Seeking after the Kingdom of God
From the CCCF archives | Michaelmas 2007
What is it that you live for? Why do you get out of bed every morning? Is there something to look forward to each day? Perhaps there are days when we don’t look forward to getting out of bed. There are still overdue essays to be completed, washing to be done and books to be read. Worse, there is the guy in the laboratory who thinks you are out to steal his ideas.
One supermodel, Linda Evangelista once said that she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than US$10,000 a day. Some of us have more banal reasons. Many get out of bed simply to stop the alarm clock! Personally I get out of bed because my wife makes me a glorious breakfast everyday [perhaps that explains why I tend to sleep in when she’s not around].
The passage Matthew 6:33 challenges us to have radically different priorities. To make sense of Matthew 6:33, we have to see the context in which it appears. Matthew 6:19- 6:34 forms a part of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in which He stresses the importance of not being caught up with possessions. Jesus then gives a series of exhortation, telling the disciples not to worry (Matthew 6:25-32). Jesus gives four reasons why we need not worry about food or drink or clothes (our daily necessities).
First, life is more than just food and clothing (Matthew 6:25b). Of course, they are necessary for our daily living. Fortunately for most of us, we do not struggle with basic necessities. We are not in danger of going hungry nor do we lack safe drinking water. Instead it is not whether we have food or water but very often, we grumble because of the quality of food. (Those who have been in Christ’s College for a couple of years will know what I mean about the quality of food in the upper hall or buttery!)
Yet, we could too easily forget that the audience of Jesus’ message was not well-to-do. In fact, it is likely that many of the hearers led hand-to-mouth existence, earning their daily bread with their daily wages. One biblical commentator Darrell Bock puts it this way, “If He [Jesus] can say such things to those of humble means, how much more are they true for those of us whose daily needs come with more consistency.”
The second reason for not to worry is that God cares for us. Here, Jesus provides an illustration from nature. If God cares for and provides for the birds, then how much more will He care for us? This is not to say that we merely sit around and be idle. I like how one scholar, Luce puts it, “They [the birds of the air] are not always worrying that the supply of worms may run out; yet they do not expect the worms to crawl down their beaks.” One previous CFer (who has since graduated) used to put one quote supposedly from Confucius in his email, “Man who stand on hill with mouth open will wait long time for roast duck to drop in.” We too have to do our part and work to earn our wages. (In fact, work is more than simply earning our wages but more on that later).
The third reason Jesus gives for why we should not worry is a practical one - worrying is useless (Matthew 6:27). If we cannot even do anything about adding an extra hour to our own life, then why worry about it? Instead of worrying, we should spend our energy on things or outcomes that we have some degree of control over. Jesus then uses the lilies as an example of their beauty even though they do not labour. They are beautiful simply because God made them beautiful. The point about God’s care for even the seemingly most insignificant plant – grass – should also be a source of encouragement that God will take even better care of us. The fourth reason Jesus gives for us not to worry is because our heavenly Father knows that we need them (Matthew 6: 32). Our behaviour should be in contrast to the pagans who worry about such things (food, water and clothing) and the difference is because we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father.
After giving these four reasons for us not to worry, Jesus tells us what our priority should be— seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. One biblical scholar, Darrell Bock explains that to seek after God’s kingdom is to live as his representatives. As members of his household and citizens of his community, we are to conduct ourselves in the best interests of home and country. We must represent him and reflect his righteousness in a world unconcerned about knowing God. This is the constant call of the disciple, as the Greek present imperative ‘seek’ indicates.
In short, seeking after His kingdom means living a life that is acceptable to God. It is a life that seeks God’s rule. What is the kingdom of God? This is a worthy topic for future discussion. Suffice to say for now that the kingdom of God refers to the reign of God on earth as in heaven. The kingdom of God has arrived with the first coming of Christ but it will only be fully consummated when Christ returns. When Jesus returns, then all of creation will be redeemed from sin. Till Jesus returns, there will be sin, death and disease present here on earth.
What does that mean for us today in Cambridge? There are two applications that I think we could draw from the passage and discussion above.
The first should be evident from the passage itself. We, as Christians, are called to lead lives that are radically different from what is commonly espoused around us. Instead of worrying about ourselves, we ought to look to the needs of others. Rather than worrying about our own provisions in life, we can afford to be generous to those around us, especially those who are in need. Such a lifestyle is counter-cultural. It goes against the grain of the prevailing culture around us where wealth or possessions are prized and one’s self-worth is measured based on what one owns or earn. For instance, in Singapore, it is common to find calls for higher pay because people need to be paid what they are worth. The nobility of the work itself seems secondary to the monetary value placed on it.
Closer to the United Kingdom, John Wesley was one of the greatest evangelists in the 18th century. In 1731, he decided to limit his expenses so that he could give to the poor. He found that he could live on 28 pounds out of his 30 pounds annual salary. That year, he gave away 2 pounds. Over the years, his pay increased but his expenses remained the same - 28 pounds. Even when his annual pay reached 1,400 pounds, he gave away most of it. All through his life, he never spent more than 30 pounds annually. When he died, the only money left was the coins in his pockets and dresser. Unfortunately, few of us will be able to match John’s generosity. Perhaps too few of us aspire to even try. Indeed, his lifestyle is a challenge to many of us where we raise our expenditure with rising income. Whether it be mobile phones, cars, flats or even houses, we often want the latest gadgets (or ‘toy’) or something better than what we currently have to reflect our new status. Perhaps for those who are going to start work soon, how many of us look forward to a pay rise so that we can give more to the needs around us?
Social concern is not many of our strengths. Perhaps part of the reason is because we are too overly concerned of the dangers of the ‘social gospel’ that we preach a ‘privatised’ gospel, one that has no impact over some areas of our lives. Please don’t get me wrong. I do believe that part of seeking after God’s kingdom is also to proclaim God’s kingdom. That is to say, to seek God’s kingdom is to share with others the good news of Jesus’ death on the cross for us so that our sins could be forgiven. However, there is something more.
This leads me to the second application which is, surprisingly, neglected by many Christians here in Cambridge. That is, to proclaim God’s kingdom is also to participate in His creative and redemptive work in the world. Sometimes, evangelical Christians talk so much getting people into the kingdom that we neglect what it means to live in the kingdom.
Some of us divide our lives into parts that are sacred (the CF, Bible study groups, church, missions...) and those that are profane or secular (studying for our Tripos, reading, playing soccer, cooking...). However, the divide is a false one. The former Dutch Prime Minister and theologian Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine, this belongs to me’.”
To serve in the kingdom of God is, for most of us at this moment, to excel in our studies and to explore what gifts God has given us and use those gifts for His glory. To serve in the kingdom is to participate in the redemption of fallen creation. To put it more simply, to serve in God’s kingdom is to roll-back the effects of sin and to participate in God’s creative
In practical terms, we need to focus both on our spiritual formation and our intellectual growth. We cannot fail to neglect our spiritual walk because without Jesus, we are simply building our houses on sand. Growing spiritually means that we have to allow the teachings of Jesus permeate every part of our lives. Otherwise, the God we serve is too small. Jesus is too small, confined to a modest place in our lives (usually CF on Mondays, Bible studies on Fridays; and church services on Sunday). Without intellectual formation, we fail to take captive every thought to make obedient to Christ. Without hard work, we will fail to see what assumptions lie behind some of the worldviews that confronts us daily, or what assumptions our disciplines make on truth, knowledge and ethics.
Do all of these sound too difficult? Do we feel overwhelmed? We should not be. After all, God does not give us more than our daily portion of trouble (Matthew 6:34). John Piper reminds us not to reach into tomorrow and bring its troubles into today. We should look forward to waking up in the new day, ready for the work ahead whether it be ironing, cooking, reading, writing or doing the laundry. After all, all these are His work.