The Bible's Shocking 4-Letter Words
Have you ever been shocked at the four-letter words in the Bible? Sometimes they offend me more than the four-letter words I hear on the street, because they offend and upend my whole view of things. Scripture, for instance, has the gall to tell you to go and find yourself and then shows you just how to do it.
I’m fascinated, at the moment, by the verse that the first century scribe Matthew records in his gospel, the words of the rabbi he followed for years before the bold teacher slipped away through the looking-glass at his ascension: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well (Matthew 6:33).
The words bookend a famous passage from the Sermon on the Mount in which Christ seems to turn everything on its head – everything, that is, that religious people value and perceive as the priority and perspective of God. Things like outward appearances –gadgets and garments and rituals, for instance – that people easily confuse as proof of blessedness and rightness.
All these things – food, clothing, the provision of earthly things – come, we’re promised, as we set our attention fully on God and his way of living. The Sermon on the Mount reveals that the believer in God, his followers who abide in him, love what he loves, do what he does, pray what he prays, and are filled with a spirit that lives completely opposite from our tendency to self preservation and protectionism. Believers store up their treasure in heaven not by hoarding things on earth; they have provision for physical needs not by focusing on acquiring them. This kind of believer in God does not worry and is not in want because they seek entirely after God.
(Insert your own four-letter word).
With the above command to seek, Christ brings everything into the present, calling people to focus on the reality of today and into what could seem an uncomfortable level of dependence on God. And he moves away from a focus on outward appearances to a passionate inwardness.
Forgetting Maslow’s triangular hierarchy of needs, we are to set our hearts on a pilgrimage and transcend at our first step, climbing the mountain of God into his kingdom, a truly different way of living.
What fascinates me, today, about the verse is not the usual “and these things will be added to you as well” speculations, wish lists, and inventories that seem to automatically propagate when the verse is meditated upon. Nor is it the questions of responsibility and practicality that can so persistently nag the conscience should the command be obeyed. Rather, it is the four letter word “seek” that slaps me with all the power of an expletive across the spiritual face. Dare I turn the other cheek and let the words have their way?
Expounding on this verse, Oswald Chambers states in his career-defining work, My Utmost for His Highest, that “It is one of the most difficult, yet critical, disciplines of the Christian life” to allow these words of Christ to take root in our lives. We’d rather let our faith die, focusing on how to eat, and when, and with who, than risk succumbing to the elements by taking Christ’s words at face value.
At the risk of our lives, is it not just a little bit intriguing that Christ frames the call of believers of God Above Everything Else in the vocabulary of a quest? With my Strong’s Concordance for iPhone in hand, I did a little digging and learned that the Greek word used for “seek” in this instance is a word that implies a search for something hidden.
Whatever or wherever the kingdom of God is and his righteousness are, Christ implies they aren’t always already apparent. But by no means does that mean they aren’t available or readily found.
This weekend I drove for a few hours through Central Alberta. It’s the most beautiful time of the year. The land is a rolling patchwork of crops, golden and green, like a giant quilt stretched and pulled along the fissures of the earth. And I found myself at the Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, a stunning plateau in the middle of the Red Deer River Valley once used by the Cree as an ingenious means to kill bison in the hunt.
It’s the very same area where the once unknown and now famous Albertosaurus was discovered, a dinosaur that once roamed the Badlands at the foot of the Canadian Rockies. It was 1910, in fact, when a number of skeletons of the beast were uncovered, but the American paleontologist who found them had limited time in the region and left, and it wasn’t until 1997 that a team of scientists rediscovered the fossils and started more significant extractions to reveal the most important bonebed of the Albertosaurus in the world.
The great discovery had been there all along, a treasure of bones from the animal kingdom; to find, it simply required some seeking.
And when the treasure was found, the geography’s status changed. It remained what it always was, but it was perceived differently. The layers of rock, the valley that cut through the rich Albertan soil, the river that slowly curled through the silent cliffs didn’t suddenly change into something else. But the land was set apart in the Dominion of Canada as a Provincial Park. It was granted special, blessed status.
What are the treasures buried in our lives, deep in the strata of who we are, whose excavation and study would change how we perceive our personal geography? What are the kingdom of God things buried not because they’re dead or dumped, but because they are things we’re meant to find and then treasure? We, like scientists, must seek them with scalpel, brush, and trowel, for they are more significant and important than dinosaur bones.
We are told to seek first the kingdom. And what is the kingdom? It is something not easily defined. It is the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds that when planted becomes a large tree to shade the field and provide safe haven for birds. It is the woman who mixes yeast into the whole batch of dough. The kingdom is the merchant who finds a valuable pearl, sells everything he has so he can purchase it. It is like a net thrown into the sea that catches all kinds of things that get sorted – edible fish to the market, non-edible ones to the trash heap. The gospel writer Matthew piles image upon image of what the kingdom is like.
And even as the metaphors create a chain reaction of meanings we might never fully grasp, like a hook through the gills the bottom line is yanked taut, and we are told to chase after the meaning, and seek this hard to define kingdom. We must seek after the kingdom and its meanings because this is the only way we will find it; we must pursue the right living of God because we will only live that way if we intend to.
There is treasure in our lives deposited by God. There is a whole kingdom we must dig for, dust off, and reveal to each other and the world.
Go find yourself. The treasure’s uncovered only by seeking.
Loren Cunningham, founder of YWAM, is challenging people wherever he goes to make a covenant to ensure that ‘the flame goes forward’ in YWAM’s 50th year since inception. Andrew spent a few formative years studying and working with YWAM overseas, and occasionally teaches and speaks in YWAM schools in different parts of the globe. Attentive to this call and in light of the mandate of the church, Andrew is reflecting on the five tenets of this call.