In a time when the prosperity gospel is all too commonly taught in churches across North America, this passage is often used to speak about the way God handles any and all of our desires. For example:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and a spouse will be added to you.”
“Seek first the kingdom of God and health will be added to you.”
“Seek first the kingdom of God and success at work will be added to you.”
“Seek first the kingdom of God and the ability to have a child will be added to you.”
This text is regularly twisted to tell Christians to give God time and honour and in return He will bless them with anything their hearts desire; as if God most pressing concern is giving us whatever we want at any given moment.
However, by looking at the context of Matthew 6:33, we can see that when Jesus is asking His disciples to seek first the kingdom of God, He is not asking them to serve God in order to get other things. Instead, Jesus is asking His disciples to set their hearts completely on Him because He is their true treasure. This is a critical distinction for us to understand because without it we may be tempted to think of ourselves merely as customers in God’s store of blessings instead of as his beloved children. We receive all that He gives us based only on His grace. Let me show you three ways that Matthew 6 makes this clear for us.
Give, Pray, Fast
In the first eighteen verses of Matthew 6, Jesus addresses three things that the pharisees would often do to receive praise from those around them. They would give money to the poor and pray and fast, all to demonstrate their religiosity. Jesus, however, instructs his followers to do the exact opposite. He tells them to give, pray and fast in secret for “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v.4,6,18). He tells them not to follow their culture in performing embellished acts of religiosity in return for praise. Jesus is concerned with what’s going on at the heart level. Therefore, His aim in this text is not to give his disciples a new work to receive a blessing, but a new heart attitude. He wants their hearts to be kept for God.
Treasures in Heaven
In the next section, Jesus turns to the idols of the heart.
Jesus’ listeners are treasuring something, but the problem is that they’re treasuring things that aren’t going to last. Whether it was the pharisees treasuring their social status or others worrying about what they’re going to wear tomorrow (v.28), their treasures weren’t permanent enough. There’s only one thing that’s permanent and that’s the God-man who is speaking to them. Their idols will not only fail them, but they will affect the way they see everything around them.
Jesus is saying that if what we’re gazing on and hoping for is not the kingdom of God, it will negatively flavour the rest of our lives. We will live and die based on the one thing we’re focused on. Lastly, Jesus states that it’s actually impossible to treasure God along with anything else when He says that, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (v. 24) Regardless of what we may think, it’s impossible to seek the kingdom of God and anything else at the same time. Our hearts can only be set aside for one thing and Jesus is asking us to set our hearts aside for him.
Do not be anxious
In verse twenty-five Jesus tells his listeners not to be anxious about their life; but, He puts a very important word just before this command. “Therefore”. This word signals back to what He had just said, that His listeners cannot serve both God and money. Being anxious goes hand in hand with serving someone or something before God. While, on the other hand, keeping one’s heart set aside for God leads to an understanding that God is in control. Jesus gives the examples of the flower that doesn’t fret about its looks and the sparrow that doesn’t worry about gathering food. He says that their heavenly Father gives them what they need. He then asks His followers a question. “Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” He’s saying if they knew just how much he cared for them, they wouldn’t fret. If they knew how in control God really is, they’d see the pointlessness in any kind of worry.
Which brings us back to where we started. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Seeking first the kingdom is not a means to an end, it’s a call to make God your true treasure; your ultimate prize.
So what are you seeking? What are you relying on to practically supply your joy? What part of your life are you trying to control? Is there something that you’re hoping to get from God by your good works? Maybe you need to take some time to repent of the things that you have set your heart on and ask God to set your gaze on Him and His glorious throne instead.
There may come a time, if he wills, that God will give you some of these temporary things that your heart desires. But, the truth is, even if you’re in that coveted position at work, you’ve finally achieved success in your field, God’s healed you of the illness that you’ve struggled with for decades or you find a spouse, God STILL wants your heart to be set aside only for Him. He STILL wants you to seek His kingdom first. He STILL wants Jesus to be your true treasure. Perhaps you haven’t experienced the joy you thought you would in attaining some of the things that you desired so much. Maybe that’s because that’s not where true satisfaction is found. True satisfaction is in Him alone; in Jesus, our saviour.
Thom Peters is on staff at Westside Church, where he oversees kids ministry on both campuses. He enjoys leading a community group and pointing kids to Christ while being able to act like one.