The Bible

Matthew 6:24-34 : Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

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24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Study the Inner Meaning

Commentary on this chapter:

Stories:

Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:

Arcana Coelestia 1, 1749, 1839, 2357, 3069, 3875, 5449 ...

Divine Providence 18, 233

Doctrine of Life 28

Heaven and Hell 64, 281

True Christian Religion 383, 416, 536

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 144

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works


Commentary

Worrying About the Future

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

A little boy, hands clasped tightly and eye squinched shut, says his prayers.

Consider the simple faith expressed in this psalm to the Lord. A confidence that evil will be punished and that good will always prevail. The future is bright. There is no need to worry.

We might assume that the author was an idealistic youth - one who has never experienced pain or disappointment. Yet this psalm did not come from any naive child. It was written by a very old man, a man who had known incredible hardships. It is a psalm of David.

Think of David. Although from a shepherd he became king, he also knew hardship. As a youth he had to flee for his life from the jealous Saul. He felt the grief over being responsible for the death of his infant son. Later, as king, he saw his children rape and kill one another. He was forced to flee Jerusalem for his life, because his own son Absalom had rebelled. Then he regained his throne at the cost of his beloved Absalom's life.

David experienced intense pain. Yet he could advise us not to worry about those who do evil. All we need do is trust in the Lord and do good. Indeed, he claims that those who commit their way to the Lord will have everything they need, even if it be but a little in comparison with those who are evil. There is nothing in the future to fear. The good will be rewarded for their efforts.

Comparing this psalm with David's life, we may think that he had an unrealistic view of providence. But consider a similar teaching from the doctrines of the New Church: "When the Lord is present with someone, he leads him, and provides that all things which happen, whether sad or joyful, befall him for good; this is the Divine providence" (Arcana Coelestia 6303). Whatever happens - being promoted or fired, realizing our dreams or having them dashed - all result in good!

A difficult idea to accept - in large part because it seems like the Lord thereby is just manipulating us, causing evil to come into our lives.

But such is not the case. The Lord would never make anything bad happen. And He would prefer that we never suffer any pain. His providence is a gentle leading which causes good things to happen, and tolerates evil things. However He permits us to hurt ourselves and He allows others to cause us pain. Not as punishment, but as the result of free choices by individuals and groups.

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to sensing mercy in His providence is that when we feel pain or worry about serious problems we think that is all there is in life. We cannot see beyond the suffering, the hurt. But while we are occupied with worry, the Lord is already looking ahead - to what can come from the experience, to how He can lead us to grow in spite of the difficulty. For the Lord's view is eternal. He sees hope when we see none. He leads to happiness when we feel hurt.

The apparently random and purposeless events in life are described in the Heavenly Doctrines with pebbles. The Lord allows a person "to go here and there, so that the moments of his life appear like scattered pebbles. But the Lord then sees whether he fills up that space between them; He sees what is lacking and where; and then, continually, what is next in order, after a hundred or a thousand years" (Spiritual Experiences 4692[m]). The Lord's sight and providence encompasses eons of time. He sees all we are, and all we might become. He then gradually provides for it - not immediately, but over the course of an eternal lifetime. Whatever happens, whatever decisions we make, or whatever others do to us - the Lord eventually turns everything to good.

Unfortunately, our view is seldom as long. We cannot see how things will turn out in twenty, much less two thousand years. And when we are suffering our sight is even more limited. So we worry about what will happen. We may try to trust in His guidance, but we are more likely to feel abandoned by the Lord. Whatever He might be doing is both invisible and insensible to us.

In such a frame of mind we might wish we could see the future, be certain of how things will work out. If we were assured of the specific outcome, or knew exactly which path were the best to follow, we could really trust in the Lord - have confidence in Him to lead us.

Yet, in this, as in all other things, the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. He does not hide the workings of providence from us as a test of our trust, or a puzzle for us to sort out. The Divine does not tease us. But the Lord is fully aware that if we were to know the future, or if we received the "right" answers to our specific questions by a voice out of heaven, we would wind up destroying ourselves.

Imagine what we would feel like if someone predicted every last thing that we would experience for the 24 hours. At first we would disbelieve, but what if the predictions started coming true? It would be disturbing, to say the least. And would we not begin to feel restricted, and try to prevent the predictions from coming true?

We value our freedom, our sense of self. We will protect it at all costs. When we are forced to do something, or if we are pressured into one course of action, do we not rebel, wanting to act against that pressure?

Such resistance is not adolescent or infantile reaction to authority. It stems from our inner freedom of thought. For us to be human beings we need to think things out for ourselves and then act in freedom. Whatever choices we make determine the kind of person we become - and whether our choices are good or bad, at least they make us who we choose to be, not who someone else forces us to be.

Yet, when we are confused or suffering, we have a tremendous yearning to see something of the potential the Lord sees for us and those we love. Unfortunately, if we were able to glimpse it, we would probably work against it. A paradox which can be frustrating and lead us to worry about the future.

It would be much better if we could just let go and trust the Lord to make the best of whatever we do. That is what the angels do. They have no memory of past events from their earthly life to trouble them. Nor do they have any desire to know what is to come. For they are content in the present. Imagine if we could be so fully engaged in our present activities, dealing with what we can do rather than what is beyond our power, that we had no time to worry about the future! It is a goal worth striving for.

But for now, we tend to worry. We tend to worry about our jobs, our health, our children, the international situation, our spiritual state. It can on go on and on. Certainly some amount of thoughtful consideration is important. We are meant to make plans for the future - use good judgment to provide for our families. And we can delight in looking forward to continued productivity or happier times. But planning and worrying about what might or might not occur can become excessive.

The Psalms admonish us: "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret - it only causes harm" (37:8). Do not worry, it only causes pain. Thinking too much of the future can lead us to forget that the Lord's providence is silently guiding us. The doctrines of the New Church point out that, "a longing to know the future is innate with most people; but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil" (Psalm 179).

Anxiety about the future stems from a lack of confidence that the Lord can lead us to happiness. Since He works invisibly, we can think that we are the only ones who have any direct influence upon what happens. It is a subtle trust in self, and denial that the Lord can be relied upon. Certainly it appears as if we have to do all the work, but it is not the reality. For we could not have created ourselves. We can't even make ourselves happy!

So the Heavenly Doctrines describe the Lord's providence "as when one walks in thick forests, the exit out of which he does not know; but when he finds it, he attributes the discovery to himself, whereas providence meantime is as one who stands in a tower, sees the wanderings of such a person, and leads him without his knowing it to the place of exit" (Spiritual Experiences 4393). The Lord is in the tower, inspiring our thoughts, motivating our actions so that we can be led from darkness into light.

But His guiding can only be effective when we cooperate. We have to search for ways out of the forest. The Lord gave us the ability to think so we would use it. If we sit back and ponder our situation, how hopeless it may seem, little is accomplished. Can we add one cubit to our height by worrying about it? We also need to act. If we stand around and complain about how lost we are, or how unfair life is, it is very difficult for the Lord to lead us anywhere. He will not drag us out of our forests against our wills.

It is as the Psalm said: "Trust in the Lord and do good." Such simple advice, but so true! We cannot alter the past, but we can do something in the present, enabling the Lord to create a happy future.

There will still be times of selfishness where we long to know how things could possibly work out, and there will still be things happening to us which are not pleasant. We cannot control life. But we can avoid being defeated by it. We have been given the knowledge of how the Lord operates to bring about happiness in the long term. We have been given the freedom to act with reason. We have the basis for trusting in Him.

Let us then listen to the Psalm, not worrying about the future, not worrying about what is or what might be. Let us do the good that we can, and leave the rest to the Lord. After all, He should be able to do a much better job than we. Let us commit our ways to the Lord, trusting in Him, and He can give us the heavenly desires of our hearts.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 6303; Divine Providence 176; Spiritual Experiences 2178, 4393, 4692)

From Swedenborg's Works

Apocalypse Explained #193

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)

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193. I will come on thee as a thief. That this signifies an unexpected time of death, when all knowledges procured from the Word which have not acquired spiritual life will be taken away, is evident from the signification of I will come as a thief, when it is said of those who are not wakeful, that is, who do not procure for themselves spiritual life, as being that all such knowledges will be taken away from them. The reason why an unexpected time of death is also signified by the same words is, that death comes unexpectedly, and yet man, after death, remains in that state of life to eternity which he had procured for himself in the world; therefore he must be wakeful. Because it is known but to few, that all knowledges (cognitiones) procured from the Word which have not acquired spiritual life are taken away, it is therefore expedient to say how this is effected. All the things that are in a man's spirit remain with him to eternity; but the things that are not there, after death, when he becomes a spirit, are dissipated. Those things remain in his spirit which he had thought from himself, consequently which, when he was alone, he had thought from his own love; for then his spirit thinks from itself, and not from the things in his bodily memory which do not make one with his love.

There are two states of man, one when he thinks from his spirit, and the other when he thinks from his bodily memory; if these two states do not make one, a man can think one thing with himself, and think and speak another thing with others.

(References: Revelation 3:3)


[2] For example, a preacher who loves himself and the world above all things, and lightly esteems the Divine, so that he even denies it in heart, and consequently devises evils of every kind with the crafty and deceitful of the world, nevertheless, when he speaks with others, especially when he is preaching, can speak as it were from zeal for the Divine and for Divine truths, and indeed on such occasions he can think in like manner; but this is a state of his thought from the bodily memory, which is evidently separated from the state of his thought from the spirit; for when he is left alone he thinks against them. This is the state which remains with man after death, whereas the former does not remain, because it belongs to his body and not to his spirit. Wherefore, when he becomes a spirit, as is the case when he dies, all the knowledge, which he had acquired from the Word, and which do not agree with the life of the love of his spirit, he rejects; but the case is different with those who, when left to themselves, think justly concerning the Divine, concerning the Word and the truths of the church therefrom, and love them, so as to desire to live according to them. The thoughts in the spirit of such persons make one with their thoughts from the bodily memory, thus one with the knowledges of truth and good which they have obtained from the Word; and so far as they do so, so far those knowledges obtain spiritual life; for they are raised up by the Lord from the external or natural man into the internal or spiritual man, and constitute the life of the latter, that is, of the understanding and will. The truths in the internal man are those which live, because they are Divine, and hence man has life in his internal from them. That this is the case, I have known from much experience; if I were to adduce the whole of it, it would fill many pages (something concerning it may be seen in the work, Heaven and Hell, n. 491-498, 499-511; and above, n. 114).

(References: Heaven and Hell 491-498, 499-511; The Apocalypse Explained 114)


[3] From these considerations it is now evident what is meant in the spiritual sense by I will come on thee as a thief, namely, that after death all knowledges procured from the Word which have not acquired spiritual life will be taken away. The same is also meant in the Apocalypse, where it is said,

"Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked" (xvi. 15).

It is said as a thief, because evils and the falsities thence derived in the natural man take away and cast out the knowledges of truth and good which are therein from the Word; for the things which are not loved are cast out. There is in every man either the love of evil, and thence of falsity, or the love of good, and thence of truth; these two loves are opposed to each other, wherefore he who is in the one cannot be in the other;

"For no one can serve two masters," but will love the one and hate the other (Matt. vi. 24).

(References: Matthew 6:24; Revelation 16:15)


[4] Because evils and falsities thence penetrate from the interior, and, as it were, break through the wall which is between the state of man's thought from the spirit and the state of his thought from the body, and cast out the knowledges of good and truth which have their abode outwardly in man, therefore those evils and falsities are what are meant by thieves. So also in the following passages. In Matthew:

"Lay not up treasures upon earth, but in heaven, where thieves do not break through nor steal" (vi. 19, 20).

Treasures are knowledges of truth and good; to lay them up in heaven is in the spiritual man, for the spiritual man is in heaven. (That treasures signify knowledges of truth and good, may be seen, Arcana Coelestia, n. 1694, 4508, 10,227; and that the internal spiritual man is in heaven, may be seen in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 36-50.)

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1694, Arcana Coelestia 4508, Arcana Coelestia 10227; Matthew 6:19-20; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 36-50)


[5] Again:

"Be wakeful, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord will come. Know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up" (xxiv. 42, 43).

By this is meant, that if a man knew the hour of his death, he would prepare himself, not indeed from the love of truth and good, but from the fear of hell; and whatever a man does from fear remains not with him, but what he does from love remains; therefore he must prepare himself continually (see The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 143, 168).

(References: Matthew 24:42-43; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 143, 168)


[6] In Obadiah:

"If thieves come to thee, if destroyers by night, how wilt thou be cut off, will they not steal till they have enough?" (verse 5).

Here also falsities and evils are called thieves, and are said to steal; falsities are signified by thieves, and evils by destroyers by night; it is said by night, because night signifies a state in which there is neither love nor faith.

(References: Obadiah 1:5)


[7] In Joel:

"They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up into the houses, they shall enter in at the windows like a thief" (ii. 9).

The subject here treated of is the vastation of the church by falsities from evil; a city and a wall signify things of doctrine; houses and windows, things of the mind that receives; houses, that part of the mind which is called the will, where good is, and windows that part of the mind which is called the understanding, where truth is. (That city in the Word signifies doctrine, may be seen, Arcana Coelestia, n. 402, 2449, 2712, 2943, 3216, 4492, 4493; that wall denotes the truth of doctrine protecting, n. 6419; that house denotes that part of the mind which is called the will, where good is, n. 2231, 2233, 2559, 3128, 5023, 6690, 7353, 7910, 7929, 9150; and that windows denote that part of the mind which is called the understanding, where truth is, n. 655, 658, 3391.) Hence it is evident what is signified by running on the wall, climbing up into the houses, and entering in at the windows like a thief.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 402, 655, 658, Arcana Coelestia 2231, 2233, 2449, 2559, 2712, 2943, 3128, 3216, 3391, Arcana Coelestia 4492-4493, Arcana Coelestia 5023, Arcana Coelestia 6419, 6690, 7353, 7910, 7929, Arcana Coelestia 9150; Joel 2:9)


[8] In Hosea:

"I healed Israel; then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the evils of Samaria; for they commit falsehood, and the thief cometh in, and the troop spreadeth itself without" (vii. 1).

The iniquity of Ephraim signifies the falsities of the understanding; and the wickedness of Samaria, the evils of the will; to commit falsehood, is to think and will falsity from evil; the thief signifies falsity taking away and dissipating truth; and the troop spreading itself without signifies evil casting out good. (That Ephraim is the understanding of such things as pertain to the church, may be seen, Arcana Coelestia, n. 3969, 5354, 6222, 6234, 6238, 6267, 6296; that a lie denotes falsity from evil, n. 8908, 9248; that a troop denotes good casting out evil, and, in the opposite sense, evil casting out good, n. 3934, 3935, 6404, 6405.)

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3934-3935, 3969, Arcana Coelestia 5354, 6222, 6234, 6238, 6267, 6296, 6404-6405, Arcana Coelestia 8908, Arcana Coelestia 9248; Hosea 7:1)


[9] These things are adduced, in order that it may be known that a thief in the Word signifies falsity laying waste, that is, taking away and destroying truth. It was shown above that after death all knowledges of truth and good from the Word, which have not been used to acquire spiritual life, are taken away, consequently from those who have not become spiritual by knowledges from the Word. The same thing is also signified by many passages in the historical parts of the Word; still no one can see this, unless he is acquainted with the spiritual sense of the Word. This is signified by the sons of Israel borrowing from the Egyptians vessels of gold, and vessels of silver, and garments, and thus taking them away as it were by theft; concerning which it is thus written in Moses:

They were commanded to borrow "of the Egyptians vessels of gold, and vessels of silver, and raiment. And Jehovah gave the people favour in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them; and thus they spoiled the Egyptians" (Exod. xii. 35, 36).

By the Egyptians are represented those who are merely natural, although they possess many knowledges (cognitiones); by the sons of Israel those who are spiritual; by vessels of silver and of gold, and also by raiment, are signified the knowledges (cognitiones) of truth and good which those who are spiritual apply to good, but which the natural apply to evil and thus destroy.

Similar things are signified by the nations being given up to the curse, and at the same time all things pertaining to them being either burnt with fire or pulled down, which are frequently treated of in the book of Joshua, and in the books of Samuel and of the Kings; for the nations of the land of Canaan represented those who are in evils and falsities, and the sons of Israel those who are in truths and goods.

(References: Exodus 12:35-36)


[10] That the knowledges of good and truth derived from the Word are to be taken away from those who have not procured for themselves spiritual life, is also meant in the Lord's parables concerning the talents and pounds, given to the servants, with which to trade and make gain, and concerning the servant who traded not and gained nothing; of this one it is thus said:

To him who hid his talent in the earth, the lord said, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away that which he hath, and cast the useless servant into outer darkness (Matt. xxv. 14-30).

And in another place:

He came who had received one pound saying, "Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin." The Lord said, "Wherefore then gavest thou not my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. I say unto you, That unto every one that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him" (Luke xix. 13-26).

In these passages, talents, pounds, and money signify knowledges of truth and good from the Word. To trade with these, to gain by them, to give them to the exchangers, or into the bank, signifies, to procure to themselves spiritual life and intelligence by them; putting them away in the earth, and in a napkin, signifies that they are only in the memory of the natural man; of these it is therefore said that what they have shall be taken away from them, according to what has been explained in the beginning of this article.

(References: Luke 19:13-25, 19:13-26; Matthew 25:14-30)


[11] This is the case with all in the other life who have procured to themselves knowledges from the Word, and have not committed them to life, but only to memory. Those who have knowledges from the Word in the memory only, however numerous such knowledges may be, and have not committed them to life, remain still natural as before. To commit to life knowledges from the Word is to think from them when man, left to himself, thinks from his spirit, and to will them and do them; for this is to love truths because they are truths; and those who thus act, are those who become spiritual by means of knowledges from the Word.

(References: Luke 19:13-25; Revelation 3:3)

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