Seeking first his reign and righteousness

Have you ever had your worldview rocked? Have you ever been confronted with truth so clear and obvious that you either had to lie to yourself or change your thinking? Those who heard Jesus were presented with that very choice, lie or change.

In the monumental discourse which covers Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus challenges the worldview of each person.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:3-5).

From beginning to end, Jesus challenges their worldview and corrects their misinterpretations of God’s law. He places side by side godliness and worldliness, with both implicit and explicit calls to choose.

In the midst of an exhortation to leave anxiety behind, Jesus instructs us to press forward in faith, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

When you read that phrase, where do you place your emphasis? For many years, I read it with an emphasis upon the word “first.” “Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” I’d say. It became a matter of degree. As long as I put God’s interests above my own, I’d be satisfying Jesus’ statement. I pressed my worldview into Jesus’ teaching, and bent his will to my own. (I wrote more about this here.)

But the emphasis is not placed there. The emphasis is upon that which is to be sought, namely God’s reign and his righteousness.

The kingdom of God is God’s reign. Jesus began his ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). God has always had a kingdom, and therefore he has always reigned. He reigned in the garden. He reigned through the time of the patriarchs and judges. He reigned when the people were wicked and when they were righteous. He reigned when they submitted to him as king and when they shouted for a substitute. He reigned when the temple stood in its glory and when it was reduced to rubble. But in God’s grand plan, his kingdom would be seen in its fullness through the work of Jesus.

The righteousness of God references a God who is just or altogether good. Paul details God’s righteousness throughout the book of Romans. God is righteous, and he demonstrates his righteousness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (see Romans 3:21-26). Through the work of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and our life of faith (Romans 1:17), man can become righteous. It is through living by faith, that we pursue the righteousness of God.

When we make God’s reign and righteousness the center of our world, when all other aspects of our daily lives are subsumed into a pursuit for God’s reign and righteousness, it is there that our lives began to look like our Lord’s. He was consumed by magnifying and glorifying the King of kings and demonstrating the Father’s ultimate goodness.

The fruit of such a pursuit is rich and bountiful. Anxiety transforms into trust. Shallow happiness is replaced by deep joy. Our desires meld into our Father’s. Our lives become conformed to the image of the Son. Our steps are directed by the words of the Spirit. Our minds are set on things that are above. And our hearts yearn for the time when we will be in the personal presence of our King and can reside in his righteousness for all eternity.

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