Mat 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Sometimes the simplest instructions are the hardest to obey. In this passage Jesus is delivering the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mat 5:1-2). By the end of which, his audience was “astonished at his doctrine” (Mat 7:28) and the authority commanded by his teachings (Mat 7:29). I can’t help but wonder if such astonishment was partially derived from a profound revelation of the Mat 6:33 and its implications. This passage requires a radical framework of prioritization for all Christians.
As I was becoming an RN, I learned many frameworks of prioritization. These guide all emergent clinical decisions and dramatically increase the odds of practioners to save the lives of their patients. For instance, all medical personal are taught “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” where physiological needs must be met first, before all other needs. In my ACLS/TNCC emergency training, other methods of prioritization are taught such as “save a life over saving a limb,” “acute problems before chronic problems,” and “actual problems before potential problems.” There is even a step by step “A-B-C” abbreviation to remind practioners of the proper order to prioritize life-saving care: “Airway-Breathing-Circulation.” Needless to say, without proper prioritization death would be the outcome of nearly every high acuity case. Why? Imagine, you ingest something you are seriously allergic to. Your eyes begin to water, you become itchy all over, and then all of a sudden your throat begins to constrict. You are finding it increasing hard to swallow and breathe. You rush to the hospital. As you arrive at the ER your airway completely constricts and you are unable to pass any air in or out, you have seconds left to live without intervention. What if, at that moment, the ER staff decided to do a lengthy collection of insurance information before taking you into a room? What if the first thing the doctor did was ask for a list of the medications you are on? What if the nurse wanted to take your vital signs before notifying the physician of your arrival? At this time, we all would expect that the staff would recognize that restoring the airway is the FIRST and ONLY real priority. Though this comical scenario is luckily removed from anything we would expect to happen, it’s important to note that any deviation from proper prioritization is deadly.Spiritual mis-prioritization is as spiritually deadly as mis-prioritization physically is in an Emergency Room. That’s why, in the center of one of the most important “sermons” of Jesus, God tells us that He must always come first. In the world we live in there are many other things vying for our attention, energy, time, affection, and dare I say “finances.” In light of all the things in your life (career, education, finances, family, friends, sports, hobbies, events, etc) what is your FIRST priority? As you study the subject, the bible consistently shows that mis-prioritization results in spiritual death.
Interestingly, God approached many of his closest disciples on their jobs and required an immediate decision and demonstration of their priorities. In-fact they were required to walk off the job “then and there” to become disciples.
Mat 4:18-22 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. (19) And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (20) And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. (21) And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. (22) And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
This event was not unique to fishermen. Jesus required a tax-collector to leave his job (Mark 2:14) and other disciples to leave their prospective places of employment. How would you respond if asked of God to do the same? I am a firm believer that God is unchanging (Heb 13:8), and therefore He may still require of a select few to do this. Notably though, God did not require all of the disciples to abandon their careers. Luke was a physician (Col 4:14) and Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:3). These seemed to use their concurrent professions to enhance their ministries (Acts 20:34, 1Thes 2:9). Further, some who abandoned their trade, did so under the direction of God for only a seasonal time period and returned to work later (John 21:2-3). Nevertheless, the core question remains, is God first or are finances? If God required of YOU to leave your source of income and career seasonally or permanently, would you? If he asked you to give a certain amount of money, would you? Would you give ANY amount to God? If you find yourself saying “no” or looking to excuse the situation away by saying “God wouldn’t ask me to do that,” perhaps your priorities could use some adjusting. I would submit, that though all of the Apostles and Disciples were not required to abandon “all,” they were all required to be internally willing to. Those who are unwilling are unfit to be genuine disciples (Mat 16:24-25).
There are several notable proofs of this in the bible. First, was an instance where two typical New Testament believers refused to give of their finances to God:
Acts 5:1-5 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, (2) And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (3) But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? […] (4) why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. (5) And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all […]
This spiritual mis-prioritization also resulted in the physical death of his wife shortly after (Acts 5:8-10). God didn’t “need” their money and doesn’t need your money, He owns “the cattle [upon] a thousand hills” (Psa 50:10). Instead, the reason this story is preserved is so we realize how much God needs and requires of our hearts. Simply put, God must be more important than our prospective careers, credit scores, bank accounts, and accumulation of possessions. If we were among the small group that was asked to give all, our framework of prioritization must be postured such that we cheerfully would do so (2Cor 9:7)!
Jesus had 12 Apostles, then Judas died and another was elected (the 13th). However, did you know that there was almost 1 more? The bible records the event and what went wrong:
Luk 18:18-23 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? […] (20) Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. (21) And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. (22) Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. (23) And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
This man of near-perfect Holiness, had the same calling of the Apostles – to immediately leave and “follow” Jesus. However, despite his great faith and obedience to the OT law, the rich man was incapable of being saved because his finances were a higher priority than God.
The bible tells us that it is particularly hard for rich people to be saved (Luk 18:24-25). Why? There is nothing inherently different about a rich individuals (Acts 10:34), but their wealth is an evidence of what they find important. Few rich people are so by inheritance, and in the pursuit of wealth, many have placed it as their highest priority. When the accumulation of goods/position/prestige/finances is paramount to the acquirement of salvation, surely then salvation becomes unattainable. I believe God wants every person to be saved (2Peter 3:9, 1Tim 2:4), but the wealthy can only be through establishing and maintaining God-centered priorities. It is important to note that those avidly seeking wealth to the exclusion of God, though they may not be wealthy, are at the same danger as the “already” wealthy. Men and women can have lucrative careers, as long as God remains second to nothing (Exo 20:3, Deut 5:7). I’m firmly convinced God isn’t necessarily interested in the amount we make or give, but in the condition of our hearts and what we choose to be our first priority.
I don’t want to sound as though I am belittling secular careers and the acquirement of finances. The nature of the world we live in since the fall of man has necessitated many to work (Gen 3:18-19). Also, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-28 clearly shows that those capable of working are to do so and maximize their God given “talents” as an investment in the Kingdom of God. In attempts to maximize the investment of my own talents, I have a career in medicine, however I must be careful about the condition of my heart in seeking such gains. Even embarking with good intention, one can result in pursuing the wrong master (Luk 16:13). Though Paul’s “day-job” was tent making, Rom 15:20 says his real “striving” (also translated: “aim,” “ambition,” & “purpose”) was to “preach the gospel.” I believe that though the “rich” may be the rarest Christian, they almost certainly can be amongst the most spiritually powerful as their means can support a higher level of missionary work, church growth, and self-sufficient ministry as seen with Paul (Acts 20:34, 1Thes 2:9). Keeping God first (Php 3:8), Paul wrote more books of the New Testament, went on more missionary journeys, and arguably made more of a difference in the Kingdom than any other of the Apostles did.
There is one more common but incorrect priority system, and that is “family first.” I love my wife and family more than anything material thing in the world, but I must still God love more. True disciples of Jesus constantly demonstrated this. Peter had a wife and sister he left to travel with Jesus (1Cor 9:5). Peter and Andrew lived with a mother-in-law that they left to follow Jesus (Mark 1:29). The 120 disciples that were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:15) had to leave all family, friends, and jobs for an unknown period of time to prayerfully seek (Acts 1:4,14) “the promise of the father” (it was several days before the Spirit fell). Jesus even clarified this further:
Luk 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Jesus is not speaking about direct “hatred” for the individual, but rather a comparative hatred. That our love for God should be so great, that compared to other people we love most in life it appears as “hate.” See this passage in another gospel:
Mat 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Is there anyone you have put above God? Would you not obey God for fear of any individual? Does acceptance by family or friends dictate your spiritual responses? God must be first! Truthfully, if we knew how important salvation is, there is nothing we wouldn’t give to attain it (Mat 13:44-46) including money and relationships. When given the choice, we must choose God above friends and family no matter what (Luk 9:59-60, Php 3:8).
In conclusion, the context (Mat 6:31-33) of the original text (Mat 6:33) does not infer that we are to lack the “things” of life, but rather establish God enthroned above the things of this life. After which, the cares of this life will rightly fall into place. Wrong prioritization can be spiritually deadly and we are reminded to ask ourselves “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mat 16:26). Proper prioritization (keeping and loving God FIRST) is arguably the most important foundation for anything God will do in your life
Mark 12:28-30 And one of the scribes came, and […] asked him, Which is the first [(or “greatest”)] commandment of all? (29) And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: (30) And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first [(“greatest”)] commandment.
Test your priorities:
- Would you take a job that prevented you from going to church on Sunday?
- If you felt God impressed you to give 10% of your income would you?
- Would you give 15%, 20%, 100%?
- If God asked you to leave your career for a full time ministry would you?
- If you had a career and a ministry, like Paul, would you use your earnings to support your ministry?
- Would you give to or feed the poor?
- Would you choose to please God or please family/friends if forced?
- Is there anyone that you would let prevent you from praying, attending church, or obeying God?
- Would you maintain a relationship that was sinful or spiritually negative?
- Would you reject something you found to be true in the bible, because your family/friends feel it is false?
- Would you rather attend church or attend social gatherings and events?
- Fellowship/Friends, and
- Health, & Everything Else