“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you.”
For worldly minded individuals, happiness at Christmas time revolves primarily around the acquisition of new and greater earthly treasures. What kinds of gifts one is given or purchases for himself can make or break a joyous holiday season for the unbeliever. Likewise, increase in wealth and earthly treasures in the new year is a benchmark for determining if it can be called a “happy” or “successful” year as far as unbelievers are concerned. And while we Christians, because of our Old Adam, are not immune to such worldly thoughts, our evaluation of what makes for a happy new year should be completely different. The thing that constrains true Christians to be happy even in times of deep poverty, pain, sickness, and loss is the confidence that, being justified through Jesus’ blood and righteousness, they have a gracious heavenly Father, who takes care of them continuously here in this world and will bring them into eternal joy and glory when this earthly life is over.
Scripture in numerous places urges us to look past the sufferings of this life, the result of sin in the world, and to focus our attention on heaven (Romans 8:18; II Timothy 4:18)—which is a very profitable meditation at the changing of the years. And, as we sojourn here temporarily in this vale of tears, the theme verse selected for this article (Matthew 6:33) directs us to the promise of God’s loving care of His believing children from day to day in order to quell worldly anxiety on our part. This promise follows immediately upon His injunction to put that which pertains to our Christianity “first” before any earthly considerations. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” The “kingdom of God” here spoken of is His “kingdom of grace”—the Lord’s gracious ruling in the hearts of believers through His Word, specifically by the means of His Gospel. We Christians, who are already members of this kingdom by faith (Galatians 3:26), are told to continue seeking (Greek present tense) it, that is, making His kingdom and the spiritual blessings He imparts to us through the Means of Grace our constant priority, desiring to be strengthened in the faith and to have Christ rule our hearts and lives more and more each day. Likewise, “His righteousness,” the imputed righteousness of Christ (Romans 3:21–24), which every believer already has by faith (Romans 4:5), is still to be desired and valued as our most precious possession, confirmed to us continuously through the Gospel. These priceless blessings are in direct contrast to the purely temporal things which “the Gentiles,” the unbelievers, “seek after” as that which they most value, desire and strive for (vv. 31–32).
If we take this exhortation of the Lord to heart and make it our motto for each new day, then we will have the proper focus for our Christian lives as we go forward into the new year. Rather than approaching the year ahead like the children of this world who spend their time and energy seeking after wealth and earthly advancement, we who are the adopted children of God by faith in Christ Jesus are to be seeking first the Lord’s kingdom and His righteousness. Through the faith that the Holy Ghost has worked in us by the Gospel, we have been brought into the kingdom of Christ and have received His righteousness as our own. This has been accomplished in us and for us by God’s pure grace alone, without us meriting any of it by our works. However, good works flow from a living faith (James 2:17, 20, 26). The gracious love of God in the Savior Jesus Christ moves the heart of a Christian to love the Lord in turn (I John 4:19). According to the new man that the Holy Ghost has created within us, we desire to live every second of the new year in God’s service, following His Commandments (I John 5:3) and growing in our knowledge and understanding of His Word (I Peter 2:2–3; II Peter 3:18). Our time and energy will be put to good use this new year if they are spent in the study and meditation of God’s holy Gospel, whereby our faith is nurtured and preserved (I Peter 1:5; I Thessalonians 2:13) and our love for Him is increased, and the study and meditation of His holy Law, whereby our path is directed in ways that are pleasing to Him. “I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart. Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments, for therein do I delight. My hands also will I lift up unto Thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in Thy statutes” (Psalm 119:32, 35, 48).
But must we not divide our focus between God and the pursuit of wealth in order to provide for our earthly needs? Absolutely not! In the first place, no such division is possible; for Jesus plainly declares: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon [worldly things]” (Matthew 6:24). In the second place, serving God includes (it does not exclude) working diligently for the daily bread that He gives us (II Thessalonians 3:10–12). And, in the third place, the Lord specifically promises that those who are engaged first and foremost with the things pertaining to Christ’s Church and His imputed righteousness will always have what they need in this earthly life graciously provided for them by their heavenly Father. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” From the context of this verse (Matthew 6:25–33), we learn that “all these things” is a direct reference to the necessities of life, namely, food and clothing. Jesus draws our attention to the Father’s merciful and thorough care of His creatures—specifically birds and wild flowers—as He makes the point that our Father in heaven will certainly also care for us, who are much more valuable to Him than birds and flowers. “Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? …Consider the lilies of the field how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:26–30). Birds do not till the ground, sow seed, water plants, harvest grain, and store food in barns; and yet God still provides for their needs. Plants do not sew or buy clothes for themselves; and yet God dresses the wild flowers of the field in such a way that their beauty exceeds the royal apparel of Solomon, the richest king of Israel. Shall not the Lord, therefore, much more provide for our needs day by day? He certainly will, because by faith in Jesus Christ we have been made His adopted children whom He loves very much (Psalm 103:13). With the sure promise of the Lord’s gracious care, we have nothing to worry about in the new year that lies before us.
Of course, even with all the necessities of life being provided for us by our gracious heavenly Father, our old sinful flesh will still tempt us to be discontent and think that we need more earthly blessings in order to be truly happy in the new year. It is important, therefore, to remember the admonition and warning of Holy Scripture: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And, having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Timothy 6:6–10). If we have no more in this world than basic food and clothing, “food and raiment,” we should not be discontent with what we have. Consequently, we need to fight against sinful thoughts and feelings such as these: “I can’t possibly live another year in this small house.” “This new year will be happy for me only if I can replace my ugly, broken-down car.” “My main goal is to finish this new year with more money in the bank than I had at the beginning.” Rather than tying our happiness in the new year to the acquisition of earthly goods, we need to work at being truly happy and thankful with what God has already given us (far more than we need) and has also promised to give us in the new year (food and clothing)—remembering that we sinful creatures deserve none of His blessings. We can certainly pray that the Lord would allow us to attain specific goals in the new year (getting a larger house, a more reliable car, a higher savings account balance, and so on); but we are to pray that God would grant these things unto us only if it is His will and will redound to our spiritual and eternal welfare. If the Lord then chooses not to grant those specific requests, it should not upset us (assuming that we were really serious about wanting His will to be done rather than ours). And, if we have the Godly contentment that we should have, we will not let the pursuit of earthly goals distract us from seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
To all those who seek first the things pertaining to their Christian faith and life, the Lord firmly promises that they will always have the necessities of this earthly life—they will always have food and clothing. So there is no need to worry about having what we need to live from day to day, even if our financial situation appears dire. If the gracious promise of the Lord in Matthew 6:33 does not give us comfort, then we are not taking God’s Word seriously; and we need to repent for doubting His promise.
Since God is not two-faced (Numbers 23:19; II Timothy 2:13) or “slack concerning His promises, as some men count slackness” (II Peter 3:9a), the exercise of His sovereign will in punishing the wicked by withholding from them daily bread (as in a famine, in widespread starvation, in disasters that result in deprivation of food and raiment even unto death) and the exercise of His good and gracious will for believers in giving them trials and tribulations according to His good pleasure for the purpose of purifying and strengthening them (e.g., Lazarus in Luke 16:20-21 and the “brother or sister…naked and destitute of daily food” in James 2:15) dare not be cited as violations of His promises! “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counselor?” (Romans 11:34). Specifically with regard to believers who suffer want in this world, their chastisements should be regarded as the manifestations of God’s love for them and their purpose as good and salutary (Hebrews 12:6–13; Romans 8:28; also I Corinthians 10:13; Isaiah 54:7–8).
We Christians should be confident that God’s rich grace in Christ Jesus will attend us throughout the new year, because the Lord has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Oh how joyful, therefore, we should be throughout the year! Does this mean that we can, or should, live the new year completely free of all sadness? No. Because we live in this world of sin—spiritually contending against the devil, our flesh, and our sinful fellow human beings—there will be times when we rightly feel sadness, pain, and disappointment. We Christians are not to rejoice in iniquity or in the destructive results of sin (I Corinthians 13:6); and yet we can and should still “rejoice in the Lord alway” (Philippians 4:4). Consequently, joy and sorrow are often be mixed together (II Corinthians 6:10) in the Christian’s life.
The knowledge that there will be suffering (perhaps very severe pain of body or spirit) in the new year should not cause us to worry about the future (which would be both useless and sinful). Knowing that God is in control of all things (II Chronicles 20:6, 15–17), we should be completely comfortable leaving the future and all of our needs in the gracious and powerful hands of the Lord. Immediately after Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,” He adds this important instruction: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:33–34). Because of sin in the world, there is enough evil around us just in the present day; there is no need for us to worry about the future or to try dealing with future evils today. Rather, we should simply pray for the protection and guidance that the Lord has promised us and be comforted knowing that He will keep His Word.
While it is not a sin to plan for and pray about the future, it is a sin to worry about it (Philippians 4:6). It is also a sin to think that we are in total control of our futures—forgetting about God’s overarching governance and direction of all things (Proverbs 16:9). Of course, we should always remember that whatever plans we make are subject to the will of God, and He may decide to direct our lives completely differently than we had planned. Accordingly, we ought to follow the inspired instruction recorded by the Apostle James in his epistle, where we are told: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (4:14–15). We need not fear what unexpected events might befall us in the new year. Through faith in Christ Jesus our Savior, we need not fear even if death awaits us in the year ahead, because the never-failing promises of God in the Gospel assure us that eternal joy and glory in heaven are reserved for us. “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom” (II Timothy 4:18; see also Romans 8:35–39).
We Christians are so richly blessed to have God as our loving heavenly Father, our constant Friend, Helper, Protector, and Guide; and He will be with us continuously throughout the new year! The unbelievers, even though they also receive a great deal of gracious blessings from the Lord during the year, despise God’s grace and love in Christ Jesus, and, therefore, forfeit the promises of His grace that apply specifically to Christians, such as: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33); and “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28); and “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36a). So the unbelievers have much reason to worry about the future, because they never know how much longer God will continue to give them breath (Psalm 104:29); they do not know when their time of grace will be over (cf. Luke 19:42, 44b; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15) and when they will receive the punishment that they have brought upon themselves by their sins and unbelief (Romans 6:23a; II Peter 2:1b). “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36b). Even atheists, who deny the existence of God and the coming judgment, can have no comfort when thinking about the future. In their self-deceived minds, the only thing that they have to look forward to is this earthly existence, which really has no guarantees of happiness for them but is full of pain and suffering and uncertainty. Consequently, it makes sense why unbelievers often become consumed with worries about earthly things and why they typically try to avoid thinking about their inevitable death. Oddly enough, they usually greet the new year with glee and joyous celebration, even though each passing year only brings them closer and closer to their final year of life here on earth and after that, the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
When we Christians celebrate the changing of the years, we should remember with gratitude how God has so graciously taken care of us in the past and look forward with Gospel-generated certainty to enjoying the Lord’s continued blessing in the future—all for the sake of Christ Jesus’ work of redemption. Knowing that by faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven and that the Gospel assures us of God’s loving care (Romans 8:32), let us joyfully enter upon the new year, confidently commit our lives to His safe keeping, and always seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness until He chooses to bring us to Himself in fullness of joy for all eternity in heaven (Psalm 16:11)!
—P. E. B.