Desires: Seek First Matthew 6:25-34
10/28/2019 2:27:56 AM
October 27, 2019
Rev. David Williams
I had a question last week from a sincere young man who is seeking the truth about Jesus. He is reading the book “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel and he asked me about a question from that book: “Ancient sources say that early Christians clung to their belief rather than disavow them in the face of torture. Why do you think they had such strongly held conviction?” This person wanted to know how I would answer that question. Let me ask all of you, why do you think early Christians clung to their beliefs in the face of torture and even death?
Why did early Christians suffer for their beliefs rather than disavow them? Because it’s true, life altering and of eternal consequence. The word “gospel” is taken from Greek and means “triumphal good news with earth shattering consequences.” Used when Caesar bore an heir! That had a huge effect on the whole Roman Empire! It was amazing news, because if the emperor died without an heir there would be civil war!
Has the gospel shattered your world? Is your whole life altered and re-centred around the news of Jesus? Or just your plans for the afterlife? Or maybe Sunday morning plus the afterlife?
Today I really want to challenge all of us with the question: Is Jesus the centre of your life around which everything else is arranged, or is Christianity something you try to add to your life and all the other stuff in it?
Is Christianity the centre of my life, or something I add to my life? We’ve been working through a series on the Holy Spirit this fall with the goal of acquiring some tools to help us live a Spirit-filled life, to become more like Jesus at the core of our being. We’ve zeroed in on our desires and are looking at how our desires shape our life. Our desires are corrupted by sin, so we need to relocate, redirect our desires to help us become more like Jesus. Specifically, we’ve been talking about our innate desires for significance and security; the desire to know others and be known in return, to love others and be loved in return.
What do we desire more than anything? Where do we turn to fulfill our desires?
Please turn with me to Matthew 6: 25-34. By way of context, this is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which gives radical directions on how to live a life that reflects being in a right relationship with God- that is, how to live a righteous life. Much of Ch 6 has to do with the righteous person’s attitude towards money, from giving to the needy to storing up material goods on earth vs. storing up treasure in Heaven. Verse 24, specifically, is the famous verse, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
What It Says
What is this passage saying? We’re going to look at a few things this passage says, a couple things it doesn’t say, and then apply the central verse to our lives. First, this passage is about worry and anxiety. There are numerous people in our congregation who are open about their own struggles with worry or anxiety. It’s never a pleasant experience to worry. “Worry” reflects a state of mind that manifests in frenzied activity. Sometimes that activity is physical. Sometimes it’s mental. The frenzied activity of the mind over what worries us has kept many a worrier awake in the wee hours of the night!
V. 24 says we cannot serve both God and money. Literally, it says “man cannot be slave to both God and Money.” I know many people who worry would describe the experience as slavery! But the one who is slave to God, Jesus implies, need not be a slave to worry over the things that money provides.
We are not to fixate on, or be consumed by, providing for our physical needs. Remember, many of Jesus’ listeners were poor! But Jesus says they are not to worry about their food or clothing because they know that life is more than these things.
Jesus’ prohibition is not against work or providing for ones needs, but rather anxiety! Our state of mind is not to be consumed with these things, our activity is not to be a frenzy trying to procure these things for ourselves. After all, Jesus says, the clothes are less important the body they cover and the person who lives in that body. Life is more important than food, even though food is necessary for life. God gave us life and gave us bodies; when we are slaves to God he will look after our whole life and our whole body, including the food and clothing our life and body require.
Notice, as well, Jesus doesn’t prohibit concern for other people’s needs for food and clothing. Remember, Jesus’ audience included many people who were poor. When we read and preach this passage, we must never interpret it to mean that we are to tell people in need not to worry, or that we need not worry about the needs of others! The message of Scripture is clear in both the OT and NT that the people of God bear the responsibility to provide for one another’s needs! That is part of living in a right relationship with God! This is a passage that we are to apply to ourselves, but not to use as a weapon against the poor! I am not to concern myself with my own needs, but I AM to concern myself with your needs!
The issue is not providing for needs, but our attitude towards those needs. At question is one’s loyalty to God. If we are slaves to God, or servants of God, then we must not allow ourselves to be enslaved to material things, or to spend our lives serving material things, like clothing and food and certainly not more extravagant material things like luxury, comfort and ease!
The issue Jesus was addressing then is equally prevalent today- the issue of materialism! That is, allowing the pursuit of material pleasures to drive our lives. Again, the issue is not having nice things, but pursing nice things at the expense of whole-hearted devotion to God. When we pursue things, nice things, necessary things, our pursuit means we are not listening to God with our whole mind, will and desire. Our desires have been placed on the things we are pursuing. That is why, when we don’t yet have them, we worry about them! When we do have them, we worry about losing them. They become the central focus of our heart. Having them, attaining more of them and potentially losing them begins to consume us and results in a frenzy of activity!
What, then, is the antidote? Seek first the Kingdom of God, and your physical needs will be met. “Seek” means to make your first priority, your top priority. What you seek first becomes the driving force in the majority of your activity. Maybe not directly, but it drives what you do. If, for instance, you seek first more wealth, you will work longer hours, pursue promotions at work or jobs that make you more money. When decisions come along in which you need to decide between two things, one of which will limit or hinder your material gain, you will choose against that. Your time commitments will reflect work and wealth being a priority.
By contrast, when you seek first the Kingdom of God, God’s rule and authority become the driving force of your activity. They become the central focus of your thoughts, desires and will. When you are faced with a choice between two things, one of which will more greatly promote God’s Kingdom, you choose that thing! Your schedule will reflect an emphasis on God’s Kingdom. Your spending will reflect an emphasis on God’s Kingdom. Your attitude will reflect an emphasis on God’s Kingdom. And, in order to ensure that you are able to keep pursuing God’s Kingdom, God will a) ensure that your physical needs are met, and b) reshape your heart to be satisfied your needs being met and not all of your wants!
The Kingdom of God means the authority or rule of God. When, in the Lord’s Prayer, we ask “Your Kingdom come” we are asking that the rule of God come, that his authority be recognized and obeyed by all people, beginning with us! So seeking first, pursing first the Kingdom of God means seeking first his authority and rule in your life and in the world around you. It means seeking first God’s glory. It means seeking first obedience to him in your life.
Remember our diagram? The authority of God broke into the world with the resurrection of Jesus. Sin, the rebellion against God’s authority, was defeated. When Christ returns, God’s authority and rule will be complete and unchallenged. This truth is to be the primary driving force in our lives!
This passage has some wonderful, immediate applications. We’re going to look at some of those. But we’re also going to dig a little deeper, connect some dots that may be a bit further apart and gain some more application.
Certainly, this is a useful reminder that worry is, in and of itself, not productive. Who can make themselves taller or live longer by worry?!? But why we worry is much deeper. Why we worry has to do with what we seek first, what we make our top priority, what we desire above all else.
It is easy, even for religious people, to pursue things over and above God. Remember, Jesus was talking to Jews- the most religious people in the Roman Empire! They were radically loyal to God, which is why Judea was such a hotbed of revolution around the time of Jesus. They wanted to throw off Rome so they could follow God and have Him as their king, without pagans contaminating the holy land! They were devoutly religious. And yet Jesus had to warn them of the danger of seeking first things other than God, even things like the physical need for food and clothing.
Jesus shocks them all by saying, “Pagans run after these things.” He is comparing them to pagans! Seeking first something other than God makes an idol out of what you seek. God demands our radical loyalty. That’s why in v. 24 Jesus uses “slavery” language, language that Paul echoes repeatedly in his letters. If God is God, he must be first in our hearts. That includes first in our desires, first in what we pursue with our energy, time and resources. Not to seek God first is to put something else in God’s rightful place, which is idolatry and sinful.
So, in essence, a key part of discipleship, of learning to be like Jesus, is to learn how to seek first God and his authority over everything else we seek. It’s easy to read this passage and think it’s just about food and clothing, but it’s actually a profound statement about what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be a Christian!
What we seek first is intricately tied to where we find our significance and security. Remember, we’ve been discussing our deep, innate need to feel significant- that we matter, that we are of value- and to feel secure- that we are safe, that we are loved. This is primary needs everybody has. And we look to many, many things to meet these needs. Some of us find significance in our abilities- that we’re good at something. Some of us find significance in the approval of others. Some find it in what we have or have accomplished. But all of these things are vulnerable. All of these things can be shaken, or even taken away from us!
Similarly, we find security, safety, in a variety of things. Many of us find our sense of safety or security in being self-sufficient. Or perhaps in the savings we have amassed. Or in our family, or our relationships. We find security in many different areas. But true security can only be found in God, because only God is all-powerful and eternal. The security found in knowing that God will resurrect us and give us new bodies far outweighs and security we can find ourselves. Banks can be robbed. Economies can crash. Families can fracture, or even die. Abilities can erode or even be stripped away. But nothing can separate us from the love of God!
God is the only “safe place” to invest our hopes and dreams- things that we “seek”. God’s rule and authority are eternal and unshakable. His Kingdom is safe to seek first. Anything else we seek is fragile, subject to loss and decay. What do I mean by that? We worry about not gaining, or not gaining enough or losing something we value. But everything in the world is temporary and transient. No matter how much money you have, you can lose it. No matter how much comfort you have, you can lose it. No matter how much love you have from family or friends, you can lose it all! This is the part of the power of the story of Job- he had it all! And lost it all! Only God is safe to seek over all else because God’s rule and authority are eternal and therefore unshakable.
We seek many things. We need to discern what we really seek first. That is, what we seek above all else. This really shows up when it comes to decisions on how we spend our resources, those decisions in which we must choose one thing over another. What really sits on the throne of our heart? Is our first and primary goal in life to glorify God, to submit ourselves to his authority and rule, and to work so that others will also glorify and submit to him? The primary goal of the Holy Spirit is to show us Christ and form him in us. Is that our primary goal in life too? Do we want to be shown Christ and to show him to others? Do we want Christ formed in us at the expense of all else?
As I reflect on my calendar, where does seeking God’s Kingdom rank? Most of us have to go to work or go to school. That’s understandable. We need to be responsible. We need to develop and use the gifts, skills and opportunities God has given us. This is one of the primary ways God does provide for us. But what is our motivation for these things? If we work 40 hours a week, why? Is our goal in having a job to pursue God’s kingdom? Do we earn money so that we can invest in the Kingdom of God? Do we seek a greater salary primarily so we can give more to God and his use? Or are our motives more “personal” in nature?
Family can also push God’s Kingdom out of first place in our hearts. As you reflect on your calendar, how much time do you spend doing things with and for your family? If you have kids, how much of your week is consumed with their activities? Family is important! As a pastor, I must regularly remind myself that my family is my first congregation! But as great as family is, it must never take over first place in my heart. I must never seek first family!
When it comes to doing things for church, seeking God’s kingdom among his people, in the body of Christ, what takes priority in your calendar? Time and time again, conversations happen among our leadership about how busy people are! Including me! And yet, what are we busy with that takes priority over God’s Kingdom?
What are we busy with that takes priority over God’s Kingdom? These are things that we are seeking first! These are things that creep into our hearts, nudge God over on the throne of our lives, and sit there as subtle, but all too consuming idols! What do we say “no” to in our lives and in our schedules? What do we say “no” to spending money on? How often do we say “no” to going to church, or serving at church, or giving to church? But church is the vehicle through which God has chosen to exercise and establish his rule in people’s hearts and lives. The church is the body Christ has chosen as his own. The community of believers is the community in which God’s will is done, where he is obeyed, where his rule is lived out.
Do I sacrifice things in order to obey God, or sacrifice obeying God to pursue other things? I chose the word “sacrifice” on purpose because it’s a worship word! It is easy for us to sacrifice church on the alter of work, or school, or even family. It is easy to see our paycheque, our report cards and our family members. It is harder to see the Kingdom of God. It is easy to put first what we can see, especially if they are important things, especially if they are good things God has given us!! It is hard to put first the most important thing: obedience and submission to God, often because it is invisible. What or who do you love more, God or your job? God or your home? God or your spouse? God or your children?
To be honest, I don’t know how I would answer these questions myself! I hope I’m making you uncomfortable. I hope you’re staring to squirm. Being convicted is a good thing!
I want to bring us back to the question we opened with about early Christians- they died for their commitment to Jesus instead of renouncing Christ! And today, thousand upon thousands of Christians face the same choice and make the same decision in the persecuted church! Why? Because it has been life altering for them to know Christ. They seek first the Kingdom of God! Do we? What do we seek first? What has first place in your heart and mine?
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