April 19th, 2015
Matthew 7:6+ 7-12
Service Orientation: Our depravity blinds us to what we should seek. God loves us so much that He gives us access to what we truly need. Do we trust Him enough to receive it?
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. — Matthew 7:12
- We can picture Him looking into the incredulous faces of His disciples who wondered how in the world anyone could possibly live the kind of life described in the sermon on the mount. He was well aware that no one had the wisdom or strength to keep His commandments, so He linked our impotence to God’s omnipotence. (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 124-5)
- The Lord showed us how to know where to draw the line between a critical spirit and a discerning spirit. He knows our frame, so He did not give us a list of rules. He simply said, “Ask…seek…knock.” (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 124)
- Verses 7-11 make a perfect bridge between the negative teaching about a critical spirit and the positive teaching of the golden rule (v. 12). Even when we have been cleansed of our own sin–had the “log” removed from our eye–we need divine wisdom to know how to help a brother remove the “speck” from his eye (v. 5). And without God’s help we cannot be sure of who are “dogs” or “swine”–who are the false prophets and apostates to whom we should not offer the holy and precious things of God’s Word (v. 6). These considerations drive us to call on the Lord.
Of the many things for which we should ask, seek, and knock, God’s wisdom is among our greatest needs. We cannot be discerning and discriminating without divine counsel from our heavenly Father; and the primary means for achieving such wisdom is petitioning prayer. “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” (Jas 1:5). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 442-3)
- (v. 7) There is an ascending scale of intensity in this threefold exhortation and assurance. Ask means simple petition. Seek goes further, and implies participation. Knock imports the elements of importunity and perseverance, for each verb is in the present continuous tense, “Ask and keep on asking.” (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 42)
- (v. 11) The most naturally selfless relationship among human beings is that of parents with their children. We are more likely to sacrifice for our children, even to the point of giving up our lives, than for any other persons in the world. Yet the greatest human parental love cannot compare with God’s. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 446)
- (v. 12) Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Isocrates, Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Rabbi Hillel, and Rabbi Shammai all had negative equivalents to Jesus Golden Rule. Only Seneca taught that one should act in a positive manner to do to others as you would have others do for you.
- (v. 12) In this saying, the Sermon on the Mount reaches its ethical climax. It is a summary of the law of man’s relation to man, the full expression of his social responsibility. (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 42)
- (v. 12) In a negative form, the golden rule is found in the teachings of Socrates, Aristotle, Confucius, Buddha, and Hillel. These people said in effect, “Don’t do to others what you would not have them do to you.” It remained for the Lord Jesus to change the rule from the negative to the positive and from the passive to the active–and to enshrine the rule in every thought, word, and action of His matchless life. And the distinctive genius of Christianity is that through the miracle of the new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a Christlike life is made possible for the blood-bought believer too. (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 125-6)
- (v. 12) The maxim is commonly called the “Golden Rule,” with the Emperor Alexander Servrus reputedly having it written on his wall in gold. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 313)
The question to be answered is . . . What is Jesus trying to teach us on the heels of asking us to judge without being judgmental?
Answer: Jesus is trying to get us to understand that everything that God does is loving, kind, gracious, good and what is ultimately the best for us. The reason we cannot see this is the same reason we cannot always find God. We are simply too sinful, too depraved, too screwed up to even begin to know what we are looking for let alone hang onto it once it runs into us. We need to constantly pray for God to open our eyes so we can see Who He is and what He does for us.
The Word for the Day is . . . Seek
THE GOLDEN RULE: (It’s true in all faiths.)
Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. -Mahabharata 5:1517
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would fine hurtful. -Udanavarga 5:18
Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you. -Analects 15:23
Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them: for this is the law and the prophets. -Matthew 7:12
Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. -Tai Shang Kan Ying P’ien
Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself. -Dadistan-i-kinik 94:5
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. That is the entire Law; the rest is commentary. -Talmud, Shabbat 31a
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. -Sunnah
What can we learn from Jesus’ teaching in this text?
I- God is not hiding. He wants to bless us with good gifts, that only He can give, if we truly seek Him. (Mt 7:7-10; see also: Dt 4:29; 1 Kgs 8:27; 1 Chr 29:12-14; 2 Chr 2:6; Ps 8:4; 19:1-6; 33:5; ch 23 & 103; 106:1; 139:3-10; Eccl 5:19; Isa 55:6-7; Jer 23:23-24; 29:12-13; Jn 10:10; Acts 7:48-49; 14:17; 17:24-28; Rom 1:19; 8:32; 12:3-8; 1 Cor 2:9; chps 12-14; Gal 5:22-23; Eph 1:3-8, 18-19, 23; 4:11-13; Jam 1:17; 1 Pt 4:8-11)
The value of persistent prayer is not that he will hear us…but that we will finally hear him. (Guideposts 1/97, 16)
You may grow as Christian men just as fast and just as far as you choose. A fuller knowledge of God’s truth, a more entire conformity to Christ’s pattern, a deeper communion with God–they are all possible for every one of us in any measure to which we choose to set our expectations, and to shape our desires and our actions. (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 337)
But do we persist in our prayers for spiritual growth for ourselves and others? Do we “ask…seek…knock” for a pure mind? Do we keep on knocking for a forgiving spirit or for the removal of an angry or critical spirit? (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 235)
The treasures Christ gives are eternally ours and eternally satisfying. But perseverance is the key. We may wonder why God wants us to persist intensely for things he surely wants to give us. The answer is, he wants to give us great spiritual treasures, but he will not give it to us until we are ready. Persistent prayer prepares us for those treasures. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 236)
Wouldn’t it be great if God always gave you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows? We do have a God like that. — Tim Keller
The first step in any spiritual awakening is demolition. We cannot make headway in seeking God without first tearing down the accumulated junk in our souls. Rationalizing has to cease. We have to start seeing the sinful debris we hadn’t noticed before, which is what holds back the blessing of God. (Jim Cymbala; Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, 159)
Keep praying, but be thankful that God’s answers are wiser than your prayers! — William Culbertson.
Prayer is the tangible expression of our dependence. We may assent to the fact that we are dependent on Christ, but if our prayer life is meager or perfunctory, we thereby deny it. We are in effect saying we can handle most of our spiritual life with our own self-discipline and our perceived innate goodness. (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, 137)
It is perfectly true that he gives certain gifts (harvest, babies, food, life) whether people pray or not, whether they believe or not. He gives to all life and breath. He sends rain from heaven and fruitful seasons to all. He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good alike. He “visits” a mother when she conceives and later gives birth. None of these gifts is dependent on whether people acknowledge their Creator or pray to him.
But God’s redemption-gifts are different. God does not bestow salvation on all alike, but “bestows his riches upon all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” The same applies to post-salvation blessings, the “good things” which Jesus says the Father gives his children. It is not material blessings that he is referring to here, but spiritual blessings–daily forgiveness, deliverance from evil, peace, the increase of faith, hope and love, in fact the indwelling work of “the Holy Spirit” as the comprehensive blessing of God, which is how Luke renders “good things.” For these gifts we must certainly pray. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 187)
There is a lesson here; God will always answer our prayers; but he will answer them in his way, and his way will be the way of perfect wisdom and of perfect love. Often if he answered our prayers as we at the moment desired it would be the worst thing possible for us, for in our ignorance we often ask for gifts which would be our ruin. This saying of Jesus tells us, not only that God will answer, but that God will answer in wisdom and in love. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 272)
The importance of this element of persistence cannot be exaggerated. You find it not only in biblical teaching, but also in the lives of all the saints. The most fatal thing in the Christian life is to be content with passing desires. If we really want to be men of God, if we really want to know Him, and walk with Him, and experience those boundless blessings which He has to offer us, we must persist in asking Him for them day by day. We have to feel this hunger and thirst after righteousness, and then we shall be filled. And that does not mean that we are filled once and for ever. We go on hungering and thirsting. Like the apostle Paul, leaving the things which are behind, we “press toward the mark.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 461)
But as Christ here addresses disciples, he merely reminds us in what manner our heavenly Father is pleased to bestow upon us his gifts. Though he gives all things freely to us, yet, in order to exercise our faith, he commands us to pray, that he may grant to our requests those blessings which flow from his undeserved goodness. (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 353)
Our Lord contrasts the malice of men with the boundless goodness of God. Self-love renders us malicious: for every man is too much devoted to himself, and neglects and disregards others. But this vice yields to the stronger feelings of a father’s love, so that men forget themselves, and give to their children with overflowing liberality. Whence comes this, but because God, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, (Eph 3:15) drops into their hearts a portion of his goodness? But if the little drops produce such an amount of beneficence, what ought we to expect from the inexhaustible ocean? Would God, who thus opens the hearts of men, shut his own? (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 353)
It is the duty of the children of God, when they engage in prayer, to strip themselves of earthly affections, and to rise to meditation on the spiritual life. In this way, they will set little value on food and clothing, as compared to the earnest and pledge of their adoption, (Rom 8:15; Eph 1:14) and when God has given so valuable a treasure, he will not refuse smaller favors. (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 354)
God delights to give good gifts to his children. Hence, if we do not receive them, the fault does not lie in God. It lies in our failure to ask things of him. (James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 237)
Seek as for a thing of value that we have lost, or as the merchantman that seeks goodly pearls. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 89)
Stop praying, “Lord, bless what I’m doing,” and start praying, “Lord, help me to do what you are blessing.” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 15)
God doesn’t answer our prayers as we pray them but as we would pray them if we were wiser. (Ligon Duncan paraphrase of John Calvin)
If the door be not opened at the first knock, continue instant in prayer; it is an affront to a friend to knock at his door, and then go away; though he tarry, yet wait. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 90)
Have we not measured our prayers by ourselves, and only stretched our supplications over the lowly breadth of our own conception of life? When shall we learn to fill our mouths with great words and to utter prayers meant for heaven? “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” God says, “Bring your vessels, and the oil shall flow.” More vessels, more oil; more still, and still more oil. Who gives up? Man. He says, “I have not more vessels”–and God causes the oil to cease its flow. Never did God say, “There is no more oil”; it is always man that says, “There is no more room.” (Joseph Parker, The Inner Life of Christ, Studies in Matthew 1-7, 197)
Nothing is better adapted to excite us to prayer than a full conviction that we shall be heard. Those who doubt can only pray in an indifferent manner; and prayer, unaccompanied by faith, is an idle and unmeaning ceremony. Accordingly, Christ, in order to excite us powerfully to this part of our duty, not only enjoins what we ought to do, but promises that our prayers shall not be fruitless. (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 351-2)
We shall never really understand the wonder of his grace until, seeking mercy like beggars before a judge, we discover that he wants us to be his sons and daughters. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 157)
The reason why God’s giving depends on our asking is neither because he is ignorant until we inform him nor because he is reluctant until we persuade him. The reason has to do with us, not with him; the question is not whether he is ready to give, but whether we are ready to receive. So in prayer we do not “prevail on” God, but rather prevail on ourselves to submit to God. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 186)
The three words (ask, seek, knock) combine to emphasize the truth that those who bring their needs to God can trust that they will be satisfied. All three are metaphors for praying. Sometimes God does not answer our prayers immediately; sometimes we must keep on knocking, awaiting God’s answer. However, if we continue to trust God through prayer, Jesus promised that we will receive, find, and have an open door. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 133)
If we are trying to serve both God and mammon (Mt 6:24), we cannot claim this promise. “For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (Jas 1:7-8). As John makes clear, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 Jn 5:14). To have confidence in answered prayer on any other basis is to have a false and presumptuous confidence that the Lord makes no promise to honor. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 444)
Jesus’ language is unusually compelling because the three verbs “ask…seek…knock” command an ascending intensity. “Ask” implies asking for a conscious need. The word also suggests humility in asking, for it is commonly used of one asking a superior. The next step, “seek,” involves asking but adds action. The idea is not merely to express one’s need, but to get up and look around for help. It involves effort. “Knock” includes asking plus acting plus persevering–like someone who keeps pounding on a closed door! The stacking of these words is extremely forceful, but the fact that they are present imperatives gives them even more punch. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 234-5)
Everyone who asks this way receives, and everyone who seeks like this finds, and everyone who knocks and keeps on knocking has the door opened to him. God will give us anything we ask for that is good for us spiritually. If we lack spiritually, it is our fault. As James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (4:2). (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 238-9)
- Search out some spiritual qualities that you lack but would like to have. List them on your prayer list.
- Pray passionately for them–keep asking, seeking, knocking.
- Have confidence that God your Father will give them to you. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 239)
Asking implies humility and a consciousness of need. The verb is used with respect to a petition which by an inferior is addressed to a superior. The Pharisee of the parable (Lk 18:10-13) asks nothing. He tells the Lord how good he is. The publican asks, that is, pleads, “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” Asking also presupposes belief in a personal god with whom man can have fellowship. When one asks, he expects an answer. Hence, this implies faith in a god who can, does, and will answer, that is, faith in God the Father. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 361-2)
The carte blanche approach to petitionary prayer does not find support from the NT as a whole. It is God as the Father in heaven who knows what is “good” for his children, and as with a human parent his generosity may not always coincide with the child’s wishes. But for all that necessary caution, there is an openness about vv. 7-8 which invites not merely a resigned acceptance of what the Father gives, but a willingness to explore the extent of his generosity, secure in the knowledge that only what is “good” will be given, so that mistakes in prayer through human short-sightedness will not rebound on those praying. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 279)
Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God. (E. Stanley Jones as quoted by K Hughes; Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, 73)
The world idolizes strength. Jesus said God demonstrates his strength through people’s weakness. The world values large numbers. Jesus chose a small group to be his disciples and often ignored the crowds to focus on individuals. The world seeks happiness. Jesus said blessed are they that mourn. The world is attracted to large, spectacular performances. Jesus said his kingdom would be like a mustard seed. The world does good deeds in order to win people’s praise. Jesus said, do your good deeds in secret, because the Father will see them and give a reward. The world uses slick marketing campaigns to attract people. Jesus said no one can come to him unless the Father draws them. Over and over again Jesus rejected human reasoning in favor of God’s wisdom. What is the difference between human reasoning and God’s wisdom? Eph 3:20 says: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (NIV). (Henry & Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership, 66-7)
In our folly we are apt to think that God is against us when something unpleasant happens to us. But God is our Father; and as our Father he will never give us anything that is evil. Never; it is impossible. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 463-4)
As we come to consider them, we must again remind ourselves that the Scripture makes it very plain and clear that there is no part of this Christian life which is without its dangers. Nothing is so false to the teaching of the NT as to give the impression that the moment you believe and are converted, all your troubles are at an end and you will never have another problem. Alas, that is not true, and it is not true because we have an enemy, the Adversary of our souls. But not only do we have to contend with the enemy, there is still the old nature within, and these two together make it certain that we shall have troubles and difficulties; and it is our business to understand the teaching of the Scripture with respect to these, lest we be caught by the guile and the subtlety of the enemy. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, p. 121)
Thomas Aquinas was asked on one occasion why there seem to be non-Christians who are searching for God, when the Bible says no one seeks after God in an unconverted state. Aquinas replied that we see people all around us who are feverishly seeking for purpose in their lives, pursuing happiness, and looking for relief from guilt to silence the pangs of conscience. We see people searching for the things that we know can be found only in Christ, but we make the gratuitous assumption that because they are seeking the benefits of God, they must therefore be seeking God. That is the very dilemma of fallen creatures: we want the things that only God can give us, but we do not want Him. We want peace but not the Prince of Peace. We want purpose but not the sovereign purposes decreed by God. We want meaning found in ourselves but not in his rule over us. We see desperate people, and we assume they are seeking for God, but they are not seeking for God. I know that because God says so. No one seeks after God. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 90)
Whoever seeks God as a means toward desired ends will not find God. The mighty God, the maker of heaven and earth, will not be one of many treasures, not even the chief of all treasures. He will be all in all or He will be nothing. God will not be used. His mercy and grace are infinite and His patient understanding is beyond measure, but He will not aid men in their selfish striving after personal gain. He will not help men to attain ends which, when attained, usurp the place He by every right should hold in their interest and affection. (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 57)
When we find ourselves rejecting difficulty, we may find that we are really rejecting the cross–and therefore Christ Himself. It was not just John of the Cross who wrote about this. Consider Thomas à Kempis’ words: “Christ’s whole life was a cross and martyrdom; and dost thou seek rest and joy for thyself? Thou art deceived, thou art deceived, if thou seek any other thing than to suffer tribulations; for this whole mortal life is full of miseries, and signed on every side with crosses. And the higher a person hath advanced in spirit, so much the heavier crosses he oftentimes findeth. (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, III:19:1) (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 164)
Those who have gone before us have left a clear witness: We may seek God or we may seek ease, but we cannot seek both. (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 160)
“Spiritual caressing,” if left unabated, would eventually cause us to lose focus. Thus we could begin to enjoy the fruits of worshiping God (our feelings) more than we enjoyed the God we worship. Augustine wrote, “Whosoever seeketh of God anything besides God, doth not love God purely. If a wife loved her husband, because he is rich, she is not pure, for she loveth not her husband, but the gold of her husband.” (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 185)
I would not have sought you unless You had already found me. — Blaise Pascal
II- We are sometimes like pigs and dogs who cannot properly seek, recognize, nor cultivate a divine relationship because of our depraved nature. (Mt 7:6, 9-11; see also: Job 15:14-16; 25:4-6; Ps 5:9; 14:2-3; 51:1-5; 94:11; 130:3; Eccl 9:3; Isa 1:5-6; 53:6; 64:6; Jer 17:9; Mic 7:2-4; Mt 15:19; Jn 1:1-14; 3:3-5, 19; 14:17; Rom 1:18-25; 3:9-23; 8:5-7; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; Gal 5:17; Eph 2:1; 4:17-22)
No one can follow the sermon up to this point without becoming profoundly aware of his need. We are beggars before God. We are spiritually shortsighted and undiscerning. We fall so far short of what we should be for the sake of our Lord Jesus. We have nothing to offer him. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 156)
The kingdom of heaven requires poverty of spirit, purity of heart, truth, compassion, a nonretaliatory spirit, a life of integrity; and we lack all of these things. Then let us ask for them! Are you as holy, as meek, as truthful, as loving, as pure, as obedient to God as you would like to be? Then ask him for grace that these virtues may multiply in your life! Such asking, when sincere and humble, is already a step of repentance and faith, for it is an acknowledgment that the virtues the kingdom requires you do not possess, and that these same virtues only God can give. (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 117)
He knows how to give good gifts, and an essential condition of that divine knowledge of how to give good gifts is the knowledge of how to refuse mistaken and foolish wishes.
So let us be thankful that His divine providence does not spoil His children, and make them, as all spoiled children are, a curse and a misery to themselves and to everybody round about them; but He disciplines them by a gracious “No” as well as by a frank, glad “Yes,” and often refuses the petition and grants the deeper lying meaning of the same. (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 336-7)
Many of us pray, Lord make me stronger and stronger so I can become more patient and less vulnerable to sin. When in reality we need to ask the Lord to make us weaker and weaker. It is us that is the problem. Why in the world would we want to make us stronger. We should instead want to kill the sinful nature in us. Think about when you are least likely to think lustful, sinful thoughts. It is not when you are strong and life is going well. It is when you are fasting or when you are sick with mono or some other terrible disease that weakens us. It is when we are weak that helps to kill the sexual, sinful desires in you. We should therefore be concerned with asking the Lord to make us weaker and weaker, not stronger and stronger. — Pastor Keith
Here is one of the many specific scriptural teachings of man’s fallen, evil nature. Jesus is not speaking of specific fathers who are especially cruel and wicked, but of human fathers in general, all of whom are sinful by nature. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 445)
We have been made for relationship with God. Therefore it is not surprising that we long to meet and know God. But the god we seek is the god we want, not the God who is. We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living his life, who stands with us and never against us, who gives us what we want, when we want it. We worship a god of consumer satisfaction, hoping the talismans of guitars and candles or organs and liturgy will put us in touch with God as we want him to be. (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 65-6)
It is the darkness of fallen human nature, a predisposition to embrace falsehood (cf. Jn 18:37) and to love corruption (Jn 3:19). It is the love of sin that John equates with blindness (Jn 9:41). It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the power and pervasiveness of this corrupting darkness. (David Wells, God in the Wasteland, 42)
Why do we press again this evidence of our fallen nature—our susceptibility to corruption which can mar or pervert even our ostensibly more ‘innocent’ activities? Because we would show that there is no remedy for the despair of the fallen human condition except redemption in Christ. Indeed, the more we try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, the more we open ourselves to new and subtler forms of corruption. (Harry Blamires; Recovering the Christian Mind, 80)
If you desire it you will ask it. Is there any place in any of your rooms where there is a little bit of carpet worn white by your knees? Or do you pray when you are half asleep at night, and before you are well awake in the morning, and scramble through a prayer as the necessary preliminary to going to the work that really interests you, the work of your trade or business? (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 339)
If you should ask me to state in one phrase what I regard as the greatest defect in most Christian lives I would say that it is our failure to know God as our Father as we should know Him. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 462)
Why did He now say, “If we then, being evil”? He did not say it because He knew He was essentially different from them. The speaker is the Son of God; not a man who is called Jesus, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. He does not include Himself in that “ye.” But He does include the whole of mankind. “Ye being evil” means that we not only do things which are evil, but that we are evil. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 462-3)
Jesus had no romantic view of human nature. It is evil. (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 328)
The Western world is not characterized by prayer. By and large, to our unspeakable shame, even genuine Christians in the West are not characterized by prayer. Our environment loves hustle and bustle, smooth organization and powerful institutions, human self-confidence and human achievement, new opinions and novel schemes; and the church of Jesus Christ has conformed so thoroughly to this environment that it is often difficult to see how it differs in these matters from contemporary paganism. There are, of course, exceptions; but I am referring to what is characteristic. Our low spiritual ebb is directly traceable to the flickering feebleness of our prayers: “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (Jas 4:2b-3). (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 117)
Needless to say, this view of human reason contradicts the biblical point of view as it has been explained in previous lessons. The fall of man involved the entirety of man; all aspects of his personality were corrupted by sin. As a result, reason is not the judge of truth; only God can act as such a judge. Moreover, sin has so affected mankind that even rational abilities are not neutral. Christians seek to use their reason in dependence on God. Non-Christians seek to be independent in their thinking; there is no neutral ground on which to deal with unbelief. Human reason can be as much a hindrance as a help to faith in Christ. As St. Augustine once said, “Believe that you may understand.” To rest our faith on independent reason is to rebel against God. Reason must rest on our faith commitment to Christ and our faith must rest on God alone. (Richard L. Pratt, Jr.; Every Thought Captive A Study manual for the Defense of Christian Truth, 74)
Biblical authority must never depend on human verification for it is the unquestionable Word of God.
The problem with much of the popular tactics used by many defenders of the faith today may be summed up as a problem of authority. The apologist must see clearly that the non–Christian is in need of forsaking his commitment to independence and should turn in faith to the authority of Christ. If however, trust in Christ is founded on logical consistency, historical evidence, scientific arguments, etc., then Christ is yet to be received as the ultimate authority. The various foundations are more authoritative than Christ himself. . . . if beliefs in Christian truth comes only after the claims of Christ are run through the verification machine of independent human judgment, then human judgment is still thought to be the ultimate authority. (Richard L. Pratt, Jr.; Every Thought Captive A Study manual for the Defense of Christian Truth, 79-80)
When we rely on self, and when we trust in ourselves instead of God, then our natural default is going to be to look to ourselves to find our salvation and our righteousness. And if we think we can achieve or merit God’s favor and blessing, then what do we need grace, forgiveness or mercy for?
Jesus spoke about this same subject when he told the parable of the two men who had come to pray.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:9-14).
The first thing that we need to come to terms with, in order for us to be saved, in order to us to grow in Christ, in order for us to mature, in order for us to be effective in the Kingdom of God; is for us to understand that WE ARE THE PROBLEM! And if we are the problem, we are not going to be the solution. We must forget about “doing” or “being” something on our own to solve our own problems and to save us from our sins.
It is our sinful nature, our deceitfully wicked hearts that trick us into believing we are OK and that everything will be OK if we simply do our best. That is where we go wrong. And it is only when we come to repent of our sinful self, that we will ever have a chance of becoming all that God desires for us to be. Likewise, the church must come to a point of corporate repenting of her sinful nature, if she is ever going to grow and mature in Christ. Therefore, we desperately are in need of God’s grace, forgiveness and mercy if we are to be saved and mature as Christians. — Pastor Keith
Unwise counselors may try to tell us we should fight the loss of feelings. Yet gluttony for spiritual feelings opens a wide door to the other appetites, including greed, overeating, sexual lusts, the hunger for power, and other sins. When feelings become the focus of our faith, religion becomes not a friend but an enemy, concealing the true state of our heart. We wonder why we fall into sin so soon after a seemingly powerful encounter with God. What we fail to realize is that our hearts were stolen by spiritual gluttony, not real reverence. We have been misled into believing that these feelings are an indication of the temperature of our hearts and the commitment of our will. They are not.
So God steps back. He stubbornly denies us the spiritual feelings with which we’ve grown so familiar. This is frequently accompanied by very dry periods, times when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling and our hearts feel like hot, dry sand. God does this so He can irrigate our desert with the cold water of pure faith, so He can break our addiction to the sensual and call us to the truly spiritual, and so we can humbly say, without doubt or need for reinforcement, “O God, You are my God, and I will follow You all of my days.” (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 186-7)
Thus confessing sin over the head of Jesus, until the heart has nothing more to confess but the sin of its confession–for, beloved reader, our very confession of sin needs to be confessed over, our very tears need to be wept over, and our very prayers need to be prayed over, so defaced with sin is all that we do–the soul, thus emptied and unburdened, is prepared to receive anew the seal of a Father’s forgiving love. (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 31-2)
Now this is the most alarming thing that we can ever realize about ourselves. Every one of us is subject to prejudice. There is not one of us that is free from it; the devil sees to that. And the prejudices are almost endless in number. So that when we come to the Scriptures we come with a prejudiced eye and we see what we want to see. That is what the heretics have always done, is it not? They have always quoted Scripture. Some of the modern heretics quote a little Scripture, not much, but even they do try to quote a little. And, if you take the Scriptures with the prejudiced mind and understanding you can make them prove almost anything you like. So the Jews were perfectly happy about themselves, because it seemed to them that the Scriptures everywhere were saying that they alone were saved and that everybody else was lost; whereas the truth was that they were lost and others were saved.
We must always beware of prejudice. We must never read the Scriptures without praying. We should never approach them without asking the Holy Spirit to lead us and to guide us and to direct us. We should deliberately humble ourselves, we should talk to ourselves and say, Now why am I going to the Scriptures? Am I going there only to find arguments to support my case, or am I going there to be instructed, to be enlightened, to have my eyes opened to the truth of God? We should always try to come as little children and be ready to find that we are wrong. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 9, 321)
The first law of prayer is this: remember to whom we are speaking, and the second law of prayer is this: remember who we are. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Romans, 394)
Calvin made an unguarded statement when he said babies are as depraved as rats. Now that was an unfortunate mistake. I wished Calvin would have never said that. That is one of the few places where I disagree with Calvin. Because it is a gross insult and injustice for the rats. — R. C. Sproul
Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around law. —Plato (Philip K. Howard, The Death of Common Sense, 99)
In the poem C.S. Lewis faces himself. He addresses his own depravity with a soulful sort of bravery:
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through;
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, reassurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin;
I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot my talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin. (Donald Miller; Blue Like Jazz, 21)
A brief look at the philosophical influence of Greece clearly reveals at least one component of American culture. But even here, early America knew both her legitimate heritage and what she would not borrow. Centuries have passed, and as America has grown and waxed strong, the belief that was once rejected–that man is the measure of all things–is now espoused. The conviction that was once held–the fallen nature of men–is now rejected. And in every sense of the term, a major conflict for cultural control has begun to emerge. (Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture, 40-1)
THE WAY TO GOD:
If my days were untroubled and my heart always light,
Would I seek that fair land where there is no night?
If I never grew weary with the weight of my load,
Would I search for God’s Peace at the end of the road?
If I never knew sickness and never felt pain,
Would I reach for a hand to help and sustain?
If I walked not with sorrow and lived without loss,
Would my soul seek sweet solace at the foot of the cross?
If all I desired was mine day by day
Would I kneel before God and earnestly pray?
If God sent no “Winter” to freeze me with fear,
Would I yearn for the warmth of “Spring” every year?
I ask myself this and the answer is plain;
If my life were all pleasure and I never knew pain,
I’d seek God less often and need him much less,
For God’s sought more often in times of distress,
And no one knows God or sees Him as plain
As those who have met Him on the “Pathway of Pain.” (Helen Steiner Rice)
III- God encourages His good and perfect will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven by teaching us and demonstrating the Golden Rule. (Mt 7:12; see also: Ps 19:7-14; 111:7; 119:128; Mt 6:10; 7:17; 12:34-35; Lk 7:47; Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40; Rom 12:1-2)
I think God is saying, “I want you to meet the needs of other people with all of the joy, all of the eagerness, all of the urgency, all of the ingenuity, creativity, and industry with which you meet your own needs. That’s the standard. That’s how I want you to live your life.” (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 40)
Only the person who sees that he is a beggar before the Lord and has nothing to offer–but has discovered that he is heir of the grace of God–will be sufficiently set free from self-centeredness of character to put others first, and to do to them what he would appreciate receiving from them. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 158)
For Jesus, the word of God is not an impossible complex of rules and regulations placed on men’s shoulders as a heavy burden. Rather, it is the outworking of this principle of love. Grasp this, and everything falls into place. That is his point.
The Christian life is indeed demanding, but in essence, its principle is simple. It is knowing the grace of God working so powerfully in your heart that you are freed from the mastery of sin and self over your life. You can now serve others and bring blessing to them as the Lord has brought blessing to you. This is the kind of clear-sightedness that arises from living in the light of the judgment of God your Father. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 159)
Furthermore, praying “Your Kingdom come” involves a commitment to do God’s will. Matthew’s record of the Lord’s Prayer expands this phrase: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10). To pray “Your kingdom come” is to pray for the bending of our wills in profound obedience to his. It is a commitment to consciously submit everything to his authority. (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. One, 157)
Human beings grow by striving, working, stretching; and in a sense, human nature needs problems more than solutions. Why are not all prayers answered magically and instantly? Why must every convert travel the same tedious path of spiritual discipline? Because persistent prayer, and fasting, and study, and meditation are designed primarily for our sakes, not for God’s. Kierkegaard said that Christians reminded him of schoolboys who want to look up the answers to their math problems in the back of the book rather than work them through…We yearn for shortcuts. But shortcuts usually lead away from growth, not toward it. Apply the principle directly to Job: what was the final result of the testing he went through? As Rabbi Abraham Heschel observed, “Faith like Job’s cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God, 207-8)
The greatest obstacle to effective spiritual leadership is people pursuing their own agendas rather than seeking God’s will. God is working throughout the world to achieve his purposes and to advance his kingdom. God’s concern is not to advance leaders’ dreams and goals or to build their kingdoms. His purpose is to turn his people away from their self-centeredness and their sinful desires and to draw them into a relationship with himself. (Henry & Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership, 23)
What if being human means to keep vigil, to long to be free, to battle with pain, to be discontented with the fallen world in which we live to weep, to hunger, thirst, to mourn to wait. What if to become inhumane is to accept this fallen world as the norm? (Paraphrase of Henri Nouwen; Reaching Out, 24)
This saying of Jesus has been called “the capstone of the whole discourse.” It is the topmost peak of social ethics, and the Everest of all ethical teaching. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 273)
Our Savior, in the foregoing chapter, had spoken of prayer as a commanded duty, by which God is honored, and which, if done aright, shall be rewarded; here he speaks of it as the appointed means of obtaining what we need, especially grace to obey the precepts he had given, some of which are so displeasing to flesh and blood. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 89)
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my Earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing . . . I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 119)
The only way we can live out the Sermon on the Mount is by appropriating the new life of God, which we receive as we come to faith in Jesus Christ and as we learn to ask God for the right inclinations and the power we must have to pursue them.
This must be why Jesus begins to talk about prayer again at this point, especially after he has already discussed it extensively in chapter 6. What he is saying here is that we need God’s power to do right in all areas: to work for spiritual treasure, to trust God rather than worry about the future, and to stop looking down on those we think are inferior to us. These verses (vv. 7-11) are an immensely important passage about prayer. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 108)
We are not to deal with others as others deal with us: this is mere selfishness and heathenism. We are to deal with others as we would like others to deal with us–this is real Christianity. (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 51)
We are the children of a Father who not only loves us but looks upon us and keeps His eye upon us. He will never give us anything evil. But beyond all, He will never lead us astray, He will never make a mistake in what He gives us. He knows everything; His knowledge is absolute. If we but knew we were in the hands of such a father, our outlook upon the future would be entirely transformed. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 464)
At first glance, such a suggestion seems to have it all backward. Shouldn’t faith become easier, not harder, as a Christian progresses? But, as Lewis points out, the NT gives two strong examples of unanswered prayers: Jesus pled three times for God to “Take this cup from me” and Paul begged God to cure the “thorn in my flesh.” Lewis asks, “Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.” (Philip Yancey; Disappointment With God, 208)
Worship Point: Worship the God who wants the best for all of us and continues to be gracious to us even when we consistently run away from Him.
This concept of prayer would place an impossible strain on every sensitive Christian if he knew that he was certain to get everything he asked. “If it were the case,” writes Alec Motyer, “that whatever we ask, God was pledged to give, then I for one would never pray again, because I would not have sufficient confidence in my own wisdom to ask God for anything; and I think if you consider it you will agree. It would impose an intolerable burden on frail human wisdom if by his prayer-promises God was pledged to give whatever we ask, when we ask it, and in exactly the terms we ask. How could we bear the burden? (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 188)
Gospel Application: Understand that the Gospel of what Jesus did for us is intended to not only save us but transform us as we more and more discover the extent of God’s gracious patience, forgiveness, mercy, and love for us. (Isa 42:6-7; Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:25-26; Lk 1:79; 7:47; Rom 12:1-2)
The reason why so few believers “through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body,” is, a forgetfulness that the work has to do first and mainly with the root of sin in the soul: “Make the tree good, and the fruit will also be good”; purify the fountain, and the stream will be pure. Oh, were there a deeper acquaintance with the hidden iniquity of our fallen nature,–a more thorough learning out of the truth,–that “in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing,”–a more heartfelt humiliation on account of it, and more frequent confession of it before God,–how much higher than they now are would be the attainments in holiness of many believers! (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 172)
It is strange that, while praying, we seldom ask for change of character, but always a change in circumstance. (Baptist Challenge, December 1981)
It has always been possible for people to keep the negative version of this rule, for it is essentially a sound and necessary legal principle. If we are to get along in a civilized society, we must discipline ourselves so we do not injure other people. We must obey the law, stop at stop signs, pay our bills, avoid overt acts of prejudice, and many such things. It is a bit like an honest man paying taxes. We do it because we must, while hoping we will have enough left over for ourselves after we have paid them.
How different when we look at our obligations positively. Now it is no longer a matter of legal principle, doing what needs to be done to get along or stay out of trouble. What is needed now is a transformed life, which is why we cannot keep the Golden Rule or any other standard of this sermon by ourselves. If we are operating by the law, our minds are on ourselves. To fix our attention on the needs, cares, loves, joys, hopes, and dreams of other people, we must be transformed people. In other words, we must turn from the demands of the law entirely to receive a new, spiritual life from God. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 109)
Look at the histories of some of the most eminent of God’s saints. What affecting confirmation do they afford to the most important truth we are now upon, that the creature left to itself is perfect weakness. If the angels in their purity, if Adam in his state of innocence, fell in consequence of being left in the sovereign will of God to their own keeping, what may we expect from a fallen, sinful, imperfect creature, even though renewed? Do we look into God’s blessed word, and read what is there declared, touching the power of a renewed creature to keep itself? How affecting, and at the same time conclusive these declarations are: “Having no might”; “Without strength”; “Weak through the flesh”; “Out of weakness were made strong.” Could language more forcibly set forth the utter weakness of a child of God? (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 191)
Spiritual Challenge: What is it you REALLY want? The things this world values (power, status, money, sex, reputation, health) or the things God values (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control)? You must choose (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13). Die to your old selfish agenda. Die to your old way of thinking. Seek the God Who is and as HE has chosen to reveal Himself. Do not seek the god of our preference, imagination, or desires. Pray for transformation of your heart and mind.
The secret of a joy filled life is to keep on coming.” (Stott’s exposition of John 7:37-39; Baptism and Fullness). A true Christian is always thirsty, always drinking. God promises that something miraculous will happen in your life. Keep on. Keep on trusting. Keep on believing. Keep on seeking. That is how we draw near to Christ and ultimately be filled with the Holy Spirit.
In fact, let me issue a warning: you’re inevitably headed for bitter disillusionment if you try to live out the Golden Rule under your own power, without allowing God to expand your heart and work through your life. If the Golden Rule appeals to your altruistic side and you’re thinking about pursuing it out of your own secular zeal, forget it.
When people don’t reciprocate, when they fail to express gratitude, when they take advantage of your generosity, when nobody seems to care that doing something kind for others is eating up your time, energy, and resources, you’re going to start getting cynical and wondering why you’re bothering.
But the apostle John wrote this about Christians: “We love because (God) first loved us.” He did something for us, and then he does something through us. (Lee Strobel ; God’s OUTrageous Claims, p. 161)
The non-Christian religious prophet views his rule as a requirement which man is able to fulfill in his own strength, or at best in the strength of someone or something other than the true God, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Scripture emphatically denies that he has this ability (Jn 3:3, 5; 2 Tm 3:2; Ti 3:3; etc.). Apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of God’s children obedience (even in principle) upon which God’s approval can fully rest is impossible (Rom 7:24; 8:3-8; Phil 2:12, 13; 2 Thes 2:13). (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 365)
The man who believes he was created to enjoy fleshly pleasures will devote himself to pleasure seeking; and if by a combination of favorable circumstances he manages to get a lot of fun out of life, his pleasures will all turn to ashes in his mouth at the last. He will find out too late that God made him too noble to be satisfied with those tawdry pleasures he had devoted his life to here under the sun. (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 94)
Depravity is man’s own way. (Chuck Swindoll, sermon “How Fights Are Started and Stopped”)
God does not always answer yes
To every prayer I pray;
Sometimes He answers, “No, My child,
I have a better way.” —Sherbert
Class is an intangible quality that commands, rather than demands, the respect of others.
This is because those who have it are truly considerate of others, are courteous and polite without being subservient, are not disagreeable when they disagree, are good listeners, and are at peace with themselves because they do not knowingly do wrong.
In short, people with class might well be defined as those who practice “The Golden Rule” in both their professional and personal life. —John Wooden
Throw away the excuses and face reality! The fact that you are grumpy in the morning does not mean that “you got up on the wrong side of the bed.” It means your old sinful nature is in control. Because you enjoy hearing some “dirt” about other people does not mean you have an inquisitive mind. It means that you are not abiding in Christ. Because you easily “blow your cool” does not mean you have a short fuse. It means you have a weak connection to Jesus. (Don Matzat; Christ Esteem, 125)
A BEAUTIFUL PRAYER
I asked God to take away my habit.
God said, No.
It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No.
His spirit is whole, his body is only temporary
I asked God to grant me patience.
God said, No.
Patience is a byproduct of tribulations; it isn’t granted, it is learned.
I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, No.
I give you blessings; Happiness is up to you.
I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, No.
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares
and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, No.
You must grow on your own! ,
but I will prune you to make you fruitful.
I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, No.
I will give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.
I ask God to help me LOVE others, as much as He loves me.
God said…Ahhhh, finally you have the idea.
Quotes to Note:
The progression in intensity also suggests that our sincere requests to the Lord are not to be passive. Whatever of His will we know to do we should be doing. If we are asking the Lord to help us find a job, we should be looking for a job ourselves while we await His guidance and provision. If we are out of food, we should be trying to earn money to buy it if we can. If we want help in confronting a brother about a sin, we should be trying to find out all we can about him and his situation and all we can about what God’s Word says on the subject involved. It is not faith but presumption to ask the Lord to provide more when we are not faithfully using what He has already given. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 444)
Jesus teaches that the law with its negative commandments (“You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery,” etc.) is fulfilled in obedience to the positive rule, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 5:21 ff.; 19:19; 22:39). Rom 13:9 is conclusive on this point, “For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if (there be) any other commandment, is summed up in this one rule, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 364)
God’s care is of course far more than even the best human parent can give, but it is never less. The point is not that human parents are incapable of cruelty or neglect of their children, but that our inbuilt assumption of what parenting ought to be like is a valid pointer toward the greater parental concern of the heavenly Father. The rhetorical questions depict what should be an unthinkable response to a child’s request, not merely the denial of the food they properly ask for (bread and fish, the Galilean staple diet as in 14:17; 15:34), but the cynical substitution of something which is superficially similar but is either useless (a stone; cf. 4:3 for the visual similarity to loaves of bread) or positively harmful (a snake, which might resemble an eel or the common catfish of the Lake of Galilee). (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 281)
In an essay on prayer, C.S. Lewis suggested that God treats new Christians with a special kind of tenderness, much as a parent dotes on a newborn. He quotes an experienced Christian: ” I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”
At first glance, such a suggestion seems to have it all backward. Shouldn’t faith become easier, not harder, as a Christian progresses? But, as Lewis points out, the NT gives two strong examples of unanswered prayers: Jesus pled three times for God to “Take this cup from me” and Paul begged God to cure the “thorn in my flesh.” Lewis asks, “Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.” (C. S. Lewis quoted by Philip Yancey; Disappointment With God, 208)
Thomas Aquinas, noted that persistence in prayer consisted not of asking for many things, but of desiring one thing. God Himself. This steadfastness brings about change in every parameter of our existence. Sincere prayer, based on God’s Word and led by His Spirit, builds character. It establishes order in a once-fragmented life because God is the author of order, not confusion. (James P. Gills, M.D., The Dynamics of Worship, 110-1)