Summary: what “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” means and how we might go about.
First Things First … continued
Last week we talked about how Jesus turned Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human Needs” pyramid upside-down and flattened it with a single statement: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
This week we’ll discuss just what “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” means and how we might go about. I’m glad we’re focusing on this passage this week. For me, Matthew 6:33 is a kind of theme for how I should live my life; some folks would call it my life verse.
In ancient days, merchants and government officials used a black stone to determine the value of precious metals. They would rub gold or silver along the stone’s surface and by the color of the streak it left they would be able to determine whether the metal was pure or if it had been alloyed with something cheaper like lead or tin. This black stone came to be known as a touchstone. The term is used metaphorically these days. A touchstone is a standard by which one judges the value of an object or idea.
Matthew 6:33 is my touchstone. When I prioritize the tasks for the day, I put them up against Matthew 6:33 to see how they measure up. When I consider a new project, I let Matthew 6:33 tell me whether it’s worth my time or not. When I start to fret over making ends meet, Matthew 6:33 puts my priorities back in order and assures me that if I do my job, He’ll do His. It’s my touchstone.
We’ll try to accomplish a couple of things in this letter. First we’ll take apart Matthew 6:33, word by word, so we can try to understand the whole meaning of the passage; what Bible scholars call exegesis. Then we’ll try to apply what we understand about the scripture to real life. As an example, I’ll tell you how I apply it in my life.
Let’s exegete this verse. Matthew wrote his original gospel in Greek. Nobody knows where that one is now, but the earliest copies are also written in Greek. So, we’ll look at the Greek words Matthew used and their definitions. Then we’ll look at the context in which the words were used. Lastly we’ll put the verse back together, with our definitions and we’ll wind up with our own “Amplified” version of the verse.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
The first word “But” refers back to what Jesus was just saying before this passage. He was talking about people spending their time and energy worrying about things that didn’t matter much in the long run. Their lives were consumed with “what shall we eat” and “what shall we drink.” He said that pagans worry about stuff like that. God knows we need food and clothing and He’ll take care of it. We shouldn’t waste our lives worrying about stuff like that.
The next word “seek” is the Greek word zeteo. Zeteo is a verb that means “to seek in order to find … by thinking, meditating, reasoning, to enquire into”; to “strive after”; to “require, demand.” Bible scholars also define verbs in terms of tense (when), voice (active or passive) and mood (imperative, indicative or subjunctive). Zeteo is in the present tense, active voice and imperative mood. Basically that means, “Hey you, I mean you (active voice); do this, do it now and don’t stop doing it (present tense); and that’s not a suggestion, it’s an order (imperative mood).
“First” is the Greek word proton. Proton is an adverb; it refers to the verb we just mentioned, “seek.” It’s telling us when and how to “seek.” Proton means first in time, first in place, first in priority; it’s the number one item in rank and schedule, the chief and principal thing. There’s nothing more important than the verb to which it refers.
“Kingdom” is the Greek word basileia. It’s a noun. Basileia means “royal power, kingship, dominion, rule.” It also refers to “the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah.”
“Righteousness” is the Greek word dikaiosune. Dikaiosune is a noun that means “the state of one who is as he ought to be, the condition acceptable to God.” Or, “concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God”; “integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting.”
“All” is the Greek word pas. Pas is an adjective; it refers to a noun, in this case everything Jesus was talking about earlier - the people’s worry over food and clothing. Pas means “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything”; “some of all types.”