First means he takes the sole preeminence, and God does not share his preeminence with anyone, especially with his creations. Hence the meaning of preeminence and priority excludes expressions like “God and” or “God plus.”

Now how does seeking God first look like? What are some practical applications? As you know there are many applications. It is impossible to list myriads of applications due to time. For me, when I am awake in the morning I generally turn my thoughts to prayer immediately. Usually it’s not a long prayer when I’m in bed because I don’t want to fall asleep! It’s a simple prayer of recognition that this day belongs to God and I would have the privilege to experience his grace today. Sometimes I say to myself, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I shall rejoice and be glad in it!” The way we begin our day tells a lot about our priority. Also even in chaotic and hectic schedule of the day, say to yourself, “First thing first.” Recognize God and honor God in all you do. D.L. Moody said, “What and how man chooses when opportunities and alternatives are put before him often tells what kind of a man he is” (source unknown). 

Now here in our text Jesus specifies what we are to seek first, namely his kingdom and his righteousness. I agree with D.A. Carson that this does not refer to imputed righteousness or justification like that of Pauline theology, but reference that is consistent to its context (as in 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1).[1] It is righteous life, the kingdom life that is submissive to the kingship of God as Jesus has been teaching thus far in his sermon. Hence we are commanded to pursue and prioritize our God, who has the kingship and lordship over our lives. We put him, his kingdom business, and his righteousness first.

So far all the things I’ve said is jam packed into two aspects of command that Jesus is giving. Now I would like for us to move from command to consequences, namely what happens when we obey his command? 

II. Consequences

I want to point out two aspects of its consequences, namely God’s provision and God’s protection. One consequence for keeping Christ’s command is that God will provide all our needs. And this is similar to what Jesus already said back in verse 8. Notice Jesus doesn’t say that God provides all our wants but needs. I believe that’s our constant challenge, that is, courage to deny the self-centered desire for wants when all the needs are met. According to John Piper:

All these things’ does not mean everything we think we need, but everything we really need. And real needs are determined by what God calls us to do, not what we feel like doing. God gives us ‘all these things’ that we need to fulfill his calling in our lives (italicized his).[2]

When we keep Christ’s command in pursuing God and prioritizing his kingdom business God will provide all our needs. It is God’s job to provide and our job to trust. I have learned over the years (and I am still learning) that God is the provider for me and my family. I can truly echo what Paul said in Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Again, God’s job is to provide and our job is to trust!    

Another aspect of this wonderful consequence is God’s protection. When we pursue God and prioritize his kingdom business he protects us from physical starvation (provision of food) and weather elements (provision of clothes and a place called home). Furthermore, being consistent with the context when we pursue and prioritize God, he ultimately protects us from our worries. God delivers us from us. Thus let God worry for our life. Let God worry for our temporal needs in this life. We give our worries to him in exchange of our trust in him.

People, first thing first. Seek God, his kingdom, and his righteousness. Prize God first. Treasure God first. Enjoy God first. Know God first. Worship God first. Serve God first. Glorify God first. Make him first in all that you do in your life. Amen.


                [1] D.A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 volumes, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 182.

                [2] John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 118.

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.”