Sermon on the Mount
James 2

Persistent Prayer

Matthew 7:7-11

We began to study Matthew chapter 7 last week. The opening words, "Judge not, that you be not judged" have probably been quoted more by people who don't know Christ or the Bible than any other passage in all of Scripture. I'm sure that most of you have had these words thrown in your face at some time in your life. These words are not an unconditional command against all judging.

When Jesus said, "Judge not", He was referring to a self-righteous judgmental attitude, a judgement of the motives of others and a hypocritical judgement. When you are striving to live a righteous, holy life, there is a danger of becoming judgmental of anyone who is not.

The context of this section makes it clear that all judging is not forbidden. Believers are to exercise judgment, as verse 6 points out very clearly:

Matthew 7:6 (NKJV) "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

This command necessitates discernment and judgment, because we must decide who the dogs and swine are. Last week, in expounding on this verse, I said, "In metaphorical language, Jesus is commanding his disciples not to share spiritual truth with those who blaspheme it, ridicule it , and are persistently vicious. Just as the pearls were unappreciated by the savage animals, but only enraged them and made them dangerous, so also many of the riches of God's revelation are unappreciated by many people."

In the question and answer time last week, the question was asked, "Would this verse apply to Christians?" In other words, are there some Christians who act like dogs and swine, and to whom we are not to give the truth of God? I answered last week that I believed that this verse speaks to not giving God's word to certain believers as well as non-believers. Have you ever known any Christians who, when given the Word of God, trample it under foot? I have!

It may be that a Christian is in a state where they are angry with God. I see this quite often. When God doesn't do what they what Him to, what they expect Him to, they get angry at Him. This anger at God is caused by a high view of man and a low view of God. A humble person could not get angry at God. How many of you know a Christian that got mad at God? When a Christian is in this state, they normally don't respond too well to the truth of God. I think that the Bible describes this state in:

Hebrews 6:4-6 (NKJV) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

What does the term "fall away" in verse 6 mean? "Fall away" is from the Greek word parapipto, which means: " to fall aside, to apostatize." Apostasy is a believer forsaking the faith and turning their back on God. They fall away from their fellowship with the Lord and come under his temporal judgement.

A literal rendering of this verse would be: "For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who....and have fallen away." The word "impossible" in verse 4 is from the Greek word adunatos, which means: "could not do, impossible, impotent, not possible, weak." The verb is active and not passive so we cannot render it: "it is impossible for them to be renewed." It is improbable that the writer would say that God cannot renew them to repentance. God can do whatever He wishes. The context would suggest either: "it is impossible for us to, or it is impossible for anyone to." The statement may not be absolute in regard to future repentance.

If you want to find someone harder to deal with than an unsaved person, talk to an apostate. Many years ago I asked a Christian man who had been sick and out of work for a while how he was doing spiritually? He said to me, "I don't believe in that hocus pocus anymore." He renounced his faith and became an apostate. What can you say to someone who knows the truth?

This is a very difficult verse. How do we know who is a dog and swine, that we are not to give God's truth to? How are we to make this type of judgement?

Verse 6 connects closely to what follows in verses 13 through 23 of Matthew 7 where Jesus addresses the issue of false teachers and false prophets. These individuals fall into the category of dogs and swine.

Matthew 7, verses 7 through 12, fit within this context. Jesus has described the necessity of exercising discernment related to dogs and swine. In the midst of this context, He commands believers to be persistent in prayer before God. Jesus is saying that in order to exercise wisdom and discernment, which can only come from God, believers must be persistently beseeching the throne of grace. Only God can give the wisdom, perception, and understanding that will enable believers to carry out this responsibility. So in the next verse Jesus says:

Matthew 7:7 (NKJV) "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Few texts have been more grossly perverted than this one. Many have regarded it as a sort of blank check which anybody, no matter what his walk may be, can fill in just as he pleases, and all he has to do is present it before the throne of grace and God stands pledged to honor it. Nothing is further from the truth. Notice what James says:

James 4:3 (NKJV) You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

That is not a contradiction. When we ask any petition that we would use to exalt ourselves and our fleshly desires, that is asking amiss.

In order to understand why this is not a blank check, we must keep it in the context in which the Savior spoke it. Our text does not teach that God becomes our servant, but it is a prayer to know His will. Taken out of context, it could give the impression that all we have to do is dictate, and God is at our command. That is not the meaning of our text; it is a prayer to know His will.

We are not to pass judgment on a brother with a self-righteous "2X4" in our own eye. We are not to take that which is holy and cast it before dogs. How do we discern this? We are to judge between right and wrong, but not with a judgmental or condemning spirit. This is beyond us, so the Lord says, "Ask." Jesus commands prayer as a duty, as the appointed means of obtaining grace to obey the precepts He has given. We must ask that the Lord will give us wisdom in dealing with our fellow man; that the Lord will give us the right attitude and the Spirit of Christ.

Jesus begins this section with three commands given in the present tense: "Ask, seek, and knock". These commands might be translated: "Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking." The emphasis is on persistence. Diligence must characterize the prayer life of every believer. Believers are to be continually asking, seeking, and knocking so that God will respond and open the door in order to supply the needs they are requesting.

The command to "ask," teaches that we are to look to God to supply us strength to obey those precepts He has just taught. We must come before the Lord, asking and begging Him to give us the grace to deal gently with our neighbors in a certain situation. We don't go there prayerlessly. We must have a spirit of dependency, begging, asking for support in obeying His precepts.

We are commanded to "seek"; that goes deeper than asking; there is a difference between asking and seeking. Seeking means we go with all effort to search out God's will as revealed in His Word with regard to the particular circumstances. We have as an example the woman who lost a piece of silver. She swept her house; she looked and didn't leave one corner untouched or one thing unturned until she found it (Luke 16:37).

We are commanded to seek the Lord's face with earnestness as we read in:

Daniel 9:3 (NKJV) Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.

It was a matter of searching, not just asking, but searching with earnestness, seeking the Lord's will. It is not a matter of asking the Lord to help do this, this, and this; we cannot have the whole plan programmed, and then ask for help to carry it out.

We are commanded to "knock" as one who desires to enter the house knocks at the door. That is such a beautiful illustration of prayer. We are to knock at the door of grace. And how do we knock to obtain entrance? Ask, believing you shall receive. A family member does not knock on a door expecting to get thrown out on the sidewalk. He goes there believing that those on the other side of the door will receive him.

This emphasis on being persistent and diligent in prayer is repeated a number of times in the New Testament. In Luke 18, Christ gave a parable to drive home the importance of persistence in prayer. Note the reason Christ gave the parable:

Luke 18:1 (NKJV) Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,

This indicates that there ought to be diligence, urgency, and persistence in prayer. Believers should not give up.

Luke 18:7 (NKJV) "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?

The elect, those who are His children, cry out to Him day and night. That shows persistence. As a result, God recognizes the need and responds.

Let's look at several other passages that communicate the idea of persistence in prayer. Paul wrote that believers are to be:

Romans 12:12 (NKJV) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;

The word which is translated: "continuing steadfastly" means: "to adhere to, to persist, to be devoted to, to cling to, to be continuously involved in something". That concept should characterize the praying of believers. We should be persistent in prayer, devoted to it, clinging to it continuously. Prayer should dominate our lives.

Paul wrote in:

Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV) praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints;

The word which is translated: "perseverance" in this verse is the same word which is translated: "continuing steadfastly" in Romans 12:12. With persistence and perseverance, we are to be devoted to prayer and petition for all the saints. It is the work of the Spirit of God in our lives that makes this effective and possible. But we are responsible to apply ourselves with diligence and urgency.

Praying will take persistence and diligence. We must be devoted to prayer, applying ourselves to it with much diligence. The Spirit of God will enable us with the strength and power needed to make the prayer effective.

Did you notice that this verse says we are to be in prayer with all perseverance and petition for all the saints? What has your praying been like this week? Have you been devoted to prayer for other believers? Has that kind of praying characterized you? How much time have you spent praying for others in the past week? How many people did you pray for? Could you be described as being devoted to prayer for other believers? Have you persevered in prayer and petition for all the saints? That should be one of the characteristics of believers - urgency in our seeking God and His blessing.

Paul says very simply in:

Colossians 4:2 (NKJV) Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;

The same word is used again to indicate persistence or perseverance in prayer. God desires this kind of prayer, because it indicates that we have come to a sense of our own lack and are unable to meet the need ourselves.

Prayer is an expression of spiritual travail. We see this in:

Genesis 32:24-26 (NKJV) Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks." But he said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!"

He was wrestling in prayer. See the importunity - the spiritual travail. This is what Jesus is teaching us when He says, "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." He is showing us the importunity, or persistence, with which we are commanded to pray. Jesus so beautifully illustrates this in:

Luke 11:5-8 (NKJV) And He said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 'for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; 7 "and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'? 8 "I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

We must notice in His illustration that Jesus showed that the humble boldness of a friend aroused the man's compassion to fill a need. There is humility and boldness. The man was told, "No," but he didn't give up. He shows his humility when he said he needed help. He stressed his need with persistence.

Jesus also illustrated the reluctance of the friend due to the inopportune time. The man was in bed; he was slumbering and weary. Have you ever had someone try to wake you up shortly after falling asleep? That is more disturbing than being awakened a hour earlier in the morning. The man had probably gone to bed shortly before this.

Psalms 121:2-4 (NKJV) My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

We can't come to the Lord at an inopportune time; we can't come to Him and find Him in bed sleeping; we can't come to Him in a time when He is weary. There is no such thing as an inopportune time with the Lord, no matter what time of the day or night we come. The Lord never sleeps or slumbers; He is never weary.

Calvin Coolidge said, "Press on! Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts."

The need for importunity implies that prayer is not always answered when and in the manner we may imagine. The Lord is teaching us that we don't always get the answer the first time we ask; perhaps the first request will be denied. This implies that we are not always answered when and in the manner we imagined. The Lord has His own way of answering prayers.

God desires to give us so much and bless us in many ways, but it is important that we sense the needs we have and realize that only He can fulfill the needs. When we come to that realization, we can then come earnestly and persistently, seeking from Him what He delights to give us. What a blessing in our lives when we realize that Christ has promised to give us what we need when we ask for it.

As we survey the three commands, notice that with each command has a promised response:

Matthew 7:7 (NKJV) "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

The verse does not say that we are to ask, seek, and knock; then see what happens. The verse gives the assurance that almighty God is awaiting the opportunity to respond to us.

Notice also the promise in verse:

Matthew 7:8 (NKJV) "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

In this verse, the promise is reiterated. There is no doubt about the response. We are not going to persist and see if God will answer. We are going to persist because He will answer. There is a major difference in those approaches.

This emphasis on God's people asking from Him or seeking from Him is not new. God desired this from His people in the Old Testament. God spoke to Israel in Deuteronomy 4 telling them that when they were disobedient, He would judge them. He spoke of scattering them among the nations of the world. Then in the trials of that situation, they will be driven to seek God again. After being scattered through the nations in judgment, God said:

Deuteronomy 4:29-30 (NKJV) "But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 "When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice

When they recognize their need, and see that only God is sufficient to meet these needs, and when they return to Him with an attitude of dependence, then God is ready to respond and to meet the need.

In the context of judgment and punishment of His people for their disobedience, God said through Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NKJV) For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.

This indicates that prayer is not for the purpose of changing God's mind, because He has already determined what He has for His people. He has plans for their welfare, for a future and for a hope. But Israel must sense its need. They must turn to God and seek relief of their burdens from Him. When they do, He is ready to pour out all of the blessings that He intended for them.

In light of these Old Testament passages, the idea of seeking God, of pursuing Him and asking Him for what we need is not new as Jesus shares it. It reminds us that a characteristic of those who belong to God is that we are to come to Him recognizing Him as the source, as the One who is adequate and sufficient. It also reminds us that we have recognized our own lack and our unworthiness and have turned to God as the One who can provide for us and meet our needs.

In the next few verses, Jesus draws an analogy between the human family and God's family. He shows that what a human father does for his children, God does for His children. He first shows that fathers give good things to their children:

Matthew 7:9-10 (NKJV) "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 "Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?

In biblical times in Palestine, a loaf was a small flat, round cake, having much the appearance of one of the flat stones of Palestine. Jesus is saying that no father is going to deceive his child and say, "Here is some bread," then give him something that looks like bread but that will not meet the need. Fathers don't do that. If [the son] asks for a fish (a staple of the diet in Palestine), [his father] will not give him a snake, will he? This probably refers to one of the eels which may be caught in the Sea of Galilee, a forbidden food in the Book of Leviticus. Jesus is saying that when a hungry child comes to his father saying, "Give me a fish," no father would say, "Here, eat what I caught fishing today," and give him an eel which he would not be allowed to eat. Human fathers do not do that. They delight in meeting the needs of their children. No human parent would be pleased to see his child starving, then delight in doing such a cruel thing as to trick him instead of meeting his needs.

Our sinfulness as human beings is presupposed in:

Matthew 7:11 (NKJV) "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 good things to those who ask Him!

This "If ye then, being evil" is more solemn and striking when we note that our Lord didn't say it to those who were his enemies, but unto His own disciples.

Even though we are fallen, sinful, human beings, we still know how to give good gifts to our children in spite of our sinfulness. We delight in meeting their needs. Think, then, about the comparative statement in that verse: "...how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" The point is so overwhelmingly simple. If fallen, sinful, human fathers delight to give good things to their children, what would you expect from our Father in heaven?

Psalms 103:13 (NKJV) As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.

The Lord is teaching us that if we understand the love we have for our children, and how our love goes out to our child when they have a dire need, that is nothing, by comparison, of the love of the Father that goes out to His dear children.

So often we forget that. It seems so simple. Yet, if we have an overwhelming need or burden, we sometimes lay it before God wondering if He will really provide for us. Will He really give me what I need? What if He gives me something else? It is a lack of confidence when we fail to realize that He delights to give us what we need.

This verse has been misunderstood and misapplied on many occasions. As a result, there have been some very disappointed people. Some have had great burdens and have asked God for the things they were burdened about, but God never met those requests.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind in the context of praying. One, these promises are addressed to believers, those who are God's children. They are reserved for those who have recognized their own sinfulness and have cast themselves upon God's mercy for forgiveness by believing in Jesus Christ as the One who died for them. These promises have nothing to do with unbelievers.

Secondly, note that He does not say, "How much more shall your Father who is in heaven give you whatever you want." He says He will, "...give what is good to those who ask Him!" (v. 11). What are the good gifts that our heavenly Father has in store for those who ask Him? Good gifts are not always pleasant to the flesh. The Father knows what we need; our heavenly Father looks upon our eternal and spiritual welfare. There is often a great distinction between that which is good for us and that which is pleasant. Why? It is because our hearts have become corrupt, and by reason of our shameful fall in Adam, we have pleasure in sin and things that are not for our spiritual welfare. So the Lord gives us good gifts, those things which are spiritually and eternally good.

In the context of this passage, Jesus is talking about wisdom and discernment. He has already considered this in the context of judging and the ability to discern the dogs, the pigs, and the false prophets. How are we going to get that kind of wisdom and discernment?

James 1:5 (NKJV) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Wisdom is a great gift. We need wisdom to make right decisions every day. We need wisdom to solve our problems. We need wisdom to do our work well. We need wisdom to find happiness for now and for the future. We need wisdom to live peacefully with others.

Concerning the value of wisdom, Job said:

Job 28:19 (NKJV) The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, Nor can it be valued in pure gold.

Job was right in saying that the price of wisdom is higher than rubies and pure gold. Wisdom is better than any material things in this world. Then, Job asked the questions:

Job 28:20 (NKJV) "From where then does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?

After a long discourse, Job concluded:

Job 28:23 (NKJV) God understands its way, And He knows its place.

It is true that only the Creator God is wise, and only He can give wisdom. James told us that we could ask wisdom from God. God gives generously to all without finding fault.

When God gives us wisdom, He gives us the wisdom from above, not the wisdom of this world. God delights in giving wisdom, but He gives it in the context of His Word. When I come to the Word, God reveals Himself. The Spirit, by the grace of God, gives the ability to understand the truth of the Word and to see its application in particular situations. That wisdom comes from God.

According to Scripture, chastening is a good gift of God:

Hebrews 12:11 (NKJV) Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Good gifts are sometimes grievous to the flesh rather than joyous; nevertheless, afterwards we find a great reward. David referred to correction as a good gift from God:

Psalms 119:67-68 (NKJV) Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. 68 You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes.

Chastening is a good gift, because He teaches us and draws us close to Himself through it.

Have you ever heard the illustration of the weaver? One time a man came to a weaving room where they were working on a large rug. From underneath, everything was in such disarray. Strings went in every direction; it was total confusion. However, when he saw the beautiful design on top of the rug, he realized the wisdom of the weaver. This is the way it is when we see life from our side. The heavenly Weaver does not show us the finished design of His will; He has His own good purpose. All the struggles and trials and temptations we have to go through seem to be such a riddle. When we see God's finished product, His purpose in the end, then we see the beauty of every stitch that wove the fabric of our life.

A good guideline for praying is found in:

1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV) Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

We must ask according to God's will if we are to receive, because God gives us what is good according to His will. God is sovereign - in total control. As I submit my life to Him in obedience to the Word, then I can ask according to His will. I must be sensitive to the Spirit's direction in this area.

We ought not to lose sight of the tremendous promises about prayer in Matthew 7. We have a resource that is limitless. The eternal God tells us to persist fervently and eagerly in seeking from Him all we need. He delights in pouring out what we need. The amazing thing is that we pray so little.

Let me close this morning with a quote from Arthur Pink, he wrote:

Every Christian will grant that prayer is a bounden duty, that it is obligatory upon us to own our dependence upon the Giver of all good and perfect gifts, to seek from Him those things which we are in need of both temporally and spiritually, to acknowledge the Lord's goodness and loving kindness and render thanks for His manifold mercies. To fail at such a point is inexcusable, making us like unto those who live as though there were no God, rendering not unto Him that which is His undoubted due. Prayerlessness is not to be looked upon as an innocent infirmity, but as a sin of the deepest dye, which is to be penitently confessed. Christians will also grant that prayer is a precious privilege, for by this ordinance they may obtain an audience with the Majesty on high, delight themselves in the Lord, commune with the Beloved of their souls, unburden their hearts before Him and prove Him to be 'a very present help in trouble.' Alas, that we prize this privilege so little and treat it so lightly.