Seeking the Right Goal – Matthew 6:31-34

Jesus contrasts how the Gentiles seek after material needs with his own disciples (6:32). A Jewish writer would contrast Jews and Gentiles in this way. Jesus says the Gentile world frets over their needs (and more, they seek treasure on earth, they serve Mammon (6:24). This is more than materialism, the verb is “eagerly seek” (ἐπιζητέω). The word has the connotation of craving for something, an earnest pursuit of a goal.

In contrast to what the Gentiles seek, the disciple of Jesus is to seek the kingdom of God (6:33). Jesus uses a similar word “seek” (ζητέω) for the pursuit of the Kingdom of God.

Defining the Kingdom is a difficult problem since it can refer to the Old Testament kingdom of God, or God’s general rule of the universe. For a Jewish disciple of Jesus, the “Kingdom of God” would be the coming restoration of a kingdom to Israel, ruled by a messiah who will in many ways be a new David, or a new Joshua in that he rescues Israel from her enemies. But in other ways he is a new Moses or a new Aaron, leading Israel out of the wilderness of her long exile, providing a new covenant which God will enable his people to keep (he will fix their hearts, Jeremiah 33, Ezekiel).

In many ways, the death, burial and resurrection resulted in an inauguration of that Kingdom. In the Ascension Jesus is enthroned in heaven ruling, but there are other ways the kingdom is absent from the world. We do not live in a world in which all people acknowledge the lordship of Jesus (Phil 2:5-11). This is an in-between-time: God has inaugurated his kingdom with Jesus’s death, but will consummate it at some point in the future.

Two important observation follow from this. First, the disciples did not know about this lengthy gap between the inauguration and consummation of the Kingdom. Second, the church is not the kingdom in any real sense and does not fulfill the prophecies of the kingdom from the prophets. We can draw some application from “seek the kingdom of God,” but it is wrong to read this line as commanding the Christian to “establish the kingdom.” That is not even what Jesus says!

In addition to seeking the kingdom of God, the disciple of Jesus is to see God’s righteousness. This could refer to the righteousness of the kingdom of God, “its righteousness.” Most recent translations understand this as “God’s righteousness.”

Righteousness is an action in Second Temple Judaism. For example, in Micah 6:8 God has shown man what he is to do, the first is to “act justly.” This word is translated as either righteous or just, even if these are different categories in English. A righteous person (in the context of Micah, the Old Testament, and Second Temple Period Judaism) did righteousness, they took care of the poor, the widows, the orphans and immigrants.

Christianity tends to think of righteousness as a state of being, we “are righteous” by not sinning or doing acts of spiritual discipline. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not what Jesus would have meant when he said “seek the righteousness of God.”

There are many examples of how a disciple of Jesus pursues the things of God in a way that is countercultural to the world. That Jesus welcomes tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners to eat with him is a clear act of mercy towards those who are on the fringes of Jewish culture. The way we think about social issues can be “seeking God’s righteousness” that flies in the face of the modern, western worldview.

Perhaps the application of “seeking the kingdom” ought to be doing real acts of justice toward those who are in need, so they do not need to worry about what they will eat or drink. How can local churches become involved in local acts of mercy which impact their community?

6 thoughts on “Seeking the Right Goal – Matthew 6:31-34

  1. There are a million ways for churches to get involved in showing mercy to the community. The world is a broken place and we should not be so focused on the future in the Kingdom, causing us to ignore our present situation that surrounds us. We live in Grand Rapids, which has many homeless people sleeping outside in the cold, without blankets or pillows to sleep on. The often times even lack food to eat. There are ministries that are trying to help, such as Mel Trotter and Aftershock (started at Grace), but these are not enough for such a big population. These ministries do a lot of good for the homeless community, but the church could be more involved than they currently are. My church has put together little care packages for them before, which included many of the basic necessities, and each family would take one to drop off when we saw a homeless person in the city. This is a step in the right direction for showing mercy to the community. There are many other ways that the church can show mercy to the community as well, but this was just one way that I wanted to share about.

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  2. You write: “…the verb is “eagerly seek” (ἐπιζητέω). The word has the connotation of craving for something, an earnest pursuit of a goal.
    In contrast to what the Gentiles seek, the disciple of Jesus is to seek the kingdom of God (6:33). Jesus uses a similar word “seek” (ζητέω) for the pursuit of the Kingdom of God.”

    Why do you think Matthew does not use επιζητεω regarding our pursuit of the kingdom? I would expect we should be equally zealous.

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    • I’m not sure I would make an exegetical point out of the two words, since they come from the same lexical domain.

      Usually people say a verb with an added preposition intensifies in the action of the verb. So in this case “earnestly seek” versus just “seek”. I do not think Jesus’s point was Gentiles seek worldly things more intensely than Christians should seek the kingdom of heaven. I am not in a good place to check this, but I wonder if ἐπιζητέω has negative connotations. I would need to check the lexicons on that.

      Good question though…

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  3. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).” One way the church can get involved is for us to live as Christian’s and help those around us that struggle. There are those who are homeless and have daily needs and hunger and thirst for something to eat and drink. But what about those who hunger and thirst spiritually. Those who are hopeless are the ones that need Christ the most. In Grand Rapids there are many different outreach programs that offer support and assist the homeless which is a great start. But in other parts of the same state there a still people who have yet been reached. “For kingdom and righteousness the disciple of Jesus is to “seek” or “pursue”. The idea is to focus on, to plot, and to act in a way that keeps one aimed at the goal (McKnight pg.220).”

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