A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 6:25-34. True or Christian Ambition: God’s rule and righteousness.
It is important to see verses 31 to 33 together. Verse 31 repeats the prohibition against being anxious about food, drink and clothing. Verse 32 adds: *For the Gentiles seek all these things.* This shows that in the vocabulary of Jesus ‘to seek’ and ‘to be anxious’ are interchangeable. He is not talking so much about anxiety as about ambition. Now heathen ambition focuses on material necessities. But this cannot be right for Christians partly because *Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all*, but mostly because these things are not an appropriate or worthy object for the Christian’s quest. He must have something else, something higher, as the Supreme Good which he will energetically seek: not material things, but spiritual values; not his own good but God’s; in fact not food and clothing, but the kingdom and the righteousness of God. This is no more than the elaboration of teaching already implicit in the Lord’s Prayer. According to this, Christians must and do recognize the needs of the body (’give us our daily bread’), although our priority concerns are with God’s name, kingdom and will. We cannot pray the Lord’s prayer until our ambitions have been purified. Jesus tells as to ‘seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness’; in the Lord’s Prayer we turn this supreme quest into petition.
1. Seeking first God’s kingdom.
When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God he was not referring to the general sovereignty of God over nature and history, but to
that specific rule over his own people which he himself had inaugurated, and which begins in anybody’s life when he humbles himself, repents, believes, submits and is born again. God’s kingdom is Jesus Christ ruling over his people in total blessing and total demand. To ‘seek first’ this kingdom is to desire as of first importance the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ. Such a desire will start with ourselves, until every single department of our life – home, marriage and family, personal morality, professional life, and business ethics, bank balance, tax returns, life-style, citizenship – is joyfully and freely submissive to Christ. It will continue in our immediate environment, with the acceptance of evangelical responsibility towards our relatives, colleagues, neighbours and friends. And it will also reach out in global concern for the missionary witness of the church.
We must be clear, then, about true missionary motivation. Why do we desire the spread of the gospel throughout the world? Not out of sinful imperialism or triumphalism, whether for ourselves or the church or even ‘Christianity’. Nor just because evangelism is part of our Christian obedience (though it is) . Nor primarily to make other people happy (though it does). But especially because the glory of God and of his Christ is at stake. God is King, has inaugurated his saving reign through Christ, and has a right to rule in the lives of his creatures. Our ambition, then, is to seek first his kingdom, to cherish the passionate desire that his name should receive from men the honour which is due to it.
To accord priority to the interests of the kingdom of God here and now is not to lose sight of its goal beyond history. For the present manifestation of the kingdom is only partial. Jesus spoke also of the future kingdom of glory and told us to pray for its coming. So to ‘seek first’ the kingdom includes the desire and the prayer for the consummation at the end of time when all the King’s enemies have become his footstool and his reign is undisputed.
Tomorrow: Matthew 6:19-34. 2). Seeking first God’s righteousness.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.