“(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall he added unto you. 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: 32-34)
Let us summarize the verses which have already been before us in that section of our Lord’s Address which is completed at the end of Matthew 6.
In verses 19-24 Christ forbade the practice of covetousness, and in what follows He struck at the root from which that sin proceeds, namely distrust and excessive care for the things of this. First, He tells us that such worry is needless: the bounty of God assuring supplies (v. 25). Creation is a pledge of our preservation: He who gives life will maintain it, He who provides a body will not deny it food and raiment. Second, He shows us that such worry is senseless: the providence of God unto inferior creatures evidencing it (v. 26). If God provides for the fowls of the air, will He suffer His own children to starve? Third, He proves it is useless:the impotency of man demonstrating it (v. 27). Since no anxiety or industry of ours can increase our stature, much less can worrying improve our earthly estate. Fourth, He announces it is faithless (vv. 28-30).
Since God clothes the herbs of the field, will He suffer His dear people to lack suitable covering? None but the Divine Physician could have opened up so impressively the hideous nature of this disease. In that Divine diagnosis we are given to behold the excuselessness and the heinousness of this sin which is so prevalent among professing Christians.
Distressing ourselves over the obtaining of future supplies, carking care in connection with securing the necessities of temporal life, so far from being a trivial infirmity which we need not take seriously to heart, is a sin of the deepest dye which should humble us into the dust before God.
Worrying over tomorrow’s food and clothing is needless, useless, senseless, faithless, and therefore it is utterly excuseless.
Then surely we should make conscience of it, confess it contritely before God, and seek from Him grace to mortify it. That which was spoken by Christ on the Mount is addressed unto us today: Oh, that we may be given ears to hear and hearts to improve the same. “( For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (v. 32). In these words our Lord advances two additional reasons why His people should not be unduly solicitous about temporal supplies. First, because such anxieties are heathenish.
This will appear more evident to the ordinary reader when we point out that the Greek word which is here rendered “Gentiles” is translated “heathen” in Acts 4: 25; Galatians 1: 16, etc. At the time Christ made this statement the “Gentiles” were without any written revelation from God and were in complete spiritual darkness. In consequence, they had the most erroneous ideas of the Divine character and government. Many of them believed that all things were fixed by a blind and inexorable fate, while others went to an opposite extreme, supposing that nothing was predetermined, but that everything was left to capricious chance.
Such are the philosophizings of man’s much-vaunted reason when un-illumined by the Spirit of Truth. The concepts which the “Gentiles” formed of their “gods” were such that they could have no trust in them. So far from regarding their “gods” as beings of benevolence, who regarded their devotees with compassion, they were looked upon as objects of dread, whose favour could only be purchased by the most costly of offerings (appropriated by the priests) and whose ire had to be placated by human sacrifices. Of a future life beyond this vale of tears the heathen had but the vaguest and gloomiest ideas. Consequently this world meant everything to them, and therefore their whole thought was directed and their energy devoted to the obtaining of its necessities and comforts, making such their chief good. Their ambition rose no higher than to eat and drink, to have a sufficiency of material things and make merry therewith.
And those of them who possessed little of this world-and only a very small number had much-were weighed down with worry as to how soon their slender resources might completely fail them. “For after all these things do the Gentiles seek.” It should be pointed out that the word in the original whereby Christ described the behaviour of the heathen is more emphatic than our translation intimates, denoting that they “set themselves to seek” or “seek with all their might.”
This is a detail of some importance, for the mere or simple seeking of things necessary for our welfare is a duty, but when we give ourselves wholly to the quest thereof it is a sin, for it proceeds from distrust of God. And this was precisely the case of the Gentiles at that time: they were without the knowledge of the true God, had not His Word and were ignorant of His providences.
How vastly and how radically different is the case of the Christian: God is revealed to him in Christ, a written revelation from Him is in his hands assuring him of the supply of all his need. How shameful then, how wicked, for a child of God to come down to the level of the heathen, as he does when carking care possesses his heart. The force of our Lord’s argument (that it is an argument or dissuasive is clear from its opening “for”) will probably be apparent if we paraphrase it thus: because on all these things do wordlings set their hearts-in the parallel passage it reads “For all these things do the nations of the world seek after” (Luke 12: 30). How utterly unworthy for a Christian to be regulated by a mode of thinking and acting such as governs the godless, to descend to the level of the unregenerate. Yet, alas, how many of those now bearing the name of ‘Christ do this very thing. How grossly materialistic is this twentieth century. How close is the resemblance between what men call “Christian civilization” and the conditions which obtained in the degenerate empires of ancient Greece and Rome. Human nature is the same in every age, the same the world over, and will inevitably remain so except where the Holy Spirit is pleased to work in His transforming power. “Solicitude for the future is at bottom worldly-mindedness. The heathen tendency in us all leads to an over-estimate of material good, and it is a question of circumstances whether that shall show itself in heaping up earthly treasures, or in anxious care.
They are the same plant, only the one is growing in the tropics of sunny prosperity, and the other in the arctic zone of chill penury.
The one is the sin of the worldly-minded rich man, and the other is the sin of the worldly-minded poor man.
The character is the same turned inside out! And therefore, the words ‘ye cannot serve God and mammon’ stand in this chapter in the center, between our Lord’s warning against laying up treasures on earth, and His warnings against being full of cares for earth.
He would show us thereby that these two apparently opposite states of mind in reality spring from one root, and are equally, though differently, ‘serving mammon.’ We do not sufficiently reflect upon that” (A. MacLaren). There are some who seek to excuse their anxiety and worrying by saying it is the result of temperament or circumstances. Even so, that does not lessen their sin. Divine grace teaches its possessor to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2: 12) and lifts him above circumstances (Phil. 4: 11). The fact is that those who do not trust in God’s goodness and count not upon His faithfulness to supply all their need are pagans, no matter what may be their profession. Pagans believe not in Divine providence, and so rely upon the means, trusting wholly in their own efforts and endeavors, and so make themselves their own god. The real reason why empty professors are so anxious about the things of this life and so troubled over future supplies is that their hearts are earthbound and their desires heathenish.
A worldling is one whose anxieties and joys are both confined within the narrow sphere of the material and the visible-take that from him, and he has nothing left. Observe now the ground on which this argument or dissuasive rests. Real Christians have the true God for their God which the heathen have not, and therefore they must differ from them in their behaviour.
God clothed the grass of the field (v. 30)-yea, with a verdure and beauty exceeding that of Solomon’s royal robes-” therefore take no [anxious] thought, saying [unbelievingly and petulantly], What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (v. 31). “For after all these things do the Gentiles seek,” and ye must not be like unto them. In all things the children of God should differ from the heathen. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” said Christ (John 17: 14), and as He evidenced His separation from and unlikeness to it, so must we. “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12: 2). Sons of the King of heaven are not to conduct themselves like the Devil’s beggars. “For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (v. 32).
Here is still another reason, the most powerful of all, for delivering believers from distressing fears and God dishonoring anxieties about future supplies. “Your heavenly Father” is set over against the inanimate and impotent “gods” of the heathen: His knowledge or tender solicitude, against their ignorance and lack of concern.
The poor pagans might well say, If we are not wholly taken up with seeking after the necessities and comforts of this life, then pray who will provide them? But it is far otherwise with the Christian. The One who made heaven and earth sustains to him the relation of a heavenly Father: “Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear Him” (Ps. 103: 13).
He knows what I have need of, and will not deny it to me. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Matthew 7: 11). The believer need trouble himself no further than soberly to use all lawful means, calmly and confidently counting on God to bless the same: God will provide what is needful for him and therefore he need not vex his mind about it. Let it be duly noted that Christ here repeats the note which He had struck in verse 26: “your heavenly Father feedeth them.” If He provides for such inferior creatures as the fowls of the air, will He suffer the members of His own family to want? He is their Creator and so bountifully supplies their need; but He is the Christian’s Father and will not forget His own child. Here is double armor against the arrows of anxiety: the intimate relation which the great God sustains to His people, and the assurance that His knowledge of them is equal to His love for them.
The children of this world are indeed tormented with anxiety as to how tomorrow’s supplies will be obtained, nor is it at all strange that they should be bowed down with such cares, for they have no heavenly Father to whose infinite love and faithfulness they may commit themselves. Consequently in this argument Christ is putting His disciples to the proof, as to whether or not the relation which God sustains to them be actual and counts for anything, or whether it be mere theory and lip profession.
All distrustful anxiety concerning the supplies of things needful proceeds on the assumption that God either does not know our wants or that He cares not for us, which is precisely the attitude of the worldling.
But with the Christian it is very different. He has the realization that “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8: 32). He is assured from Holy Writ of God’s special providence over him, taking notice of his case whatever it may be and making all things work together for his good. From this assurance he must learn to practice contentment: depending upon God by simple faith and trustfully leaving himself and all his interests in His gracious hands. This contentment or acquiescence in the Divine will is to be practiced in sickness as well as in health, under trials as well as blessings, in adversity as in prosperity, realizing that whatever may be our circumstances they are according to the good pleasure of our heavenly Father, who is infinite in power and wisdom.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (v. 33). In these words Christ makes known the great counter-agent unto and remedy for covetousness. As in the previous verses He had been striking at the root from which that sin proceeds, namely distrust of God and excessive care for the things of this life, so here He reveals the effectual specific: that is, making the things of God our paramount concern. It is of no use only to tell men that they ought to trust, that the birds of the air might teach them to trust, that the flowers of the field might preach resignation and confidence to them. It is no use to attempt to scold them into trust, by telling them that distrust is heathenish. You must fill the heart with supreme and transcendent desire after the one supreme object; and then there will be no room and leisure left for the anxious care after the lesser. Have inwrought into your being, Christian man, the opposite of that heathen over-regard for earthly things” (A. Maclaren).
The renowned Thomas Chalmers was the author of that impressive expression “The impulsive power of a new affection.” God and the world, Christ and Belial, cannot possess the soul of the same person: when the love of God is shed abroad in the heart the love of the world is cast out: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5: 17). Man is constituted that he cannot be devoted to two different and diverse objects at one and the same time: it is utterly impossible for him to serve two masters-God and mammon. Let his affections be set upon things above and they will be detached from things below: the more real and blessed (by the exercise of faith) become the former, the less attractive will appear the latter, and the less hold will they have.
The best way to get a child to drop a filthy or dangerous object is to offer it another one more satisfying. If the horse cannot be induced to trot, turn its face homewards and it will quickly improve its speed. Having by one argument after another dissuaded His disciples from distrustful care, Christ now shows unto them what that care is which ought always to possess their hearts: to wit, care of the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Three questions at once suggest themselves to us.
- First, what is denoted by those particular terms?
- Second, what is imported and included in our “seeking” after the kingdom of God and His righteousness?
- Third, what is meant and included by the word “first”? Most of the commentators regard ” the kingdom of God and His righteousness” as a comprehensive expression for Divine things in general. Thus Matthew Henry says, “It is the sum and substance of our whole duty.” Thomas Scott gives, “The blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom, the righteousness in which His objects are justified, the grace by which they are sanctified and the good works in which they are to walk.”
To us it appears that such definitions are too brief and too vague to convey any distinct concepts to the mind, and therefore we shall endeavour to examine them more closely.
Among dispensationalists the grossest conceptions have obtained concerning “the kingdom”: they have literalized what is figurative and carnalized what is spiritual. Strictly speaking the Greek word basileia has reference to sovereignty rather than to territory, to dominion than a geographical sphere. The “kingdom of God” signifies the rule of God and therefore, in its widest latitude, takes in the entire universe, for the Ruler of heaven and earth governs all creatures and things: angels and demons, men elect and reprobate, animals and fishes, planets and the elements. “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all” (1 Chron. 29: 11). And again, “The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103: 19). Rightly did one of the Puritans affirm, “There is no such monarch as God is, for largeness of empire, for absoluteness of power, and sublimity of His throne.”
By some this aspect of it has been designated “the Kingdom of Providence.” In its more contracted sense “the kingdom of God” has reference to a certain order and estate of men, namely those who profess to be in subjection unto the rule of God, who avow their allegiance to Him. As the “kingdom” of Satan (Matthew 12: 26) is found wherever we meet with those in whom the prince of the power of the air “now worketh” (Eph. 2: 2), so the kingdom of God exists wherever there be those in whose hearts He reigns.
This aspect of it is denominated “the kingdom of grace.”
As such it is to be considered two ways: as externally administered, and as internally received. Its external administration consists of the ordinances and means of grace and the outward profession men make thereunto-hence in the parables of the kingdom Christ pictures tares as well as wheat, bad fish as well as good being included therein. When He said to the Jews, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21: 43) Christ had reference to the external privileges of the means of grace. As internally received the kingdom of God consists in Divine grace ruling in the hearts of His elect, so that they are brought to submit themselves unto the obedience of Christ. It is this aspect of the kingdom which is in view in Matthew 6: 33.”
— An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount by Arthur W. Pink