Chapter 2: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.”

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CHAPTER 2

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.”
{Matthew 6:33 KJV}

 

Let me start by sharing another passage with you:

“I did not tell the people of Israel to ask me for something I did not plan to give.”  {Isaiah 45:19 NLT}

It’s equally true: Jesus didn’t tell us to seek for something we couldn’t find. As a matter of fact, earlier in the same sermon He said something very similar, only that time He added a promise with it:

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”  {Matthew 5:6 KJV}

Let me stop and encourage our hearts with some wonderful passages in regard to God’s promises:

“You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”  {Joshua 23:14 NIV}

“[Abraham] was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything he promised.”  {Romans 4:21 NLT}

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”  {2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV}

“It is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promises with confidence.”  {Hebrews 6:18 NLT}

So, when Jesus promises we “shall be filled,” we can be “absolutely convinced” that we will be. But we mustn’t miss the fact that the promise contains a very specific condition. Jesus said it’s those who “hunger and thirst” after righteousness that shall be filled. He also says, seek ye “first” the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

There’s another passage—one of the most important in all the Bible—that needs to be included here; one that will help us better understand what Jesus means when He says, “seek ye first…”

“Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”  {Jeremiah 29:13 KJV}

Again, a promise we can be “absolutely convinced” God will keep, “when” we meet it’s very clear, and very challenging, condition: search for Him with all our heart. Having pointed that out, and before we leave that passage, do you think I’m reading more into it than is there when I say that we should also be absolutely convinced that if we don’t search for Him with all our heart we won’t find Him? I hope you’ll give that question some serious thought, because how you answer it couldn’t be more important.

So, why should we hunger and thirst after righteousness? And why should we seek it first? Well, the obvious and easy answer, as well as the best answer, is because Jesus says we should. But to go a little deeper than that, because not only is it true that the words Jesus speaks to us are life, but as He also tells us, “I have come that they may have life.” (John 10:10 HCSB) And He knows where true life is found:

“In the way of righteousness there is life.”  {Proverbs 12:28 NIV}
“The truly righteous man attains life.”  {Proverbs 11:19 NIV}

And we can be sure that there’s a whole lot more to that word life than meets the eye:

“The fruit of righteousness will be peace; and the effect of righteousness, will be quietness and confidence forever.”  {Isaiah 32:17 NIV}
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken.”  {Psalms 37:25 NIV}

“Peace,” “quietness,” and “confidence forever;” things the world can never give us, and things nothing the world offers can take the place of.

I should probably point something else out: when the psalmist says, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken,” he’s not saying we’ll never be forsaken by men, but that we’ll never be forsaken by God. And while being forsaken by “close friends” is indeed sad, especially for their sake, it’s knowing we’ll never be forsaken by God that matters most:

“Even my close friend, whom I trusted, the one who shared my food, has turned against me.”  {Psalms 41:9 NIV, NLT}
“God himself has said, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you.”  {Hebrews 13:5 CJB, NLT}

So, since we’re to seek righteousness, where is it we’re supposed to seek for it at? Well, let me first tell you where we shouldn’t seek for it, because we’ll never find it there—in ourselves:

“There is no one righteous, not even one.”  {Romans 3:10 NIV}
“All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”  {Isaiah 64:6 KJV}
“Apart from me you can do nothing.”  {John 15:5 NIV}

We need to become fully and forever convinced that as always, Jesus is right: without Him we can do nothing, and that certainly includes becoming righteous.

There’s another place we should never seek for it, because we’ll never find it there either: although “the law is…righteous” (Romans 7:12 NIV), the law can never make us righteous.

“If keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”  {Galatians 2:21 NLT}

Now let me show you the one and only place we’ll ever find righteousness. And this is why Jesus said, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” (You might find it interesting that both of these passages are from the Old Testament.)

“This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.”  {Jeremiah 23:6 NIV}
“The people will declare, “The LORD is the source of all my righteousness.”  {Isaiah 45:24 NLT}

Now that we’ve seen the only place we’ll ever find righteousness, let me show you the only way we’ll ever find it: “through faith in Christ.”

“…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  {Philippians 3:9 NIV}

Let me also show you the close connection between righteousness and the gospel & salvation; so close in fact, that I would say it’s impossible to have the one without the other:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes… For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous shall live by faith.”  {Romans 1:16, 17 NIV}

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”  {Isaiah 61:10 NIV}

Clearly, righteousness is found only in God. And just as clearly, it becomes ours—and it truly does—only “through faith in Christ.” But we must never forget: it’s a faith in Christ that says, “I believe you Lord when you say that I must hunger and thirst after it.” And that says, “I believe you Lord when you say that I must seek it first, and seek it with all my heart.” And just as the apostle tells us that it’s a righteousness that is by faith “from first to last,” so it’s a righteousness in which we must allow Christ to be or “guide” from first to last:

“For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.”  {Psalms 48:14 NIV}
“The LORD is my shepherd… He guides me in the paths of righteousness.”  {Psalms 23:1, 3 NASB}

Once again we have some wonderful passages with some wonderful promises; promises we can be absolutely convinced God is not only able to fulfill, but wants to fulfill. But as with our earlier promises, these also have some very real conditions attached to them; conditions that we have to accept and comply with if we’re to have the promises fulfilled to us. And I believe it’s my job to help you to not only see and accept those conditions, but to help you understand and appreciate why God has given them.

So, when we read, “The LORD is my shepherd… He guides me in the paths of righteousness,” the implication is pretty clear: if the Lord is to be our shepherd, that means we need to think of ourselves as sheep—dumb, blind, helpless sheep that will never find our way to heaven, and never find the paths of righteousness, without help from Him. But as absolutely true as that is, I must at the same time sound a warning here: while it’s crucial that we come to the place where we see ourselves as sheep in need of a shepherd, and while it’s also true that there’s a very real place for servants of God to point the way to heaven, we must never allow ourselves to become like blind sheep following our religious leaders. No matter how much we love them, and no matter how knowledgeable and correct we believe them to be, we must never trust our souls to them. Let me say something else concerning us being dumb, blind sheep: it’s not God who made it that way; it was our great, great, great grandparents when they chose to eat that fruit God had told them not to eat.

Let me say one more thing about the Lord being our shepherd. Both of those last two passage spoke of God being our “guide.” When we come to the point where we truly realize that we are in fact helpless sheep, while at the same time coming to the point where we really and truly believe that God is almighty, all-wise, and all-loving—and both of those things involve a definite learning and growing process—we’ll be more than happy to let Him guide us.

Now for another condition that needs to be looked at: A very real part, and I would even say an absolutely critical part, of God guiding us “in the paths of righteousness,” is allowing Him to guide us out of the paths of unrighteousness:

“…run from all these evil things and pursue righteousness.”  {1 Timothy 6:11 NLT, NIV}

    “Run from” and “pursue” are two complete opposites. And I hope I can go on to convince you that it’s no more possible to pursue righteousness while not at the same time running from evil than it is to walk in two different directions at the same time.

Let me begin trying to convince you of that by taking a brief look at the experience of a famous Bible character who tried to do that very thing, pursue righteousness while not at the same time running from evil. Our character is Solomon, a man who at one point in his life was the wisest man that ever lived and the king of God’s people at a time when they were one of the greatest nations on earth. I’ll first share with you a bit of what the Bible tells us about him near the beginning of his reign:

“The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” Solomon replied… “Give your servant a discerning heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong.” …The LORD was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him… “I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and discerning heart such as no one else has ever had or ever will have!” …The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.”  {1 Kings 3:5-12; 10:24 NLT, NIV}

That’s quite a testimony.

Now I want you to see what later developed in Solomon’s life:

“While still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness… I had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire… I did not restrain myself from any joy.”  {Ecclesiastes 2:3, 8, 10 NLT}

With those words fresh in your mind, especially the ones—“while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness”—I want you to see where that course eventually led him:

“King Solomon loved many foreign women… The LORD had clearly instructed his people not to intermarry with those nations, because the women they married would lead them to worship their gods. Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (mind-boggling numbers and a mind-boggling thought). And sure enough, they led his heart away from the LORD. In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship their gods instead of trusting only in the LORD his God… Thus Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’S sight.”  {1 Kings 11:1-6 NLT}

That’s quite a story, with quite a lesson.

In that Ecclesiastes quote Solomon said, “I clutched at foolishness.” I’ll tell you what his greatest foolishness was: thinking he was “still seeking wisdom” while at the very same time “insisting” on doing precisely what God had “clearly instructed his people” not to do. And where did it lead him? Exactly where God said it would lead him, and exactly where it will lead anyone else who walks in that path. It “led his heart away from the LORD.” So far away in fact, that he eventually worshipped some of the most detestable heathen gods spoken of in the Bible; one so detestable that its worship included sacrificing children to him.

We can hardly begin to fathom how far Solomon fell. And the Bible tells us, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV) We can no more pursue righteousness without running from evil than Solomon could still seek wisdom while clutching at foolishness. Or to put it another way: “No man can serve two masters.” (Jesus in Matthew 6:24 NIV)

I can’t help but touch on something else in that account of Solomon’s life before moving on. In that Ecclesiastes passage he said, “I had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire.” In the minds of many men “many beautiful concubines” is “everything a man could desire.” But let me show you what came with those many beautiful concubines and maybe you won’t think it’s everything a man could desire:

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “utterly meaningless!”  “…I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race… The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief… It is all so meaningless and depressing…” “This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher, “I came to this result after looking into the matter from every possible angle. Just one out of every thousand men can be said to be upright, but not one woman!”  {Ecclesiastes 1:2, 13, 18; 4:8; 7:27, 28 NLT}

I’ll tell you, both Biblically and by experience, Solomon was hanging with the wrong women:

“Who can find a virtuous wife? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She will not hinder him but help him all her life.”  {Proverbs 31:10-12 NLT}

What I just shared with you in those last two passages (along with the two earlier ones) is a perfect picture of two completely opposite ways: God’s way and man’s way. God’s way: “a virtuous wife,” and “a woman who fears the LORD (Pro. 31:30),”—“will greatly enrich your life.” But Solomon’s way: “many beautiful women” who “turned his heart from the LORD”—helped bring him everything you just read about up above: “a tragic existence,” “great grief,” and “a meaningless and depressing life.” (Just so there’s no confusion: It wasn’t God who dealt to Solomon a tragic existence. It was Solomon who dealt to Solomon a tragic existence by his “insisting” on doing precisely what God had “clearly instructed” him not to do.) And no matter what the world may tell you, or what your heart (or passions) may tell you, that’s the way it will always be. And those lessons apply to every aspect of our life, not just to women.

Now I want to share with you something God Himself said—about Jesus Himself:

“To his Son he says, “Your throne, O God endures forever and ever. Your royal power is expressed in righteousness. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”  {Hebrews 1:8, 9 NLT, NIV}

Again, two complete opposites: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.”  And then after telling us that, God immediately adds, “therefore I have set you above your companions.”

I wish I had words to impress upon your heart and mind what truth is in that passage. Both the Father and the Son give their testimony to the supreme importance of not only “loving righteousness,” but “hating wickedness.” And the more I learn, and the more I grow, the more I become convinced that it’s impossible to truly have the one without having the other.

In my desire to help us all to follow in those footsteps of Christ I’d like to suggest something that I think would be infinitely more profitable than me continuing on. I’d like to share with you a few more passage on righteousness, along with a few on hating wickedness, and between them and all the other passages we’ve had throughout the chapter I’d like to ask you to pick out a few that you found especially meaningful; and I’d like to encourage you to spend a few minutes reading and thinking about them—not only today, but tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

“The LORD is righteous; He loves righteousness; The upright will behold his face.”  {Psalms 11:7 NASB}
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”  {Psalms 97:2 NIV}
“In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”  {2 Peter 3:13 NIV}

“Let those who love the LORD hate evil.”  {Psalms 97:10 NIV}
“O LORD… Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.”  {Psalms 141:1, 4 NIV}
“To fear the LORD is to hate evil… By the fear of the LORD men depart from evil… The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life.”  {Proverbs 8:13 NIV; 16:6; 14:27 KJV}

I’d like to leave you with one more thought: It’s crucial that we come to the place where we fully understand and accept that it’s God, not us, who determines what is righteous and what is evil.