Worry Is Unreasonable Because of Our Faith
Do not be anxious then, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we clothe ourselves?” For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (6:31–33)
Worry is inconsistent with our faith in God and is therefore unreasonable as well as sinful. Worry is characteristic of unbelief. Ethnoi (Gentiles) literally means simply “peoples,” or “a multitude.” In the plural form, as here, it usually referred to non-Jews, that is, to Gentiles and, by extension, to unbelievers or pagans. Worrying about what to eat, drink, and clothe themselves with are things the Gentiles eagerly seek. Those who have no hope in God naturally put their hope and expectations in things they can enjoy now. They have nothing to live for but the present, and their materialism is perfectly consistent with their religion. They have no God to supply their physical or their spiritual needs, their present or their eternal needs, so anything they get they must get for themselves. They are ignorant of God’s supply and have no claim on it. No heavenly Father cares for them, so there is reason to worry.
The gods of the Gentiles were man-made gods inspired by Satan. They were gods of fear, dread, and appeasement who demanded much, promised little, and provided nothing. It was natural that those who served such gods would eagerly seek whatever satisfactions and pleasures they could while they could. Their philosophy is still popular in our own day among those who are determined to grab all the gusto they can get. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” is an understandable outlook for those who have no hope in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:32).
But that is a completely foolish and unreasonable philosophy for those who do have hope in the resurrection, for those whose heavenly Father knows that [they] need all these things. To worry about our physical welfare and our clothing is the mark of a worldly mind, whether Christian or not. When we think like the world and crave like the world, we will worry like the world, because a mind that is not centered on God is a mind that has cause to worry. The faithful, trusting, and reasonable Christian is “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [lets his] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). He refuses in anyway to “be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).
Within this series of rebukes Jesus gives a positive command coupled with a beautiful promise: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. The cause of worry is seeking the things of this world, and the cause of contentment is seeking the things of God’s kingdom and His righteousness.
De is primarily a conjunction of contrast, for which but is a good rendering. In the present context it carries the idea of “rather,” or “instead of.” “Rather than seeking and worrying about food, drink, and clothing like unbelievers do,” Jesus says, “focus your attention and hopes on the things of the Lord and He will take care of all your needs.”
Out of all the options that we have, out of all the things we can seek for and be occupied with, we are to seek first the things of the One to whom we belong. That is the Christian’s priority of priorities, a divine priority composed of two parts: God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.
As we have seen in the discussion of the Disciples’ Prayer (6:10), basileia (kingdom) does not refer to a geographical territory but to a dominion or rule. God’s kingdom is God’s sovereign rule, and therefore to seek first His kingdom is to seek first His rule, His will and His authority.
Seeking God’s kingdom is losing ourselves in obedience to the Lord to the extent that we can say with Paul, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). To seek first God’s kingdom is to pour out our lives in the eternal work of our heavenly Father.
To seek God’s kingdom is seek to win people into that kingdom, that they might be saved and God might be glorified. It is to have our heavenly Father’s own truth, love, and righteousness manifest in our lives, and to have “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). We also seek God’s kingdom when we yearn for the return of the King in His millennial glory to establish His kingdom on earth and usher in His eternal kingdom.
We are also to seek … His righteousness. Instead of longing after the things of this world, we are to hunger and thirst for the things of the world to come, which are characterized above all else by God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. It is more than longing for something ethereal and future; it is also longing for something present and practical. We not only are to have heavenly expectations but holy lives (see Col. 3:2–3). “Since all these things [the earth and its works, v. 10] are to be destroyed in this way,” Peter says, “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:11).
33 In view of vv. 31–32, this verse makes it clear that Jesus’ disciples are not simply to refrain from the pursuit of temporal things as their primary goal in order to differentiate themselves from pagans; instead, they are to replace such pursuits with goals of far greater significance. To seek first the kingdom (“of God” in some MSS) is to desire above all to enter into, submit to, and participate in spreading the news of the saving reign of God, the messianic kingdom already inaugurated by Jesus, and to live so as to store up treasures in heaven in the prospect of the kingdom’s consummation. It is to pursue the things already prayed for in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9–10).
To seek God’s righteousness is not, in this context, to seek justification (contra Filson, McNeile). “Righteousness” must be interpreted as in 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1. It is to pursue righteousness of life in full submission to the will of God, as prescribed by Jesus throughout this discourse (cf. Przybylski, Righteousness in Matthew, 89–91). Such righteousness will lead to persecution by some (5:10), but others will themselves become disciples and praise the Father in heaven (5:16). Such goals alone are worthy of one’s wholehearted allegiance. For any other concern to dominate one’s mind is to stoop to pagan fretting. “In the end, just as there are only two kinds of piety, the self-centered and the God-centered, so there are only two kinds of ambition: one can be ambitious either for oneself or for God. There is no third alternative” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 172). Within such a framework of commitment, Jesus’ disciples are assured that all the necessary things will be given to them by their heavenly Father (see comments at 5:45; 6:9), who demonstrates his faithfulness by his care even for the birds and his concern even for the grass.
6:31–33. With these three verses, having illustrated and supported his theme, Jesus built his climax. In verse 32, he made two more points about anxiety. First, it was downright pagan; anxiety was the attitude of those who were not a part of God’s kingdom. Second, it was totally unnecessary to worry about what to eat or drink or wear, because your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
If our life is not to be preoccupied with fretting over basic needs, what is our concern to be? The answer is, his kingdom and his righteousness. Those two terms are almost synonymous. God’s kingdom means his sovereign rule in heaven and on earth, most particularly in and through the life of the individual believer. To seek his kingdom is to seek to ensure that his righteousness is done in heaven, on earth, and, most particularly, in and through our lives.
We are to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Everything starts here. This is to be our consuming priority. So it is important to remind ourselves of some basic kingdom realities. How does a person find God’s righteousness that characterizes his kingdom? Jesus started his sermon by pointing out our utter spiritual bankruptcy. We have no righteousness of our own. Even our best attitudes and actions do not procure it. Righteousness comes as a merciful gift, grace through faith (Eph. 2:4–10).
The first reference to righteousness that we find in Scripture is Genesis 15:6. Abraham knew how a person received grace, and the apostle Paul confirmed it (Rom. 4:2–25). The New Testament makes it clear that the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22–24). That is the only way we may enter into God’s kingdom. Jesus clarified this issue for Nicodemus (John 3:3). We cannot see the kingdom of God unless we are “born again.”
So everything begins with our seeking his kingdom and righteousness. In fact, we are to keep on seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. But we are not to seek in the sense of looking for something hidden. Rather, we are to look for every opportunity to expand more fully his already established rule in our lives and in our world, in anticipation of the day when believers will reign with him (Matt. 19:27–29; Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26–27; 3:21) when he establishes his kingdom fully on this earth.
Notice how this passage (6:25–34), which seemed to be taking us in a new direction, actually returns us to the theme of 6:19–24—that we are not to allow anything to distract us from total devotion to God and his kingdom. This is the one priority we must embrace. Money and other concerns can distract us.
Three times in verses 32 and 33, we find the phrase all these things. We might imagine Jesus using it somewhat disparagingly. This was not to belittle the importance of basic necessities, but to place them at the back of the mind of his disciples, far behind his kingdom and righteousness in importance. “All these things” are what pagans (and the Pharisees) scrambled after. “All these things” are thoroughly known by the Father. “All these things” will fall into place when we put God’s kingdom and righteousness in its proper place and serve the kingdom’s interests.
A climactic positive command reinforces the lesson that one should place his trust entirely in the heavenly Father: 33. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be granted to you as an extra gift. Over against the Gentiles, who crave food, drink, garments, etc., Christ’s followers are urged to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. The verb seek implies a being absorbed in the search for, a persevering and strenuous effort to obtain (cf. 13:45). The form of the verb that is used also allows the rendering, “Be constantly seeking” (cf. Col. 3:1). Note: seek first; that is, give God the priority that is his due (2 Cor. 4:18).
The object of this seeking is “his kingdom and his righteousness.” The listeners are exhorted, therefore, to acknowledge God as King in their own hearts and lives, and to do all in their power to have him recognized as King also in the hearts and lives of others, and in every sphere: education, government, commerce, industry, science, etc. For the concept “kingdom of heaven” see pp. 249, 250. It stands to reason that when God is recognized as King, righteousness will prevail. For this concept see pp. 274, 317. These two (kingdom and righteousness) go together. In fact, “the kingdom of God is [means, implies] righteousness” (Rom. 14:17), a righteousness both imputed to men and imparted to them, both of legal standing and of ethical conduct.
Now it is true that the kingdom and its righteousness are gifts, graciously bestowed. They are his kingdom and his righteousness. They are, however, also objects of continuing, diligent search; of ceaseless, strenuous effort to obtain. These two are not contradictory. An example from nature will clarify this. Of itself a tree has no power to maintain itself. Its roots are, as it were, empty hands stretched out to the environment. It is dependent on the sun, the air, the clouds, and the soil. It does not even have the strength to absorb the nourishment it requires. The sun is the source of its energy. But does this mean that the tree is therefore inactive? Not at all. Its roots and leaves, though completely receptive, are enormously active. For example, it has been estimated that the amount of work performed by a certain large tree in a single day to raise water and minerals from the soil to the leaves was equal to the amount of energy expended by a person who carried three hundred buckets full of water, two at a time, up a ten-foot flight of stairs. The leaves, too, are virtual factories. They, too, are tremendously active.
The same holds also with respect to the citizens of the kingdom. They receive the kingdom as a gift. Yet, after the new principle of life has been received, the recipients become very active. They work very hard, not by means of anything in themselves but by the power that is being constantly supplied to them by the Lord’s Spirit. They “work out their own salvation,” and are able to do this because “it is God who works in them both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13. See also Matt. 7:13; cf. Luke 13:24; 16:16b). They trust in God’s promises, pray, spread the message of salvation, and out of gratitude perform good works to benefit men and to glorify God.
The reward of grace: “all these things will be granted to you as an extra gift.” While they are concentrating their attention on the kingdom and its righteousness, God’s gift to them, their heavenly Father sees to it that they have food, drink, and clothing. For further elucidation see 1 Kings 3:10–14; Mark 10:29, 30; and 1 Tim. 4:8.
6:33. The kingdom includes both a future cataclysmic coming and present effects (see the commentary on Mt 13). To seek first His kingdom involves not only being prepared for its future coming but also incarnating its values and glorifying its King in the present time. His righteousness (see 6:1) surely includes what He demands of His children ethically (see the connection of kingdom and ethical righteousness in Rm 14:17). All these things include the basic essentials of life. There is no guarantee that God provides luxury items when people claim them or visualize their reception. The main point of 6:33 is that God so demands His people’s undivided attention that He promises to provide their necessities so that they will not worry about them and can fully concentrate on Him.
6:33 The Lord, therefore, makes a covenant with His followers. He says, in effect, “If you will put God’s interests first in your life, I will guarantee your future needs. If you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then I will see that you never lack the necessities of life.”
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