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31. Growing In Kingdom Character (Matthew 7:7-12)

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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:7-12 (NET)

How can we grow in kingdom character?

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Christ has been teaching about the character of those in his kingdom. He began with the Beatitudes, which are eight characteristics that will be in the life of someone who is truly born again. They are the poor in spirit—they humbly recognize their bankruptcy and need for God. They are the mourners—when the world boasts over sin, true believers mourn their own and that of others. They are the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. All these characteristics ultimately lead to them being persecuted by the world (Matt 5:3-10).

Then Christ contrasted the false righteousness of the Pharisees with the righteousness of those in the kingdom (cf. Matt 5:20). The Pharisees lessened God’s commands, so they could fulfill them. They taught that if one had not committed murder, he had fulfilled God’s commands. But Christ taught that being angry with someone was to receive the same judgment as murder. They taught that if a person didn’t commit adultery, he had kept the law, but Christ taught if one had lusted, he committed adultery in his heart. The Pharisees practiced an outward righteousness alone, but God requires both outward and inward purity.

In Matthew 6, Christ described how the Pharisees made a show of their religion—they fasted, prayed, and gave to be seen by others, rather than to honor God. But Christ taught that kingdom citizens must practice secrecy—seeking to be rewarded by God instead of men.

In Matthew 7:1-6, Christ told the disciples to help others take specks out of their eyes—referring to personal sin—by getting rid of their own sin first and discerning the receptiveness of those they ministered to.

Anyone who has truly considered the standards of God’s kingdom becomes crushed by them. How can we love and bless those who hate us (Matt 5:44)? How can we at all times guard our eyes from lust (Matt 5:28)? How can we be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48)? Many who have considered Christ’s standards have left dejected. They have said to themselves, “If I can’t be perfect like God, why try?” Some turn to sin because they feel incapable of being righteous. Others condemn themselves and become depressed.

Christ realizes the difficulty of the kingdom’s standards and therefore teaches the disciples the secret to developing and maintaining them. Simply said, they must ask, seek, and knock.

Though this is not the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, it is Christ’s conclusion on teaching about the righteousness of the kingdom. In the rest of Matthew 7, he discusses how difficult it is to get into Christ’s kingdom—it is a narrow road, there are false prophets along the way, and many are prone to self-deception about their faith.

In Matthew 7:7-12, we will study how to grow in kingdom character.

Big Question: What principles can we learn from Matthew 7:7-12 about growing in kingdom character?

To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Pray for it

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

Interpretation Question: What exactly should believers ask, seek, and knock for?

Christ teaches that believers must ask, seek, and knock, and if we do, we will receive. This is obviously a call to prayer. Christ spent considerable time on prayer throughout his sermon, including giving the Lord’s Prayer, which is to be the believer’s pattern of prayer. The fact that he returns to it shows how important prayer must be for kingdom citizens. It has often been said that prayer for the believer is like oxygen. We must constantly give ourselves to it. Paul taught that we should pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17).

However, it must be noted that Christ does not tell us what to ask, seek, and knock for. Because of this, some have considered this prayer like a blank check. We can ask for anything, and if we have faith, we will receive it. But this does not recognize the context of Matthew 7:7-8. As mentioned, this is given in the context of the Sermon on the Mount—after Christ teaches about the great righteousness of God’s kingdom.

God never promises us that we will be wealthy, healthy, and free from problems. If we pray for those things, we have no Scriptural assurances that God will answer our requests. However, we do have promises that if we pray for God’s will, which includes us developing righteous character, God will positively answer.

First John 5:14 says, “And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” When we pray God’s will, we can be sure that he will answer that prayer. Therefore, in order to pray effectively, we must give ourselves to studying God’s Word to discern God’s will. God’s will, when properly interpreted, is meant to be pursued in prayer.

Christ’s promise of receiving when we ask, seek, and knock is true only when we are pursuing the will of the King. God promises to answer those prayers. Matthew 5:6 says, “‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” If we truly hunger to get rid of sin in our lives, if we truly hunger to be used to preach the gospel, if we truly hunger to have his peace, patience, love, and joy in our lives, God will give them to us. But, he commands that we pray for them.

We can discern that Christ is calling believers to seek the righteousness of the kingdom, not just by the context, but also as we consider the parallel passage in Luke 11:9-13. It says:

“So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

When Luke shares Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit for asking, seeking, and knocking, in the original language there is no article before Holy Spirit. When this happens, commentators believe this refers to the ministries of the Holy Spirit, instead of the person.

Do we want the Spirit’s peace? We must pray for it. Do we want God’s wisdom? We must ask? Do we want Divine love to love the unlovely? We must cry out for it. Are you crying out for righteousness? James 4:2 says that we have not because we ask not.

James Boice said our lack of prayer for righteousness explains a great deal of the weakness and powerlessness of the contemporary church. He adds:

Every now and then a minister is asked by some Christian, “Why is it that I cannot seem to find victory in the Christian life? Why does the Bible seem difficult to understand? Why do I still seem in bondage to some besetting sin? Why am I such a poor witness? Why do the high principles of Christian conduct have such little effect on my job and on the affairs of my family?” The answer is that you do not ask God for these blessings. You do not have because you do not ask.

“Why is it,” many a minister is asking, “that I do not have the power of God in my teaching? Why is the Bible so dead? Why are there so few persons being converted? Why are there no leaders to expand and reinforce the ministry?” Again the answer is simply that you are not praying.

“Why are there so few outstanding candidates for the Christian ministry?” many Christian laymen are asking. “Why is the church so weak, the preaching so poor, our impact upon our society so ineffective, our goals so unrealized?” Again God answers, “You are neglecting your prayer life.” You do not have because you are not asking.1

Are you asking?

Application Question: Why do believers commonly neglect praying for righteousness? What aspect(s) of righteousness do you feel God is calling you to currently seek him in prayer for and why?

To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Pray Persistently

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

In the original language, Matthew 7:7 is written in a present imperative. In considering this, Kent Hughes’ comments are helpful:

In the Greek language there are two kinds of imperatives. The aorist imperative gives one definite command, such as “shut the door” or “pick up the newspaper.” The present imperative, however, commands continuous action—“keep on shutting the door” or “keep on picking up the newspaper.” So our text really reads: “Keep on asking and it will be given to you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.”2

This means that Christ is not only commanding us to pray for kingdom character, but to pray persistently. It is one thing to occasionally pray to share the gospel, to stop using foul language, or to stop lusting. It is another to pray for those things constantly. To pray persistently shows that we desperately desire righteousness, and God rewards that type of fervor.

Again, in the parallel passage in Luke, Christ gives a parable right before calling believers to ask, seek, and knock to illustrate our need for persistence. Luke 11:5-9 says:

Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then he will reply from inside, ‘Do not bother me. The door is already shut, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though the man inside will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of the first man’s sheer persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Many know this type of persistence in prayer when a relative is deathly ill or when in a desperate financial situation, but few of us are persistent in prayer for righteousness.

Interpretation Question: Why is persistence in prayer needed to grow in kingdom character?

Persistence is needed because of our constant battle with sin and the evil one. We will stumble and make mistakes, but even when that happens, we must not give up in prayer until God delivers us. Also, the forces of evil line up to hinder any kingdom advances, whether they be personal or communal. Persistent prayer helps us win those battles.

If we are going to grow in kingdom character, we must pray with persistence. Like Christ in the wilderness praying and fasting for forty days, like his praying in Gethsemane for three hours before going to the cross, we must desperately and persistently seek the Lord for righteousness, and when we do, God will hear. God said this to Israel through Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13 NIV).

God is seeking for someone to come after him and his kingdom with all his heart and soul—to pursue him and his righteousness with prayerful persistence. When he finds that person, he will use him or her mightily for his purposes (2 Chr 16:9). Will you be that person?

Application Question: Have you ever experienced a time when you sought the Lord persistently and desperately for some aspect of righteousness? If so, what was the situation and what was the result?

To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Pray in Faith

Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:9-11

Interpretation Question: What does Christ’s illustration of the Father’s generosity teach believers about how they should pray?

Next, Christ gives a somewhat humorous illustration of a father being deceptive with his child to show our heavenly Father’s generosity and how we must pray in faith. He describes how human fathers, who have evil inclinations, generally provide for their children. If a child asked for bread, the father wouldn’t give him a stone. This probably referred to a round, flat stone one could find on the shore that resembled round, flat bread.3 In addition, if a child asked for fish, a father wouldn’t give him a snake. This probably didn’t refer to a live snake but a cooked snake. In Jewish law, snakes were unclean and therefore couldn’t be eaten (Lev 11:12). The idea, then, is that a father will not provide something spiritually harmful. Jewish fathers would typically provide for both physical and spiritual needs.4 It’s an argument from the lesser to the greater. Certainly, God, who is perfect and not deceptive, will provide for his children. By giving this illustration, Christ seeks to provoke faith in his disciples.

Scripture often teaches about our need for faith, as it is the doorway to receiving God’s good gifts, including salvation (cf. Eph 2:8-9). Consider the following verses:

Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8

He told them, “It was because of your little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 7:20

In order to receive God’s promises, including the promise of righteousness (cf. Matt 5:6), we must pray in total confidence of God’s character. If Scripture clearly promises something, we must believe those promises as we pray; otherwise, God will not answer. A doubleminded man will receive nothing from God.

It is for this reason that Satan always attacks the character of God. With Eve in the garden, Satan wanted her to think God was not good and that he didn’t have good plans for her—that God was withholding what was best. When she believed that lie, she sinned against God and missed his best. Doubting God and his plan for us will not only lead us into sin but rob us of many of his blessings.

Many can’t receive wisdom, the fruits of the Spirit, or freedom from some habitual sin, because of a flawed view of God—they doubt his goodness and therefore lack faith.

Application Question: How can we grow in faith so that we can receive God’s promises and therefore grow in kingdom character?

1. Faith is increased as we ask God for it.

Surely, faith to trust God, regardless of our circumstances, is something we must ask, seek, and knock for. If we truly desire it, God will provide it. In Luke 17:4-5, when Christ taught the disciples that they must forgive a person seven times in a day if they ask for forgiveness, they cried out, “Increase our faith!” They felt the impossibility of Christ’s command and cried out for faith. We must do the same as we recognize our lack of trust for God and his good plan for our lives.

Are you crying out for greater faith?

2. Faith is increased as we live in God’s Word.

Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (paraphrase). When we meditate on God’s faithfulness to his people throughout Scripture and the promises in his Word, it increases our faith. We must drink from Scripture daily, so we can not only pray in faith but live by faith. A person who is weak in God’s Word will be weak in faith.

Are you living in God’s Word?

3. Faith is increased as we walk with those who are strong in faith.

“The one who associates with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov 13:20). Wisdom in Scripture refers to knowing and obeying God. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When we walk with others who are serious about their faith and living it out, our faith is increased. However, when we are around those who are not serious about God or even disobedient, it will weaken our faith and our reception of God’s gifts.

Who are you walking with?

Application Question: In what ways has God strengthened your faith through prayer, time in God’s Word, and walking with godly brothers and sisters? How have you seen it weakened at times by lacking these? How is God calling you to pursue greater faith so you can enjoy more of his promises, including his righteousness?

To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Imitate God’s Loving Nature

In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

Finally, Christ gives what has often been called the “Golden Rule.” We must treat others as we would want them to treat us. Often it is thought that the Golden Rule originated with Christ; however, this truth has been taught in many religions and ancient societies. Confucius said, “Do not to others what you would not wish done to yourself.”5 Also, Rabbi Hillel, when summarizing the law, said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”6 Therefore, this seems to be a form of natural law that God has written on the hearts of people since the beginning of time (Rom 2:15); no doubt, it is a remnant of being made in the image of God.

However, it has been noted that ancient versions of the Golden Rule are always given in the negative, while Christ gave it in the positive. Christ’s version of the Golden Rule is much harder and demanding. It is one thing to not steal. It is another to generously give to others. It is one thing to not slander someone; it is another to always edify them with our words. The negative version calls us to not sin, but the positive version calls us to love. As Christ said, to love summarizes God’s commands in the law, and ultimately the Sermon on the Mount.

Interpretation Question: Why does Christ give this in the midst of teaching believers to seek after kingdom character?

The ESV translates the verse, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” “So,” or it can be translated “therefore,” connects to Christ’s teaching of how God graciously provides for his children when they ask him. Consequently, Christ is teaching that we grow in kingdom character by imitating our Father’s loving and generous nature. We must love others just like our Father loves us. Consider the following verses:

Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

Therefore, believers can never become content spiritually—the standard is too high! We must love like God. We must forgive others like God forgives us. We must serve others like God serves us. To grow in kingdom righteousness, we must imitate God by increasing in the knowledge of him through study of his Word and walking with him.

Are you imitating the Father by treating others with love?

Application Question: What makes the Golden Rule so challenging? In what ways is God challenging you to treat others like you want them to treat you?

Conclusion

The standards of God’s kingdom are impossible to achieve through human power. Therefore, the natural question that arises when seriously contemplating Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is, “How can we grow in kingdom character?”

  1. To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Pray for it
  2. To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Pray Persistently
  3. To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Pray in Faith
  4. To Grow in Kingdom Character, We Must Imitate God’s Loving Nature

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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1 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 237). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

2 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 234–235). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 237). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 445). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 190). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

6 Guzik, D. (2013). Matthew (Mt 7:12). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

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