Dr. Sinclair Ferguson says, “Knowing God as judge has a sanctifying and restraining effect on our lives” (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 150). In other words, reflecting on God’s perfect holiness drives us to recognize our own sin and deal with it before we judge others (Matt. 7:1–5). We begin to see who we are — depraved men and women who cannot merit the Lord’s forgiveness. This helps us to be merciful. If our Father in His infinite goodness can pardon us, surely we sinners can forgive others.
However, we still often find it hard to show mercy even when we know the Lord’s character. We still need wisdom to distinguish between those who will mock the Gospel and those who will not trample upon the good news (v. 6). Moreover, we are in desperate need of God’s help in order that we might live up to the high calling throughout the Sermon on the Mount to be salt and light (5:13–16), obey the law of Christ in heart and deed (vv. 21–48), abstain from hypocrisy (6:1–18), and serve the Lord wholeheartedly (vv. 19–34).
This need is the reason why our Savior returns to the subject of prayer in today’s passage. Living in conformity to His way is impossible if we attempt to do it in our own power. But if we persevere in prayer, seeking to be empowered by the Spirit to obey Christ with gladness, God will enable us to be faithful to His call (7:7–8). Our Father is generous and kind. He will not trick us and give us a stone that looks like bread when it is bread that we need, and He will not give us a snake if we need fish (vv. 9–10, some Galilean fish look like serpents). Our Creator will give us all the spiritual and physical resources we need to serve Him if we ask Him in faith (Mark 11:22–24).
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:7–11 does not assure us that we will get everything we want, only whatever we need. We are often unable to tell the differences between these things, but God does not have this problem. If we do not get what we ask for, let us therefore not think He has forgotten us. As John Calvin writes: “We must not think that he takes no notice of us, when he does not answer our wishes: for he has a right to distinguish what we actually need.”
We persevere in prayer knowing that our Father in His goodness will never withhold from us what we really need. We also need to recall, Matthew Henry says, that “we often ask that of God which would do us harm if we had it; he knows this, and therefore does not give it to us.” When the Lord does not give us what we want, let us remember that it is probably because what we want would be harmful to us. Even God’s “no” to us is evidence of His great love for us.
For further study:
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