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Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? . . . And who of you by being worried can add a single cubit to his life? . . . But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own . . . Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
Matthew 6:26, 27, 34, 10:28-31
Note: This Bible study builds upon themes and understandings given in the previous two Mid-Watch Reports, a Bible study of Hebrews 10:32-12:2 entitled “The Life of Faith” and a study of faith in Romans entitled “Faith is a Choice.”
The author of Hebrews directs our attention to “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Here, the manner in which Christ endured the cross is in view. But surely this is not all the author of Hebrews has in mind. For while the cross is the supreme example of the faith of Jesus Christ, Jesus’ entire earthly life and ministry was a walk of faith (Colossians 2:6,7). Those who want to grow in faith, will, then, inevitably look to Jesus to learn what it means to live by faith day by day - to walk in the footsteps of the Master Himself (1 John 2:6).
Two passages from the epistles provide a helpful perspective from which to view the teachings of Christ with regard to faith. The first is Philippians 2:12, 13 where Paul writes,
. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.This verse helps us to understand the relationship between faith as it relates to salvation and faith as it relates to everyday life.1 Daily life is a mix of unique and routine events. Scripture contains many extraordinary events. But if we consider Scripture from the perspective of our daily lives, we come to realize that life was routine most of the time for those in Biblical times as well - even for central figures such as Abraham, Moses, David, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the apostles themselves. Whichever category the events of our lives fall into, however, God is working out His saving grace every moment of our daily lives. We are always to “walk with God” and “grow in faith” (Romans 8:4, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 5:16-18, Romans 12:1-2). It is for this reason that Paul writes to bond-slaves (whose modern counterparts are “employees”) to conduct themselves in such a manner that they “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:11) and to the Corinthians, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, cf. Titus 2:11-13).
The second verse that provides perspective on these teachings of Christ is 2 Peter 1:3, where Peter writes of Jesus our Lord,
His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.By these words Peter emphasizes that God has given us everything we need to be able to live out our lives for Him (cf. Philippians 4:13). This is not in any way dependent upon our feelings - it is an objective reality because Christ and the work He accomplished are objective realities (Romans 1:1-4, 5:8-11). However we must be careful to understand that these words do not mean that we can accomplish anything we desire or imagine. They do mean that we are enabled to accomplish everything God desires for us to do - an enabling based upon the redemption provided by Jesus Christ in His coming, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension - an enabling richly provided through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, the intercessory prayers of Christ, the Holy Scriptures, the fellowship of other Christians, and those things that God brings into our life to help us (Hebrews 1:3, 7:25, 8:1-6, Romans 8:26, 27).
Faith becomes real in our lives when we realize that the promises of God - including the Gospel -- apply to us personally - when we look at passages such as “For God so loved the world . . .” and understand “For God so loved me . . .” (John 3:16). The person who has faith not only believes that “Christ died for me” and “Christ lives for me” but also “Christ lives for me now” and “God enables me now” (1 Peter 1:3, Romans 5:8, 9, Philippians 4:11-13). Certainly we must remember that it is not “me alone,” but we must always include, not exclude ourselves, from God’s love and redemption because God does not exclude us. It was just this insight that transformed Martin Luther and John Wesley from those who struggled with faith to those who lived in spiritual victory.
With these concepts in mind, we turn to consider the words of Jesus.
Scripture can be misunderstood, so we must take care to study it carefully. A quick reading of the Sermon on the Mount may lead some to believe that Jesus is saying that we are wrong for wanting to satisfy our human needs. That isn’t what Jesus is saying at all. God created humanity and God created humanity with human needs. Jesus lived as a human being. If God could become “flesh and dwell among us” (John 1:1-18) then normal human needs aren’t of themselves evil.2 What Jesus teaches here relates to our priorities in life.
Therefore, when Jesus says, “Seek first,” He is saying that our highest priority should be to seek the Kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. What does Jesus mean by that?
To understand Jesus’ words we need to understand that the Greek word “kingdom” in the New Testament can be interchanged with the word “rule” in contexts such as this. This makes an otherwise challenging interpretation rather straightforward. To “seek God’s rule” is to place ourselves under the authority of God - to do things “His way” rather than “our way” (Isaiah 53:6). James says the same thing when he writes, “Submit therefore to God. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:7, 10 cf. vs. 4:1-10). Peter speaks of “obedience to the truth” in 1 Peter 1:22. It is exemplified in that Jesus always did the Father’s will (John 5:30, 6:38, 8:29) and when Jesus said at Gethsemane, “…not as I will, but as Thou wilt …Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42).
Following Jesus in this way means obeying God’s will as revealed in His commandments. This was plainly taught by Jesus in John 14:15, 21 (cf. 1 John 2:3-6 and Matthew 5:17-20). The righteousness we seek must not be our concept of righteousness but “His righteousness,” the righteousness of God, which comes both by the saving work of God in our inner selves and through our commitment to walk in a manner that excludes sin (1 John 1:6,7, 2:6-10 James 4:8). So, seeking “His kingdom and His righteousness” simply means seeking what is pleasing to God and doing it as an act of love for God.
Jesus says to “seek” because a learning process is involved that includes not only knowledge but also the experience required to learn to apply that knowledge in daily life. Thus, His followers are disciples -- life-long learners. To seek these “first” insures that when (not if) we meet our human needs, we do so in a manner that is pleasing to God. In fact, pleasing God in this respect takes on a priority even greater than meeting the human needs themselves. This manner of life Paul calls “your spiritual service of worship” in Romans 12:1-2. In its purest form it goes beyond the commandments, seeking not just to meet “the letter of the Law,” but to abide by the principles that stand behind the commandments. For God’s commandments are grounded in the nature of God from which the commandments flow; from such qualities as love, faith, honesty, integrity, purity, orderliness, and so forth.
Characteristically, people follow their own desires rather than seek what God desires (Ephesians 2:3). The world calls Jesus’ teaching here “death” (1 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16), and in a way it is (Colossians 3:3). Nevertheless, Jesus calls it “eternal Life” (Matthew 16:24-25, Galatians 6:8). This Life is not available to us on our own. But it is available when those who seek to obey God ask Him to live in them and give them this Life (Galatians 2:20). Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32); so if we want God to rule our hearts and lives, He will. There will certainly be struggles, for even Jesus was tempted. But those who seek God above all find power to live for him in their daily lives - power that comes from Christ dwelling in us (Ephesians 1:17-2:9).
The Lord Jesus Christ, then, becomes an “organizing factor” as every part of one’s life is progressively brought into conformity with His will. Far from stifling individualism and creativity, this restores us to the condition where we can achieve all that God created us to be and accomplish (Ephesians 2:10). The opposite of this is to organize life around one or more created things: money, power, pleasure, and so forth; which become, in effect, our “idols.” These seem to offer freedom from the Lord and His will, but because they are part of the created order and so have no life in themselves, they fall short and inevitably lead to death. Therefore God challenges in Deuteronomy 30:19, 20:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this today; that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life . . . by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days . . .At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates this very point by speaking of two houses, one which stands in the storms of life and one which falls (Matthew 7:24-27).
The teaching of Jesus is the teaching of the Creator to the creatures, the Designer to those He has designed (John 1:1-3, Isaiah 64:8). Speaking of the mercy of God towards His own, the psalmist wrote, “He Himself knows our frame; that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). Jesus illustrates this in His teaching by pointing out that God has an intimate and exhaustive knowledge of all life - He knows what is happening to each bird, even those birds we feel are too small and numerous to be important. He has the hairs of our heads numbered. Jesus says this to help us understand that every person has great value to God. There is nothing about us that is too great or too small to be a matter of concern to God.
As the author and perfector of our Faith, Jesus provides the example for us to follow. Although Jesus performed many miracles, He did them to serve others or to advance His mission as Messiah; not for His personal comfort or convenience.3 Not only did Jesus face life as a human being, Jesus did so without the advantages most world-renowned leaders have enjoyed. His time of ministry was very brief, three years at most. Jesus did not have a high position in society, nor great wealth at His disposal, nor a political position, nor recognition by the academic community, nor an army. He lived out each day in obedience to the Father in dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us that daily faith must be just that - a faith for each day. Peter presents this point of view well in 1 Peter 1:13, where he exhorts his readers to “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” but at the same time to prepare for the hard work of living for the Lord in this age. Jesus asks us to focus upon the tasks of each day because, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
In saying this, Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t plan for the future. When Jesus asks us to consider two houses, one built on rock and the other sand, He is certainly pointing out that the person who built on the sand wasn’t taking the future into consideration. On another occasion Jesus speaks of the wisdom of calculating the cost of a tower before beginning to build it and the wisdom of evaluating whether it is possible to win over an invading army before deciding to meet it in battle (Luke 14:28-32). Planning for the future is a legitimate human activity. However, we cannot live life before it comes -- we can only live life as it comes - according to the natural order of the universe God created and of which we are a part.
In this respect it is helpful for us to consider what it means to “watch and pray” (Mark 13:33, Luke 21:36, Colossians 4:2, 1 Peter 4:7). The shepherds who were “keeping watch over their flock by night” when Jesus were born had the duty to protect their sheep from thieves and wild animals. They could not watch over the flock for the following night, they could only have seen the threat that was coming at the time they were watching. Likewise, when Jesus used the example of the steward who needed to watch his house all night because he didn’t know when a thief might try to break in, Jesus was recognizing that we can prepare for the future but we can only handle the problems of each day when they actually come (Luke 12:39, 40). Focusing upon each day as we live it through becomes a matter - a walk - of faith (2 Corinthians 5:7); for God created each day and He created us to live each day that He gives us (Ephesians 2:10). “This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
Such a walk of faith involves daily prayer by which we fellowship with God and recognize that it is only by His constant grace that we are able to live for Him (John 15:5). At the same time, when we focus upon the tasks at hand we recognize that we must always be willing to be part of the answer to our prayers and the prayers of others. By so doing we serve God rather than just ourselves even in the common matters of daily life.
To “watch” also means to be ever mindful of the Great Truths of our faith. The old saying that “it is the wrong people who go to church, for those people don’t need it” is totally unScriptural. Because of our humanity, all of us need to be reminded constantly of even the most elementary and basic Christian truths. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard to you” (Philippians 3:1). Similarly Peter wrote in his second letter,
Therefore I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:12).And later,
This is now, my beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Peter 3:1, 2).
Daily faith comes, then, by reminding ourselves of God and His Word, by looking to Him in prayer, and by looking beyond circumstances in hope so that we can live through those circumstances in humble service to God (1 Peter 1:3-16).
It is essential to remember that the daily life of faith, while it is sometimes very uncomfortable and sometimes very challenging, it is always doable. We know this because we walk in the footsteps of our Master - who taught us, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, cf. 1 John 2:6, 5:1-5). --SMD
1 See John Wesley’s sermon entitled “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” for a helpful discussion of this passage.
2 See my article “Sin and Human Desire.”
3 See the three-part discussion of The Temptation of Christ.
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is an occasional publication of The American Night Watch Christian ministry in support of Scriptural Christianity and Scriptural holiness.
"The American Night Watch" is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.
The American Night Watch Mid-Watch Report is copyright © 2001 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce this newsletter or the articles within in their entirety as long as the copies are not sold for profit and all copyrights are included, and to quote from the newsletter as long as the meaning of the text is not distorted.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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This page was last updated August 17, 2001.