The getting and giving of God’s goodness

In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus has just discussed an interactive dynamic of grace-and-truth that must exist amongst the brethren with boldness and discretion and without hypocrisy or haughtiness.  From there, however, Jesus seems to change topics.

In v7, he says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

It’s an imperative that summons followers to a constant tenaciousness—keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking—in their pursuit of something Jesus does not actually clarify here. With a follow-up comment“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened”—Jesus affirms their tenacity will be met with results. But other than tenacious prayerful pursuance, what exactly is Jesus calling us to so vigorously pursue?

He then introduces an illustration: “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

If even flawed fathers know how to give their children what is good, our faith and reverence should be strengthened when considering “how much more” our good Father is in giving what is good to we who tenaciously pursue it. So here now the nature of our tenacious pursuit is clarified as “what is good”. But what is meant by good?

A second look at Jesus’ illustration may help. The son in the illustration asks for a loaf or a fish. Neither of these are toys or pets, but food; items meant to give life. The other two items incredulously hypothesized are a stone or a snake, objects that will not provide life or be for the child’s good. The difference between these two sets of gifts is that which gives life to the child and that which doesn’t. The good we are to so tenaciously pursue from the Father, therefore, is that which manifests in the provision and preservation of life.

Now up until this point, it could seem this pursuit of the Father’s life-giving goodness has been laid out to us for our own personal benefit of health and happiness. In v12, however, Jesus adds “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

It now suddenly seems Jesus is reverting back to his theme of how his disciples are to interact with others. The therefore Jesus includes here hints this discussion has all along been framing how his followers’ pursuit of the Father’s life-giving goodness should be done on behalf of others as eagerly as we would do so for ourselves. Why didn’t Jesus simply mention it while discussing his disciples’ interactions with others in Matthew 7:1-6? Perhaps because good treatment can’t be properly understood until it is witnessed in the Father.

Jesus’ previous conversation in Matthew 7:1-6 exposed our human tendency to interact with people in ways that are hypocritical, focusing on the speck in their eye while ignoring the log in ours. In our hypocrisy, we demonstrate a strange willingness to treat people in ways we ourselves would never want to be treated. This oddity seems to suggest we may not actually know what good treatment looks like or how we want to be treated. If that is the case, we can’t yet claim to know how to treat others. Thankfully, however, Jesus took the time to establish it for us.

Jesus’ explanation in v11 establishes the Father’s life-giving goodness as the basis for how we perceive our value in His eyes. We now know we can trustingly and persistently beseech the Father for His good provision.

But just as v11 challenges us to see “how much more” the Father’s goodness is visited upon those who tenaciously pursue it, v12 immediately challenges us to also pursue that goodness on behalf of others. God’s goodness cannot be sought and kept simply for our own benefit; doing so defies the benevolent nature of God’s goodness and deprives our surrounding communities of its redemptive and transformative properties. If goodness is something we hope to seek and keep only for ourselves, it will never remain good.

I had hoped to post this article a few days ago, but several tragedies then suddenly struck—the shooting of a black man in Baton Rouge, a shooting of another black man in Minneapolis, and, last night, a reactionary mass shooting of police officers and some bystanders in Dallas.  As these tragedies open afresh the wounds of our local, national, and human communities, I hear Jesus’ words with new conviction as his imperative still speaks.

Kingdom citizens must keep asking the Father for the news and provision of His kingdom-centered goodness to be poured into the communities in which we continually witness.  We must keep seeking to be agents of kingdom-centered goodness in our communities through the kingdom-centered ways we live.  We must keep prayerfully knocking on every door that could open up and welcome God’s kingdom-centered goodness to enter and therein find a home.

As this “Law and the Prophets” essence continually calls the community of Christ to embody a love for our neighbors learned from our Father, how we give it witness can bring us all into a better understanding of “what is good” and from that understanding could come a greater awareness and assurance of the Father from whom goodness flows.

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