Sermon on the Mount: The Golden Rule
Chapter 7 Verses 7-12
We’re picking back up in Matthew 7 this morning. Last week, Mike took us through verse 6 of chapter 7. The first 6 verses of this chapter are mostly about judging others, and we have these really fun illustrations of logs and splinters and dogs and pearls and pigs, oh my!
Verse 7 is a little bit of a shift in focus…it’s a continuation of the sermon, but it’s also the beginning of a new thought, and I have to say I really enjoyed studying this passage for this morning, and I pray you are blessed by it too.
We’re going to cover through verse 12 today. Matthew chapter 7, verses 7 through 12. Let’s start by reading our passage in full:
Matthew 7:7–12 CSB
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him. 12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Flow and Structure
One of the things I sometimes struggle with when reading through the teachings of Jesus is just following his train of thought as he’s speaking.
Can anyone else relate to that?
I mean, sometimes it’s pretty straightforward, but if you really make an effort to follow not just one isolated saying, but the cohesive message across consecutive statements, several verses or even several chapters! In this case, this whole section of teaching, the sermon on the hill, spans across 3 chapters, and covers a variety of topics, while still offering a cohesive message.
But that cohesion can sometimes be a challenge to trace, if we’re being honest! Even just across a few verses, and part of that is simply due to cultural differences. But part of it is also just personality! Did you know Jesus has a personality?
It’s true! He’s human! Of course he has a personality! And just as Jesus is both divine AND human, scripture, inspired by the Holy spirit is both divine AND human, and with the humanity comes personality!
We have several different teachers, different authors and voices, throughout the whole Bible of course, but even just throughout the New Testament, all in roughly the same cultural context, and all with the same message, but with different teaching methods and speaking and writing styles!
So, naturally, some people “connect” really well with some authors more than others. Some people might really connect with teachings directly from Jesus, while for others it might really click when reading the writings of James or Paul, or even John’s gospel account verses Matthew’s or Luke’s. Of course they’re all valid and good, and that variety of personality is part of what makes scripture so beautiful!
Anyway, when it comes to sections of teachings, when Jesus is preaching, I personally can really find it challenging to follow, and I do think part of that is not even because of culture or personality, but because being God and all, his every word is just so loaded with significance and meaning, and the concepts he was presenting are so profound that he literally, intentionally, chose to speak in riddles at times so that the people listening had no clue what he was really talking about! That actually kind of bothers me sometimes!
Thankfully, our passage today is NOT a time he chose to speak in riddles, and it’s a fairly practical passage.
Though it did take me looking at it several times before it really “clicked” in my head, I eventually saw a pretty clear structure to this passage, and I think I can actually understand the flow of thought Jesus was expressing here.
This is at least one way you could break it down:
- 7-8: Principle
- 9-11: Illustration
- 12: Application
In verses seven and eight, Jesus gives his listeners a general principle of truth. It starts off in the form of a directive, a command, to ask, seek, and knock. But he’s describing a theological, kingdom of God concept which he then goes on to explain.
In verses nine through eleven, Jesus gives an illustration of this theological concept that’s relevant to his listeners in their immediate, earthly context.
Then, in verse twelve, Jesus provides a direct application, a command that shows how this principle should affect his listener’s daily lives.
So, we’ll look at each of these 3 sections of the passage individually today, but here’s a summarized overview of what I’ve found in this passage.
First of all, what’s the principle? There are a couple different ways you could try to summarize the message of verses seven and eight, but as far as the theological truth and its contextual relevance, I would state it as simply this:
God is generous. God, the all-powerful king of the universe is generous to his creation, and we have access to that generosity.
Ok, so what’s the Illustration? Jesus gives an illustration of an earthly parent having the ability and motivation to care for their children. With the understanding that humans are inherently corrupted by sin, and yet are still able to give what is good and beneficial to their children, how much more so will our perfect Father in heaven be able to give what is good and beneficial to us?
And finally, what’s the application? Verse twelve is the application, it starts with “therefore.” Because of this theological truth, because God is so generous and because we expect to receive FROM God, we must be generous towards others. And in fact, one of the ways God IS generous to humans is by using other humans to be gifts to each other.
Pretty cool, huh?
Of course, we’re talking about generosity again, and Jesus WAS talking about generosity just a few verses ago, he has already brought up money and wealth, and generosity in that context. So it is a continuation of that theme of generosity, but now he’s talking about so much more than money. In fact, I’d say that material wealth has very little to do with what Jesus is saying in this context.
Remember, the most important underlying concept throughout the whole sermon is the arrival of the kingdom of God: what it looks like, how to be a part of it, a citizen of it, what life looks like in the kingdom of God, its economy and culture.
This whole passage serves to shed light on all of that, and connects to the rest of the sermon by that thread. It calls back to previous statements about the kingdom, as well as sets up a whole bunch more about the kingdom in the verses that follow.
I’ll bring up a couple ways in which it does so specifically, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind, that ALL of this fits into the context of the kingdom theme.
Verses 7-8: Principle
Alright, let’s take a closer look at verses seven and eight.
Matthew 7:7–8 CSB
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
First, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the structure of these verses. Mike pointed out the chiasm last week, which has a poetic and aesthetic beauty to it, but also helps as a memorization tool.
Let me ask: how many of you have heard these two verses, or at least some part of them in some form before?
One good reason that this verse has been quoted so much is that it too was designed to be memorized and repeated. (There are other, bad reasons the verse has been quoted too, but we’ll get to that).
These two verses are two poetically repetitive sentences in a way that makes them easy to grab onto and remember…it’s a saying that is meant to be quoted over and over again! It’s not a chiasm, but there is a parallel structure that serves the same purpose.
- ASK...it will be given.
- Someone who asks receives.
- SEEK…you will find.
- Someone who seeks finds.
- KNOCK…the door will be opened.
- Someone who knocks gets the door opened.
Basically, Jesus says the same thing twice. Actually, he says the same thing six times! Each of these three points, Ask, Seek, and Knock, are parallel to each other…they’re slightly different ways to describe the same concept, and he repeats all three twice, so a total of 6 different ways of essentially saying the same thing.
I think it’s safe to say that it was important to Jesus that he get this point across!
So, what is the point exactly?
What are we asking for and looking for? What door are we knocking on?
What did he just say after talking about money and clothes, in 6:33?
Matthew 6:33 CSB
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
So, now, when he says “Seek, and you will find” it’s with the assumption that WHAT you’re seeking is the kingdom. That what you’re asking for are the treasures of God’s kingdom, which are the relationships we have with people, and the glory of God’s kingdom, which is the presence of God himself, and that the door you’re knocking on is the door to God’s kingdom, and the door is of course Jesus himself.
Think about the three terms used: Ask, Seek, Knock.
We ask for what we wish; we seek for what we miss; we knock for that from which we feel ourselves shut out.
IF we are seeking first the kingdom, then what we wish for, what we desire, is to be an active participant in the kingdom, what we miss is the holy presence of God, from which we have been shut out by our sin.
All three together are exhortation for persistent prayer when it comes to seeking the kingdom.
What he’s NOT talking about is persistently praying for your dream truck, or a boat, or winning the lottery, and guaranteeing that God will give you those things. That’s not to say nobody can ever have those things, it’s just not what Jesus was talking about!
He’s talking about the kingdom, and how God cares for his kingdom.
This becomes clearer by his illustration in verses nine through eleven.
Verses 9-11: Illustration
Let’s read that again:
Matthew 7:9–11 CSB
9 Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.
So, here, Jesus knows his audience and knows that, in general, parents have a fairly instinctual compulsion to provide for their children’s needs. In their culture, this compulsion would have been compounded by societal pressure and the importance of children in securing your own future, so even for selfish reasons they would be motivated to take care of their children.
Unfortunately, I know there are far too many exceptions to this generalization, and there are parents who show no sign of caring for their children, even to the point of either outright harming them or abandoning them, which is tragic!
But, in general, over the course of history, and I would say especially in Jewish culture, even parents who are unkind, unloving, self-absorbed, jerks are still likely to at least care for the bare minimum needs of their children.
And even those who don’t...know that they should, they just choose not to.
We’re all sinners, and there have never been any perfect parents on earth. But I can speak for myself, as a parent to Eden, who’s barely a toddler, it’s the most profound sense of responsibility, and honor, and purpose, to make sure her needs are met and that I do everything I can to raise her well.
She’s too little to really communicate exactly what she wants, but she very often does want something, and you better believe I’ll try my very best to figure out what it is and give it to her! Whether it’s a toy, or food, or a clean diaper, as parents part of our job is to teach her how to communicate that to us, and then it’s sometimes a joy to fulfill her needs desires, sometimes not so much, but we get it done either way!
Of course, if she wants to play with the kitchen knives, or go swimming in the toilet, we’re not going to let that happen are we? There are some things that only a terrible parent would give to their child! And that part of the analogy applies to God, as well.
Jesus is NOT saying that God will just give you whatever you ask for just because you asked for it! That would make him a BAD Father!
Ultimately, parents know deep down the responsibility they have for their child, and that to feed them bread is better than feeding them a rock.
The point that Jesus is making is not that humans are great parents though, he actually calls him evil! His point is that even sinful, evil people can and do raise children and give them not only what they need but whatever they want! sometimes to a fault!
If even sinful, evil humans can give good gifts to their children, how much more can God, our heavenly father, give good gifts to us? And because he is NOT sinful, because he is perfect, how much better does he know what to give us?
And of course, he does know what we need and want, but he’s also encouraging us to ask him for it anyway. We teach our own children to do this! We want them to communicate with us, not because we couldn’t treat them like an infant their whole lives, but because we want them to grow up into well adjusted, functioning members of society.
I think that’s part of why God wants us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking, is for our own sake. In doing so, we’re forced to identify and acknowledge our desires in order to actively pursue them.
And to ask ourselves “am I seeking first the kingdom of god?”
If I truly am, if I am truly seeking to follow God and be a part of his kingdom, to love him and love others in the context he’s placed me, as a husband, a father, a pastor, a son, a brother, an employee, a friend, I can be confident in asking God for the provision and guidance I need in all those roles.
Sometimes I think I know what I want, and it’s OK to have desires, like wanting to have a family, that’s a desire that isn’t necessary for loving God and loving others, but it certainly doesn’t conflict with it either. And as long as it’s secondary, as long as your priorities are in order, it’s OK to ask for things that aren’t strictly necessary! You may or may not get what you’re asking for, but God wants you to make your desires known to him. Remember:
Philippians 4:6 CSB
6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Ultimately, God knows what is best for us. As much as I live to fulfill Eden’s every whim just to see her smile, there are some things I won’t give her or let her do, because I love her! And because it’s my job to teach her and help her grow.
There might be some things your kids ask for and you know it’s a bad idea but you let it happen anyway because you know it’ll teach them a lesson, without hurting them too bad. So, be careful what you ask for, because God just might give it to you!
But we CAN trust that he does have our best interests at heart, whether we know what’s good for us or not, and regardless of our earthly experience of parents, we can rest assured that our heavenly father is the perfect giver of gifts, and is delighted to give us what we want, when we are seeking his kingdom.
John 15:7 CSB
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.
Proverbs 8:17 CSB
17 I love those who love me, and those who search for me find me.
James 1:17 CSB
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Verse 12: Application
Matthew 7:12 CSB
12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
This is another catchy saying that has been quoted a LOT! And for good reason! This one I think is actually pretty straightforward.
We had last week one of the most challenging and enigmatic sayings of Jesus with the dogs and pigs, that’s just a really tough saying to interpret. I don’t know why Mike ended up having to preach that passage while I get to talk about God’s generosity and the golden rule, but I’m not complaining!
The golden rule really doesn’t need much unpacking. It’s a saying that’s easy to interpret, to know what it means, but much harder to actually embody and live out. And there are a couple nuances to point out.
One is that this saying does make an assumption that you will treat yourself well. That you have the ability to love others and treat them well because you already love yourself and treat yourself well, all you need to do is turn that same sense of affection and care outward towards others.
Yes, Christ calls us to sacrificial, selfless love. However, it’s not selfish to love and value yourself for the same reason God loves and values you, as His creation, made in His image and redeemed at a great price. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary for you to love yourself in order to love others!
It’s also not selfish to care for yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If you don’t take care of yourself then eventually you will fall apart one way or another, and you won’t be able to take care of others either!
Of course, self “love” and self “care” can very easily become selfishness, pride, laziness, and gluttony, and I think it’s a more common tendency, especially in our culture, to be obsessed with ourselves and meeting our own needs. But there are also many, many people who are on the other end of the spectrum, filled with self-loathing and drawn to self-destructive behavior. Self-loathing is certainly not the antidote to self-obsession, and perpetual guilt is not the solution to conviction of sin in your life.
In BOTH cases, the root of the problem is viewing yourself (and, in turn, others) from a human, self-centered perspective. Even self-loathing is self-centered.
The solution comes from looking first to God, understanding who HE is, and then understanding who HE says WE are, the crown jewel of his creation, who even though we have rebelled against our creator, he loved so much that he provided a way back to him by becoming one of us and taking the burden of our sin upon himself.
Yes, we must be humble and recognize our tiny place in this universe, but we must also cherish ourselves and our lives, because we are cherished by the king of the universe.
After we see ourselves through that lens, from God’s perspective, then we can apply that same lens to others. We must cherish every life on this earth as infinitely valuable, because they are cherished by God, and we, our relationships with each other, are part of how God provides for and cares for us. We are God’s gifts to each other!
Proactively Giving To Each Other
This principle, what we call the “golden rule,” like many of Jesus’s sayings, is not totally unique or original to Jesus. He was putting his own spin on a principle that had been stated by various ancient thinkers before, a basic principle of morality, but it was stated in a negative form:
“Do NOT do to others what you do NOT want done to you.”
Jesus takes it a step further by making it a positive obligation, doesn’t he? By inverting it, he’s saying that it’s not enough to simply refrain from harming others or treating them poorly, but that we should proactively treat each other well!
That because God gives so generously to us that we ought to go out of our way to give just as generously to each other.
Remember, verse 12 starts with “therefore,” even though it’s usually quoted in isolation from the rest of the chapter, this statement comes right after the discussion of God’s goodness, and his willingness to give, and this “golden rule” is directly related to those concepts immediately preceding it.
Later in Matthew, Jesus will sum up the whole law and prophets again in a similar statement, by quoting two commandments from the law: the shema, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, PLUS “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The golden rule is really like another, practical way of saying “love your neighbor as yourself.” If you love your neighbor as yourself, you will treat them the way you would want to be treated. One is the motive, the other is the result.
Of course, some clever guy thought he could take the “neighbor” bit too literally, which is where we get the parable of the Good Samaritan.
This parable is so well known we have parables and hospitals named after it! But I think it’s very relevant to understanding what Jesus is talking about when he says we should reflect God’s generosity to others, regardless of whether it benefits us or makes us comfortable.
Luke 10:25–37 CSB
25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.” 28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus took up the question and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
You have to know this guy was NOT happy with Jesus’s answer! I guess we don’t know that for sure, but I can just imagine! He’s clearly trying to get out of showing love towards people he can define as “not my neighbor,” probably non-Jews.
Then Jesus tells him a story where a Jew was in mortal trouble, and all of the highfalutin, super-spiritual Jews who passed by him had some excuse not to help him. Then a Samaritan, despised by the Jews, was the one to stop and help him.
And he gets it! I guess we have to give him that, Mr. Clever gets the point of the parable and understands that the Samaritan was a much better neighbor than the priest or the Levite.
Jesus is calling his followers to love without discrimination, in a way that reflects God’s perfect generosity, not just by giving things away, but with the entire attitude with which we see ourselves and others.
Let’s review that outline of the passage one more time now that we’ve gone through each section, this is the core message of this passage:
- (7-8) Theological Principle: God is generous.
- (9-11) Earthly Illustration: Even corrupt humans know how to be generous.
- (12) Personal Application: Be generous to each other.
Do you have needs and desires which align with God’s kingdom? Ask for them! God wants us to recognize him as our creator and think of him as a father who values and cherishes us as his children, and wants us to communicate with him! Tell him your needs and desires! It’s OK!
But also remember that the way God meets those needs is by using other people, so if you’re wanting YOUR needs and desires met, in any context, then focus first on meeting the needs you see around you, bringing joy and life into our relationships by genuinely loving and caring for people and treating them the way we would want to be treated.