Society tells us that we have to work for what we want in life. Christ tells us that it is all ours, freely, on account of Him.
by Rev. Barry Long
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). When I was growing up and bouncing around various Protestant churches, I heard this verse more than once. If I did my best to be a part of God’s kingdom and do what He wanted me to do, people explained to me, God would provide for all my material needs so that I wouldn’t have to worry about them.
There was just one problem: I didn’t always want to be a part of God’s kingdom and often didn’t want to do what He wanted me to do. So, like many folks, I concluded that I was on my own to get what I needed in this world (or more to the point: it was up to me to nag my parents for what I wanted, since I couldn’t rely on God to take care of a sinner like me, and I wasn’t old enough to be on my own).
This is a common affliction for us children of Adam and Eve: the notion that we have to get what we want from this world on our own. And, of the fear that if we don’t do for ourselves, an angry God certainly won’t come to our help. And so we all get caught up in trying to provide for ourselves, not simply in the ways that God grants us in ordinary vocations, but by transgressing what is good.
Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Creed is a powerful antidote to that spirit and deadness of heart. It turns out that God, as your loving Father through your incorporation into Christ, freely gives you all that you need “only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
He’s not waiting for you to do your part. He’s not holding back until you get your act together. He simply gives as a loving father caring for his beloved child. He knows what you need. He has promised to see after your needs in ways both ordinary and extraordinary, if need be.
Of course, like many a child, we will have arguments with our Father regarding what He knows we need and what we think we need. That can lead us to miss out on the care He is actually providing for us. If you will, it’s like a person being so convinced that his life will be pointless if he doesnt get a particular promotion at his current company that he misses out on the offer to get a job at another firm for which he is better suited. Our need to learn the difference between what God knows is best for us in Christ and what we think we know is best is a matter for the continued mortification of the old nature and a return to our baptismal drowning.
But in Christ, as we are restored to trust in God’s goodness toward us as beloved children, we are freed to attend to what we are given in Christ rather than worrying about what we have to do to provide for ourselves or what we have to do to earn God’s favor. In another commentary on the Creed, Luther wrote: “Because He is God then, He is able to make all things work for my good. Because He is Father, He desires to do so and gladly does it.”
This means that we can leave God to be God. We can let Him take care of providing us with material needs through His commonly ordained ways. We don’t have to worry about doing it all ourselves. We don’t have to constantly check our account balance or inventory our material goods to reassure ourselves that we are okay. Rather, we are blessed with the freedom in God’s grace to attend to the things He gives us in Christ. You don’t need that extra hour of overtime; you can come and listen to His Word. You don’t need to be seen at that one extra office function; you can join in worship to receive Christ and His gifts. You don’t have to prove you are the big dog; you can simply hand on the grace, mercy and love you have received. For in Christ, you have God’s kingdom and His righteousness and everything else as well. Rejoice.
About the Author: The Rev. Barry Long is pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Peoria, Ill.