The Bible

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

Study the Inner Meaning

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Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works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

Divine Providence #233

Divine Providence (Dole translation)

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233. To uncover this secret of divine providence so that rational people can see it in its own light, I need to explain the points just listed one at a time.

(a) At our deeper levels, good and evil cannot coexist within us, so neither can malicious distortion and beneficent truth. These "deeper levels" mean our inner thought processes, processes of which we are quite unaware until we come into the spiritual world and its light, which happens after death. The only way we can recognize them in this earthly world is by a pleasure of love in our outer thought processes, as well as by recognizing the evils themselves when we practice self-examination. This is because our inner and outer thought processes are so closely connected that they cannot be separated, as already noted--there is a good deal about this above.

I speak of goodness and its truth and of evil and its distortions because goodness cannot exist without its truth or evil without its distortions. They are lovers or spouses, since the life of what is good comes from its truth, and the life of what is true comes from goodness. The same holds true for evil and its distortions.

[2] Rational people need no explanation to see that evil and its distortion cannot coexist with goodness and its truth at our deeper levels. Evil is the opposite of good, and good is the opposite of evil; and two opposites cannot coexist. Every evil harbors an intrinsic hatred for everything good, and everything good has an infinite love for keeping itself safe from evil and banishing it from itself. It then follows that neither can coexist with the other. If they were together, there would be at first a violent battle and eventually destruction. This is what the Lord is telling us when he says, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and every city or home divided against itself will not stand. Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me, scatters" (Matthew 25:30 [Matthew 12:25, 30]). And again, "No one can serve two masters at the same time, for one or the other will be hated or loved" (Matthew 6:24).

Two opposite elements cannot coexist in one substance or form without tearing it apart and destroying it. If one comes too close to the other, they separate at all costs like two enemy forces, one withdrawing within its camp or fortifications and the other withdrawing outside. That is what happens with evil and good qualities in hypocrites. Both qualities are present, but the evil is inside and the goodness is outside so that the two are separated and not mingled.

This enables us to see that evil and its distortions and goodness and its truth cannot coexist.

[3] (b) The Lord can bring into our deeper levels what is good and the truth that comes from it only to the extent that evil and its distortions have been banished. This is simply a corollary of what has just been said, since if evil and good cannot coexist, goodness cannot be brought in until the evil has been moved out.

"Our deeper levels" means our inner thought processes. They are what we are dealing with. This is where either the Lord or the devil must be present. The Lord is there after our reformation and the devil is there before it. To the extent that we let ourselves be reformed, then, the devil is evicted; while to the extent that we do not let ourselves be reformed, the devil stays in residence. Can anyone fail to see that the Lord cannot enter us as long as the devil is there? And the devil is there as long as we keep the door closed where we are together with the Lord. The Lord tells us in the Book of Revelation that he will come in when that door is opened by our efforts: "I am standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to them and dine with them, and they with me" (Revelation 3:20).

The door is opened when we banish evil by abstaining and turning from it as hellish and demonic--it is one and the same thing if you say "evil" or "the devil." By the same token, it is one and the same thing if you say "goodness" or "the Lord"; because within everything good there is the Lord, and within everything evil there is the devil. This illustrates the truth of the matter.

[4] (c) If what is good and its truth were brought in before evil and its distortions were removed, or to a greater extent than they were removed, then we would backslide from the goodness and return to our evil. This is because the evil would be stronger, and whatever is stronger wins, eventually if not immediately. Once evil has won, the goodness cannot gain entrance to the inner suite but only to the vestibule, because evil and good cannot coexist, as just noted. Anything that is restricted to the vestibule will be evicted by its enemy who lives in the suite, which means that there will be a departure from goodness and a return to evil, which is the worst kind of profanation.

[5] Further, the essential pleasure of our life is to love ourselves and the world more than anything else. This pleasure cannot be taken away instantly, only gradually; and to the extent that any of this pleasure stays with us, evil is stronger. The only way this evil can be taken away is for our love for ourselves to become a love of service, or for our love of power for our own sake to become a love of power for the sake of service. This makes service the head and for the first time makes love for ourselves, or for power, the body beneath the head, and eventually the feet we walk on. Can anyone fail to see that goodness should be the head, and that when it is, the Lord is present? Goodness and service are the same thing. Can anyone fail to see that if evil is the head, the devil is present, and that since we still need to accept some civic and moral good and even some outward form of spiritual good, these are our feet and their soles, and are trodden down?

[6] Our state of life has to be inverted, then, so that what is on top is on the bottom, and this inversion cannot be accomplished instantly. What gives us the most pleasure of all is what comes from our love for ourselves and therefore for power; and this fades and turns into a love of service only gradually. So the Lord cannot introduce goodness before this evil is removed, or to a greater extent than it is removed. If he did, then we would backslide from the goodness and return to our evil.

[7] (d) When we are absorbed in evil, much that is true can be introduced into our minds and stored in our memory without being profaned. This is because our discernment does not flow into our volition but our volition does flow into our discernment; and since our discernment does not flow into our volition, all kinds of truths can be accepted into our minds and stored in our memories without becoming mixed in with the evils in our volition; so sacred things are not profaned. It is up to us to learn truths from the Word or from sermons, to store them in memory, and to think about them. Our discernment then draws on these truths in our memory, truths we have thought about, to teach our volition, that is, to tell us what we should do. This is our primary means of reformation. As long as these truths are only in our discernment and therefore in our memory, they are not really in us but are outside of us.

[8] We might compare our memory to the ruminatory stomach that some animals have. What they eat goes there; and as long as it is there, it is not really in their body but is outside it. Only as they take it out and ingest it does it become part of their life and nourish their body. The contents of our memory are not physical foods, of course, but spiritual ones. This means that they are truths, essentially thoughts. To the extent to which we have taken them out by thinking, by ruminating, so to speak, our spiritual mind is nourished. It is our volition's love that wants this, that is in its own way hungry, and impels us to draw truths out for our nourishment. If that love is evil, then it has a longing and a kind of hunger for unclean thoughts. On the other hand, if it is good it has a longing and a kind of hunger for clean thoughts; and if thoughts are unsuitable it sets them aside, dismisses them, and evicts them by various means.

[9] (e) The Lord in his divine providence, however, takes the greatest care that we do not accept it into our volition before we have, in our apparent autonomy, banished evils from our outer self, or do not accept it to a greater extent than we have banished our outer evils. That is, whatever we take into ourselves willingly becomes part of us, part of our life; and in our actual life, the life we derive from our volition, evil and good cannot coexist. That would destroy us. However, we can have both in our discernment. We can have there what we call malicious distortions and beneficent truths, but not at the same time. Otherwise, we would not be able to see what is evil from the perspective of goodness or to recognize what is good from the perspective of evil. However, they are marked off and separated there like the inside and the outside of a house. When evil people think and say good things, they are thinking and speaking outwardly, but when they think and say evil things, then they are thinking and speaking inwardly. If they say something good, then, it is like talking from the wall. They are like fruit that is superficially attractive but wormy and rotten inside, or like the shell of a dragon's egg.

[10] (f) If this were done too early or too fully, then our volition would adulterate the goodness and our discernment would falsify the truth by mingling them with what is evil and with what is false. When our volition is focused on something evil, it adulterates whatever is good in our discernment, and this adulterated good in our discernment is evil in our volition. It convinces us that evil is good and the reverse. Evil does this to everything good that opposes it. Evil also distorts anything that is true, because the truth that is inspired by goodness opposes the distortion that comes from evil. Our volition does this in our discernment as well: our discernment does not do so on its own.

The Word describes adulteration of what is good as adultery and the distortions of truth as promiscuity. This adulteration and distortion are accomplished through specious reasoning by that earthly self that is bent on evil as well as through finding support in the way things seem to be described in the literal sense of the Word.

[11] Our love for ourselves, the head of all our evils, is more adept than any other love at adulterating what is good and distorting what is true. It does this by misusing the rationality that the Lord gives to the worst and the best of us alike. It can actually rationalize things so that something evil seems perfectly good and something false seems perfectly true. What is beyond its power, when it can marshal a thousand arguments to prove that Nature created itself and then created humanity, animals, and plants of all kinds, and that Nature then infused something from within itself to enable us to live, think analytically, and discern wisely?

The reason our love for ourselves is so good at proving whatever it wants to is that it endows its outer surface with a kind of bright, multicolored radiance. This radiance is the love's reveling in wisdom and therefore in rank and power.

[12] However, once this love has become convinced of all this, it is so blind that all it can see is that people are animals and think like animals. It even believes that if animals could only talk, they would be humans in a different form. If for some secondary reason this love has been led to believe that some aspect of us goes on living after death, it is so blind that it also believes that this is true of animals as well, and that what goes on living after death is nothing but some tenuous breath of life, like a mist that eventually returns to its corpse. Either that, or it is something alive with no sight, hearing, or voice--blind, then, and deaf and mute, just flying around and thinking. There are many other crazy notions as well that the material world itself, which is essentially dead, breathes into our hallucinations.

This is what our love for ourselves does, a love that in and of itself is our love for self-importance; and as far as its desires are concerned, which are all centered on this physical world, our sense of self-importance is very much like animal life. In respect to the perceptions that are prompted by these desires, our love for ourselves is very much like an owl. If we constantly immerse our thinking in our sense of self-importance, then, we cannot be raised from earthly light into spiritual light to see anything of God, heaven, or eternal life.

Since this is the nature of this love, and since it is so ingenious at proving whatever it wants to, it is just as ingenious at adulterating whatever is good in the Word and falsifying whatever is true in the Word if by some necessity it is constrained to confess them.

[13] (g) This is why the Lord does not grant us inner access to the truths that wisdom discloses and the good that love does except as we can be kept in them to the end of our life. The Lord does this to prevent us from falling into the worst kind of profanation of what is holy, the kind I have been discussing in this section. It is because of this danger that the Lord allows evil kinds of living and many heretical kinds of religion. The next sections will deal with the Lord's tolerance of such things.

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