“Judging, Balancing, Asking, Seeking & Knocking”

Matthew 7:1-11

Up to this point in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been focusing on themes connected with the interior spiritual life. He has talked about our attitudes in giving, praying, fasting, materialism, and anxiety over material things. At the beginning of Chapter 7, Jesus moves to another area of our lives, the way we think of and treat others. Back in chapter 5, verse 20, Jesus called us to have a righteousness that was greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. That statement must have sounded outlandish to those hearing it for the first time. How could the poor, sick people sitting on a hillside, with little or nothing, possibly be asked to have more righteousness than the religious leaders? Verses 1-5 hits the nail right on the head. The religious leaders thought the best way to prove they were more righteous than others was to be more judgmental of others. 

Jesus comes right out and says to beware, when you pass judgment on someone else, be prepared to have the same level of judgment come upon you.

This verse has been taken out of this context and used quite often by those who obviously haven’t spent much time reading the Bible. Most of the people who quote this verse, don’t really know what Jesus was saying. They think, or maybe they hope, that Jesus was commanding some kind of universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching. Which is far from the truth. Jesus wasn’t telling the disciples not to assess the behaviors of each other. A little further on in this chapter, verses 15-16, Jesus will command us to know ourselves and others by the fruit of our lives. We need to have some sort of assessment process to do so. 

The process Jesus has offered is after assessing someone’s behavior, be careful how you take the next step and judge whether it passes a test of good or bad. As if God died and left one of us in charge. An example of the disciples passing unjust judgment was when they condemned the woman for wasting the oil by anointing the feet of Jesus, in Matthew 16:6-13. Jesus’ response was quite the opposite, He said she had done a good work that would always be remembered. 

Unfortunately, everyone in this room has managed to break this command when we:

  • Think the worst of others
  • Only speak to others of their faults
  • Judge an entire life only by its worst moments
  • Judge the hidden motives of others
  • Judge others without considering ourselves in their same circumstances

Most importantly, 

  • Judge others without being mindful that we ourselves will be judged

Jesus didn’t tell us NOT to judge others. He did, however, set a high bar for us to use when doing so. The standards we use to judge others, will be the standards by which we ourselves will be judged. As Christians, we so often forget this statement. And the world is quick to recognize it. Quite often Christians are pretty good and recognize what would be right and what would be wrong. It’s not the judging according to a standard that is the problem. It’s because we are hypocritical in applying our standards. Unfortunately, we often judge others by one standard and ourselves by another standard, which turns out to be far more generous. Jesus was aware of this hypocrisy. And were Jesus to judge any of us, we would all fail. 

Yet, we are told here that God will judge us in the same way we do others. If only we would remember that. I think we would be more generous and would offer more love, forgiveness and goodness to others. Judgment should only occur when we are mindful of the fact that we ourselves will be judged. A good question would be, how would I want to be treated were I being the one judged.  

Jesus provides a humorous illustration to help us remember this. You have one person, with a plank, or let’s picture a telephone pole sticking in their eye, trying to help a friend get the speck out their eye. Thinking about this picture has to make you smile. Jesus alludes to the fact that the person with the plank isn’t even aware of the problem. 

Good grief! 

That person is “blind” to their obvious fault, excuse the pun. 

Jesus calls this person a “hypocrite.” Have you noticed, we learn to walk around, ignoring the telephone pole sticking out of our eye, when everyone else can see it. Somehow we find a way to “justify” the telephone pole. A good example of this is David’s reaction to Nathan’s story of the man who unjustly stole and killed another man’s lamb. David quickly condemned the man, but was blind to his own sin, which was much worse. 2 Samuel 12. 

As we continue reading, it is important to note that Jesus didn’t say it was wrong to help our friends get the specks out of their eyes. He did, however, make the point that before doing so, we should be checking for the telephone poles in our own eye first. 

Jesus described this whole idea as a balancing act of love and discernment. 

He just warned us against judgmental attitudes and self-blind criticism, but He did not mean we were supposed to suspend all discernment. There were dogs and swine who did not deserve that which was holy or considered a pearl. Keep your wits about you. We are not to be oblivious or doormats. 

The Kingdom of God is here and the Message is precious.  Previously in this Sermon Jesus said we were to let our lights shine. Yet, we are reminded there will be those with hard hearts and who will reject the good news and ridicule it. It’s a balancing act of our time and effort. We will read later on how Jesus directs His disciples in the same manner as they are going from town to town sharing the Gospel. He tells them in Matthew 10:14, 

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Next, Jesus provides more instructions on prayer. In chapter 6 He taught us how to pray. Now He invites us to keep asking, seeking and knocking with our prayers. Do you see the progressive intensity, passion and persistence in these instructions? 

Do you also see the response God provides? 

  • Everyone who asks will receive. 
  • Everyone who seeks will find.
  • Everyone who knocks the door will open. 

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? I remember thinking so at the age of 13 when I began reading the Bible to strengthen  my walk with God. I would read a passage like this and take it at face value. I remember many times in my early walk with God having down right arguments with God over these verses. 

I recall praying for things, which I thought were things God would have wanted for me, only NOT to receive them. I spent time seeking, only NOT to find. There have been many doors I have knocked on and eventually had to climb out a window. Now at age 61, I can share that these verses certainly do contain a deeper meaning. That meaning begins with understanding and believing in the character of God. The image of the loving, attentive Father who wants to be asked, and is eager to give good things upon being asked. 

Jesus goes on to explain by comparing our Heavenly Father with our earthly Fathers. When it comes to providing the things necessary for us to exist, such as bread. He asks those sitting on the hillside,
“Would any of you give your son a stone?” 

The obvious answer would be, 

“No, nobody would do that.” 

If he asks for a fish, who would give a snake? Jesus was counting on the intuition that parents, even though we are messed up, would not give their children something useless or that would hurt them if they were to ask for something they needed. 

Jesus is asking us to envision that God is not out to get us. Instead, He is eager to provide for us what is good. Unfortunately, today, the son and father metaphor has negative connotations. Earthly father relationships can’t measure up to that of our heavenly Father so trusting that God has our back, no matter what can sometimes be difficult. 

Also, there have been attempts to figure this out by taking these verses and combining them with other verses from the Bible such as, 

John 14:13, 

“Ask whatever in my name and it will be answered,” 

and another one, Mark 11:24, 

“Whatever you ask in faith will be given to you.” 

What has been produced is an image of God who is like a vending machine. I put in my prayer, I push the correct buttons and Plooop, the answer I choose drops into the shelf below. Such fun! 

If you are a parent, or have been parented, you know what it means to be a “good” parent. Val and I have raised two children, and there have been times when others have looked in on our family happenings and have said, “You are spoiling those girls.” Maybe it was because we had children later in life that we didn’t see a problem with letting Lydia eat butter straight from the butter dish. 

She liked it, she was as skinny as a rail and we made sure to buy “real” butter, made of cream, not margarine or fake stuff. Whatever. I would be the first to say, if Lydia or Emily had an idea to do something, that sounded fun, and it was possible and wouldn’t hurt anyone, I would say, “Sure, let’s do it.”  In fact, I made a point to “Yes!” as much as possible. However, like most parents, contrary to those who said I was saying “yes” too often, there were times when I said “no.” If Lydia wanted butter, ten minutes before we were ready to eat a meal, I would say no. She wasn’t allowed to have butter right before going to bed. There were times when what was asked was not given.  Because we could see further down the road than they could. 

So, Jesus wasn’t advocating for a carte blanc process of prayer, where whatever was asked would be given. 

Just like responsible parents know when to say “No” Jesus isn’t saying that God is going to just give us everything we ask for. What Jesus is saying is that we are to see our relationship with God as a parent who is attentively involved with our lives and cares for us and wants us to ask for things, but the answers we receive will be ones that are for our best. 

Let’s say we can get ourselves to trust God, and we are convinced God is committed to us. Then comes another question: Okay, if I am going to ask for things, is God actually going to change things depending on what I ask? We were just told by Jesus in His teaching on how to pray, that God knows what we are going to ask, before we even ask Him, right? If you are like me, you would be asking right now, “If God already knows, why do I have to ask?” If God is going to do what He is going to do, and He already knows what is going to happen, why am I asking?

Jesus draws the opposite conclusion, based on the fact that God already knows what you are going to ask before you ask Him, Jesus says , “So… ASK HIM.” That is the motivation to ask the Father. Jesus gives us a vision of who God is and how He reacts with the world and interacts with us and our choices. Most of us have difficulty seeing God this way;

  • Genuinely relational
  • Reactive and responsive 
  • Desiring to interact with us

Jesus has a vision of the Father, as the sovereign that has designed everything for its purpose but has given humans a degree of freedom to make decisions that will make this ride as bumpy or as easy as they choose. Therefore, Jesus is teaching us that in God’s Kingdom, we are in a relationship, one that God wants to have with each of us on an intimate level. In order to do that, we need to be open and willing to ask, seek and keep knocking. 

God in turn, will grant us dignity by not giving us everything we ask for, or by making us do what He says we should do. Instead, He knows how to guide us, direct us and keep us. A good, good Father.

This is what the story of the Bible is all about. It’s about a relationship that God wants with His creation. The story begins with Adam and Eve, then Noah, then Abraham, then the Israelites, now Jesus. God knows how this story is going to unfold itself and how it is going to end. We also know at this point in the story that God is going to redeem His creation and come out victorious. At the same time, our world is a place where in our relationship with God we have the ability to make real failures and have real success. We get to choose to follow and obey, or to choose to reject and rebel. And Jesus is telling us that prayer is a crucial part of the decision process. Don’t do life without it.         Let’s pray.