Matthew 7:6-12 NET
6 Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for 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 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.
I want to begin today’s message the same way I began last week. We need to learn to be consistent in our obedience to Christ’s commands. We don’t do this to get saved. Obedience cannot save you, even obedience to Christ’s commands. We are saved by faith in God’s grace, through the obedience and righteousness of Christ demonstrated by his death on the cross. That is the only means of our salvation. But once we come to Christ in faith, declaring him to be our king, and committing ourselves to become active in his coming kingdom, we have a choice. We can choose to act consistently with that faith and obey our new king, or we can choose to shipwreck our faith by disobeying him.
I believe anyone with true faith in Christ is going to want to live out that faith by obeying his commands. I also believe that this is God’s plan for saving others. Jesus told his apostles that they were the light of the world. He implied that if they obeyed his commands, it would light the way for others to come to him and be saved. You and I are recipients of the same promise, and that is why we also must consistently obey his commands.
The subject matter of Jesus’ command that today’s text focuses on appears to be prayer. This is the famous ASK, SEEK and KNOCK passage. Matthew 7:7 was one of the earliest verses I memorized as a child because it came with its own pneumonic device: A S K spells out ASK, SEEK and KNOCK. The basic principle of the kingdom that our king teaches us in today’s text is that the kingdom citizens are to seek divine help. It is not only wrong to try to accomplish kingdom tasks independent of prayer, it is direct disobedience. Prayer is not an option for us — it is the standard operating procedure in the kingdom.
We should ask God for the things that we need (7-8).
Jesus’ command goes like this: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” The resources we need to accomplish the objectives of the king in this life today are available for the asking.
Jesus did not have to say it that way. He could have told us to first look for resources all around us, then to pray as a last resort if we cannot find what we need. The temptation for many is to treat prayer that way. In fact, if we were honest, our prayers might sound something like Jimmy Stewart’s character Charlie Anderson in the movie Shenandoah:
“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”*
Later in the movie, Charlie tries to say the same prayer and stumbles through it. His family has been ravaged by war, and he realizes how stupid that prayer was. It was never about really asking God for anything. Our prayers are not supposed to be like that. They are designed to reflect our relationship with the supreme being who is sovereign over all life and holds all resources and power in his hands.
Unless we acknowledge our dependence upon God, we are going to have problems living in his kingdom on this earth today. James tells us that we do not have because we don’t ask (James 4:2).
A human father is not going to deny his child what he needs (9-11a).
Jesus said “Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” He said we know how to give good gifts to our children, even though we are not completely holy and righteous like God is. Penny and I raised three daughters, and we wanted to give them what they needed all the time. We didn’t want to see them go without.
Our heavenly Father is just waiting for us to ask (11b).
Jesus had already taught that prayer needed to flow from a genuine relationship with the Father (6:5-9), and that lack of forgiveness in our other relationships could also hinder our prayers (6:10-15). Now he points out one more thing that can keep us from getting what we need: lack of praying.
Jesus is not saying that God is testing us to see how strong we are and that only the fittest will keep praying and survive the ordeal, gaining the prize. Notice, he – once again – ties prayer and its outcome to our Father in the sky and our relationship with him. The barrier we need to overcome is not our Father’s reluctance to give, but our own resistance to depending on him.
Even we who are evil want to give good things to our kids, and God’s love far exceeds ours. He asks us to keep asking because we will be tempted to give up and try to handle things ourselves. How often have we thrown out a quick prayer, then, thrown up our hands as if to say “that didn’t work” and sought our solution elsewhere? A lack of dependence on prayer is a lack of faith in the one to whom we are praying. Our prayer life is not about getting stuff, it is about learning to depend on him.
The temptation is to give up too easily and end up settling for the rocks and snakes. We don’t appreciate them as much as bread and fish, but at least we did it our way. Staying on our knees long enough to get the fish sandwich is a lesson in humility and faith in a loving, giving Father. The longer we wait for God to intervene, the more credit he gets for the provision.
This principle also applies to human conflict (6, 12).
You see, there are two sections of today’s text that interpreters have a hard time figuring out. The first is verse six which says that we should not give what is holy to dogs or throw our pearls before pigs; otherwise, they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear us to pieces. People think this was just tacked on to the text because Jesus said it in another context. No, it has to do directly with what Jesus had just taught about being merciful toward our enemies so that we can win them to Christ. It also has a direct application to Jesus’ teaching on prayer here.
Here’s the logic of what Jesus taught: When someone does something bad to you or says something bad about you, you will be tempted to pass judgment upon them yourself. You will want to take the matter into your own hands. You will want to clear the land yourself, plow it, sow it, harvest it, and cook it yourself. You will want to retaliate against your enemy yourself and then maybe ask God to bless your efforts after you are through doing it all yourself. That is not what God wants you to do. That would be like giving what is holy to dogs or throwing your pearls before pigs. That is a wasted effort. In fact, doing it ourselves is dangerous. If you want to get stomped on and torn to pieces, do it yourself. But the wise way to deal with your enemies is to ASK God to intervene. The wise way to find a solution to your problem is to SEEK God’s solution. The wise choice is to knock on God’s door until he answers it, and provides a divine remedy.
The principle that Jesus is teaching is that we should go to God in prayer for our needs. The particular need that Jesus is addressing here is human conflict. You see someone with a speck of sawdust in his eye. All your human nature is going to scream to you to criticize him for that small thing wrong with him. You will be blind to all your imperfections. All you will see is a problem that you must fix. God’s answer: Before you do or say anything to that person about his problem, go to God in prayer.
The second text in today’s passage that interpreters often think is out of place is verse twelve. That is where Jesus tells us the golden rule: “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” Jesus has just told his apostles about prayer, earthly fathers, fish sandwiches, stones, and snakes. What does the golden rule have to do with depending on God and praying for what we need?
The answer — I think — is that Jesus is again addressing that particular context of human conflict. Someone has said something wrong or done something wrong. We have the choice of treating them like an enemy or treating them like we would want to be treated if it was us. We have the choice of being vengeful or merciful. We have the choice to overlook the sin or pounce on it. Remember the instruction of Jesus here has to do with how we treat others. So, he is still talking about situations in which believers can make the wrong choice resulting in the escalation of human conflict.
The solution that Jesus commands us to take whenever someone says or does something wrong is to resist the impulse to criticize, condemn, hold grudges or retaliate, and instead give the matter to God in prayer. Your Christian witness is a holy thing. Don’t give it to the dogs. Your testimony is a valuable pearl. It’s not hog slop. Don’t throw it to the pigs. Let God intervene in your life when there are times of conflict. God can take that crisis and turn it into a miracle of reconciliation. He can take that enemy and turn him into a Christian brother. He can take a hardened Philippian jailer and make him cry out “What do I have to do to be saved?”
Some things block this marvelous miracle of God. We can sabotage God’s plan by trying to do it ourselves. We can respond to every insult ourselves. We can seek revenge for every wrong ourselves. We can abolish the golden rule and treat every sin against us as a challenge for us to get even. We can relegate prayer to formal statements in church, refusing to allow it to become our secret weapon in interpersonal conflict.
But what would happen if we ordinary Christians began to take this command of Christ seriously? It would revolutionize the way we dealt with one another. If we stopped to pray before reacting and allowed God to solve the problem, he just might do it. Then, where would we be? People around us would start to notice. They would begin to wonder where we got the spiritual strength we have.
Wherever Jesus went, he drew people to God by performing miracles. The miracle he wants to perform today through us is the miracle of a people who supplicate, rather than retaliate. He wants us to be people who pray instead of fight. If we dare to fight our battles on our knees, we are going to find that we can win those battles.
*Jimmy Stewart, Shenandoah, Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, 1965. For the script of the movie, see:
Fair, Ian A, Stephen Leston, and Mark L. Strauss. Matthew & Mark: Good News for Everyone. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Pub, 2008.
The next short section has raised several problems for interpretation. The parable in itself is not difficult. One should not give to the unclean (dogs and swine) that which is clean or holy” (Page 40)
“However, does the unclean refer to Gentiles, or simply to the undeserving? Does it perhaps refer to the hypocrite of 7:5? It is difficult to determine what holy thing Jesus is referring to at this point as it relates to the previous admonition against judging” … The next pitfall disciples face is the loss of faith (7:7-12). Jesus encourages His disciples to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking, for true faith never loses heart and quits. Again, Matthew follows this encouragement of Jesus with a saying that seems to be detached, the Golden Rule, but it does have some connection to the previous admonitions of Jesus. Disciples are to be like their heavenly Father. They are to love one another and be constant in their faith” (Page 41).
France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids (MI: Eerdmans, 2007.
“The imagery of sacred things given to dogs and precious pearls to pigs is clearly about mismatch, about the inappropriate use of what is special. But what are the holy things and pearls, and from whom are they to be withheld?” (Page 276).
“Perhaps we can be no more definite than to say that disciples are to be discriminating in sharing the “sacred things” of the gospel and the treasures of their Father in heaven, so as not to lay them open to abuse, but to avoid offering a more specific identification of who are to be regarded as unsuitable or incapable of receiving them (cf. Paul’s insistence in 1 Cor 2:13-16 that only the “spiritual” can receive spiritual teaching)” (Page 277).
McCarren, Paul J. A Simple Guide to Matthew. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012
“Matthew then says Jesus pointed out that we wouldn’t thrust something valuable at a pig or a dog lest they react to such strange behavior with startled aggression. Shouldn’t we show the same deference to one another [v.6]? That question might provoke in us a burst of quibbles that come down to one question: “How can I respect those who are annoy¬ ing?” Matthew says Jesus spoke here of seeking help in prayer. Have a question? Ask. Something missing? Search. Door locked? Knock [vv.7-8]. So, if you need the gifts of patience and respect, ask for them— and remember you’re asking your heavenly Father. Matthew says Jesus pointed out how attentive we are to the appeals of our children, and then suggested we imagine God to be at least as attentive as we are [vv.9-11]. Matthew tells us Jesus summed up his explanation of how our relationship with God should shape our relationship with each other by reminding the crowd of the basic message repeated throughout each part of scripture: you’ll treat others well if you believe God loves them as he does you [v.12]. (Page 32).
Platt, David. Exalting Jesus in Matthew. , 2013.
“When you read the Sermon on the Mount, you should not walk away thinking, “I must turn the other cheek in order to be accepted by God. I must love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me in order to be accepted by God. I must follow the Golden Rule perfectly in order to be accepted by God.” We are not accepted by God because of anything that we do. We are accepted by God completely and totally because of a perfect Savior who has died a bloody death in our place and who has risen again in victory. Yes, we pray for our enemies, we love those who persecute us, and we follow the Golden Rule. But we do these things not in order to earn acceptance before our God, but because we have acceptance by God and we want to glorify Him in everything that we do” (Page 92).
Reid, Barbara E. The Gospel According to Matthew. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2005.
“The saying in 7:6 is unique to Matthew and somewhat enigmatic. What is holy (“hallowed”) in 6:9 is God’s name. A pearl can signify the realm of God (see 13:45-46). “Dogs” is likely a reference to outsiders (see also 15:26), since Jews did not keep dogs indoors as house pets. Swine were unclean animals for Jews. So the saying is best understood as an admonition not to preach about the reign of God to Gentiles or pagans, but to concentrate the mission within Israel (similarly 10:5-6). If persecution can be expected in the mission to Israel (5:10; 10:16-36), all the more would such be anticipated with outsiders” (Page 47).
Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004
“What then about the dogs, the pigs, and the pearls? Doesn’t this imply that Jesus’ followers are to make quite a serious judgment — namely that some people come into these categories, so should not be given holy or precious things? Yes. It seems as though Jesus is here assuming a distinction between one’s own community — in his case that of village and town life in Galilee, within the Jewish world of his day — and people from outside. ‘Dogs’ was after all a regular abusive term for Gentiles; pigs were kept only by Gentiles since Jews didn’t eat pork. He seems to be warning his followers not to try to explain the meaning and life of the kingdom to people who won’t even understand the Jewish world within which it makes sense” (Page 70).