(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
12/6/92: March 14, 1999
Have you ever watched a little boy with his father? They like to try to be just like dad. That is of course where the phrase, “Like father, like son” comes from. I have noticed that about my sons. For the most part that is good, but sometimes it is to my embarrassment one of them imitates some bad habit of manners or speech I have. Diane works overtime to correct us. Each one has particular area of interest. Jonathan wants to go hunting with me. Jimmy likes to help me fix things, and David likes to talk.
I have noticed that it has now become very common in our society for children to take a different approach to dad as they get older. Instead of trying to emulate him, they strive to “find themselves,” “gain independence,” “assert their own personhood.” The good kids will still obey dad’s commands. They will listen carefully and try not to violate what he says, but they no longer have a goal of trying to imitate dad. They do what is necessary but no longer pay him much attention beyond that.
In many ways that is a picture of the nature of true righteousness as opposed to self righteousness. True righteousness comes from the heart and expresses itself in striving to be like our heavenly Father. We want to follow the example Jesus has set for us in both attitude and actions. Self righteousness examines the commands of the Father very closely in order to do the minimum needed to satisfy the Father’s instructions, but does not go beyond that. Self righteousness analyzes the commands of the Father in order to fulfill obligations. True righteousness examines the Father Himself in order to be like Him.
Those who are truly righteous also recognize their own weakness and rely on the Father’s to help, just like one of my children helping me carry something heavy. I am the one providing all the strength needed to carry the object, but they grasp hold simply to be involved. The truly righteous want to be involved in what God is doing. They know that God is the one providing the strength and doing the real work, but they grab hold wanting to be part of His work. They rely on God’s strength to accomplish the task. The self righteous redefines the task until the bucket is small enough for them to carry on their own. A form of godliness, but no power.
The sermon on the mount strips away the pretense of the self righteous and brings the standard back to the level of human impossibility. To live as a child of God you have to be a child of God. It is humanly impossible for anyone to live on his own power the kind of life Jesus describes throughout this sermon. It is impossible to have the characteristics of the beatitudes, to live according to the teachings of Jesus in chapter 5, to follow the practices Jesus describes in chapter 6, and to comply with the commands He has given in these last several sections of the sermon on a human level alone. We do not have within ourselves enough wisdom, strength or will power to live righteously. We must live it according to God’s wisdom, in His strength in simple obedience to Him, or we will only live in what Paul described as a “form of godliness that denies God’s power.” A corrupted religion of self righteousness.
The verses preceding our passage of study for this morning bring out this fact once again. How can we possibly keep from falling into the pattern of the Scribes and Pharisees of self righteously condemning others because they fail to live up to our standards, and yet at the same time have the discernment to tell the difference between those who are dogs and swine and those who are not? That takes both humility and insight that is unnatural to man. Left to ourselves, we quickly set up our own standards for right and wrong and then judge others against that standard. If someone does not do as well as we do, we look down on them. We see them as less righteous than ourselves. And if left to ourselves, our pride will lead us into giving what is precious and holy to dogs and hogs. We think of ourselves able to win others to our way of thinking by winning philosophical arguments or triumphing in Bible battles. The truth is that we must judge ourselves and others only according to what the Word of God says, according to its standards of righteousness which we can not possible meet on own. And we must remember that people come to God through the Holy Spirit’s work, not through our ability to persuade (see 1 Cor. 1 & 2).
This is the reason for our passage today. God knows our weakness and desires to help us overcome that weakness. He tells us what He wants us to do, what He will do and then summarizes how to balance 7:1-5 with 7:6 – not judging while being discerning.
Matthew 7:7-12. “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will? IF you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this it the Law and the Prophets.
ASK, SEEK & KNOCK
As with so many other passages of Scripture, this passage is often taken out of its context with the result that its meaning is twisted. There are those that look at verses 7 & 8 and say that God is promising to give us anything we desire as long as we ask Him for it. Some even twist Psalm 37:4 to back that up, “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” “See,” they say, “anything you desire, God will give you. Just make sure you say, ‘In Jesus name’ at the end of your prayer because in John 14:14 Jesus says, ‘If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.’ So ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.”
This sort of theology was at one time on the fringes of orthodox Christianity, but sadly it is now not only within what was orthodox Christianity but is now mainstream and starting to make inroads into fundamental Christianity. Again, the reason is because too many people approach the Bible without regard for the context of the passage they are looking at. I know I talk about context a lot, but I can not over emphasize its importance in a day and age when false doctrine abounds and leads many astray. We must be careful to make sure that we are true to the Scriptures and not twist them to our own meanings. We are to conform to the Bible, not the other way around.
If you go on in the Psalm 37 passage, you find what the writer is talking about. “Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass, and fade like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. “
The Psalm goes on to describe the insecurity of the wicked and the security of the righteous. It is not talking about God giving you whatever you want, but as you delight in the Lord your desires change and you want righteousness. The Lord will give that to you and you will be secure in the Lord because you trust Him.
In John 14 we do not find that asking something in Jesus name means tacking on a phrase at the end of the prayer like an incantation – abracadabra, etc. It means to ask in accordance with His name, which can only be what would bring glory to the Father (vs 13). The whole passage is dealing with Jesus disclosing His oneness with the Father, not with giving us unlimited wishes.
In the case of the passage before us we find it in the midst of a whole section that is dealing with judgment. Verses 1-5 deal with the manner in which we judge others when they fall into sin. Verse 6 deals with the fact that we are to judge some people to be dogs and hogs. Verse 13-14 deal with the fact that people will be judged according to which path they took and which gate they entered. Verse 15-23 deal with the judgment that false prophets will receive. Verses 24-27 deal with the results that will occur depending on what foundation you have built your house – your life – upon. The context surrounding “asking, seeking and knocking” is judgment, not gaining for ourselves whatever we desire.
In the context we find that our Lord is telling us the provision that He is making for us as we try to live according to the righteousness that He has described. We are left in quite a bit of tension about how to carry out Jesus’ commands in verse 1-5 and verse 6. On one hand we are not to be judging one another with self righteous condemnation with the stern warning that we would be judged in the manner that we judge others. Yet, at the same time we are to treasure the precious, holy message of the gospel that has been entrusted to us and not give it to dogs and swine. That demands that we make judgments. How can we live in the tension between the two and carry out the commands? Only one way. We have to become righteous from the heart.
We can carry out these commands only if we already posses the character qualities of the beatitudes. We must have the humility that comes with being poor in spirit and be mournful over sin while also being merciful. These will keep us from condemning others from self righteousness. Meekness, which is relying on and following only God, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness will increase our desire and ability to bring ourselves and others into greater conformity to Christ. When we remove the log from our own eyes and then in humility help our brothers and sisters we can remove the specks in their eyes. When we are pure in heart we can see clearly the wicked nature of other people who reject what God has done for them. We are called to be salt and light and not be afraid to speak to others even if they persecute us, but in doing so we must value the holy nature of our message and treat it with respect. We are striving to live lives that reflect true righteousness from the heart.
We ask, seek and knock. It is the same idea described in James 1:5. After telling us to consider it all joy when we enter into various trials because God will use those trials to make us mature believers, James says, “But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If you do not understand how to be joyful in your present trial, ask God for the wisdom to do so and He will give it. If you want to live in the righteousness described by Jesus throughout the Sermon on the Mount, then you keep asking, seeking and knocking and God will give it to you.
Many have made much about each of these particular elements – ask, seek, knock. Commentators have made gradations of them both ways, some saying that you knock first and get in the door, then seek out the Father, then once you find Him you ask of Him. Others go the opposite way saying to ask first, then you seek and finally you knock and the door is opened. Others still make them into different applications. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that each of these elements all stress the same point – importunity in prayer. God wants us to continue in perseverance in prayer. The seeking and knocking are pictures of asking. All of them together stress the point of actively petitioning God very strongly. It is not something we gain on our own or that comes automatically.
Let me point out that the asking, seeking and knocking is continual. Our English translations do not bring out the idea clearly. You might even get the sense that you ask once and then receive. You go out to seek once and then you find. You knock once and the door is immediately opened. However, of all three of the verbs are present tense and they would be better translated, “keep asking, and it shall be given to you; keep seeking, and you shall find; keep knocking, and it shall be opened to you.” If you want to live a righteous life, then you must actively pursue it by pursuing after God. You do not become righteous by being passive. Keep in mind as well that what we are asking, seeking and knocking for is not some object, but the character qualities of true righteousness in our life. An object could be given and that would be the end of it, but character qualities are developed over time as different aspects of our life are molded.
God wants us to be asking, seeking and knocking. The answer to our quest is made secure in Jesus’ statement in verse 8, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.” If we fulfill our part, God will fulfill His part and respond. How will he respond? Jesus uses two illustrations to bring emphasis to the answer in verse 11.
BREAD: “Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? The word “loaf” here is simply the word for bread. The rhetorical question demands a “no” answer. Would any dad there give his son a stone for food instead of bread? – of course not! They all understood this very clearly. A stone may have looked like bread, but none of them would be cruel like that to their child.
FISH: The second illustration is similar. “Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? The idea is not that he would give a live snake, which would be dangerous to the dad as well as the son, but that he would substitute cooked snake meat which was unclean (Lev. 11:12), for cooked fish. The meat might have looked the same, but none of them would pull such a cruel trick on their child and defile them with something unclean.
OUR GOOD FATHER
Both illustrations show that even evil men are good to their children. God is even better as seen in vs. 11. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Jesus is talking to the disciples here in the Sermon on the Mount with the crowd listening, but even the disciples are here called evil. That is the nature of man.
There are many today that say man is basically good, but society corrupts him. They claim that if man were in the right environment, then that natural goodness would come out. This is the philosophical basis for much of what sociologists have pushed upon our nation. Corporal punishment has been eliminated from most of our schools. Prisons have become “correctional facilities” with the goal being to “rehabilitate” the inmate. Many crimes have been reclassified as psychological diseases. They theorize that man is naturally good so if he does something wrong it must be some outside influence that made him behave that way. Some of you may remember some years ago when Sol Wachtler, the chief judge of the New York Supreme Court, was arrested for extortion and threatening to kidnap the 14 year old daughter of his ex-lover. Did you know that Dr. John Money, a medical psychologist and sexologist at John Hopkins University School of Medicine defended Wachtler saying he was not responsible for his actions because he was suffering from “Clerambault-Kandinsky Syndrome” – an “erotomania type delusional disorder” – a “devastating illness.” In plain language, he was lovesick and couldn’t (wouldn’t) restrain himself.
Scripture is clear that the problem is that man is by nature sinful. David said in Psalm 14 that “there is no one who does good.” Isaiah said that “we all like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way,” and that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” before God. Jeremiah said the human heart is “more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick.” Paul said that “all have sinned” and that we were “dead in our trespasses and sin” and were “by nature children of wrath.” Speaking of children, Proverbs tells us that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Our sinful nature is exhibited from day one. Jesus states it plainly here, “you, being evil.” The true nature of man is sinful, not good, and God will hold him responsible for his evil even if society does not.
Now if evil men know how to give good gifts to the children because they ask, how much more so will our Heavenly Father give good to those who ask Him. The goodness of God is emphasized by the comparison with evil men. James 1:17 tells that “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” Every good thing we have ever received has come from God whether we have acknowledged that truth or not. And we come to God and ask and He will give us what is good.
God is not necessarily going to give us what we want, but He will give us what is good, and we should praise Him for that, for much of what we want would not be good for us if we got it. Case in point – money. How many would like to have a million dollars? Sure, most of us would like that. Most of us have even dreamed about what we would do with it if God gave it to us. We even rationalize why God should give us a lot of money, because of course, we would give a lot to God’s work, (like He needed the money). Frankly, most of us could not handle a million dollars. Cases in point, follow the stories of those that when the Lottery. There are tragic stories after tragic stories about these people. Many lose the money quickly to bad investments promoted by schemers. Some quit their jobs and spend their winnings foolishly and end up with debt that puts them in a worse financial position than before. Many others have had relationships shattered because of their own greed or that of friends and relatives. Families have broken apart over what to do with the new wealth. God knows what we can and can not handle. He will give us what is good for us, not what we want.
God wants us to diligently ask of Him to make our hearts righteous, and He will. We are to seek after God and He will reward us with a personal relationship with Him. Heb. 11:6 tells that. We are to knock on the door of understanding and God will give us the wisdom to discern how to live righteously including being able to balance discerning who are dogs and hogs while not making condemning judgments of others. We can recognize the false prophets around us and stay on the narrow path that leads to life.
THE GOLDEN RULE
The passage with what is often called the Golden Rule. “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this it the Law and the Prophets.” Again this is not some isolated statement. Notice that it begins with the word, “Therefore.” That connects it to what Jesus has said earlier. The reason for the statement is that it gives in one practical sentence the basic principle of living in practical righteousness (the general context of the sermon), and in specific how to judge without being condemning. It is the basic rule for how to love our neighbors, the second of the great commands. Notice that this saying is not the “whole” law and the prophets because it does not deal with love for God, but it does adequately cover man’s dealing with one another.
Philosophers like to point out that similar saying appear in other religions, but those other sayings are all from the negative standpoint, Jesus states it from the positive side. For example, the ancient Rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to yourself do not to someone else.” It says in the book of Tobit, “What thou hatest, to no man do.” Confucius taught, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “What you avoid suffering yourself, do not afflict on others.” The Stoics advocated the principle, “What you do not want to be done to you, do not do to anyone else.” All these statements are passive and from the negative standpoint to not do something bad to others so that you can avoid having that same thing done to you. Those are all statements that self-righteous people can live well under. Jesus’ statement is active and from the positive standpoint. Do good for others the way you would like them to do good for you. This is a position of love. It is a principle for righteous living. God’s standard is not just avoiding evil, but actively practicing righteousness. It is the very example of Jesus.
In a few moments we will be celebrating the Lord’s Table. Consider what God has done for us. We were dead in our sins. God’s standard was impossible to meet and we were without hope. Yet God loved us so much that the second part of the triune God Head became a man, lived a sinless life and then died in our place as the payment for the penalty of our sins. He rose from the dead on the third day giving us the hope of eternal life with Him. Because of that, we, who have no hope of reaching God’s perfect standard can be made righteous – justified – before Him by simple faith in what Jesus has done for us. Jesus offers us salvation not just from hell, the final penalty of sin, but present sin as well as the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts and makes us alive to righteousness. We become different people from what we were.
Our text this morning is reflective of God’s redeeming grace. We ask, seek and knock, but it is God that answers and grants our request because, and only because, of His goodness. He changes us and enables us to live by a new rule, a positive rule based in love, to treat others with good, just as God has treated us.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Do you think teens try to emulate their fathers as they did 30 years ago? Why might that be? What is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount? How does this passage fit within that theme? Psalm 37:4 is often mis-interpreted. How does its its context help you interpret it correctly? Is asking something “in Jesus” (John 14) name an incantation? Does ending a prayer with that phrase obligate God? Why do some people take it that way? What does praying “in Jesus” name mean? How does James 1:5 help you understand the meaning of Matt. 7:7 & 8? What is it that we should be trying to gain when we “ask, seek and knock”? Are we to “ask, seek and knock” once or continually? What do the illustrations of verse 9 & 10 demonstrate about God? Is man basically good or evil? Why? Would it be good for you to get everything you wanted? Why or why not? What does God give you? What is the difference between the “Golden Rule” (vs. 12) and similar statements from other cultures? Why is the “Golden Rule” difficult to carry out? What can you do to better obey its precept? Ask someone to help you in that area.
ASK, SEEK, KNOCK (vs. 7,8)
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:1-6 Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. 2For they will wither quickly like the grass, And fade like the green herb. 3Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. 4Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. 5Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. 6And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your judgment as the noonday.
James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
TWO ILLUSTRATIONS (vs. 9,10)
OUR GOOD FATHER (vs. 11)
James 1:17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.
THE GOLDEN RULE
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