Seek First the Kingdom

“Seek first the Kingdom.” We know this directive of Jesus is to focus on the important matters; he said the other things like food and clothing will be provided to those who put God first.

I wondered about the Israelites who were told of the Promised Land – a special place ‘flowing with milk and honey’ that God pledged to the descendants of Abraham. A sort of New Kingdom for them with physical obligations and physical blessings if they did their part. In the lead up to entering the Promised Land – and to the end of the age until Christ comes – every part of their lives was intwined in a complex system of laws and penalties, of offering and sacrifice, of duties and obligations. We can hardly imagine the millions (perhaps billions) of animals sacrificed to settle their sin debt with God – albeit temporarily, until it was required again. Every part of life was connected with sacrifice and offering; if one happened to touch a sick or dead person they were ‘unclean’, needing to be separate from others and offer a sacrifice when an allotted time had passed before returning to family and tribe.

On the way to the Promised Land after being rescued from generational slavery in Egypt, they sent a scouting group ahead to spy out the land. They returned with a mixed report – many said the land had giants and the cities were well-fortified, and although it did ‘flow with milk and honey’ as promised, they felt too afraid to enter and take it for themselves – having God leading and fighting for them didn’t seem enough! Their trust was not in God, even thought He had abundantly proved Himself.

Is their whole gruesome and awesome adventure a lesson for us as we ‘seek first the Kingdom’? We know that the whole generation that grumbled and chose not to go into the land God promised them died over the next 40 years. Surely they must have totally eliminated by then any doubt that God exists and was for them, but still they chose to live by sight – not trust in God’s promise to provide and protect and bless. They experienced some fantastic miracles – the plagues, the riches given as they left, the Red Sea parting, the destruction of the mighty Egyptian army. They had every reason to trust, but they shrank back from entering the new land out of fear and lack of trust – or frankly, mistrust.

We don’t get to see the same physical miracles they did. But aren’t we sure we would have trusted God who provided all that fantastic evidence and proof beyond any doubt?

We have something far greater, far grander than some amazing miracles to hold as evidence. We have the gift of faith, we have the Saviour Jesus who revealed the Father, we have his life – given for us all to cleanse us of all sin – and he is now alive and we alive with him! We have God’s spirit through which the Father and His Son have made their abode within each believer. We don’t need to go through a high priest who deals with a frightening God on our behalf in a sort of arm’s-length relationship.

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and will make a home with him. 

John 14:23

We live in and by grace – that precious presence of God who loves us sooo much, and His Son who loves us too! We are no longer unclean, no longer guilty until another animal’s life is taken to restore our good standing before God. Because of Jesus, we’re at one with God permanently – eternally!

When we think of ‘seek first the Kingdom’, what is it that we are afraid of? What is it that we are too uncertain of, too timid for, that we would rather shrink back and find our own way forward – or go back the way we came, back to Egypt, back to slavery? What is it that makes us want to trust our own resources more than God’s mighty armoury and promises?

When God called His people out of slavery, they didn’t want to come at first – much like us! God calls and we dither and delay and doubt, but He is patient and merciful and loves us anyway – little do we grasp how much!

The Israelites knew little of God’s love. They lived a hard life with lots of blood spilt on a daily basis, year in year out – a lot of it was theirs! The First Covenant was based on law and penalty. It was also brimming with promise if they did their part and kept Yahweh as their only God, the Sabbath, and a few other priorities. Their main challenge perhaps was to refuse the strange gods and practices of other nations – to not be distracted from the life God called them to. God placed upon them great purpose and offered great wealth and a future unmatched in the world.

The Abrahamic Covenant was always going to be replaced by a grand new venture, planned since before the world began. Jesus was the new focus, the new way, the new life, the new hope, the new future that would never end. 

Of course, we now understand that Jesus was always the focus – everything that is or was finds its purpose and fulfillment in Jesus.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. 

Romans 11:36

There’s a beautiful passage in Ephesians emphasizing Christ’s centrality to all God was doing since Genesis:

which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places… 22 as head over all things to the church, 23which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:20, 22-23

We mustn’t judge the ancient Israelites; we falter, we fail, we find excuses to not ‘seek first the Kingdom’ – ourpromised land. To seek first the Kingdom means we have to allow the attraction of false gods, fake wealth, and fairy tales to die – to instead trust the reports that the one true God is with us and we need not be afraid.

Are we afraid? If we play by God’s rules, we’ll miss out on many worldly things we are taught that we need or want. It’s easy to trust in money and things that are made to be super attractive. We know the gods of money and wealth don’t give a hoot about us; in fact, they have been telling the biggest lies for, like, ever. And it gets more sordid every day, century after century. 

The early church met in people’s homes – no grand foyer, no fancy carpets or plush furniture on finance. Perhaps their only debt was to each other – to love, share, encourage, to understand and share the Gospel. They pooled their resources and shared their food.  One of the things that promotes healthy church is fellowship – they must have had lots of that. I imagine there were conflicts…that’s pretty normal in families, and any group of people spending lots of time together. But what better way to work through these challenges than in fellowship based on a new law of love and the indwelling of God’s spirit?

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:35

Surely, others noticed the kind of community they enjoyed, the sacrifices they made for one another, the way they resolved differences or united to meet challenges.

The way we ‘seek first the kingdom’ is not on our own, but in fellowship – we seek it together, it’s the only way. The church, the ecclesia, is formed in Christ so we can reach the goal together. Hopefully, all have experienced the encouragement of friendship. The true friend that even when forgotten or neglected, remains a good friend. Indeed, the trial can make the bond stronger. Fellowship is stronger than a friendship because God is in the midst of it in spirit.

Jesus is our truest friend. He and his Father are always ready to hear our prayers, our need to confess our failings and missteps, eager to supply that which we need to pursue the kingdom with our all. Let us confess our fears, our desires for those things not of God.

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

James 4:7 

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