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Newtown Bible Church

Prayer and the Goodness of God, Pt. 2 (Matthew 7:7-12)

 

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to belike. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.” (Tozer).

 We are to faithfully pursue God in prayer and humbly reflect His love in life, that we may know and display His glorious character to the world. To accomplish this Jesus will give us 2 encouragements to pray, and one exhortation to obey.

We considered the 1st encouragement last week, namely that God hears our prayers and promises to answer those those who are pursuing Him. 2nd encouragement to prayer is:

 

God’s character is supremely good, wise, and trustworthy

Character: “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” The character of God as infinitely better and greater than the character of the best fallen person.

Correct our wrong thinking about ourselves & God.

(1) Appeal to a common understanding of familial love.

(9-10) “What man among you” - The scene is common enough, a father giving the request of his child - all understand the natural love that exist between a father and his children. The normal desire of any parent worthy of the title is to provide what is good for their children.

“Bread” - a common item; “Fish” - also common, and remember Jesus is speaking to them in the region around the Sea of Galilee - possibly in view as He speaks these words - where fishing was a main trade. Both items mentioned were staples in the ancient world in that region - note the two feeding miracles (Matt. 14:17f; 15:34f).

The first striking element of the illustration: “he will not give …”

“Stone” light colored & sometimes flat stones of the wilderness, which could have the appearance of bread (4:3).

“Snake,” not necessarily a poisonous one, but a snake nonetheless. It has been suggested He could have in mind an eel that looks like a snake but was unclean under Mosaic Law, and was not edible. Either way the point is the same - it would be cruel.

Lk. 11:12 ADDS “Or, if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?” It is said that when certain scorpions curl up into a ball they look exactly like an egg.

POINT: To do any of these would be a universally recognized act of cruelty and deception. All, believing and unbelieving, recoil at the thought of so treating a child. Only the most wicked would do such a mean and cruel spirited thing. He is playing off the obvious; this would be absurd!

Everyone among the disciples and the crowds would be shaking their heads. So, now that the Lord has everyone at a place of common agreement, He moves in to make His point …

(2) Striking Reminder of our true condition.

“If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children” [Stop right there] Now, giving food to a hungry child is a “good” thing, it displays compassion, trustworthiness, concern, love, and dependability.

But here is the first contrasting element; “You do that,” He says, “And you are evil!” - ponhro/ß “morally corrupt.” Now, He could have left this comment out and the flow of His statement would have worked just fine, but He did not! Because He wants to make a stark contrast so that the point would be all the more clear.

Pretty devastating blow to the pride of man, and particularly to the self-righteous among the crowd (maybe some here this morning). We think too highly of ourselves; Jesus is correcting/adjusting our thinking.

Fallen man assumes natural goodness (ancient heresy of Pelagius, Augustine’s opponent [said we are basically good, Adam’s sin only affect him, and we have the choice to choose good or not. This is always the default heresy of fallen man). Jesus says just the opposite, far from being naturally good men are by nature ponhroi.

 

“We call one another good, without considering how evil; and wise, without considering how foolish; mighty, without considering how weak, and knowing , without considering how ignorant. No man, but hath more of wickedness than goodness; of ignorance than knowledge; of weakness than strength.” (Charnock).

 

Christians get this: “I know that no good thing dwells within me, that is in my flesh”

Believers are regenerate, born again, and have the Holy Spirit, but also have remaining sin that dwells in our unredeemed humanness. Whatever natural love that exist between you and your children is by God’s common grace and not my your own goodness.

However, that being said, the point is not to emphasize the sinfulness of man - simply a given - but the glorious goodness of God; this is saturated with gospel truth.

 

(2) Conform our thoughts to the truth of God’s character

“how much more shall your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?” - SIMPLE POINT: If your children can trust you to do good, and you are evil, how much more can you trust your heavnely Father to give you what is good (cf. 5:42). *A favorite teaching method (6:30).

Think about, He actually has to remind us that the goodness of God far exceeds the relative goodness of men. Our thinking is so skewed by sin and unbelief! Our own conceptions of God fall abysmally short of the majestic, infinite glory of God! The Lord is not talking about the general reality of God’s goodness, but specifically His goodness toward His children. He is speaking of God’s basic attitude, or disposition toward His own.

Jesus is correcting the way we think about God with a gentle reminder of his superior character.

We approach God in prayer as we conceive of Him in our minds.

(ILLUST: 1 Kings 18:20f [priests of Baal cut themselves and danced around like fools trying to coax their god to act on their behalf; they thought God was altogether like them! Elijah simply called on the God who is to glorify Himself and graciously manifest Himself to His people.

You know even Christians can have these wrong perceptions and approach God in an unworthy manner. If we think God is stingy, we won’t be encouraged to ask; if we think He is harsh, we may be afraid to ask; if we think He is unconcerned and aloof, won’t think there is much use in asking.

But if we know God is not reluctant to give his gifts, but rather delights in it; that He delights in showing the abundance of His goodness to His children, we’ll be encouraged to seek Him. Is this how you think of God?

We sometimes think of God’s goodness as being like ours, only a little better. But let me briefly note at least 3 reasons for the superior greatness of God, and then note two key passages:

(1) God’s goodness is superior because He is good to those who are so profoundly unworthy of it, but rather deserve wrath

In other words, it is not earned but is given by the free liberality of God. It is free unmerited goodness.

Jesus has already addressed this aspect of God’s goodness in (5:45). It is a common theme of both the OT (Psalm 145); and the NT (Acts 14).

This is a stark contrast to man, since we tend to be good to those we think deserve it, or are worthy or our being good to them (many Christians act no better than unbelievers in this area). But it is this very fact that magnifies the superior glory of God (TURN TO Rom. 5:6-10).

(2) God’s goodness is superior because it is from His own nature.

Man’s goodness is a reflected goodness; even the best of man’s goodness is but a meager reflection of the infinite goodness of God whose image we bear - as the warmth of the sun felt on a summer day is but a small portion of its full and blazing heat. Or, as the moon on its own it is cold, lifeless, and grey but is beautiful and useful when reflecting the light of the sun [thought of this morning]).

God is goodness; there is no concept of goodness apart from Him. “There is no one good but God.”

(3) God’s goodness is superior because it is immutable. Our goodness is not always dependable, nor it is felt or expressed consistently to the same degree, but this is not so with the goodness of God.

Micah 7:18 Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love” (cf. Ps. 100:5; 107:1; 118:1).

Now, I want to narrow it to 2 key statements:

(1) First is in the OT Ex. 33:19; 34:4-6 [Moses asked to see God’s glory, He showed him His goodness! A glorious goodness that included forgiveness, patience, mercy; His goodness permeated them all].

(2) Second is in the NT John 10:11, 14 “I am the Good (oJ kalo/ß) Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep” (cf. 15:13).

Goodness & love are twin brothers. Now it is possible to do a good deed for someone and not love them, however, it is not possible to love someone and not do good to them!

God has demonstrated & proved His love for His children, His elect, at the cross in an infinitely and immeasurable display of Divine love. Will He not also in equal measure seek always to do us good? Thus, Paul’s statement: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, will not not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

If God the Father to crush God the Son and cause His suffering in order to secure forgiveness for His sinful, rebellious creatures who rightly deserved that wrath; And if God the Son was willing to endure humiliation and suffering, bearing the weight of our sin by enduring the wrath of God; and if God the Holy Spirit grants new life and faith and guidance to such unworthy subjects. Then will He not also give what is good to HIs children

If we could at once grasp the infinite glory, grandeur, and wonder of God’s holy and majestic character and the infinite and inexhaustible resources of His goodness toward His children, then we would be overwhelmed with gratitude and greatly encouraged to seek His face in prayer. (Eph. 1:3; 2:5; 3:20-21).

For “if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more your Father who is in heaven ... who is infinite, immutable, perfectly good, who did not spare His own Son that He might make you sons … give what is good to those who ask Him.”

Some in the midst of trials doubt God’s goodness, but the cross will not allow us who know Him to do that.

*Let’s note our final consideration under this encouragement to trust God’s character. (1) Correct out thinking (2) Conform our thoughts, now (3) …

 

Commit our prayers to His superior wisdom

 

Consider the illustration again: “he will not give him a stone ... snake will he?” Sometimes, Christians may feel that God does in fact give them a stone, snake, and a scorpion. We ask but don’t receive, seek but don’t find, knock but it isn’t opened.

You pray for something that never happens. You pray for something good and something bad happens instead. You pray for relief and it never comes. Did God not give you a stone and a snake?

The Greeks had gods like that; one account tells of Aurua was a Greek goddess who loved a mortal by the name of Tithonus. Zeus, wanting to give a gift to Aurua offered her one wish on behalf of Tithonus. So, she, because of her love for him, wished that he would never die. However, she forgot to ask that he remain forever young, therefore Tithonus was cursed to be in a perpetual state of growing older and older but never experiencing the relief of death.

 

"but when loathsome old age pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs, this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in a room and put to the shining doors. There he babbles endlessly, and no more has strength at all, such as once he had in his supple limbs." (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite)

 

God is not cruel like that; He does not have some sinister delight in tricking us and causing us to suffer from our own ignorance.

This is why it is absolutely crucial to be grounded in the character of God, because the wisdom of God does at times ordain things contrary to what we would expect or even makes sense. He knows what is good and what is best.

As we noted last week, prayer is encompassed within the ultimate, sovereign will of God. How all this works is a mystery, yet the Bible clearly reveals it to be so. God is sovereign and has ordained all things. Yet prayer moves the hand of God. Somehow our prayers, or lack of prayer, are included within the sovereign will of God.

With this, it is important to note that we pray in submission to the will of God. That is, our understanding is imperfect and limited, therefore we pray with a real degree of ignorance as to what is best and wisest.

But God, in His goodness, has made provision for our ignorance (Rom. 8:26). We don’t even know how to pray as we ought and so the Spirit has to intercede with groans to deep for words. Yet, even in our ignorance it is trust in God’s character and word that assures He is in fact working all things together for good (Rom. 8:28).

So, when His children pursue Him in prayer, trusting in His wisdom and goodness, it is with restful submission to Him to do what is best.

Sometimes a trial, a different answer, a time to wait, are part of God’s good and wise answer to us.

 

“If we ask for something which we think to be good, but which he knows to be evil, he will withhold it, even as any judicious human parent must often do. It is really a part of the privilege of prayer that God will withhold, if he sees best. Were this not the case, the wisest and best persons might often be slowest to ask, for they know how often their judgment as to what was best has proved erroneous. But as it is, we may ask without apprehension for whatever we think is best, and our perfectly wise and perfectly kind Father will give that, or something which He sees to be better.” (Broadus).

 

So, we “ask … seek … knock,” and sometimes He ordains a trial in response to our request. We pray for sanctification, humility, love, more faith and He brings a difficult situation our way:

(1) Teach Humility - 2 Cor. 12:7-10 (not exalt in self, recognize dependence)

(2) Teach Contentment - Phil. 4:11-12 (not rely on circumstance, but Christ)

(3) Teach Perseverance - Romans 5:1-5 (not give up in adversity, but press on)

*So, God gives 2 Encouragements to prayer (1) He promises to bless those who pursue Him; (2) God’s character is supremely good, wise, and holy. Now He will finish this section by giving …

 

One Exhortation to Obey

We are to walk in love

“In everything, therefore” - “Therefore” - He is now applying what has just been taught a profound conclusion to His teaching. Not only for this section, but for everything that has been said in the entire Sermon. POINT: If we so expect God to treat us with kindness, then we are to reflect toward others the same character qualities of God that we want Him to display to us - namely, love.

treat people in the same way you want them to treat you” - the Golden Rule, well known from this passage. Pagan religions and philosophers have long has similar statements:

Confucius: “Do not unto others that which you would not they should do unto you.” (statements like that, his name should be ‘Confusion’)

Another notes that “A Greek biographer of Aristotle relates that, being asked how we should behave towards our friends, he answered, ‘As we should wish them to behave toward us.”

Finally, Rabbi Hillel (likely alive during the time of Christ) was once told by a man that if he could explain the whole to him while standing on one foot he would become a proselyte. To this Rabbi Hillel responded, “What is hateful to thee, do not do to another. This is the whole law; the rest is explanation of it.” (these could be multiplied).

Theirs are mostly negative, the Lord’s positive - exceeds the thinking of fallen man and puts into positive action of love.

At first glance the statement can appear to be selfishly motivated to say that the motivation is solely so that they will treat you well. However, that is badly miss the Lord’s point here. The only imperative is the command to treat others with deference. The statement “as you would have them treat you” is not the motivation of the act, but the standard by which your relationships (and the act) are to be carried out.

“for this is the Law and the prophets” -

“Law” - Mosaic Law. The authoritative standards by which the people were to govern their relationship with God and with each other. The summary of which is given in the Decalogue, or 10 Commandments.

“Prophets” - God’s heralds to His people to call them back to righteousness, to obedience to the Law.

By “Law and prophets” Jesus simply means all of the OT, and so end the inclusio, which began at *5:17 - explaining true righteousness.

It is a point the Lord, and the NT will make repeatedly: love your neighbor is the single summary and motive behind every ethical command and activity in Scripture (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4-6; (Matt. 22:39-40; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-14; James 2:10-13). Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

(b) Reflection of God’s Character.

In other words, the calls to obedience were never, nor is the Lord’s statement here simply a call to live some moralistic life. As a matter of fact, rightly understood this statement crushes that kind of self-righteous mind-set.

If you were to ask an unbeliever, why should God let you into heaven, no doubt they would say (as I have heard every time), because I try to be honest, I haven’t hurt or murdered anyone, etc. Basically, I treat my fellow man well - I seek to obey the Golden Rule.

I find it interesting that nobody every says, because I seek to love God with all my heart and bring Him glory with my life. It is because for fallen man, man is the center of the universe.

But to the prophets, this attitude of righteousness within the covenant community was based on repentance toward God *(Isaiah 1:17). In other words, the pattern was this: repent toward God, remove the wickedness from among you and turn your heart towards YHWH, and prove this by repentance by changing the way in which you deal with one another.

Obedience is never to be viewed as acceptable apart from devotion to God, humility before His holiness, and trust in His grace. This is why all man’s good, and or religious deeds are “filthy rags,” and in indicting all men the apostle can say: “There is none who does good, no not one” - that is apart from a genuine faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ .

 

Notice: 1) this represents the 2nd half of the decalogue 2) the 2nd half of the decalogue is dependent upon the 1st - **The order is very important! In other words, love to neighbor is the fruit of love to God.

Thus in Deut: “Love the LORD your God … teaching them to observe”; Jesus “If you love Me THEN you will keep my commandments”

Thus, the real matter behind the Law, behind obedience, is love. It is the affections and desires of the heart.

In other words, you will “treat others as you would have them treat you” when you see that exercise of love for them, are motivated in it, and have has your goal through it the love and glory of God in Christ. Not apart from Him.

So, He concludes this section dealing with the heart of righteousness, love to God as manifested in love to your neighbor (in that order). So, I want to take you to just one other passage to close our thoughts this morning. Turn with me to Ephesians 4:32.

 

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