Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
There are two ways to seek your happiness in this world. You can, on the one hand, live as if happiness were your own to discover. Follow your dreams. Pursue your passions. Get rich, get successful, get comfortable.
Or you can, on the other hand, live as if happiness were the gift of God, the inheritance of those who trust and love him. The eighteenth-century pastor Jonathan Edwards describes the two ways like this:
If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can. But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow human beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are. (Charity and Its Fruits)
Edwards was only paraphrasing the Lord Jesus, who, when he looked out upon a crowd of people hungry for happiness, said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
All You Have Need Of
What are “all these things” that Jesus promises to those who seek first the kingdom? In the immediate context, he means food, water, and clothing. “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). Children of God, even the most oppressed and vulnerable, need not scramble and fret in search of their daily bread. “Your heavenly Father knows you need them all” (Matthew 6:32). And as this Father provides so abundantly for the birds and flowers, he likewise provides for his own people (Matthew 6:26–30).
Yet the promise of Jesus does not end with basic survival needs — as both his teaching elsewhere and other promises in Scripture assure us (Matthew 7:11; Psalm 84:11; Romans 8:32; Philippians 4:19). Jesus is communicating a broad principle here: All you have need of, God’s hand — not yours — will provide. Your Father will always be faithful to meet your needs.
And your Father knows that you need not only food, water, and clothing, but happiness too. He created you to be happy in him (Psalm 32:11; Philippians 1:21–23; 1 Peter 1:8) — not with a kind of frothy chipperness, but with a deep, indestructible happiness that goes on rejoicing even in sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10). And he will make your happiness “his own charge” as you seek his kingdom first.
Seek First the Kingdom
For those who seek happiness in the first way described above — as if happiness were our own to discover — “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” sounds like a detour, or even a dead end. They seek their happiness in the only way they know: head-on. But happiness, as with so many of God’s other good gifts, will run away if you reach for it directly. We seek our happiness best when we seek, not happiness, but God’s kingdom first.
And what does it look like to seek God’s kingdom? We might start with a simple survey of Jesus’s commands throughout the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. If you want to seek God’s kingdom,
· Embrace poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:3).
· Give yourself to good works (Matthew 5:16).
· Forsake anger, lust, and divorce (Matthew 5:21–32).
· Love, and do not simply endure, those who wrong you (Matthew 5:43–48).
· Keep your prayers, fasting, and giving a secret between you and God (Matthew 6:1–18).
· Use money like your treasure is in heaven (Matthew 6:19–24).
· Watch out for logs in your own eye (Matthew 7:1–5).
· Ask and keep asking for good things from God (Matthew 7:7–11).
· Surrender every part of your life to the lordship of Jesus (Matthew 7:24–27).
Each of these is a command to seek God’s kingdom above personal preference and selfish ambition. And yet, for those with ears to hear, each is also an invitation to happiness.
Edwards goes on,
The resources of the universe move at [God’s] bidding, and he can easily command them all to subserve your welfare. So that, not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. It is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness.
When you give up the pursuit of selfishly seeking your own happiness, you do not lay your happiness down in the dirt, to be trampled by circumstances and people. No, you lay your happiness in the hands of a faithful Father. “The resources of the universe move at his bidding,” and he will easily, and gladly, move them to meet all your needs.