So how do we explain the word “first” in Matthew 6, if there is no “second” as we argued in part 1? I am not a Greek scholar, and therefore I do not master the order of words in Greek sentences. Nevertheless, in light of the evidences already brought forth, I will postulate that Matthew 6:33 should have been translated:
Matthew 6:33 – But first seek ye the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Instead of “seek ye first” as found in just about all biblical translations, I believe we should understand “first seek ye”. There is a difference, and it is a significant one. When one says “seek ye first” the word “first” refers to the object to be sought (in Matthew 6, it is the kingdom of God and His righteousness). And we can ask…Seek ye first what? Answer: the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And because of that, logic dictates that what must come after should be “seek ye second this” (or something similar), which could also be followed by “seek ye third that”. “First”, “second” and “third” all refer to what needs to be sought after, the actual objects.
In stark contrast, when one says “first seek ye”, the word “first” refers to the action of seeking, not to the object to be sought after. And we can ask…First, do what? Answer: seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And therefore, in this case, what must come after needs not being another action of seeking (as in “seek ye second”). What comes second could be the outcome of performing the action seeking, or anything else for that matter. I believe this is precisely the meaning of Matthew 6:33: “First, seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things will be added unto you”. There is one and only one thing to seek (God’s kingdom and His righteousness), and there is one resulting outcome for seeking that “one” thing (everything else will added to us).
So why does this matter?
I believe to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness is so much easier to do when we realize that it is the only thing we are supposed to be doing. And yes, to be honest, this could be quite an unsettling statement.
But it is only the case because we have become deeply hardwired into being concerned about our own needs (ourselves, our families, our loved ones). Yet, God’s children should not be afraid by Matthew 6:33, at least if our interpretation is correct. Quite the contrary, to follow Jesus’ commandment of Matthew 6:33 is the best way to test and increase our reliance on God. This is how we fulfill our part of our relationship with our Father.
If King Solomon’s story is any indication, the promise that everything will be added to us as we focus on nothing but God is an absolute certainty: Our needs in all categories will be met. These needs we have are legitimate, and Jesus Himself acknowledges them in Matthew 6. But when we believe that Jesus has given us permission to seek them as long as we seek God first, that is when everything gets very complicated. Everything gets complicated because 1) we are left wrestling with the question on how to put God first in our lives (which is the reason why everyone has a different opinion on it) and 2) we are now confronted with Jesus’ rebuke (in the same chapter mind you) that it is impossible to serve two masters (Matthew 6: 24, 25) because we will eventually despise one of them. And if life has taught us anything, it is typically God we end up despising. So, “See ye first” or “First seek ye”? What is your take?