Keep On Seeking First “His Righteousness”
“Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—MATT. 6:33.
1, 2. What is God’s righteousness, and upon what is it based?
“KEEP ON, then, seeking first the kingdom.” (Matt. 6:33) This admonition given by Jesus Christ in his Sermon on the Mount is well-known by Jehovah’s Witnesses today. In every aspect of our lives, we endeavor to show that we love that Kingdom government and want to be loyal to it. But we must also keep in mind the second part of this expression, namely, “and his righteousness.” What is God’s righteousness, and what does it mean to seek it first?
2 The original-language words for “righteousness” can also be translated “justice” or “uprightness.” Hence, God’s righteousness is uprightness according to his personal standards and values. As the Creator, Jehovah has the right to set the standard for what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. (Rev. 4:11) God’s righteousness, however, is not a cold, rigid set of laws or an endless list of rules and regulations. Rather, it is based on Jehovah’s personality and his cardinal attribute of justice together with his other cardinal attributes of love, wisdom, and power. God’s righteousness, then, is linked with his will and purpose. It includes what he expects of those who desire to serve him.
3. (a) What does it mean to seek first God’s righteousness? (b) Why do we uphold Jehovah’s righteous standards?
3 What does it mean to seek first God’s righteousness? Simply stated, it means to do God’s will in order to please him. Seeking his righteousness includes trying to live according to his values and perfect standards and not our own. (Read Romans 12:2.) This way of life involves our very relationship with Jehovah. It is not a matter of obeying his laws out of fear of punishment. Rather, our love for God motivates us to endeavor to please him by upholding his standards, not establishing our own. We realize that this is the right thing to do, the very thing that we have been designed to do. Like Jesus Christ, the King of God’s Kingdom, we must love righteousness.—Heb. 1:8, 9.
4. Why is it so important to seek God’s righteousness?
4 How important is it to seek Jehovah’s righteousness? Consider this fact: The original test in the garden of Eden was based on whether Adam and Eve would accept Jehovah’s right to set standards or not. (Gen. 2:17; 3:5) Their failure to do so has brought misery and death upon us as their descendants. (Rom. 5:12) On the other hand, God’s Word states: “He that is pursuing righteousness and loving-kindness will find life, righteousness and glory.” (Prov. 21:21) Yes, seeking first God’s righteousness results in a harmonious relationship with Jehovah that, in turn, leads to our very salvation.—Rom. 3:23, 24.
The Danger of Becoming Self-Righteous
5. What danger do we need to avoid?
5 In writing to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul highlighted a danger we all need to avoid if we are to be successful in seeking first God’s righteousness. Speaking of his fellow Jews, Paul said: “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.” (Rom. 10:2, 3) According to Paul, those worshippers did not understand the righteousness of God because they were too busy trying to establish their own righteousness.*
6. What attitude should we avoid, and why?
6 One way we could fall into this trap is by viewing our service to God as a competition, comparing ourselves to others. This attitude could easily lead us to become overconfident as to our abilities. But, really, if we were to act that way, we would be forgetting Jehovah’s righteousness. (Gal. 6:3, 4) The correct motive for doing the right thing is our love for Jehovah. Any attempts to prove our own righteousness could invalidate our claim to love him.—Read Luke 16:15.
7. How did Jesus address the problem of self-righteousness?
7 Jesus was concerned about those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and who considered the rest as nothing.” He addressed the problem of self-righteousness by relating this illustration: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and began to pray these things to himself, ‘O God, I thank you I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give the tenth of all things I acquire.’ But the tax collector standing at a distance was not willing even to raise his eyes heavenward, but kept beating his breast, saying, ‘O God, be gracious to me a sinner.’” Jesus concluded by saying: “I tell you, This man went down to his home proved more righteous than that man; because everyone that exalts himself will be humiliated, but he that humbles himself will be exalted.”—Luke 18:9-14.
Another Danger—Becoming “Righteous Overmuch”
8, 9. What does it mean to be “righteous overmuch,” and to what can it lead us?
8 Another danger that we need to avoid is described at Ecclesiastes 7:16: “Do not become righteous overmuch, nor show yourself excessively wise. Why should you cause desolation to yourself?” The inspired Bible writer then goes on, as noted in verse 20, to give us a reason for avoiding such an attitude: “For there is no man righteous in the earth that keeps doing good and does not sin.” The person who becomes “righteous overmuch” sets his own standards for righteousness and judges others by them. Yet, he fails to realize that by doing so, he is elevating his standards above those of God and thereby proving himself to be unrighteous in God’s sight.
9 Being “righteous overmuch,” or as some Bible translations put it, being “excessively righteous” or “overrighteous,” could even cause us to question Jehovah’s way of handling matters. We need to remember, though, that if we question the fairness or rightness of Jehovah’s decisions, we are, in effect, starting to put our standard of righteousness above Jehovah’s standard. It is as if we put Jehovah on trial and judged him by our own standards of right and wrong. But Jehovah is the one who has the right to set the standard for righteousness, not us!—Rom. 14:10.
10. As in the case of Job, what might cause us to judge God?
10 Although none of us would deliberately want to judge God, our imperfect nature can lead us down this path. This can easily happen when we see something that we view as unfair or if we personally suffer hardship. Even the faithful man Job made this mistake. Job was initially described as “blameless and upright, and fearing God and turning aside from bad.” (Job 1:1) But then Job was beset by a series of calamities that to him, appeared to be unfair. This led Job to declare “his own soul righteous rather than God.” (Job 32:1, 2) Job had to have his viewpoint corrected. So we should not be surprised if, at times, we might find ourselves in a similar situation. If that happens, what can help us to readjust our thinking?
We Do Not Always Have All the Facts
11, 12. (a) If we feel that something is unfair, what do we need to remember? (b) Why might someone feel that Jesus’ illustration of the workers in the vineyard depicts something unfair?
11 The first thing to remember is that we do not always have all the facts. That was true in Job’s case. He did not know of the meetings of the angelic sons of God in heaven where Satan falsely accused him. (Job 1:7-12; 2:1-6) Job did not realize that his problems were actually caused by Satan. In fact, we cannot be certain that Job even knew the true identity of Satan! So he wrongly assumed that his problems were caused by God. Yes, it is easy to come to the wrong conclusion when we do not know all the facts.
12 Consider, for example, Jesus’ illustration of the workers in the vineyard. (Read Matthew 20:8-16.) Here Jesus describes a householder who pays the same amount of money to all his workers, whether they worked the whole day or just one hour. How do you feel about that? Does that seem fair? Perhaps you immediately identify with the workers who worked all day in the hot sun. Surely they deserved to be paid more! Based on that conclusion, the householder could be viewed as being unloving and unfair. Even his answer to those workers who complained could appear to be an arbitrary abuse of authority. But do we have all the facts?
13. What other viewpoint could we take with regard to Jesus’ illustration of the workers in the vineyard?
13 Let us analyze this illustration from another viewpoint. No doubt the householder in the illustration realized that all these men needed to feed their families. In Jesus’ day, field workers were paid on a daily basis. Their families relied on the wages paid each day. With this in mind, think about the position of those whom the householder found late in the day and who therefore worked for only one hour. Perhaps they would not be able to feed their family with just one hour’s pay; yet, they had been willing to work and had waited the whole day to be employed. (Matt. 20:1-7) It was not their fault that they were not allowed to work the entire day. There is no indication that they deliberately tried to avoid work. Imagine if you had to wait all day, knowing that others were dependent on what you would earn that day. How grateful you would be to get some work—and how surprised you would be to receive enough payment to feed your family!
14. What valuable lesson do we learn from the vineyard illustration?
14 Now let us reevaluate the actions of the householder. He did not underpay anyone. Rather, he treated all the workers as those having a right to a living. Even though the situation could be viewed as a buyer’s market, with no shortage of workers, he did not take advantage of them by offering less than what was fair. All his workers returned home with enough to feed their families. Taking into consideration these extra details may change our view of his actions. His decision was a loving one and not an arbitrary abuse of authority. What lesson can we learn? That considering just some of the facts can cause us to jump to the wrong conclusion. Indeed, this parable highlights the superiority of God’s righteousness, which is not based on legal regulations and human merit alone.
Our Viewpoint May Be Distorted or Limited
15. Why might our viewpoint of fairness be distorted or limited?
15 The second factor to remember when we are faced with a situation that appears to be unfair is that our viewpoint may be distorted or limited. It can be distorted by imperfection, prejudice, or cultural background. It is also limited by our inability to discern motives and to know what is really in people’s hearts. In contrast, both Jehovah and Jesus have no such limitations.—Prov. 24:12; Matt. 9:4; Luke 5:22.
16, 17. Why may Jehovah not have enforced his law on adultery at the time of David’s sin with Bath-sheba?
16 Let us analyze the account of David’s adultery with Bath-sheba. (2 Sam. 11:2-5) According to the Mosaic Law, they deserved to be executed. (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22) Although Jehovah punished them, he did not enforce his own law. Was that unfair on Jehovah’s part? Did he show favoritism to David and violate His own righteous standards? Some Bible readers have felt that way.
17 However, this law on adultery was given by Jehovah to imperfect judges, who could not read hearts. Despite their limitations, they were enabled by this law to be consistent in their judgments. On the other hand, Jehovah can read hearts. (Gen. 18:25; 1 Chron. 29:17) So we should not expect that Jehovah would have to be restricted by a law he designed for imperfect judges. If he were, would that not be like forcing someone with perfect vision to wear eyeglasses that are designed to correct the vision of those with defective sight? Jehovah could read the hearts of David and Bath-sheba and see their genuine repentance. Taking such a factor into consideration, he judged them accordingly, in a merciful and loving manner.
Continue to Seek Jehovah’s Righteousness
18, 19. What will help us never to judge Jehovah by our own standards of righteousness?
18 So if at times we see something that we feel is unfair on Jehovah’s part—whether we read it in a Bible account or experience it in our personal life—let us never judge God by our own standards of righteousness. Remember that we do not always have all the facts and that our viewpoint may be distorted or limited. Never forget that “man’s wrath does not work out God’s righteousness.” (Jas. 1:19, 20) In this way, our hearts will never become “enraged against Jehovah himself.”—Prov. 19:3.
19 Like Jesus, let us always acknowledge that Jehovah alone has the right to set the standard for what is righteous and good. (Mark 10:17, 18) Strive to gain an “accurate knowledge” or “a real knowledge” of his standards. (Rom. 10:2; 2 Tim. 3:7, The Twentieth Century New Testament) By accepting these and conforming our lives to Jehovah’s will, we show that we are seeking first “his righteousness.”—Matt. 6:33.
According to one scholar, the original-language word translated “to establish” can also mean ‘to erect a monument.’ So those Jews were, in effect, erecting a figurative monument to their own praise and not God’s.
Do You Remember?
• Why is it important to seek Jehovah’s righteousness?
• What two dangers do we need to avoid?
• How can we seek first God’s righteousness?
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What lesson do we learn from Jesus’ illustration of the two men who prayed at the temple?
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Was it unfair to pay the 11th-hour workers the same as those who worked the whole day?