Appendix What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:31 in the Contexts of the Sermon on the Mount and the Lucan Parables
The nature of God revealed in the cross
Promises of the Creator’s provision for people’s needs in this age abound throughout the canonical writings. Are such promises exceptions to the rule that all Scripture confers hope (Romans 15:4), or do they imply that the hopefulness of Scripture regards not only hope in Christ seated above at the right hand of the Father, but also hope in having an improved life in this world?
Jesus dealt specifically with the relationship between eschatological hope and the needs of this life in his discourse on anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34), the clarity of which has been clouded by reading preconceived ideas into the text. North American evangelicals naturally see in Matthew 6:33 a blessing only for the few who commit themselves to achievement in a purpose-driven life. In the words of Rick Warren,
If you will commit to fulfilling your mission in life no matter what it costs, you will experience the blessing of God in ways that few people ever experience. There is almost nothing God won’t do for the man or woman who is committed to serving the kingdom of God. Jesus has promised, “[God] will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”1 (pp. 286-287)
Making God’s gift of “all you need from day to day” conditional on “serving the kingdom of God” would challenge the hopefulness of Scripture. Applied consistently, this interpretation leaves the believer asking, “Am I committed enough that I can depend on God to give me that rare blessing — or even to meet my needs?”
Jesus, however, did not tell his disciples to seek the kingdom, much less to serve the kingdom, in order to secure earthly blessings. (Warren’s changing seeking the kingdom to “serving the kingdom” accommodates the doctrine of eternal security, which makes literally seeking the kingdom unnecessary for believers.) Rather, Jesus relieved the disciples’ anxiety about the needs of this life with the argument that since the Father feeds and clothes even the birds and lilies, he will much more feed and clothe those of much more value. Had he taught that only the disciples have greater value than the lilies and birds, the disciples would have worried about whether they truly seek the kingdom. The thought behind the argument is instead that according to the Father’s love, a man is of much more value than the lower creation (Matthew 12:12). Indeed, the Father’s provision for people’s needs in this age does not depend on their seeking the kingdom, for his love extends to the unjust as well as the just (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35-36; Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-27). Thus, Jesus gave the discourse on anxiety not to motivate the disciples to committed service driven by the prospect of a rare blessing, but to instill in those “of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; Luke 12:28) a firm confidence in their Father’s love displayed in his care even for the birds, which “neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,” and for the lilies, which “neither toil nor spin.”
For only with such trust in his love can the disciples seek the kingdom (i.e., eternal life2) by faith in the words of Jesus rather than by goal fulfillment or other human efforts (Luke 10:38-42). Since the Father who is pleased to give them the kingdom will also continue to provide everything they need in this age even without their anxious toil, they have nothing to fear and are freed from bondage to money (Matthew 6:19-24, 33; Luke 12:29-34).
This exhortation to seek good things, both of this age and of the age to come, by faith in the loving Father is also found in the address to “Our Father” that precedes all petitions of Lord’s Prayer (cf. Matthew 7:7-11). Luther’s Small Catechism explains,
“Our Father who art in heaven.” What does this mean? Answer: Here God would encourage us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children in order that we may approach him boldly and confidently in prayer, even as beloved children approach their dear father.3
Accordingly, the discourse on anxiety has been presented as an expansion of this daily prayer (Matthew 6:11) of the disciples4, and Paul also replaced anxiety with prayer (Philippians 4:6-7).
In conclusion, the promises that the Father lovingly satisfies the temporal needs of all sinners are hopeful, but not in the sense of turning disciples’ hope to earthly things. They were instead written to impart strong confidence that he is so benevolent that he valued the whole world enough to give his Son to purchase eternal life for it in spite of its unworthiness. How can I believe God’s love for all people (and thus for me) moved him to sacrifice his Son for us if I do not believe it moves him to meet our needs in this age? For Jesus did not portray God as a self-serving king who unpredictably dispenses his grace and who may or may not have decreed the covenant of grace.5 Rather, the Son revealed a heavenly Father who by nature lovingly and dependably gives to his creation rather than seeking his own. The enfleshed Word ultimately glorified the God who is love not by a humanly understandable display of power, but by being lifted up on the cross (John 1:14-18; 3:14-15; 8:28-30; 12:27-33; 17:1-5; 1 John 4:8-10).
1. Warren, R., The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2002).
3. Tappert,T.G., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 2000).
4. King, B. J., "Everything and More," sermon delivered 25 May 2008, Saint Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church (Unaltered Augsburg Confession), Ottawa.
5. Scaer, D. P., "Homo Factus Est as the Revelation of God," Concordia Theological Quarterly 65, 111-126 (2001). Download the PDF file.
Scripture quotations of the Appendix are from the New King James Version.