3. Pressing into the Kingdom (Matthew 6:24, 33; 7:7-8; 11:12)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (24:51)

William Holman Hunt (English Pre-Raphaelite painter, 1827-1910), detail of 'The Importunate Neighbor'(1895), oil on canvas, 36.4 x 51.7 cm, National Gallery of Victoria.
We are to have an attitude of seeking the Kingdom, knocking, and asking without ceasing. William Holman Hunt (English Pre-Raphaelite painter, 1827-1910), detail of "The Importunate Neighbor"(1895), oil on canvas, 36.4 x 51.7 cm, National Gallery of Victoria. Full image.

We Christians must learn to pass on the Christian faith to our children and the culture around us. Too often, however, we pass on a religion rather than a zealous love of Jesus.

Jesus made it clear that entering the Kingdom of God is not passive. The Kingdom must be deliberately sought, pressed into, taken hold of. Though many New Testament passages support this teaching, we'll examine three in this lesson:

  1. Seeking first his Kingdom (Matthew 6:24, 33)
  2. Asking, seeking, knocking (Matthew 7:7-8)
  3. Forcing one's way into the Kingdom (Matthew 11:12 || Luke 16:16)

Each of these passages teaches an active, will-not-be-denied approach to the Kingdom.

Serving Two Masters (Matthew 6:24)

The Sermon on the Mount includes a section (Matthew 6:22-34) that urges us not to lose sight of our chief objective -- the Kingdom of God -- by the distractions of everyday life. One of these verses is especially pointed:

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."(Matthew 6:24)

This verse speaks about the great tug-of-war between the two Masters of our Age (and Jesus' age): God and Mammon. The word "Mammon"(KJV) is transliterated from an Aramaic word. It means "wealth, property."1 The NIV translates it "Money"-- capitalized, since it seems to be personified in verse 24 in contrast with God.

When people "put their hope in wealth,"they automatically lessen their dependence upon God who has promised never to leave us or forsake us. In a way, Money becomes an alternate point of hope and trust, a substitute god. Jesus put it very boldly:

"No one can serve two masters.... You cannot serve both God and Money."(Matthew 6:24)

Q1. (Matthew 6:24) Jesus seems to make it sound like you can't seek wealth and God simultaneously. Does he really mean this? Is this hyperbole? Figurative? Literal? Can wealthy people serve God in actual fact?
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Serving Money

Evelyn Pickering de Morgan (1855-1919), The Worship of Mammon (1909).
Evelyn Pickering de Morgan (1855-1919), "The Worship of Mammon" (1909). Larger image.

What does it mean to serve Money? I'm sure you've discovered -- perhaps the hard way -- that "no payments until June of next year"is a seductive way of getting you to purchase what you know you can't afford now. The frequency with which you get bombarded with offers of free credit cards is one indication of what a serious problem people have mortgaging their souls by means of plastic. Of one thing you can be sure: banks don't offer you credit cards in the hope that you'll pay them off every month. They want you to charge them up and then pay exorbitant interest each month on the unpaid balance.

If you are running the rat race of keeping up with payments on debt, aren't you really serving Money? You serve who owns your time. If you're in debt, perhaps Money owns your time. In 1955, singer Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded the hit song "Sixteen Tons,"written by Merle Travis:

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company store."2

You can either "owe your soul"or determine to get out of a situation where you are doomed to "serve Money."It may take years and some sound financial advisors to get your financial affairs in order and under control so you can be free to serve God again, but it will be worth it.

The Story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-27)

One of the saddest stories in the gospels is that of the Rich Young Ruler, who wanted to follow Jesus, but the pull of material things was just too great -- and Jesus' demands seemed too much for him. We'll examine it more fully in Lesson 4, but it fits here too.

"21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,'he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' 22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!'24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'"(Mark 10:21-25)

Isn't Jesus just being too hard? No. Jesus knows that if a person is that caught up in his own wealth, he can't be a disciple. He can't serve both God and Money. No way!

The question, then, becomes, Where is your heart? What is your real treasure? Has Money become the center of your existence? Determine today to put God back squarely in first place. It's where he belongs -- and he will help you do just that if you ask him.

Seeking God (Matthew 6:31-34)

Now let's look at our key text, verse 33, and the verses leading up to it.

"31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?'or 'What shall we drink?'or 'What shall we wear?'32 For the pagans run after (epizēteō) all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33
But seek (zēteō) first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."(Matthew 6:31-34)

People are always seeking something. In verses 32-33, two words for "seek, seek after"occur.

The Greek verb zēteō in verse 33 means "to seek, look for."Here it has the connotation: "to devote serious effort to realize one's desire or objective, strive for, aim (at), try to obtain, desire, wish (for), desire to possess (something)."3 NRSV renders it, "But strive first for the kingdom of God...."We see a word from the same root in verse 32, describing the Gentiles'quest: "run after"(NIV), "strive"(NRSV), "seek"(KJV), epizēteō, "to be seriously interested in or have a strong desire for, wish, wish for."4

So what is it that you seek? Pagans or Gentile unbelievers seek after temporal things -- food, drink, clothing. What's more, Jesus says, "your heavenly Father knows that you need them."They aren't bad things. But they can preoccupy our "seeking"so we do not have time, energy, or interest to seek the Source of those things -- God himself. Jesus taught:

"The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke [the Word], making it unfruitful."(Matthew 13:22)

Seek God First and Foremost (Matthew 6:33)

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."(Matthew 6:33)

The difference, then, between the disciple and others is that the disciple seeks God first. He or she gives priority to God first. We are not to seek our welfare and God with equal intensity. The great quest for God must be first and foremost, not relegated to religion or Sunday practice, "... so that he might come to have first place in everything."(Colossians 1:18b, NRSV).

Seeking God's Kingdom and Righteousness (Matthew 6:33)

The object of our seeking is to be two-fold, according to Jesus.

First, we are to seek God's kingdom or God's reign in our lives and in this world. In the Lord's Prayer we are taught to pray,

"Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"(Matthew 6:10).

We are not only to pray for it, but seek for it to come about. While I agree that the Kingdom will not come completely until Christ rules literally on the earth (Revelation 20:4), I believe that we Christians are to seek God's Kingdom in the here and now and not be satisfied with the reign of evil. We are to be salt and light in the earth (Matthew 5:13-14). We are to be leaven in the loaf (Matthew 13:33). We are to be agents of change -- faith-filled followers of the Miracle Worker from Galilee who left changed lives in his wake. We are to seek the Kingdom of God.5

Second, we are to seek God's righteousness. Much of Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount compares the Pharisaic understanding of legalistic righteousness with Jesus' heart righteousness, which is the spirit of the Law. Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven"(Matthew 5:20).

This kind of heart righteousness is not the stuff of religious observance alone. Nor ritual. Nor even righteous deeds. It comes from a persistent, insistent, thirsty seeking after God. It comes from a dissatisfaction with our own imperfections until we let him break our hardness of heart and then mold us more fully into his image. A simple song expresses this heart quest:

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me!
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.6

Ultimately, it is not a self-produced righteousness that we seek. It is a righteousness that he works in us, that is, the personal righteousness that is the fruit of Christ's righteousness imputed to us by faith (Philippians 3:9).

For so long we have sought everything else -- food, shelter, advancement. Seek Him first, says the Discipler. "Seek first God's Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you"(6:33).

All these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33b)

We disciples must set our eyes towards one and only one great quest: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness."But with it comes a wonderful Kingdom promise: "and all these things will be given to you as well."

The word translated "be added"(KJV, NASB), "be given"(NIV, NRSV) is the future passive of Greek prostithēmi, "add, put to,"here with the connotation, "to add as a benefit, provide, give, grant, do."7 He will add to our Kingdom-seeking the other things that we need. He will fulfill spiritual hunger and our natural hunger as well.

Ultimately, this quest is a faith-quest that sorts out priorities and settles upon the one great goal of seeking God first. God takes care of the rest and will not disappoint us, if our heart is rightly placed. Just as he feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, he will meet all our needs, as well.

Q2. (Matthew 6:33) What does it mean in verse 33 to "seek first his Kingdom"? What does it mean to "seek first his righteousness"? How can we both seek the Kingdom and support our families? What is the promise found in verse 33?
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Asking, Seeking, Knocking (Matthew 7:7-8)

The second passage in this lesson reinforces the point that seeking the Kingdom is a constant, active quest. Jesus instructed us in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."(Matthew 7:7-8)

Jesus gives us three word pairs. The first in each pair is the action, the second is the result. The first word in each pair is in the Greek present tense that can carry the idea of "action in progress in present time,"the "Progressive Present."8 Jesus' command here has the effect of saying, "Do this (and keep on doing it)."The second word in each pair is in the future tense, the expectation, the promise.

The Greek words used in Jesus' command are common. Greek aiteō means "ask, ask for, demand."9 In the case of a superior speaking to an inferior it can carry the idea "demand,"as in an accounting. But here the idea is "to ask for, petition."The promise is Greek didōmi, the common word for "give.""Ask and it will be given to you."

"Seek"is zēteō, which we just examined, "seek, look for"in order to find. It can be used literally, as the woman seeking for a lost coin (Luke 15:8), or figuratively "try to obtain, desire to possess something ... strive for, aim (at), desire, wish."10 The corresponding result is expressed by Greek euriskō. It means literally "find, discover, come upon,"and can also refer figuratively to "intellectual discovery based upon reflection, observation, examination, or investigation."11 "Seek and you will find."

The third pair of words expresses the figure of seeking by knocking on a door until it is opened.12

Seeking Boldly

This kind of bold, relentless seeking is taught in two of Jesus' parables:

  1. Parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-8), where continued, not-to-be-denied knocking is encouraged.
  2. Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8), where the lesson is to always pray and not give up.

The writer of Hebrews urges us:

 "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."(Hebrews 4:16)

The word translated "confidence"(NIV) or "boldness"(KJV) is Greek parrēsia, "outspokenness, frankness, plainness"of speech that conceals nothing and passes over nothing. It can also carry the ideas of "courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness,'especially in the presence of persons of high rank."13

We aren't to pray with a whimper or a whine or a whisper. No. We are to come with a confident, bold, persistent asking, seeking, and knocking. God our Father desires to hear our petitions and we are to be entirely open with him. Prayer is not a time to hide what is going on inside us, but to share it openly -- warts and all -- with our Father who, as we know, loves us and understands us and seeks good for us. We can trust him, even though we might misunderstand an issue, or ask for the wrong thing.

Q3. (Matthew 7:7-8) Why is continual asking, seeking, and knocking so essential to our looking forward to the Kingdom? Why do we give up so easily? How do we gain boldness and persistence in prayer?http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1003

 

 

 

 

Pressing into the Kingdom (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16)

John the Baptist's ministry is the watershed between the two eras: (1) the age of the law and the prophets, and (2) the kingdom age. John straddles them. He is proclaiming the new era: "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"(Mark 1:15). But in some way John is the last of the Old Testament prophets, for Jesus says, "Among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he"(Luke 7:28). As Moses sees the Promised Land but never enters it himself, so John proclaims the Kingdom but is not quite a part of it, as Jesus begins to reveal it.

In this context, we find one of the hardest passages in the New Testament to interpret with confidence, but one of the most powerful. The key words are the verb biazō and its related noun biastēs.

"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing (Greek biazō, middle or passive), and forceful men (biastēs) lay hold (harpazō) of it."(Matthew 11:12)

 "Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way (Greek biazō, middle or passive) into it."(Luke 16:16b)

"In Greek literature biazō is most often used in the unfavorable sense of attack or forcible restraint."However, the most recent Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament gives four possible definitions of biazō in these two verses: (1) "to inflict violence on, dominate, constrain,"(2) "to gain an objective by force, use force,"(3) "to go after something with enthusiasm, seek fervently, try hard,"or (4) "constrain (warmly)."14 The noun used in Matthew, biastēs, is used in other literature in a negative or pejorative sense, "violent, impetuous person."15

"Lay hold"(NIV), "take by force"(NRSV, NASB, KJV) in Matthew 11:12 is harpazō. The basic meaning is "'snatch, seize,'that is, take suddenly and vehemently."16 Its exact meaning here depends upon your interpretation of the verse, perhaps, "to seize on, claim for oneself eagerly."17

There are many interpretations of these parallel passages, but I'll mention just two:

1. Servants of the Kingdom are mistreated

One of the most popular interpretations sees biazō as passive and takes the saying as meaning that the Kingdom suffers violence as its servants (e.g., John the Baptist and Jesus) are maltreated by the enemies of the Kingdom. While it is true that John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus' disciples are maltreated, I don't think that's the force of this verse.

2. The Kingdom is entered forcefully

Rather, I believe Jesus is saying that people must actively, aggressively, and forcibly seek entrance into the Kingdom.18 Here we take biazō as the middle voice instead of the passive voice (the forms here are exactly the same) with the second definition above, "to gain an objective by force."This interpretation fits the context and is supported by Jesus' teachings elsewhere. In the Luke passage, then, Jesus is saying:

  • "Everyone," Greek pas, that is, everyone who becomes part of the Kingdom...
  • "is forcing his way," pushing through the door, seeking to enter while it still possible, making every effort...
  • "into it," eis, that is, into the Kingdom.

Jesus often stresses both by parable and by hyperbole the necessity of actively seeking the Kingdom:

  • Birth (John 3:3, 7). If you've ever given birth or been present at a birth, then you know firsthand that birth is a violent, radical event, "natural"though it may be.19
  • Cutting off your hand, plucking out your eye that causes you to sin (Mark 9:47).
  • Hating your family (Luke 14:26).
  • Bringing not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
  • Giving up everything for the treasure hidden in the field and for the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46).
  • Radical action required of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21).
  • Counting the cost of building a tower or waging war (Luke 14:28-33).
  • Entering by the narrow door (Luke 13:24).

Q4. (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16) Admittedly, this is a hard passage to interpret. However, if you take the "forceful"or "violent"people as seekers who are doing whatever it takes to press into the Kingdom, then what is Jesus teaching us here about the nature of the Kingdom?
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Too often we want the blessings of the Kingdom, but are not willing to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus. We are "rice Christians,""fair-weather Christians"who aren't following Jesus the Master but adopting a religion. When you take Jesus' teachings seriously and look at them fairly, it's pretty obvious that he is asking for everything that we have -- our heart, our allegiance, our obedience, our willingness to risk all to follow. Jesus doesn't mention any comfortable middle ground, though the timid part of us earnestly would like to find it.

Jesus and the Kingdom of God: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
A book of the compiled lessons is available in both e-book and paperback formats.

And so we're told to:

  1. Seek first his Kingdom (Matthew 6:24, 33)
  2. Ask, seek, knock (Matthew 7:7-8)
  3. Force our way into the Kingdom (Matthew 11:12 || Luke 16:16)

How about you, dear friend? Are you seeking the Kingdom first, with all your heart? That's the attitude of heart that Jesus our Master is seeking to inculcate in us.

Prayer

Father, put an earnestness in my soul that will not be denied your best, your will, your Kingdom! Forgive me for my passivity in the face of your call. Help me to seek your Kingdom first of all in my life. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."(Matthew 6:33, NIV)

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."(Matthew 7:7-8, NIV)

"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it."(Matthew 11:12, NIV)

References (Abbreviations)

1. Mamōnas, BDAG 614-615.

2. "Sixteen Tons," written by Merle Travis (1947, American-Music Inc / Campbell Connelly And Co Ltd.).

3. Zēteō, BDAG 428, 3a.

4. Epizēteō, BDAG 372, 2a.

5. Some more recent translations such as the NIV, RSV, and NASB do not include the words "of God," since these words are missing in a number of early and important manuscripts (Aleph, B, etc.). However, in an interesting change of scholarly opinion, the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies'Greek New Testament explains the absence of "of God" as an accidental scribal omission, and includes "of God" in their text, though in brackets to reflect some uncertainty. This is now reflected in the NRSV which restores the full phrase "kingdom of God." (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 18-19.)

6. "Spirit of the Living God," words and music by Dan Iverson (1935. Renewed 1963, Birdwing Music)

7. Prostithēmi, BDAG 885, 2.

8. Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek (Third Edition; T & T Clark, 1898), p. 7. The present imperative can denote "something already existing is to continue." F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1961), sec. 336, p. 172.

9. Aiteō, BAGD 26.

10. Zēteō, BAGD 338-339.

11. Euriskō, BAGD 324-325.

12. These three word pairs are a good example of Hebrew synonymous parallelism, for each reinforces the other in the ways we are encouraged to think of our seeking from God -- of petitions, of finding what eludes us, and of obtaining an audience with the person inside.

13. Parrēsia, BAGD 630-631.

14. Biazō, BDAG 175-176.

15. Biastēs, BDAG 176.

16. Harpazō, BDAG 134, 2b.

17. Harpazō, Thayer, p. 75.

18. In this interpretation I have followed pretty closely the position of my former professor, George Eldon Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1964), pp. 154-160. This book was later republished under the name Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Eerdmans, 1996).

19. The verb gennaō can mean either "become the father of, beget" or "bear, give birth." In John, Nicodemus understands Jesus' statement (doubtless spoken in Aramaic) as referring to "giving birth." In 1 Peter 1:23, however, the verb seems to indicate "become the father of."


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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