Opinion—The Kingdom Initiative
By Nick Wilson
Editor’s note—Views expressed in the following op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates. We publish op-ed features to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. We’ve asked to hear from a diverse range of voices across the Church of God movement. This op-ed features two of these voices.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” —Matthew 6:33 ESV
What if the words of Jesus are true? What if he meant what he said when he taught his disciples? What if the words of Scripture apply to our lives, just as they applied to the lives of those who lived in the first century? What if you applied the words of Jesus to your life? What difference might it make today, or in the days to come?
Despite the evident beliefs of 21st-century Western culture, the words of Jesus are more than moral platitudes. They are not given as optional advice, but they are instructions about the way we live. In fact, they are instructions about the way we were created to live. The commands of Jesus that we find in the Sermon on the Mount are given to keep us from settling for something less than a thriving relationship with a God who loves us.
Christianity is about God’s provision for us in times of need, his love when we are broken, and his goodness in days of trial and hardship. It is about our relationship with him as we walk the path he lays out before us over the course of our time on this earth. Modern society has, too often, made Christianity something less than this fellowship with God. It has made the words of Jesus secondary to our pursuits and desire.
According to N. T. Wright, “When Christianity is made ‘just a religion,’ it first muzzles and then silences altogether the message the gospels were eager to get across.” Jesus insisted that the Father desires to be an active part of the lives we live. This is what he was referring to when he commanded his followers to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….”
According to Jesus, our responsibility as Christians is to seek. Seek is a word that I took for granted until I had children and began to observe their behavior. My daughters, at five and seven years old, have taught me that a person cannot be forced to seek anything. They can be encouraged to seek, commanded to seek, punished for not seeking, but it is incredibly difficult to make someone seek. This is reinforced every time I ask them to help me find the remote for the TV. They wander around the room aimlessly while I actually look. Needless to say, they are seldom the ones who find the remote.
I cannot be forced to seek any more than my children. Jesus’ command to seek the kingdom requires something of us that cannot be coerced by another. Though it is God who established the kingdom at his own initiative, we still bear the responsibility to seek this kingdom. That means that the kingdom must be something that we desire because it is those things we desire that we seek.
If we took an assessment of our time, or our finances, what would it say that we are seeking? Where do we spend most of our energy, time, and resources? What we spend these things on is what we are seeking. For some it is wealth and prosperity; for others personal goals, accomplishments, or notoriety. Everyone is seeking something. The pertinent question is, “Will we make God’s kingdom that which we primarily seek?”
To seek God means that we make him our pursuit. Our goal becomes fellowship with him and the other things we do fall into their proper places as a result of that. The idea that we must “seek” God is not limited to the Sermon on the Mount, but is also a reality throughout the history of God’s people. In Jeremiah 29:13, we read, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” God’s desire is loving fellowship with his people, and this requires that we learn to “seek.” We are not without responsibility in this relationship.
So how do we seek God? Through Jesus Christ! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The closer we walk with Jesus, the deeper our experience in the kingdom.
Jesus’ instructions did not stop with “seek.” He also gives our priority: seek first! God’s kingdom is not something that we will experience fully through nominal pursuit. Jesus pointed out that it was the Gentiles (he meant pagans) who placed other things first. “For the Gentiles seek after these things [food, clothing, shelter, etc.], and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt. 6:32).
The Gentile world of Jesus’ day was consumed with material things. This is not much different than Western culture in the 21st century. We pursue clothing, cars, and homes that will impress others. We work hard to eat the food that will give us the body we want so that we may conform to the world’s demands upon our lives. But God is already aware of our needs. To pursue these things as primary goals is to forsake the priority Jesus has conveyed to us.
Jesus promised that if the kingdom is first, God would take care of the other needs. These things should not be our primary concern because God’s primary concern is about our heart. He is more interested in developing a holy heart within us than a life that will please a fallen society. We are seeking God’s kingdom, and his righteousness—that which will change our hearts! When our hearts are changed by the power of a Holy God, we are then able to put all the other things of this world in their proper place. Our transformed hearts and minds allow us to look at the world from a proper perspective. This is why there is nothing more significant in our lives than the pursuit of God’s kingdom. It is only within this kingdom that we find the promises that will meet our true needs. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained, “Before, you lived to eat and to drink and to dress and now…you still eat and you drink, and you still dress, but you do not live for them; you do it just because they are essential to life and no more.” When the kingdom is our priority, we live for the kingdom and all those other things fade into the periphery of life.
So, what, specifically, are we seeking first as Christians? What is this kingdom we read about in Scripture? Ben Witherington sheds some light on the issue when he asserts, “The Greek term that we often translate ‘kingdom’ (basileia) and more importantly the Aramaic term that Jesus likely used (malkuta) do not always refer to a place. Sometimes they refer to an activity or a condition instead.”
Having said this, what, specifically, are we seeking first? We are pursuing God’s ruling activity over our lives. Jesus is teaching us to do more than live our lives in hopes that we may stumble over God’s activity along the way. He is telling us to passionately seek the ruling activity of God over every aspect of our lives. To look for his activity within the church, the workplace, our hobbies, our family relationships, and every other part of our lives. We actively seek out this ruling activity, and then surrender our lives to it. When this takes place, then all the other things we need fall into place because God provides them.
What difference would it make in your life today if seeking the ruling activity of God, and his righteousness, was your first priority? How would it affect the issues we face in this life? A focus on God’s kingdom would take our attention from our own priorities and pursuits and place it squarely on God’s priorities. Maybe it would redefine our positions on social and cultural issues. It would certainly heal broken relationships and help us to offer forgiveness as we release the grudges and hard feelings that we are encouraged to cultivate in today’s society.
The objective of the Christian is greater than food and clothing. Our objective must be the kingdom! Jesus is clear, when the kingdom becomes our primary pursuit, God will take care of our needs; he’s already aware of each and every one. We seek a lot of things in this world. Wealth, material, happiness, the list goes on and on. But if we are going to be true to the message of Jesus, our greatest priority must be the kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God,” according to Os Guinness, “is our goal, in all its fully orbed richness throughout our daily lives. All the rest is added value that, by God’s grace comes with it.”
Questions or comments? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick Wilson serves as pastor of First Church of God in Kittanning, Pennsylvania. He is a fourth-generation pastor and is ordained in the Church of God reformation movement (Anderson, Indiana). He is the author of The Culture of God’s Kingdom and I Saw an Open Door, both available on Amazon. This article originally published by Pastors’ Fellowship. Republished by permission.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.