So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:31-33).
In the past I’ve written about the verses above in the context of faith. When the Lord spoke these words the average person in his audience didn’t know what the term discretionary income meant. They didn’t have any extra resources nor were there any government programs to help them through rough times. If they were unable to provide for themselves they went without. And yet the Lord told them not to worry about it. He said if they sought the Father’s Kingdom and His righteousness all their needs would be met.
It wasn’t the first time God had made a promise like this. In Deut. 28 the Lord promised Israel that if they fully obeyed Him and carefully followed all His commands they would be blessed above all the nations on Earth.
You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. (Deut. 28:3-6)
He said He would give them victory over all their enemies, and prosperity such as had never been seen anywhere before. They would be a nation of wealthy people, lending to others but never borrowing from anyone (Deut. 28:7-14).
These weren’t empty promises and there were times in Israel’s history when their obedience brought them a standard of living that was the envy of the world just like God had said it would be.
Because of the terms of their relationship with God, the Jews associated wealth with righteousness. But it was a righteousness based on works which can bring pride and selfishness along with blessing.
God warned them against this. Throughout Deut. 8 He told them that as they became prosperous they should not forget who it was who had provided for them. Otherwise they would become proud, thinking they had earned their wealth in their own strength, and would begin ignoring His commandments.
Sadly, that’s what happened. Eventually poverty was thought to be evidence of disobedience. There is no motivation to help someone in need when you think their unfilled need is a punishment from God. Over time those who were prosperous began to neglect the plight of the poor to the point of ignoring the portions of the law they saw as helping the poor to the disadvantage of the wealthy. Things like loaning money without interest, periodically forgiving debt, freeing indentured slaves, and returning land either purchased or taken in pledge to its original owner were either skirted around or ignored altogether. Because of this their prosperity waned as well. This cycle repeated itself several times in Israels’ history.
Old Vs. New
Paul said everything that was written in the past was written to teach us (Romans 15:4) so we can look into Israel’s history and know that God makes good on His commitments. But God’s blessing to Israel was based on His promise to reward them in return for obedience. His promise to the Church is much more than a reward for good behavior and requires only that we accept it. Here’s how it works.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:12-13).
The Greek word translated right in the above passage is most often translated power. It’s a power that stems from authority and John said it’s ours to exercise. Believing that Jesus died for our sins gives us the absolute authority to declare ourselves to be a child of God. Many Christians think of this only in spiritual terms, but in the following passage Paul revealed that from God’s perspective being a child of God includes much more.
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 4:1-7).
In his letter to the Galatians Paul explained this in terms of the laws of inheritance in his time. He compared our position before being born again to that of a child with no rights. Even a child who was a direct biological descendant of his father had no more rights than one of the servants in his father’s household.
But when he reached the time set by his father, he was granted the full rights of sonship. In the Greek culture there was a formal adoption procedure that legally established these rights. From that time on he was treated like a son, and being made a son meant he was entitled to inherit his father’s estate.
In our case, the time our Father set for our adoption was when we accepted the death of His Son as payment in full for our sins. Doing so made us righteous in His sight and qualified us to be in His presence. At that time we became born again, a new creation, with legal standing as one of God’s children, including the right of inheritance.
As I said, God considers this to be a legal issue that contains rights and responsibilities. Our responsibility is to seek His kingdom and His righteousness, in other words to be born again and exercise our right to become one of His children. His responsibility is to provide for our needs like any good father would do for his children.
Therefore, Jesus told us to seek His kingdom and His righteousness, not our own. The righteousness of God cannot be earned through good behavior. It can only be imputed to us by faith (Romans 1:17) and because of that it promotes an attitude of gratitude. The Pharisees often appeared stingy and uncaring because they believed they had earned their righteousness. They looked down on the poor as having failed to do the same. If you want a good example of this, read the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). But we’re to be generous and sensitive to the needs of others, knowing we’re getting something we have not earned.
To further discourage us from becoming like the Pharisees, the Lord promised to do more than just meet our needs. Under the Old Covenant people were blessed as a reward for their obedience. Under the New we’re promised blessings in proportion to our generosity (Luke 6:38). Everyone is blessed for giving, but generous givers receive comparatively greater blessing than those who give sparingly (2 Cor. 9:6). This is a cause and effect relationship that will continue to spiral upward as long as we’re faithful until we’re made rich in every way so we can be generous on every occasion (2 Cor. 9:11). Far from thinking of poverty as a punishment from God, we’re supposed to give to everyone who asks (Luke 6:30) knowing that God will repay our generosity toward others with generosity toward us.
(Now please understand me here. I’m not talking about sending money to rich televangelists who distort God’s word in order to extort money from the poor. That’s the opposite of what God intended. I’m talking about a genuine expression of generosity to someone less fortunate based on our gratitude for what the Lord has done for us.)
It’s A Family Matter
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim. 5:8)
If this is what God expects of man then surely He holds Himself to the same standard. To those who exercise their right to become one of His children He has promised to meet our needs for food, drink, and shelter. After all by agreeing to adopt us into His family, He has legally obligated Himself to support us. Granted, if we insist on taking care of ourselves He’ll stand aside. But He’s placed a foundation of security beneath us that will preserve us even when everything we’ve built comes tumbling down, and it’s ours for the asking.
To those who demonstrate their gratitude through expressions of generosity toward others, he’s promised still more, responding with generosity toward us in an upward spiral of blessing that has no limit and is conditioned only on our continued participation.
Next to our salvation I think this might be one of the most important promises God made to us, and I often wonder why it’s not more widely understood in the Christian community. After all, the verses I’ve quoted in support of it are clear and concise, and don’t take any special skill to interpret. All they require is a willingness to take God at His word and trust Him to make good on what He’s promised. It’s literally the opportunity of a lifetime.