One of those songs I recall singing in church as a youth begins like this:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness;
And all these things shall be added unto you,
(“Seek ye first”, by Karen Lafferty, 1971)
It is a good song taken directly from Scripture. This particular chorus is from Matthew 6:33, as rendered in the King James:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these thing shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33 KJV)
Like so many things in my Christian upbringing, I do not recall a succinct explanation of this instruction by Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ). Perhaps it was assumed that we would absorb the meaning in our Sunday School classes or in our own study of the Bible. Even the Biblical instruction I received in my Christian school never included a full disclosure of what the Kingdom of God is, or a definition of righteousness. This is not to say that my Christian upbringing was without value; I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to the teachers, pastors, and counselors who labored lovingly to help me become a disciple of Jesus and to impart their love of the Word of God and the God of the Word. However, there were some holes in my education, particularly regarding the specifics of certain key terms in my Christian vocabulary.
Righteousness was one of those terms. Simply put, it is being right according to YHVH’s standards. Moses provides the details in the Torah. The rest of the Bible elaborates on that foundation, providing examples of how God’s people succeeded or failed in meeting those standards. When we get to the Apostolic Writings (New Testament), we see those standards demonstrated by the example of Yeshua, and then we find commentary by the Apostles. Consequently, even though I cannot recall anyone giving me a definition of righteousness when I was young, it was easy enough to figure out what Yeshua meant when He commanded us to seek it.
But then there is that problematic term, “Kingdom of God”. What exactly is that? The Bible tells me about the Kingdom of Israel and about the Kingdom of Heaven, but in my church upbringing it seldom occurred to me that the two might be the same. And in fact they are the same. Much Christian teaching has attempted to separate the two, but doing so leaves the Kingdom of God as nothing more than a nebulous, over-spiritualized concept. The Kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, is a concrete, definable, knowable entity, and all the people of God are part of it. It matters not whether they are Jewish or of Gentile background. The terms of the New (or Renewed) Covenant tell us that YHVH has executed this agreement only with the people of Israel and Judah (see Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:8-11). Isaiah 56:4-8 explains that foreigners will join themselves to the Lord and come into His Temple, the house of prayer for all nations. Paul tells us how this will happen, explaining in Romans 11 how non-Jews are “grafted into” the olive tree of Israel along with Jews, and in Ephesians 2 how faith in Messiah Yeshua makes these former Gentiles part of the Commonwealth of Israel. As if there were any doubt, John records the proclamation of the angel at the end of this age that the kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15). With that kind of Scriptural foundation, no wonder the ancient carol proclaims, “Born is the King of Israel!”