“‘7 Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Of if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.’”
At first glance, it is difficult both to see how this section follows on the section before it and to see the connection between verses 7-11 and verse 12. Jesus speaks at length here of the wonderful, giving character of the Father, and then makes a concluding statement in verse 12, “’So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.’” How does this last sentence relate to what He has just said about trusting in the giving character of our heavenly Father? And how does the teaching on prayer relate to the previous section on judging?
In order to try to answer these questions, it would be helpful to look back. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has been giving His listeners a greater vision of the wonderful character and purposes of their heavenly Father. God the Father is the One who sees in secret, who is ready to give them the treasure of heaven, who will satisfy their longings for righteousness and mercy. This God intends for His people a true righteousness, one that exceeds mere morality. Jesus has sought to feed their trust in the purposes and activity of this One who created them, and who is their heavenly Father.
At the end of chapter 6, Jesus tells His readers to put God and His kingdom first in their priorities, and everything else will follow from that. This is the context for the section previous to the one we are looking at—the section on judging. Jesus began that section of teaching by commanding His listeners, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” He warns them that when they attempt to speak a word of judgment, when they attempt to announce a word against another, they will receive judgment in the same measure. When we looked at this section, we noted that Jesus is warning against judging others and yet encouraging His listeners to be discerning at the same time. We are not to judge in the sense of giving “the last word” on someone else. But we are to participate in Jesus’ work in our lives and in the lives of others by trusting that He has the “last word”--the last word on them and even on us as well.
What we found in our study of the previous section is that our relationships with others are to be lived out in the context of seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness. We can’t really see others, or ourselves, clearly if we attempt to see them outside of the context of the good character and purposes of our heavenly Father. We are tempted to judge others, to notice the speck in their eye, because we lose sight of the real presence and work of the triune God. We may feel it is up to us to make a decision about another.
So now, in today's section, Jesus encourages His listeners to seek out their heavenly Father with repeated assurances that He is the Father who is ready to be found and to give. He goes on to compare our heavenly Father’s supreme ability and willingness to give to His children with what we, as earthly parents, are willing to do for our children. We can see that the previous section on discerning and judgment is hemmed in on either side by Jesus’ admonition to His listeners to seek from their Father in heaven with assurance of His generosity. First Jesus tells them to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness and that “all these things shall be yours as well.” Here, we have the theme again of receiving from a giving God.
In the context of the whole sermon, it is clear that Jesus is encouraging His listeners to ask (and to seek and to knock) for God’s good rule to be done, for His reign to be active in their lives. He has already taught them to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”. He has helped them to see how good and life-giving this kingly rule of His Father is. And it is interesting to me that most of this section is about the goodness of God towards His people. As in the earlier sections of this sermon, Jesus is concerned to feed the faith of His listeners in the God He has come to reveal. As T.F. Torrance says, He presents God to us as “…One who hears and answers prayer and who gives us the freedom to come personally before him with our petitions.” (The Mediation of Christ, p.12)
Jesus concludes this section with the command, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” By using the word “so”, Jesus indicates a connection between seeking out the giving God and how we are to treat one another. This verse, known popularly as “The Golden Rule,” is most often quoted as if it stands alone, as if it had no context. But here we see that the context is crucial to Jesus—the command is a conclusion to His teaching on the giving character of God and to His command that they seek and ask from this God since He will surely give to them His kingdom.
It is because of who God is and because we can depend on Him to be the heavenly Father Jesus reveals Him to be that we can be freed to treat others the way we hope to be treated. There is no need for us to have the last word or condemn others since we are not dependent upon them for the good things we need nor do we have to provide them the ultimate things they need (and only God can give!). We don't need to fear their judgement of us either, since they don't have the final word about us. I wonder if part of why we are at times so quick to judge others is because we feel threatened by them, or we feel that they are letting us down. Are we asking something from them that only God can give us? Do we feel we're expected to do something for another that really only God can do? It is hard sometimes to initiate with grace towards others, isn’t it? We want them to make the first good move, or we want a guarantee that our treating them graciously will lead to something good for us. It's hard to be loving and gracious if, in our relationships, there really are "strings attached."
But when we first receive from our heavenly Father, we can then freely act in grace towards another because we are not keying off of, or being dependent upon, them and their response to give us our identity or our life. In other words, we can keep the Golden rule when we live as if we have a good and giving God who is over us and over our neighbors. We do not have to be God to or for others and they don't have to be God over or for us. So we can treat others in a way that we would want them to treat us (whether they do or not!). In entrusting ourselves to God who knows the truth and who is gracious and giving, we are freed from both giving a last word to, and receiving a last word ( especially a condemning one) from others. When all our strings are attached to God, we can love each other with no strings attached.
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