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Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works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 #902

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)

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902. Because here, as in several other passages in the Apocalypse, works are mentioned, and, in the present instance it is said, "their works follow with them," and by this is signified spiritual life, something shall be said to explain how that life is acquired, and also how it is destroyed by the faith of the present day.

Spiritual life is procured solely by a life according to the precepts in the Word, which are summarily expressed in the Decalogue, namely, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet the goods of others. These precepts are meant by the precepts that are to be done; for when a man does them, then his works are good, and his life is spiritual. The reason is, that so far as a man flees from evils and hates them, so far does he will and love goods.

(References: Revelation 14:13)


[2] For there are two opposite spheres surrounding man, one from hell, the other from heaven. From hell, a sphere of evil and of the falsity therefrom; from heaven a sphere of good, and of the truth therefrom. And these spheres do [not] affect the body directly, but they affect the minds of men, for they are spiritual spheres; and consequently they are affections of the love, a man being set in the midst of them. So far as, therefore, he accedes to the one, so far he recedes from the other. Hence it is, that so far as man flees from evils and hates them, so far does he will and love goods and the truths therefrom;

For no one can at the same time serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, or love the other (Matt. vi. 24).

(References: Matthew 6:24)


[3] But it must be understood, that man ought to do these precepts from religion, because they are commanded by the Lord. If [his actions proceed] from any other cause whatever - as, if [he acts] from civil law only, or from moral law - a man remains natural, and does not become spiritual. For if a man acts from religion, he then acknowledges in heart that there is a God, a heaven and a hell, and a life after death. If, on the contrary, he acts only from civil and moral law, he may then do similar things, and yet in heart deny that there is a God, a heaven and a hell, and a life after death. And in this case if he flees from evils and does goods, it is only in the external, and not in the internal form; thus he is outwardly as to the life of the body like a Christian, and inwardly as to the life of his spirit like a devil. From these things it is evident, that a man cannot become spiritual, or receive spiritual life, except by a life according to religion from the Lord.

[4] That this is the case has been proved to me from angels of the third or inmost heaven, who are in the greatest wisdom and happiness. When I asked these how they became such angels, they said, because when they lived in the world they accounted filthy thoughts as heinous, which to them were also adulteries; also frauds and illicit gains, which to them were thefts; also hatred and revenge, which to them were murder; so also lies and blasphemies, which to them were false testimonies; and so in other cases. Afterwards, when asked whether they did good works, they said that they loved chastity, in which they were, because they accounted adulteries as heinous; that they loved and practised sincerity and justice, because they accounted frauds and illicit gains as heinous; that they loved the neighbour, because they regarded hatred and revenge as heinous; that they loved truth, because they regarded lies and blasphemies as heinous, and so on. Also they said that they perceived, that on those [evils] being removed, to act from chastity, sincerity, justice, charity, and truth, was not from themselves, but from the Lord, and that thus good works were everything that they did from the above, although as from themselves; and that consequently after death they were raised up by the Lord into the third heaven. From these things it was clear how spiritual life, which is the life of the angels of heaven, is acquired.

[5] It shall now be explained how that life has been destroyed by the faith of the present day. That faith is, that it is to be believed, that God the Father sent His Son, who suffered the cross for our sins, and took away the curse of the law by fulfilling it; and that this faith, without good works, will save every one, indeed, even in the last hour of death. By this faith, taught from childhood and afterwards confirmed by preachings, it has come to pass, that no one shuns evils from religion, but only from civil and moral law; thus, not because they are sins, but because they are hurtful. Consider now; when a man thinks that the Lord suffered for our sins, that He took away the curse of the law, and that to believe these things, or that faith in them alone, without good works, saves, whether or not this is to treat with contempt all the precepts of the Decalogue, all the life of religion as prescribed in the Word, and moreover all the truths that teach charity. Put these aside, therefore, and remove them from a man; what religion has he? For religion does not consist in merely thinking this or that, but in willing and doing that which is thought; and there, is no religion, when willing and doing are separated from thinking. Hence it follows, that by the faith of the present day, spiritual life - which is the life of the angels of heaven, and the Christian life itself - is destroyed. Consider further, why the ten precepts of the Decalogue were promulgated from mount Sinai in so miraculous a manner; that they were engraven on two tables of stone, and that these were deposited in the ark, upon which was placed a mercy-seat with cherubs; and that the place where those precepts were, was called the Holy of holies, within which it was lawful for Aaron to enter only once a year, and this with sacrifices and incense - and if he had entered without these, he would have fallen down dead; also, that so many miracles were afterwards performed by that ark. Are not all people throughout the whole world acquainted with similar precepts? Do not their civil laws lay down the same? Who does not know from natural light (lumen) alone that, for the sake of order in every kingdom, adultery, theft, murder, false witness, and the other things contained there, are forbidden? Why, then, had those very precepts to be promulgated with so many miracles, and to be accounted as holy? Can any other reason be assigned, than that every one might do them from religion, and thus from God, and not from civil and moral law only, and consequently for the sake of self and the world? This was the reason why they were promulgated from mount Sinai, and why they were holy. For to do those precepts from religion purifies the internal man, opens heaven, admits the Lord, and makes a man, as to his spirit, an angel of heaven. This is the reason that the Gentiles, outside the church, who do those precepts from religion, are all saved, but none of those who do them only from civil and moral law.

Examine now, whether the faith of the present day, which is, that the Lord suffered for our sins, that He took away the curse of the law by fulfilling it, and that a man is justified and saved by this faith without good works, does not loosen all those precepts. Consider further, and investigate how many there are at this day in the Christian world who do not live according to this faith. I know that they will reply that they are weak and imperfect men, born in sins, and the like. But who is there that cannot think from religion? This the Lord grants to every one; and in the man who thinks such things from religion, the Lord operates all things, so far as he thinks. And, be it known, that he who thinks of those [precepts] from religion, believes that there is a God, a heaven and a hell, and a life after death; but he who does not think of them from religion, I affirm that he does not believe them.

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