What does Matthew 6:33 mean when it says, “all these things shall be added to you” (NASB) or “all these things will be given to you” (NIV, NRSV)? The context indicates that it refers to basic necessities—food and covering.
Jewish people sometimes used Gentiles—non-Jews, who were usually what they would have regarded as “pagans”—as examples of what upright Jews should avoid. The rest of the world seeks food, drink, and clothing, Jesus says, but you should not seek these things (6:31-32). Instead, Jesus’s followers should seek his kingdom, and these other things—the basic necessities of life—will be taken care of (6:33).
It is probably not a coincidence that Jesus had just taught his disciples to pray first for the agendas of God’s kingdom (6:9-10) and only after that for their own basic needs (6:11-13). In Greek, in fact, “your” is emphatic in the first three lines: “Hallowed be your name, may your kingdom come, may your will be done.” Only after that do we pray for our daily bread, forgiveness, and protection from temptation.
This does not mean that we should not eat. When Jesus’s disciples were going through a grainfield, he defended their biblical right to pluck grain even though it was the sabbath (Matt 12:1-8). When people condemned them for not fasting more, he defended them (9:14-17). When not enough food was available for the crowds that followed him, he multiplied it (14:15-21; 15:29-38). The key issue in all these cases is that people were following him, seeking the kingdom; by the end of Matthew’s Gospel, it is clear to all who follow him that Jesus is the king (28:18).
If we hunger and thirst for righteousness (5:6), we will put God and his work before our own needs. We indeed pray for our daily bread, but we pray even before that for the coming of his reign. Rather than storing up earthly treasures (6:19-21), we store up heavenly ones by meeting the needs of other people about whom God also cares (19:21). God is well able to supply our needs, especially if we are willing to live with the basic things he provides rather than competing with others for status symbols (6:28-32).
Most of the stories we read about God supplying the needs of his people miraculously come in settings like this—where in faith we put God’s work first and sacrifice. George Müller, Pandita Ramabai, Heidi Baker and others trusted God to help them care for orphans; Hudson Taylor, Isaac Pelendo and many Majority World missionaries today have trusted God to help them spread his message. Similarly, Paul and many others have been willing to labor manually in the places where God sent them, even though they could have profited financially more elsewhere; one may think also of businesspeople, physicians and others who bridge barriers for the gospel in various ways that sometimes require sacrifice. Mission is the context of some of God’s provision in Matthew’s Gospel, although the provision may be basic and is often through others (cf. 10:9-11, 40-42).
Jesus himself modeled this lifestyle for us—for the sake of the kingdom he had nowhere to lay his head (8:19-20), as he was often traveling to announce the kingdom and to meet people’s needs. In the end, he was ready to lay down everything for us—trusting his Father to raise him up. Let us put God first and see what he will do.