Why do we deadbolt our doors at night? Why lock our cars or windows or computers? With threats of injury and loss lurking everywhere, we learn to love personal security above anything else. Jesus values security too. The New Testament authors do not portray him as reckless or blind to our reality. But when he joins us in this painful world, he still chooses to live with love for God and others above anything else, even when doing so includes suffering, injury, and loss.
Is Jesus just a unique hero doing something no one else can? Or is he showing us a way to live on Earth right now?
When Jesus starts preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom, he envisions the fulfillment of God’s long-standing promise to eradicate corruption and death—to completely renew creation and forever establish a world where you love everyone and you know that everyone loves you.
Imagine living in a world where you know that nobody will harm you in any way. It’s a world where security is rooted in common love for one another, not protection against one another. It’s also an abundant world, so there’s no hoarding or competing for resources. No violence, no threats, no death. No deadbolts, no padlocks, and no passwords.
How would you live differently if you lived every day in a world like this?
Jesus saw himself bringing this kind of life to our world through what he called “the Kingdom of God,” by teaching people about the good news of God’s Kingdom. So in Matthew 6:33, when Jesus tells the crowds to continually “seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” what is he saying?
Is Jesus offering a new way to keep our instinctive value for personal security above all else? Or is he saying we should stop thinking about securing food, clothing, and shelter altogether because the Kingdom is here? Or is he inviting people to see that God’s Kingdom is here and available—teaching us to practice ways of life rooted in strong love for God and others? What does Matthew 6:33 mean?
For context, let’s explore a few key points in the larger biblical story. It will help bring Matthew 6:33 into clearer focus, especially in terms of what it means to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”
The Choice of How To Live Secure Lives
In Genesis 1 and 2, the biblical authors invite us to see a life-and-death choice that humans have to make. Will we live freely and forever in God’s abundant world (represented by the garden of Eden) by joining his own way of ruling the world according to his wisdom? Or will we try to rule according to our own wisdom?
In Genesis 3:1-15, the humans trust their own perspective on how the world should work more than they trust God’s wisdom. They eat from the tree that God specifically told them to avoid, and they immediately experience fear. They end up outside the good garden, suffering in a world of injury, loss, and death—a place where deadbolts and weapons make sense because life is dangerous and eventually returns to dust.
The biblical story tells us that humanity will be tempted to secure life in ways that might make sense from certain (limited) perspectives, but when those ways disregard God’s instruction, humans always end up bringing harm to creation and one another.
Jesus weaves this thread from Genesis 3 right to the heart of his teaching. He speaks directly to the deep human instinct for survival. What do I need to own, or whom must I defeat, in order to live another day? His electrifying response to this question sums up the essence of his Sermon on the Mount: “But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
Notice how Matthew 6:33 begins with the contrasting conjunction “but,” telling us that he’s helping us see a contrast with what came before. Earlier in Matthew 6, he describes two worlds: one where humans anxiously secure their lives according to their preferences and personal perspectives, and one where humans freely live according to God's wisdom and provision—a world where every person trusts that God ultimately gives people everything they need for life.
Surrounded by poverty, crime, and threats of violence, we rightly sense danger everywhere. Working to protect “me and mine” at any cost, even if it includes neglecting or harming others, has become normal, even “virtuous” in popular culture. We’ve got our own problems to deal with, and doing what it takes to generously love each of our neighbors sounds nice but feels unrealistic. So when we hear Jesus say, “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” it sounds idealistic and impractical if not impossible.
But Jesus resists the temptation to depend on violence of any kind to preserve himself. He rejects every selfish way of gaining personal security, and he becomes the clearest example of what it looks like to live in this new way of life.
Seeking First the Kingdom in a Dangerous World
To get a good definition of “Kingdom of God,” it’s helpful to first understand what “kingdom” meant for the biblical authors. In Jesus’ first-century Jewish context, kingdom meant a tangible, real world on Earth, including real citizens, a real king, and a way of life governed by that king. When kings embraced harmful ways of living and governing, everyone in the empire would suffer. But when kings operated according to God’s wisdom, everyone in the empire would experience increased life, provision, and safety.
The tension we feel when Jesus says "seek first the Kingdom” is related to the fact that this Kingdom is not fully here yet. He is the king. He is on the throne. But not everyone realizes this.
It would be easier to practice loving every neighbor with perfect love in a world where every neighbor loves you back the same way, but it’s difficult (even deadly) to practice that way of life in a hostile world. When danger still exists, fear can compel us more than love. We conform to average patterns of life that value security above all else. Possessions, income, and protections help us feel safe. Often this means we feel entitled to what we have, leading us to compete with our neighbors for resources. But to seek first the Kingdom of God means prioritizing love over survival—something Jesus embodies throughout his life and teaching, especially on the cross.
The story about the early Church in Acts 2 gives us a glimpse of people compelled by love and living in the ways of Jesus. They’re living in God’s Kingdom while also surviving in our dangerous world. How?
The story describes them as a community of people choosing to help each other live together in the way of their King. It’s a life marked by selfless giving and freedom from fearful self-preservation. The New Testament’s gospel accounts show us how Jesus encouraged his followers to receive life as an ongoing gift from God and to live as a gift, or grace, toward others. He never suggests that some violence is needed to stay safe or that some selfishness is necessary for improved comfort or efficiency.
He flips that hostile script and lives according to the promised reality of God’s Kingdom becoming just as real on Earth as it is in Heaven. Living in the way of Jesus sets us free to love our neighbors as generously as he does.
Where True Safety and Security Come From
Normal empires and kings tell their citizens that safety and satisfaction result when one has money, stuff, and power over other people. Once we have secured ourselves with these things, then we can serve others.
But Jesus, the King of God’s Kingdom, tells us that safety and satisfaction result when we love God and others as we love ourselves. When Jesus says “all these things will be added to you,” he’s talking about drink, food, and shelter—all symbols of provision, fullness, and life.1 At first, it sounds like he’s talking about a friendlier way to secure, right now, the goods we value above all else. But notice how Jesus tells the crowds that these things “will be” added to you. He’s not promising that this happens quickly.
He’s talking about a long-term vision for whole-world restoration. These things were not all added to Jesus himself during his lifetime. He remained poor and in great danger, even suffering as a victim of brutal murder. But he knew these experiences were not ultimate. Having every possible need met every day appears to be something we will ultimately experience when God’s Kingdom is complete, when everyone everywhere operates and loves according to the King.
Many of us will experience the pain of unmet needs in this life. We may not have the food, medicine, or other provisions we need to survive, even if we faithfully follow Jesus to the end. We may live with justice for all and still receive oppression in return. Some of us will be hurt and have no one to tend to our needs. Jesus' life and words speak to this reality as well. He himself experienced betrayal, poverty, hunger, and violence as he lived in the ways of God’s Kingdom. But he never felt insecure. Throughout the four Gospels, the story of Jesus shows him remaining confident that his life is in God’s hands.
Jesus did not embrace anxious ways of protection or accumulation, and he consistently teaches his followers to do the same.2 He was banking everything on God’s promise and trusting that the way of love is more satisfying, secure, and safe than any other way.
Though we can experience God’s Kingdom in part right now, especially in communities where others are choosing to live like Jesus3, we still suffer in ways that invite us to rely more and more on God’s generous character and his promise to unite his Kingdom with our whole world.
We’ll stop competing with coworkers. We’ll stop fretting about others’ approval. We’ll stop exhausting ourselves to secure a future we cannot control. The more we practice the ways of Jesus and his Kingdom, the more we enter a kind of freedom that helps us see how we are no longer in danger right now.
God’s got us. We are safe, and we are loved.
All of the fragmented and corrupted ways we use to satisfy our deepest needs will come to an end as Jesus renews Heaven and Earth. Jesus is bringing life as we would imagine it in Eden—peaceful, without threats, filled with adventure and generous love. The biblical story shapes our understanding of this Eden-like life to come, imagining an abundant world free from any kind of threat.
Seeking God’s Kingdom Right Now
So what does living in Jesus’ new way of life actually look like?
We learn how to seek the Kingdom of God when we choose to enter the unique story of God, which has a lot to do with exposing the deception used to build human empires, lies that end up justifying neglectful or violent actions toward others. We learn to trust that God is not lying when he promises that his Kingdom is the world we’re built for and that he will bring it into our world. By trusting that promise (more than fearing what our human empires tell us to fear), we can slowly begin to see how we are already free from any ultimate danger.
“Oh death,” says the Apostle Paul, “where is your sting?”4 He was already seeking first the Kingdom of God above all else, even in the face of punishment by imprisonment and death. The threat undoubtedly scared him, but his love for Jesus and neighbors overpowered that fear. Love compelled Paul—not fear.
Everyone has real needs, and Jesus does not minimize them. He teaches people to give to one another and to receive from each other. It’s a way of seeking the Kingdom first, starting to live right now like we always will in God’s renewed world.
Jesus says that “all of these things will be added to you,” not “you shouldn’t want these things.” Our human desire for survival is not bad. Jesus himself expressed his own desire to survive when he prays in the garden of Gethsemane, “Please take this cup from me.”5 The cup is a metaphor for the responsibility God gave him to suffer unto death rather than retaliate in order to preserve himself. He’s pleading with God to help him survive another day. But his value for personal security is not above all else. His top priority is God’s will. So after expressing his desire to survive, he also affirms: “Yet not my will be done, but yours.”6 That’s a picture of seeking first the Kingdom of God even in the face of death.
Lastly, to seek first the Kingdom of God is a way of daring to hope. Jesus’ appointed messengers speak of a day when we won’t need to seek the Kingdom any longer because it will be fully here.7 It will be a world where everyone deeply, truly loves everyone else. There will be no injury or loss or death, no deadbolts, and no threats.
So we seek, love, and anticipate what is both arriving and already here. We’re almost home.