The Kingdom First

…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:33-34

Recently we have been looking at the theme of worry and anxiety. We saw, as with many things in this Sermon, that Jesus’ ways are radically different from our way of thinking. Indeed, it is even to the point where we would think it crazy. But yet I have accepted the challenge from Jesus to be different. This does not guarantee that there will be no difficulties, but Jesus did say that he came to bring us life more abundantly.

The last verse of the section, where Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, and that is the focus for this study.

It is worth reminding ourselves what Jesus meant by the words ‘and all these things will be given to you as well.’ So if you check back to the earlier verses, you will find that this specifically refers to food, drink and clothes. This is the promise that we will not go hungry, thirsty or naked as children of the Father.

Sometimes we get this completely the wrong way round. Go to any park in any city and, just for a moment, notice the small children playing there. Who is responsible for feeding these children? Who is responsible for making sure that they have enough to drink? Who is responsible for making sure that they are not naked? Surely it is the parents of these children. And in older cultures, and still in many cultures of the world today, it is the Father in particular. It is the Father who is seen as the ‘breadwinner’ who brings in the resources so that his family will not be hungry, thirsty or naked.

But within the church we behave differently. We act like it is the children themselves who are responsible not to be hungry, thirsty or naked. Not only that, we begrudge it if anyone in the congregation asks for help in these things. Pressure is put onto people in areas of life where the Lord wants us to be without worry.

Sometimes we even forget that, in terms of the heavenly kingdom, we are but children. And that we gain this status by seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness.

Please be aware that, even here, Jesus leaves us a reminder that any degree of legalism is completely useless, of absolutely no value at all, when it comes to finding acceptance into the kingdom. This is true no matter what the sin.

You managed to point our the error of their ways to a gay person or a lesbian? Sorry, that is as filthy rags before the Father and you have won no points at all with Him. Indeed, you may have caused Him anger by making the message of the gospel like poison to the person you challenged. You managed to deny yourself and no longer walk as a gay person or a lesbian? Sorry, that is also as filthy rags before the Father and this also scores no points at all with Him. You may have managed to pacify some woefully bigoted persons who call themselves ‘Christians,’ and so may have pleased men or women, but you did not please God by doing this – because this is still your own strength and obedience according to legalism.

There are lengthy passages to explain this, written in particular by the apostle Paul, who explained that he had every right to boast about his obedience to the law and prophets. And yet, to him, he understood that it is all for nothing and as filthy rags (in the original, it refers to soiled menstrual cloths, which is to say that this is a particular reference to being spiritually or religiously unclean).

I have deliberately chosen to speak on a certain perceived sin, because of how it has been in the public debate within the church recently. I make no apologies for the way I present this argument, because the work of the gospel has been greatly damaged by hatred and bigotry. I do not see that it is either hatred or bigotry that made Jesus allow himself to be nailed to the cross where he died for every man and woman and child, including those who are gay or lesbians or transvestite and so on. We were all dead and in our sins when Jesus died for us.

So when we are told to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, we are looking for that which we can’t do for ourselves. There was only one who was righteous, and it is my sins and your sins that pinned him to the cross of Calvary. So we need to recognise the one who stood in our place, taking on himself the punishment that we richly deserve. We need to reckon our lives as crucified there on the cross with Christ, so that we may be raised up a new man, a new woman, clothed now in a righteousness not our own, but that of Christ. And as Jesus was the son of the Father, so now we, clothed in His righteousness, and can approach the Father as His sons and daughters.

We can approach now without fear and sit on the knees of Daddy, to give and receive love like any child with the parent. And to make our requests like any child. And as in any family, the Father will make sure that we are not naked, nor hungry, nor thirsty.

And it is in recognising our place in the family, as sons and daughters of the Father, that Jesus says ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.’

Now let me say here that this is not a verse to tell us not to make plans for the future. Many things need planning in advance. Even should you want a holiday that requires a flight for you to reach the destination, then you are best to have your flight tickets in advance, because if you buy them on the day you could be paying four times as much or more than if you paid earlier.

There is also the gift of prophecy, and the dreams God gives, and the visions God gives. Often these things are about the future. I would say that Christ’s words apply here, and that we are not to worry about these things. But we are to remain seeking the Kingdom and His righteousness.

In addition, as an aside here, it is worth noting that dreams and visions should not be expected to be given to us all completed on a silver platter. I would say that, often, these things are like flat-packed furniture. When you have that wardrobe delivered, it looks nothing like a wardrobe when it arrives. There is some work to do. You may even have to develop new skills, and you certainly need to follow instructions, using the correct parts in the correct places.

I would say that, often, it seems to me that the purpose of these dreams and visions is more about changing and developing us as believers even more than it is about the end goal. Usually you need to develop some new skills and learning. And certainly you need to develop both patience and perseverance. In addition, you will find obstacles and difficulties on the process or journey towards the goal. If these dreams and visions were truly of God, then these problems are not insurmountable, although at first it may appear that way. That is where prayer and fellowship with the Father will help. And some getting out of our ‘comfort zones’ to discover the solution to the problems.

So, brothers and sisters, this is not about planning, or the prophecies or dreams or visions. This is more about the way that we think of the future. And our help is in that word of the text where Jesus says, ‘Therefore…’ In other words, he is linking this problem of worry about the future with what he has just said concerning seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness.

When we have allowed the work of the gospel to function in our lives, then we are the younger members of the divine family – children of the Father. And in any family, who has the responsibility for the future? Have you seen parents speak to their little children and say to them, ‘OK, kids. I am not sure about things a week from now. It could be terrible. What are you kids going to do about it? We’re relying on you!’ ?

Come on, tell me, what would you think of parents who spoke to their kids like this? And yet, this is often our expectation of each other in the church. This is often the expectation that we place on ourselves. And, when you realise your place in the family, then you can understand that this is both wrong and ridiculous.

Kids are very much in the here-and-now. Any parent knows this. They are hungry now and they want the food now. They are thirsty now and want a drink now. They are too hot and take off their shirt now. They do not leave it until later to do something or to ask you about it. When they are bored, they let you know straight away. When they fall and hurt themselves, you hear the noise and know about it immediately – and they rightly expect both help and comfort.

Now examine your own walk with the Lord. Do you keep it as immediate and as simple as that?

Admittedly, this is very hard to do if you just lost your job, and you have the mortgage to pay, or the rental to pay, and so do not even know if you will have a home in a few days.

But here is where the vast chasm of difference between the kind of Christian life and Christian church life that Jesus wanted and was reality in the book of Acts, and the kind of Christian life and Christian church life that we have today.

There is no excuse for the ‘prosperity gospel’ where so-called Christian leaders bleed the congregation dry, while using the ‘magic formula’ of Luke 6 as the lottery card for the believers they speak with. And let me add here that there is nothing in scripture to declare that being wealthy is wrong in and of itself.

But I wish there was the room here to quote the many scriptures here about the pride that prevents the wealthy from helping those in need and ignoring those who are hungry. Indeed, in the prophets, it is this that is defined as the sin of Sodom (which is rather different from the sin of sodomy as we understand it today, isn’t it…)

And so Jesus talked of the ‘one thing that they lack’ when speaking of the wealthy, and how it is as hard as entering the kingdom through the eye of the needle.

I will not beat around the bush here. If there is someone in your church without a home – then the church should provide a home. There is enough wealth or resources for this in just about every true church. And if someone does not have enough to feed themselves, then the church should be the safety net. And the same if they do not have enough to purchase new clothes.

This is the way of the New Testament church – and just read it in the book of Acts. The scriptures tell us that there was no-one needy among them. This is NOT because they denied the ‘losers and scroungers’ admission into the congregation!

The church acts as a family, and teaches, encourages, trains and instructs like a family. So if you worry about some becoming ‘dependant’ or ‘scroungers’, then stop worrying! It is also the responsibility of the church, in its pastoral aspect, to train the individuals so that they no longer have to be ‘dependant’ and certainly not ‘scroungers.’ It is part of parenting that we help our children to become strong and independent in this cruel world – and in the same way, there is the same kind of responsibility in the church to turn around the lives of unfortunate individuals so that they may begin making a positive contribution.
And you may even discover the next Charles Wesley or Billy Graham by taking in the newly destitute person and turning their life around. Yes – I’m being serious!

I honestly believe that part of not worrying about the future is dependent on all of the children of God living as Christ taught, and so having the kind of Christian church life that is seen in the New Testament. If we were all playing our part, then indeed there would be no need to worry on that terrible day when you lose your job and your income. The safety net of the family of God in the church will see you through that time, and make sure you can find your way to the next chapter of your life. You will not be hungry or thirsty or naked, or lack a place to lay your head. And if you need to learn new skills for the future, you will be given the help and encouragement that can be expected in any properly functioning family. And you will know that soon you will be making positive contributions again, and not being a drain on resources.

How different from the church that we see today! And how very different from the ways that we see in the world today! Yes – to belong to Christ means to be radically different!!

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