Sermon on the Mount—

Part Two

Seek F-I-R-S-T the Kingdom of God!

How demanding! How inconvenient! Did Jesus have to say “first ‘?  Yes, for our own good. To keep us from missing out on many rich blessings! But He also deserves our seeking and putting Him first, whether it’s to our gain or loss. So, seek Him first even if it seems not to be to your personal advantage.

But, what’s it mean to seek Him first?

Aspects of First-ness

Seek Him first in your life’s history, in your childhood, early in life: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12: 1). Don’t say, “Someday when I get older, I’ll think about God.”

Second, let’s seek Him first in our daily schedule. Let’s lift our waking thoughts to God: “Good morning, Lord. Thank You for another day, and for your presence. I commit to You my heart and circumstances today. I yearn to please You, my Father and King. I seek to do your will.” As the psalmist wrote,

O God, You are my God. Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You

In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.

–Psa. 63:1, NKJV

Third, let’s seek Him first in our priorities, first in preeminence. Once I asked a teenager who was regular in attending church but careless in her conduct: “Betty, are you really following the Lord?” She assured me that indeed she was. “Well, Betty, here’s another question: Can you honestly pray this prayer? ‘Lord, I want to do Your will-no matter what it is, no matter what it costs’?” She hung her head and said, “No. No, I can’t honestly say that.”  How sad, for such commitment is not set forth as an advanced step for the few folks who want to be outstanding saints. In the Bible such commitment is not compared to getting your spiritual PhD, but more like enrolling in God’s kindergarten. It’s included in the repentance required when you enter His school-not an advanced degree. Of course after our initial repentance we still have vast growing to do. But we have taken our stand for Christ. As the song says, “1 have decided to follow Jesus – No turning back!” That’s what it means to seek God’s kingdom first. It starts with such surrender.

Once more Tozer’s searching words confront us:

It is not an uncommon sight in any church to see one or two who are ablaze for God, while the rest accept things rather calmly and without much interest. … It may be set down as an axiom that our spiritual condition perfectly corresponds to the intensity of our desire. Each of us enjoys as much grace as he actually wants. Where that principle seems untrue, it is clear that our desire is not as great as we had supposed. We want God, it is true, but we want something else more. And we get what we want most.

Seeking First His Kingdom

That means to pursue more and more to live under .. His Kingship, His Rule. “Your Kingdom come” means “my kingdom go.” The Jewish teachers often expressed their teaching in parallel statements, repeating the same thought in different words. Thus “Your Kingdom come” is explained by the next phrase, “Your will be done.” I hope every reader of this can pray those words sincerely, and not be like Betty.

An illustration

Centuries ago, before exact geographical boundaries were established and accurate maps were made, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas of their kingdoms. The basis was not on exact location – which was hard to determine – but on lifestyle and practices.

People who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with serpents as practiced in India — these were considered Laotians and paid taxes to Laos’ government. But people who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons — these were considered Vietnamese and paid taxes to the government of Vietnam. People could tell who you were by how you lived.

Can people tell who we are by how we live-not just outward practices, but our standards, values and character as well?

Another way they could have solved that ancient taxation dispute would be if they simply asked folks, “When you use the term, ‘My king,’ which ruler do you mean – the king of Vietnam or of Laos?  Who is the Sovereign you acknowledge and obey?” We today should answer that question too, telling folks “I sought citizenship in the kingdom of God, and Christ graciously gave me that privilege. He is my King as well as Savior.” But in addition to our outward pledge
of allegiance is the test of practical obedience to the ruler we claim to follow. Am I following the values and standards He taught and exemplified?

For Jesus added that to seek first his kingdom also involves seeking first “His Righteousness.” To have Him as King means we will seek to live by his commands, such as He gave in Matt. 5. He calls us to righteousness, love and forgiveness, purity and self-control. He calls us to go the second mile in sacrificial service. This leads us on to the Golden Rule, the other principal principle of our study this month.

“Seek what you want, but learn to want the best things.”

–author unknown

*          *          *

“Be careful what you want, for you will get it.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

*          *          *

“He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

–Hebrews 11 :6. Same main thought as Matt. 6:33

Divine Ethics in a Nutshell

Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 7:12

The verse begins with “So”; or some other versions say, “Therefore.” So, as has often been said, we should ask what the therefore is there for. That word always points us back to what went before it. The preceding verse says, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So …. ”

Since God is generous and supplies us our needs, we too should be great givers. More than that, since He is generous and loves to give us good gifts, we can be free from fearful self-centeredness – free from anxious grasping — free from the inner drive to assert ourselves because of insecurity.

Do we get it? Our good and great Father-God loves us extravagantly. So let’s trust Him for our needs. And let’s relax, casting all our anxieties on Him. We need not worry about ourselves and our necessities. Instead, being freed from such self-centered concerns, we can and should concentrate on the needs of others and how we can reach out to help them.

Our Lord continues, “So, in everything …. ” There He goes interfering again! Everything? Yes, everything! He really wants us to take this seriously.

At the end of this sentence He goes so far as to say that this statement summarizes all of God’s Word, all His will for us. This is what the Bible is all about in its revelation of God’s plan for our conduct and character. He condenses all the demands of His law and all the teachings of His prophets into this one statement, Treat others as you want to be treated by others.

The typical non-Christian way of life is to “treat others as they treat you, only do it first.” But Jesus’ way is not that, but — Treat others as you want them to treat you! This broad general principle settles a thousand difficult questions. It prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in each and every specific case.

At opening night of a Christian camp one summer, the director told the campers: “We Have Only 1 Rule this week: ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ You do that and we’ll have a great week.” Well, we must admit that when dealing with children or any immature folks, that’s a bit of a stretch. Can’t you hear a camper telling his counselor, “If I were counselor I’d let you stay up till 2:00 A.M., so you should let me stay up till then … “) But basically the  rule is true.

In fact it’s so obviously true that many religions and philosophies teach some form of this principle. Socrates and Aristotle taught it. So did Confucius, who counseled: “Do not do to others what you would not wish done to yourself.” And Rabbi Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else.” But all of them expressed it in a negative way: “Do not treat others as you do not like to be treated by others.”

Jesus went beyond them and put it positively: “Do to others as you want them to do to you.” That goes a lot farther. Oswald Sanders explains, “It is easier not to do bad things [such as steal from someone], than to do something positive [such as giving to meet their need]. Mere inaction will achieve the former, but it takes firm resolve to say, ‘I will go out of my way to be as kind, helpful, and generous to others as I would wish them to be to me. ‘”

Yes, to follow Jesus means more than avoiding wrongdoing. To follow Confucius’ rule would prevent me from beating up my neighbor. But to follow Jesus would inspire me to rescue my neighbor from danger–even at risk to myself.

“It is one thing to say, ‘I must not harm my fellows.’ It is quite another to say, ‘I must go out of my way to help them.’ The first could be fulfilled by inaction; the second only by self-sacrificial love.” (Michael Green)

Let’s Follow this Rule!

Let’s forgive others as I want them (and God) to forgive me.  Pray for others as I want them to pray for me. Help others as I want them to help me. Give to others … , and so forth.

In our homes, our families, let’s make this rule our rule. At work, on the job, let’s aspire to treat others in this way. With our neighbors, let’s treat them as we want to be treated.

In our relations with our fellow church members, let’s lead the way and show others the beauty of this Golden Rule. And if we fail, let’s ask forgiveness as we want others to ask it from us. And extend forgiveness as well.

Let’s Share This With Our Youth

Especially when they go off to college and live in a dorm, urge them to: Treat the property of others as you want them to treat yours. Write letters to your parents as you want them to write you. Do not gossip about your roommate as you don’t want her/him to gossip about you. Keep your side (and even more) of your dorm room clean as you want your roommate to…. Try to understand her/him as you want…. In disagreements with her/him, compromise as you want. . ..

In that very last point, however, we refer only to personal preferences (what music or programs to listen to; how late to let
friends visit, etc.) – but not your moral standards!

May All of Us …

Follow this golden rule of our Savior and Master, with all our hearts. But also, may we trust the Giver of this rule to forgive us when we fall short. Thank God, that’s why He died, arose again, and intercedes now as our great high Priest.

Let’s also trust Him to fill us with the Holy Spirit–to make the Golden Rule possible and do-able by us. “His power can make us what we ought to be,” thank God.  And He will make us what we ought to be, if — If we First of all, Seek Him, Seek His Kingdom, Seek His Righteousness.

Reprinted from the Word and Work magazine, September-October, 2007

-Alex Wilson lives in Louisville, KY and is  Editor of “Word and Work” and  one of the  ministers of  the  Portland Avenue Church of Christ