Keep Seeking the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness
“Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—MATTHEW 6:33.
1, 2. Into what did the scribes and Pharisees turn acts that were good in themselves, and what warning did Jesus give to his followers?
THE scribes and Pharisees sought righteousness in their own way, which was not God’s way. Not only that, but when they did perform acts that were good in themselves, they turned them into hypocritical performances to be seen of men. They were serving, not God, but their own vanity. Jesus warned his disciples against such playacting: “Take good care not to practice your righteousness in front of men in order to be observed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens.”—Matthew 6:1.
2 Jehovah appreciates those who give to the poor—but not those who give as the Pharisees did. Jesus warned his disciples against copying them: “Hence when you go making gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, just as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full.”—Matthew 6:2.
3. (a) In what way were the scribes and Pharisees paid in full for their giving? (b) How was Jesus’ position on giving different?
3 The Greek word for ‘they are having in full’ (a·peʹkho) was a term that often appeared in business receipts. Its use in the Sermon on the Mount indicates that “they have received their reward,” that is, “they have signed the receipt of their reward: their right to receive their reward is realised, precisely as if they had already given a receipt for it.” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine) Gifts for the poor were publicly pledged in the streets. In the synagogues the names of donors were announced. Those who gave large amounts were specially honored by having seats next to the rabbis during worship. They gave to be seen by men; they were seen and glorified by men; hence, they could stamp the receipt for the reward that came from their giving “Paid in Full.” How different was Jesus’ position! Give “in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you.”—Matthew 6:3, 4; Proverbs 19:17.
Prayers That Please God
4. Why did the Pharisees’ prayers cause Jesus to call those men hypocrites?
4 Jehovah appreciates prayers directed to him—but not as the Pharisees prayed. Jesus said to his followers: “When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5) The Pharisees had many prayers to be recited daily, at specific times, regardless of where they were. Theoretically, they were to give them in private. By design, though, they managed to be “on the corners of the broad ways,” visible to people passing by in four directions, when the hour of prayer arrived.
5. (a) What further practices caused the Pharisees’ prayers to go unheard by God? (b) What things did Jesus put first in his model prayer, and are people today in agreement with that?
5 In a display of false holiness, they would “for a pretext make long prayers.” (Luke 20:47) One oral tradition said: “The pious men of old used to wait an hour before they said the Tefillah [prayer].” (Mishnah) By then everyone would be sure to see their piety and marvel at it! Such prayers reached no higher than their own heads. Jesus said to pray in privacy, without vain repetition, and he gave them a simple model. (Matthew 6:6-8; John 14:6, 14; 1 Peter 3:12) Jesus’ model prayer put first things first: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place.” (Matthew 6:9-13) Few people today know God’s name, much less want it sanctified. They thereby make him a nameless god. Let God’s Kingdom come? Many think it is already here, within them. They may pray for his will to be done, but most do their own will.—Proverbs 14:12.
6. Why did Jesus condemn the Jewish fasts as meaningless?
6 A fast is acceptable to Jehovah—but not as the Pharisees performed it. As with the almsgiving and the praying by the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus also dismissed their fasting as meaningless: “When you are fasting, stop becoming sad-faced like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly I say to you, They are having their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:16) Their oral traditions indicated that during fasts the Pharisees were neither to wash nor to anoint themselves but to smear ashes on their heads. When not fasting, the Jews regularly washed themselves and rubbed their body with oil.
7. (a) How were Jesus’ followers to conduct themselves when fasting? (b) With regards to fasting, what did Jehovah want in Isaiah’s day?
7 Regarding fasting, Jesus told his followers: “Grease your head and wash your face, that you may appear to be fasting, not to men, but to your Father.” (Matthew 6:17, 18) In Isaiah’s day backsliding Jews found delight in their fasting, afflicting their souls, bowing down their heads, and sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But Jehovah wanted them to free the oppressed, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked.—Isaiah 58:3-7.
Store Up Heavenly Treasure
8. What caused the scribes and Pharisees to lose sight of how to gain God’s approval, and what principle, later expressed by Paul, did they overlook?
8 In their pursuit of righteousness, the scribes and Pharisees lost sight of how to gain God’s approval and focused on the admiration of men. They became so wrapped up in the traditions of men that they set aside the written Word of God. They set their hearts on earthly position rather than heavenly treasure. They ignored a simple truth that a Pharisee-turned-Christian wrote down years later: “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men, for you know that it is from Jehovah you will receive the due reward of the inheritance.”—Colossians 3:23, 24.
9. What dangers can threaten earthly treasure, but what will keep true treasure safe?
9 Jehovah is interested in your devotion to him, not in your bank account. He knows that your heart is where your treasure is. Can rust and moths consume your treasure? Can thieves dig through mud walls and steal it? Or in these modern times of economic instability, can inflation shrink its buying power or can stock-market crashes wipe it out? Will the soaring crime rate cause your treasure to be stolen? Not if it is stored in heaven. Not if your eye—a lamp that lights up your whole body—is simple, focused on God’s Kingdom and his righteousness. Riches have a way of disappearing. “Do not toil to gain riches. Cease from your own understanding. Have you caused your eyes to glance at it, when it is nothing? For without fail it makes wings for itself like those of an eagle and flies away toward the heavens.” (Proverbs 23:4, 5) So why lose sleep over wealth? “The plenty belonging to the rich one is not permitting him to sleep.” (Ecclesiastes 5:12) Remember Jesus’ warning: “You cannot slave for God and for Riches.”—Matthew 6:19-24.
Faith That Dispels Anxiety
10. Why is it so important to have your faith in God rather than in material possessions, and what counsel did Jesus give?
10 Jehovah wants your faith to be in him, not in material possessions. “Without faith it is impossible to please him well, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Jesus said: “Even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) Millions in the bank will not keep diseased lungs working or a tired heart pumping. So it is “on this account I say to you,” Jesus continued in his Sermon on the Mount: “Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body than clothing?”—Matthew 6:25.
11. Where did Jesus find many of his illustrations, and how is this demonstrated in the Sermon on the Mount?
11 Jesus was a master of verbal illustrations. He thought of them wherever he looked. He saw a woman putting a lighted lamp upon a lampstand and turned it into an illustration. He saw a shepherd separating sheep from goats; it became an illustration. He saw children playing in the marketplace; it became an illustration. And so it was in the Sermon on the Mount. As he talked about anxiety over physical needs, he saw illustrations in the birds flitting about and the lilies carpeting the hillsides. Do the birds sow and reap? No. Do the lilies spin and weave? No. God made them; he takes care of them. You, however, are worth more than birds and lilies. (Matthew 6:26, 28-30) He gave his Son for you, not for them.—John 3:16.
12. (a) Did the illustrations about the birds and the flowers mean that Jesus’ disciples would not have to work? (b) What point was Jesus making concerning work and faith?
12 Jesus was not here telling his followers that they did not have to work to feed and clothe themselves. (See Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ephesians 4:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12.) On that spring morning, the birds were busy scratching for food, courting, building nests, sitting on eggs, feeding their young. They were working but without worrying. The flowers were also busy pushing their roots into the soil in search of water and minerals and sending their leaves reaching up for sunlight. They had to mature and blossom and cast their seed before they died. They were working but without worrying. God provides for birds and lilies. ‘Will he not much rather provide for you, you with little faith?’—Matthew 6:30.
13. (a) Why was it appropriate for Jesus to use a cubit measure when talking about increasing one’s life span? (b) How can you lengthen your life endless millions of miles, as it were?
13 So have faith. Do not be anxious. Anxiety will change nothing. “Who of you by being anxious,” Jesus asked, “can add one cubit to his life span?” (Matthew 6:27) But why does Jesus relate a physical measure of distance, a cubit, to a measure of time in a life span? Perhaps because the Bible frequently likens the life span of humans to a journey, using such expressions as “the way of sinners,” “the path of the righteous,” a ‘broad road to destruction,’ and a ‘cramped road to life.’ (Psalm 1:1; Proverbs 4:18; Matthew 7:13, 14) Anxiety about daily needs cannot extend one’s life by even a fraction, “one cubit,” so to speak. But there is a way to lengthen your life by endless millions of miles, as it were. Not by being anxious and saying: “What are we to eat?” or “What are we to drink?” or “What are we to put on?” but by having faith and doing what Jesus tells us to do: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—Matthew 6:31-33.
Attaining God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness
14. (a) What is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount? (b) In what wrong way did the scribes and Pharisees seek the Kingdom and righteousness?
14 In the opening sentence of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of the heavens as belonging to those conscious of their spiritual need. In the fourth sentence, he said that those hungering and thirsting for righteousness would be filled. Here Jesus puts both the Kingdom and Jehovah’s righteousness in first place. They are the theme of the Sermon on the Mount. They are the answer to the needs of all mankind. But by what means do God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness become attainable? How do we continue seeking them? Not the way the scribes and Pharisees did. They sought the Kingdom and righteousness by means of the Mosaic Law, which they claimed included the oral traditions, since they believed that both the written Law and the oral traditions were given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai.
15. (a) According to the Jews, when did their oral traditions originate, and how did they elevate them above the written Mosaic Law? (b) When did these traditions really begin, and with what effect on the Mosaic Law?
15 Their tradition concerning this said: “Moses received the Law [footnote, “The ‘Oral Law’”] from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue.” In time their oral law was exalted above even the written Law: “[If] he transgresses the words of the [written] Law, he is not culpable,” but if “he adds to the words of the Scribes [oral traditions], he is culpable.” (Mishnah) Their oral traditions did not start at Sinai. In fact, they began accumulating rapidly some two centuries before Christ. They added to, subtracted from, and made void the written Mosaic Law.—Compare Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32.
16. How does God’s righteousness come about for mankind?
16 God’s righteousness comes about not through the Law but apart from it: “By works of law no flesh will be declared righteous before him, for by law is the accurate knowledge of sin. But now apart from law God’s righteousness has been made manifest, as it is borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets; yes, God’s righteousness through the faith in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:20-22) So God’s righteousness comes by faith in Christ Jesus—this was amply “borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets.” The Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus. He also fulfilled the Law; it was taken out of the way by being nailed to his torture stake.—Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; Colossians 2:13, 14; Hebrews 10:1.
17. According to the apostle Paul, how did the Jews miss knowing the righteousness of God?
17 Hence, the apostle Paul wrote of the Jews’ failure in seeking righteousness: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness.” (Romans 10:2-4) Paul also wrote of Christ Jesus: “The one who did not know sin he made to be sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness by means of him.”—2 Corinthians 5:21.
18. How was “Christ impaled” viewed by the Jewish traditionalists, the Greek philosophers, and “those who are the called”?
18 The Jews viewed a dying Messiah as a weak nothing. The Greek philosophers scoffed at such a Messiah as foolishness. Nevertheless, it is as Paul proclaimed: “Both the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness; however, to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25) Christ Jesus is a manifestation of God’s power and wisdom and is God’s means of righteousness and everlasting life for obedient mankind. “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.”—Acts 4:12.
19. What will the following article show?
19 The following article will show that if we would escape destruction and attain to everlasting life, we must keep on seeking God’s Kingdom and his righteousness. That must be done not only by listening to the sayings of Jesus but also by doing them.
□ Into what did the Jewish religionists turn their gifts of mercy, prayers, and fastings?
□ Where is the safe place for storing your treasure?
□ Why should we avoid anxiety over our material needs?
□ What false claim did the Jews make about the origin of their oral traditions?
□ By what means do God’s Kingdom and his righteousness come?
[Picture on page 16]
The Pharisees liked to pray standing on street corners, where they could be seen by men