Seek Ye Christ's Kingdom
Sermon preached by Dr. Harold Ockenga, Park Street Church, Boston, in The Moody Church on Sunday morning, June 12, 1960.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”—Matthew 6:33
I declare unto you that this text is true. It is true in my life. It is true in the history of my church. It is true in the work of churches all over this land. Wherever we as individual believers or we as a group of corporate believers will seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all that we need, all that is necessary for the work of Jesus Christ will be added unto us. This we know.
Churches are never judged at the judgment bar of God. By that I mean: they will not be judged at some future judgment day. Churches are judged as individual people are judged and as nations are judged. It says in Scripture that we shall stand at the judgment seat of Christ to answer for the deeds done in the body. There is no question about it; the Bible teaches that every believer will stand to be judged for the use of his energy, his time, his money, his ability, everything which he has he will have to answer for before Christ. How happy he will be if he can hear in that day, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Now this does not exclude judgment in time for the believer for the hollowness that comes into a man’s life, the exigencies that meet him in the circumstances of life, the experiences that he has with law. All that happens to him is part and parcel of the sovereign providence of God, judging that individual life in time as well as telling us that he must stand at the judgment bar of God.
But when you come to a church, how would a church stand ultimately before Christ to answer for its talents, its deeds, its abilities, its resources and the use of them? It must be judged as a nation is judged. When is a nation judged? In time. There is time for a nation to be born; there is a time for the movements that were involved in the creative processes of it to grow and then to fructify and to express itself in its largest way, to decay and fall into oblivion. If you know anything about the history of the nations of the Earth, you know that’s exactly what has happened. Take any civilization that you want and you will find that this is what has happened according to any of the first-rate historians and sociologists.
Now are we expecting to see that in our day? I think we are. The processes are taking place round about—the corruptions are being sown, disintegration will take place on a wide scale. But what about a church? If you read through the book of Revelation, what do you find? You find that the Lord moves as the Lord of the church or the Judge of the church in the midst of the churches, and He is doing that now. It is my opinion that those seven letters to the churches in Revelation, chapters two and three, do two things: First they describe different stages of the church from the time of its founding until the time of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then they also describe the stages of the church which exists simultaneously throughout the Earth, in different parts of the Earth and different churches are in different stages.
Now the Lord said to those churches that He would come and He would remove the candlestick from this church or that church if it did not repent and bring forth works meet for repentance. That’s what the Lord does. The Lord moves today in the midst of churches, examining, investigating, weighing, judging and then as a result removing a candlestick or brightening a candlestick in accordance with the spiritual life of the churches. Look at North Africa. Once it was a great strip of testimony for Jesus Christ and out of that vast church came men like Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Ambrose, and others who were the powerful voices of the church and who led the church for centuries. Today there is nothing. The candlestick has been removed, and it has been removed from many of those churches who received those letters in the book of Revelation.
Will the candlestick be removed from Park Street Church? Will the candlestick be removed from The Moody Church? Will God quench the light? Will they become nothing, but decay and enter into oblivion? This is a very grave possibility for every church and let us remember that the judgment takes place now.
Having said that, let me say that our Lord God has promised blessing upon our churches in accordance with our willingness to seek first His revealed will for our churches. The location of the church does not matter: it may be in the heart of a city, or halfway out of the city, in the suburbs, or in a small town. But wherever it may be, God will bless that church in accordance with its consistency in seeking God’s rule over all intelligent creatures who voluntarily do His will. If we will seek that kingdom of God, that rule of God in our lives and in our experience, we may expect God to undertake in fulfillment thereof.
There are people today who do not believe in the tithe. God says to us that if we bring our tithes into the storehouse, He will prove us and He will bless us and will open the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing that we are not able to contain. We will have material blessing and we will have spiritual blessing. God puts His seal upon this direct promise of the Scripture. Oh, you say, but that was under the law. That’s right, but what was condemned under the law is also condemned under the Gospel. The things that were wrong then are not right now because we become those who are under grace. If those in the Old Testament had the law added to show their sin, what the law showed to be sin then is also sin today if we do the same deeds. Malachi declared so plainly that the conditions of Israel in those days—conditions of need and indigence, impotence, lack of testimony, lack of leadership and independence—were due to the fact that they were robbing God and not honoring Him. So we may be sure that when we as believers fail to fulfill that standard today, we too will come under the disapproval of God and will not receive His blessing. It is quite possible to do the right thing in the wrong way and to be just as wrong in one’s relationship to God as if He were doing the wrong thing. If a man tithes to receive a blessing in his personal life financially and does it for that purpose, which is an ulterior motive, I do not believe he is seeking the kingdom of God or the glory of God. But I believe that when God says that if we do this and seek His kingdom, He will fulfill His word and places Himself under an obligation to do it, and He fulfills His obligations.
In my own experience in the pastorate it has been my attempt to find formulas by which to simplify the various experiences of the Christian life. I think there is a formula whereby we may know the Spirit-filled life, and if we examine the teachings of Paul and the records in the book of Acts, we may come to a place where we may know it. I believe there is a formula for effective praying and if an individual will pray in accordance with the things that God has laid down, he may be sure that God hears his prayers and that God is undertaking for him. In like manner there is just as simple a formula for the church of Jesus Christ, and if that church will fulfill this formula and meet the conditions, God has obligated Himself to pour a blessing out upon that church.
The central fact of the Scripture is that Jesus Christ died in our place, He satisfied holiness and justice, He reconciled us to God and thus He became the only Mediator between God and man, Who gave Himself a ransom for all to be tested in due time. Where did Paul, Peter, John, Jude and others get this Gospel? They got it from the resurrected Christ after He arose from the dead. After He completed His earthly ministry, He tarried forty days that they might know the content of the Gospel, what they were to preach. He said to them they were to preach repentance. He said they were to preach faith. He said they were to preach remission of sin on the ground of the fact that it behooved Christ to suffer and to die and to rise again that repentance and remission of sins might be preached unto the Gentiles. This is the context. Never waiver from that. The Lord communicated that to His Apostles.
Let us not forget He also communicated what we were to do. He gave them their program and He showed them very clearly what was the program of the church in this dispensation. On six occasions we have repeated in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Corinthians—in one form or another the great commission in which our Lord says, “You are my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth. You shall go and preach the gospel to all creatures, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Go unto all nations and preach the gospel. I have appeared unto you for this purpose to make you a minister and a witness of these things, delivering you from the people and the Gentiles to whom now I send you. As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”
It is up to us to analyze the program for this age, and to conform to it and to fulfill it as the members of the church of Jesus Christ. If we do that, we may be assured that the blessing of our Lord will be upon us. There are four things in that program, and the primary aspect of emphasis is upon the universality of this commission. Our Lord speaks about all nations, all creatures, all men, all people. He tells them (us) to go. The primary responsibility of the church of Jesus Christ is not intensive, but extensive. First of all it is to go to the very ends of the Earth. Our Lord says that no man cometh unto the Father but by Me, and He has told us in His Word that He has set a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained. When that judgment comes, we want our hands to be clean, we want to know what we have done the last thing we can possibly do to get this message to every kindred, tribe and tongue and people because our Lord Jesus said that this Gospel must be preached unto the nations and then shall the end come. This is our responsibility.
The second thing He emphasized was evangelism. He said at Jerusalem and in Judea just as much as to the ends of the Earth. There is no prerogative for us to preach the Gospel in Bangkok and not to preach it in Boston, or Calcutta and not to preach it in Chicago. I assure you that if we expect our missionaries to go out and do what they have to do to evangelize a people who know nothing about Christ and nothing of the Gospel and often have never heard even of Christianity—to evangelize and to gather together a group of converts, build a little church, establish a witness in order that there might be a true indigenous church—you and I must be willing today to take the Word of God to Chicago, get it outside the walls of this great church through radio, street meetings, evangelism and every other possible means so that we have discharged our responsibility to the people who are right here and who need Jesus Christ. You will find that the minute you take that up you will face the hostility of the people, and you will never launch a great missionary and evangelistic program unless it drives you to your knees in prayer. That will be the great stimulus for the prayer life of the church of Jesus Christ. We will never have a church pleasing and seeking the will of the Lord by shutting its religion up within the four walls of the church.
Then He said, “Teach them all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Teach them. This is the intensive work of the church, this is the charter for our building, our Bible classes, our Bible schools, our Sunday schools and doing all the intensive work of a local church. This pleases the Lord. Why? Because we must build in the answers, edify our people in the faith, teach them what the Gospel is until they are not only subjected to evangelism, but they have an answer which they can give to every one that asks them and know why they believe it. With the sectarianism and various heretical movements that are moving in this nation today and gathering converts on every hand (often gathering them out of the churches of Jesus Christ), we need to teach precept upon precept, line upon line, carrying on the work of education in the church of Jesus Christ. That’s the charter for all Christian education.
In the fourth place there is the great work of humanitarianism. Let’s not shut it out by any means, because our Lord told us that inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto Me. Paul said do good not only to those of the household of faith, but unto all men. John said if any man see a brother having need and shut up his bowels of compassion, how dwelleth the love of God in him? We have a vast teaching of Scripture that we are to be interested in humanitarianism in the needs of men and women to the ends of the Earth wherever they may be.
These four things form the great program of the church. We remember that we are to work for the common needs of men. We are to teach all things whatsoever He has commanded us in business, in politics, in international affairs and race relationships. We haven’t a single area in which the Gospel doesn’t apply. We are to evangelize and we are to reach out with the Gospel unto the ends of the Earth and when we do that we will have a fellowship that will bind us in the love of Christ and that will send us forth with power and unction.
The Lord Jesus gave a third emphasis in His resurrection ministry and that emphasis was that they were to wait—tarry—until they were endued with power from on high. They did tarry. What a foolish thing it is for any of us to do supernatural work in natural strength, to do the work that God has outlined to us in our own power. It can’t be done. We need today upon the church an unction and an anointing of God the Holy Spirit, who came on the day of Pentecost. He needs to be released by our own dedication, intercession, consecration unto God and by our faith, in order that today once again there might be the flow of Divine power from heaven through the church unto men to meet the needs of the critical age in which we live so that the church may be gathered out of the nations before our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.
When you set your heart to seek the will of God and to do the will of God, you will find that God has prepared and provided the means for you doing so. He will fill you with His Spirit, He will enlighten your minds, He will guide your decisions and your activities, He will empower your work, He will give you understanding in order that you might be able to do what He commanded you to do. This is wonderful! The testimony of individuals is that the victory is theirs and that God blesses and multiplies their efforts and uses them. The testimony of churches is that when they seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all other things are added unto them.
Then let God reign in your life. If you are not a believer, yield right now your heart to Jesus Christ and ask Him to be the sovereign Lord of your life. Yield and commit your sins unto Him and let Him cleanse them and take them all away. As a Christian, identify yourself with the will of God in your church, in your family life, in your personal life, in order that God in this critical day might have an avenue of approach unto all men through the church which is redeemed.