1“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of 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 serpent? 11 If you then, who are 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!
12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
As Jesus nears the end of the Sermon on the Mount, he encouraged persistence in praying to the Father, gave us the Golden Rule, and then gives the first of four comparisons that illustrate choosing the way of life with the illustration of the narrow gate.
1. You Must Ask
2. You Will Be Answered
3. Pray Also for Them
The theological theme of this passage is the believer’s position before the Father on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. All those who have responded to the gospel with faith and repentance are adopted into the family of God. The privileges of a blood-bought child of God are too wonderful for words. One of those great privileges is prayer. Another privilege is selflessly serving others, which can be done in prayer. These are activities of those whose hearts are turned toward Christ, who have found and stay on the narrow way.
The saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ clears the way for a person to have access to and take hold of these commands. Only because of a Christian’s position as a child of God by the gospel’s work does he have the glorious right to come before the Father and to serve others in the name of Christ. The gospel of Jesus shows Christians that the Father is good and faithful. Not only that but in the gospel Christians are completely satisfied and come before their Father not as neglected beggars but as well-satisfied children. Christians serve others because they have been served.
Oftentimes, prayer is first and foremost associated with the quest to meet one’s needs. It shouldn’t be so. The focus of prayer is God and the Christian’s agreement with God’s will and purposes around the world. That’s why Jesus taught Christians to pray, “Hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done” (Matt 6:9–13). A Christian’s petitions ought to be shaped more by God’s global purposes than whether or not they will have a good day. Christians should be asking, seeking, and knocking for the gospel of God to be proclaimed and treasured in every tribe, tongue, and nation. A Christian’s prayer life should be characterized by intercession for those who have yet to hear the gospel, don’t have a Bible in their language, and who have no born-again believers living among them.
What a wonderful thing that Christians are commanded to pray and serve others. In fact, one of the greatest ways a Christian can serve others is by praying for them. Jesus Christ obligated those who trust in him to boldly petition the Father. Of course, they come to the Father through Christ and stand before him guiltless because Jesus took on their guilt. Some may think of the commands of God as drudgery. They may even see this command as a burdensome duty to shoulder. Christians need a different perspective. John Piper can help us recapture the joy and privilege of prayer. He said: “Is intentional, regular, disciplined, earnest, Christ-dependent, God-glorifying, joyful prayer a duty, a discipline? Do I go to prayer meetings Tuesday morning, Wednesday afternoon, Friday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning because it’s a duty, out of discipline? You could call it that.
It’s a duty the way it’s a duty for a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater.
It’s a duty the way pilots should listen to air-traffic controllers.
It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat should clean their rifles and load their guns.
It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food.
It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water.
It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts on his hearing aid.
It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin.
It’s a duty the way Winnie the Pooh looks for honey.
It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold.
So, you could call it duty if you want.”
As we study this passage, let’s keep in mind the fact that prayer is our direct line to our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and God. For the Christian, to live and breathe is to pray. Further, that Christians should serve others by praying for them. This is what life on the narrow way looks like: laboring in prayer on behalf of others. The narrow way is a life of dependence upon God and service to others.
It is fitting that Jesus would teach about prayer and service to others in a sermon directed toward those who love and trust him. Further, it makes sense that these would be so closely linked to the life of a believer on the narrow way. Christians come to God through prayer and they come to God in prayer on behalf of those around them. In our study of this passage, we will reflect upon various aspects of Christian prayer and how prayer isn’t meant only to bring our own needs to God, but to serve others in prayer. This is life on the narrow way.
1. You Must Ask (Matthew 7:7)
Jesus taught his disciples that they ought not to shrink away from prayer. In fact, he commands that they be diligent in it! There is no doubt that children of God fear God, but it isn’t the sort of fear that causes one to avoid contact or interaction. Rather, love and reverence comprise the kind of fear that Christians have toward their heavenly Father. This good and fitting fear draws God’s children toward him, it doesn’t drive them away. And, the way that Christians approach God is in Christ through prayer.
Those who are in Christ pray. If someone professes Christ, yet does not pray, then he cannot have confidence in the veracity of his profession. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The Holy Spirit’s evidence by which he convinced Ananias of Paul’s conversion was not, ‘Behold, he talks loudly of his joys and feelings,’ but, ‘Behold, he prayeth,’ and that prayer was earnest, heart-broken confession and supplication. Oh, to see this sure evidence in all who profess to be a Christian!”
What kind of praying does Jesus command his followers to do? Do you think he intends for them to be shy and half-hearted or bold and confident?
Jesus directly stated that Christians must boldly bring their petitions to their heavenly Father. Christians ought to expect God’s ready response when they come before him with their requests. This is true when they are bringing their own needs before him, but it is also true when they intercede and petition on behalf of others. It is a great kindness and service when Christians utilize their position in Christ to seek the good of others. Christians are a blessing to those around them when they bring their needs boldly and humbly to the Father.
It is important to understand why we can come before God confidently in prayer. Hebrews 4:14–16 is useful to us here as we seek to rightly understand our boldness before the Father. This passage (indeed, the whole book) expresses the all-important doctrine of mediation. Jesus Christ is the great High Priest who has first come before God on our behalf to make atonement for our sin. Now that Jesus’s righteousness is credited to our account, we also have the privilege to approach the throne. We can do so boldly because of the nature of the mediation. Jesus’s sacrifice was the perfect and final atoning sacrifice. Our confidence before God is not based on anything that we have done, but on the efficacy of Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins and imputed righteousness to our account. Our boldness isn’t mingled with pride or self-justification. Rather, our boldness rests fully and firmly in the completed work of Christ on the cross on our behalf.
What is a suitable petition for a child of God? For what should a Christian pray or not pray?
The Bible gives no list of items that are prohibited from the realm of prayer. What the Scriptures do make clear is the fact that we should bring all our burdens, cares, and anxieties to God in prayer. We should do so in the name of Christ, with the help of the Spirit, and according to the will of the Father. Nothing is off-limits. We are to cast all of our cares on him. We must bring the smallest of matters to him no matter how insignificant they may seem. Likewise, we are to ask for great things of our Father, for nothing is too difficult for him. John Newton said,
Thou are coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are as such,
None can ever ask too much.
Application Question: Do you approach God through prayer resting upon the finished work of Christ on the cross? Do you believe that God hears and answers you? Why or why not?
2. You Will Be Answered (Matthew 7:8–11)
Hebrews 11:1 defines faith like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The sort of faith that the Bible describes is different than the common use of the word in the English language today. We often associate faith with the idea of having a positive outlook and an optimistic expectation about what will happen. Biblical faith is different. The Christian’s faith is firmly grounded in God himself. Our faith doesn’t rest on our ability to make something happen but on the person and character of the one true and living God. Our faith is as certain as the rising sun because the object of our faith, God, is as certain as the rising sun.
Does this mean that if we pray in faith we can expect results? Will God always answer us?
Yes. Absolutely. When a child of God prays with faith to his or her heavenly Father, results are certain. We must be careful, however, to remember that God will answer according to his wisdom and will, not our preferences. We do not have the right to demand that the results he brings about match our expectations. God may very well answer us “No”, but we can be certain that he hears us and answers us.
Why is it necessary to pray with faith?
James 1:5–8 helps us answer this question. He wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
James wrote specifically about obtaining wisdom here, but there is a principle that we can apply to all our petitioning. We should ask in faith, not in doubt. The key is to understand that James was talking about the idea that we should diligently repent of doubting the ability and promises of God. He is not saying that we should never doubt or question our own motives, hearts, or interpretations. The promises and character of God that are made clear in Scripture are never to be doubted, but we are prone to misunderstandings and self-deception. So, it is good to doubt ourselves as we enter into prayer. We ought never to doubt, however, that God will fulfill his Word to us.
Does our faith force God to give us what we are asking for? Is God obligated to always say “Yes” to our petition if we have sufficient faith?
Of course not. God will do what is good and right always, but we don’t always ask for what is good and right. It is, however, pleasing to God when we approach him with faith. We don’t attempt to wield faith as a weapon to hold God hostage until he gives us what we want. Rather, we approach God with faith because of who he is and what he has done in our lives. In other words, faith is the good and fitting posture for the redeemed as they approach God in prayer. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:16).
Verses 9–11 clarify to us that God will only give his children good gifts. We need to let that truth sink in. God is good and he will not give his children evil gifts. God will not give his children evil gifts if they ask for good gifts. Furthermore, God will not give his children evil gifts if they ask for evil gifts. Moreover, God himself determines what is a good gift and what is an evil gift. It is quite possible that we may ask for something thinking that it is a good gift when in reality it is an evil gift. And, what we think is an evil gift, may actually be a good gift. God has the wisdom to see these things, and so we trust him.
Application Question: When you pray, is your heart submitted to God’s authority and ready to receive with joy whatever answer he gives? Or do you become angry if God doesn’t answer your prayers as you think that he should?
3. Pray Also for Them (Matthew 7:12)
Christians go against the flow. Their lives look different than the lives of people who have not submitted their hearts to the one true and living God. One of the ways that their lives look different is in their praying.
Prayer is foolishness to an unbelieving world. It is idiocy to someone who believes that the material is all that exists. If prayer is foolishness, then praying for others is lunacy. Christians are never more counter-cultural than when they are in their prayer closets pleading to their heavenly Father that he would save the soul of their neighbor, co-worker, teacher, spouse, boss, child, or enemy.
Jesus commanded his followers, ““So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (v. 12). In light of the immediate context, we may very well think of it like this: Therefore, whatever you want others to pray for you, pray also the same for them.
Why is prayer helpful and effective as a way to serve others?
Prayer is effectual because the one to whom Christians pray is powerful. When a person approaches the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the name of Christ, then they have real access to the Being who spoke creation into existence and split the Red Sea. Christians should highly value and esteem prayer. What could be more weighty than their petitions being brought before God in prayer? They should desire that other Christians pray for them. They should covet prayers. This is why the “Golden Rule” applies to prayer, perhaps more than any other activity. Just as Christians desire that others would pray on their behalf, they should pray for others.
What if someone doesn’t desire that we pray for them? What if they don’t see the value in it? Should Christians still pray for a person like this?
Yes. Just because a person doesn’t see the value in prayer doesn’t mean that its usefulness and benefit is negated. Christians pray for others not because they are trying to please them, but because they know that it is one of the most loving and helpful things that they can do for someone. When Christians pray for someone who doesn’t ask for it or doesn’t desire it, then they are reflecting the character and goodness of their heavenly Father who gives good gifts to his children even when they desire evil gifts.
Application Question: Do you selflessly labor in prayer for others? Have you seen this as a way to serve others and treat them the way you want to be treated?
Christians live in a way that is contrary to the ways of this world. They walk along the narrow way that leads to life because they have heard the gospel call and responded with faith and repentance. Their hearts are oriented toward their Maker and their desire is to obey Him. Two distinctives of those who are traveling toward the small gate are a life marked with prayer and service to others. These two work hand in hand as Christians labor in their private times of prayer to intercede for others.
- Are you a person of prayer? What does your prayer life reveal about your dependence upon God?
- What does Christ’s work on the cross have to do with prayer? Why does it matter?
- How is prayer related to a Christian’s relationship with God?
- Does prayer work? Explain.
- If we have enough faith will God give us what we ask for? Why or why not?
- Is praying for others actually helpful or is it just a cop-out?
Prayer of Response
Ask God to make you a person of desperate dependence upon him. Ask him to teach you to pray without ceasing. Ask him to help you to feel your need for his work in your life.
 John Piper, “How Can I Jumpstart My Prayer Life?”
 Charles Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner.
 John Newton, “Come, Thy Soul, My Suit Prepare.”