Jesus commands his followers to live focused lives: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33). But most Christians have a very fuzzy idea of what the kingdom of God is, which makes it a bit difficult to seek it as our first priority! Consequently, too often we live unfocussed, undirected lives, instead of obeying this foundational command from our Lord to his followers.
Here is a quick summary of one of the most central themes in all of Scripture—the concept of kingdom. It begins in Genesis 1 with the creation of Adam and Eve as king and queen over a kingdom called “creation.” Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Gen 1:26b).Their mandate was to do what kings and queens do, exercise dominion over their kingdom.
But there was a caveat. They were to rule their kingdom FOR God, in a manner that was consistent with His holiness. They choose, instead, to rule FOR THEMSELVES and, in their disobedience to God’s command, aligned themselves with Satan’s rebellion. Because of their revolt, their kingdom became enslaved to a triumvirate of powers—Satan, Sin, and Death (see Eph 2:2 and Rom 5:12) who would rule it in their place.
Jesus, the promised Messiah, came into the world as the second Adam to free Adam’s kingdom from its slavery to Satan, Sin, and Death and to establish his righteous rule over the earth. The kingdom of God is best understood as kingly rule. It is not God’s sovereign rule that Jesus came to establish. God has always been sovereign. Rather, Jesus came to overthrow the rebellion on planet earth and establish his preceptive rule (from the word, precept), i.e. the establishment of his kingdom of righteousness.
At the cross, Jesus accomplished his mission of redemption by decisively defeating Satan, Sin, and Death (Col 2:15). He set Adam’s kingdom free from its slavery to this triumvirate. However, though these foes have been ultimately defeated and deposed from their tyrannical rule over Adam’s kingdom, in this present age they have not been destroyed. They remain present in Adam’s kingdom, still resisting Christ’s kingly rule. (We still experience Satan’s temptation, the pull of our sinful nature, and death.)
The arrival of the new order into human history inaugurates Christ’s kingly rule of righteousness. Scholars tell us that in Matthew 6:33 the kingdom of God and righteousness are used synonymously (in a technical grammatical structure called a hendiadys.) Just as Jesus’ healing gives us a glimpse of the ultimate overthrow of disease and death, and his exorcisms foreshadow Satan’s eventual destruction, his ethical teaching gives us a picture of sin’s eradication—righteous living in the kingdom. Matthew 5-7, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is a portrayal of the righteous life to be lived by Christ-followers, who are members of the new humanity, ambassadors who represent (albeit imperfectly) the reality of the arrival of Christ’s kingdom.
God’s covenant people are to live out these kingdom attitudes, as a window display of kingdom life, a movie trailer of coming attractions for all the world to see what redeemed humanity will look like when Christ returns and all sin is annihilated. Not only that, but Jesus’ kingdom disciples are to transform the world around them through their influence. After teaching them the Beatitudes Jesus tells his followers that they are salt and light for the world. Both salt and light transform whatever is near them. Kingdom people are to redeem every part of the culture around them, exercising dominion, seeking to bring about Christ’s agenda (kingly rule) in every sphere of life.
To “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” then, is to join the risen Christ in the establishment of his righteous rule over every part of the universe. He has ascended to the right hand of The Father and claims this world as his own.
Specifically, kingdom disciples are committed to displaying the values of the future kingdom of righteousness in their everyday lives. They seek to extend the preceptive rule of Christ by shaping their heart attitudes, family relationships, business policies, government laws, and ethical decisions, etc., according to righteousness. Kingdom discipleship is recovering Adam’s original cultural mandate, to be fruitful, developing the potential of this earth and culture, making disciples who observe everything Jesus commands of his disciples, exercising dominion over every sphere of their lives and world for The High King.
A practical way to implement this command is to identity various spheres of our lives along with Christ’s agenda for that sphere from the inside outward. Beginning at the core of our being, seeking first the kingdom starts with heart loyalty, my allegiance to the High King, loving God with all my heart.
Surrender to Christ’s kingship them moves outward to my heart attitudes. Has Christ-like humility replaced self-centeredness? Has envy of the wicked or a judgmental attitude been replaced by a heart that weeps for the ungodly and the devastation sin always brings? Has a quiet trust that God is good, replaced a complaining heart and impatience with others who make my life more difficult? Do I hunger and thirst to do what is right or cut ethical corners? (Questions based on the first 4 Beatitudes).
Surrender to King Jesus’ agenda then moves outward to my closest relationships. What is God’s agenda for how I am to love my wife in 2018, and lead my family? What is his agenda for reaching out and building a relationship with my neighbor or work associate, so I can share Christ through that friendship? How can I best honor Christ in my vocational calling? How do I steward what belongs to me—my physical body, talents, time, and financial resources in a way that pleases God?
Pleasing Jesus cannot be accomplished in 2018 by sitting on our hands. He wants us to strive to accomplish his agenda in every sphere of our lives…to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
(Further Resources: Jesus called the gospel, “the gospel of the kingdom.” For a fuller explanation of why kingdom theology is vital to understanding discipleship, click here. This highly motivational understanding of Christ's call to discipleship is also the basis for the men's weekend retreat I lead entitled, Focused and Effective for The Master).