The problem of “Ask and you will receive”


Ask and you will receive.  Really?Yes, John’s Gospel really does record Jesus saying “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete“.  And you know what?  If that was the only thing Jesus said – it might even mean what too many of us think it does / should mean.  But there are two problems with that line of thinking.  First – Jesus said a lot more than just that one sentence.  Second – Jesus, being God, is the one who gets to decide what His own words mean – we don’t.

Actually, Jesus is recorded as saying something along those lines three times.  Here they are – without context.

  1. Lk 11:9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
  2. Mt 7:7 “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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
  3. Jn 16:24 “… Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete”

It looks like the first two instances are actually only one occurrence, with both Luke and Matthew recording the same event.  However, given the full context – what’s recorded by both men before and after this small extract – it’s more likely that it really is two different events.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, given that Jesus was always traveling during His short three-year ministry.  We should expect that Jesus would say the same things, if not similar things, to different audiences.  It should also not be surprising that one Gospel author would record a different event – where the message is very much like the message from a different event recorded by one of the other Gospel authors.

Given that, let’s look at all three of them – in the order above.  I know, the order may seem strange, given that Matthew comes before Luke in the New Testament.  I chose this order, due to the explanations that accompany each of them – when taken in context.

Lk 11:9 “Ask and it will be given to you …

Let’s begin with some context.  In the NIV, this statement comes in a section titled Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer.  While the section headings aren’t in the original texts, and therefore don’t come from actual Greek words written by the author, they do serve to group together (possibly) consecutive events recorded in the book that are related.  With that in mind, let’s look at Matthew’s recording of what took place surrounding our topic –

Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer

Lk 11:1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Lk 11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“ ‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.

Lk 11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.

Lk 11:4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’ ”

Lk 11:5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

Lk 11:7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

Lk 11:9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Lk 11:11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

We have then,

  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • A “friend”
  • Ask …  (which will be in the conclusion)
  • fathers

The Lord’s Prayer

I have an entire series on The Lord’s Prayer, so we won’t go into it here, other than the obvious fact that it’s all about how to pray to God.  The series is here.  I don’t mean to gloss over it – it is an important lesson.  In fact, it’s an entire series, with one article per verse / phrase, exactly because it’s so important.  I highly recommend reading it.

A “Friend”

Quick note – just in case you have the same NIV version I used here, I want to point out that there is something wrong in verse 5, as it’s presented above.

Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him …

It should be Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him

Someone wasn’t real careful there.  I need to point out though – this is not an error in the Bible.  version of the NIV that I often use –
The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM:Lk 11:9. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.
It also exists in at least some of the print editions.  Fortunately, I also have other translations of this.  I use this one because it’s easier to copy from.  
I point this out to show you the importance of always reading carefully.  The verse makes no sense as it’s presented – it forces us to decide who “he” and “him” refer – so it needs to be checked out.
Going forward, I will use the correct wording of the verse.

So – let’s go through this and see what’s happening, because it’s very relevant to the verse we’re examining.

Lk 11:5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.

Friend to friend – one person is asking another – at midnight – to loan three loaves of bread,  It’s midnight – it’s late – waking up the friend means waking up his whole family, which probably wasn’t appreciated.  On top of that, the bread isn’t going to be paid for this night – it’s a “loan”.  Maybe it’ll be paid for later – maybe three other loaves will be returned – maybe they’ll barter later – but there’s to be no payment of any kind this midnight when the whole family was awakened.

We may think this guy is really rude – causing such a disturbance in the middle of the night.  Couldn’t he have waited for a few hours, wait for a time when there wouldn’t be such trouble involved in getting the bread?

Well – no.  It couldn’t wait.  It’s a cultural thing.  One we don’t follow today.  We’ve probably got something to give someone who arrives in the middle of the night, since we have preservatives, refrigeration, canned goods, Etc.  But they didn’t.  Going shopping every day was pretty much a way of life. 

On top of that, there’s something special about hospitality in Biblical days.  Since this particular topic of hospitality also goes along with to him who knocks, the door will be opened, we’ll go into a fair amount of detail here, and then refer back to it.

It is important to note that biblical notions of hospitality overlap only partly with the idea of hospitality in modern Western cultures, where it is frequently viewed as the recreational sharing of fellowship, lodging, and provisions among friends or relatives. In the Bible (as in the ancient world in general), hospitality involves receiving strangers—especially travelers, who then become guests or are treated as friends—rather than merely reinforcing pre-existing friendships or bonds of affection.  1)Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The practice of hospitality was not uniquely Jewish or Christian; it was a pervasive feature and high value in both the ancient Near East and Graeco-Roman worlds. The OT and NT both reflect this cultural obligation to the traveler and stranger and treat practicing hospitality as expected and commendable (Gen 18:1–15; 19:1–3; 24:1–10; Judg 19:15–21; Job 31:32; 3 John 5–8), while failing to practice hospitality was seen as exceptional and condemnable (e.g., Deut 23:3–4; Psa 94:6; Wis 19:13–15; Matt 10:14–15; Luke 7:36–50; 11:5–8; 3 John 10–11). The way Lot offered his daughters for the sexual gratification of the mob to protect his visitors is a vivid, if distorted, illustration of how seriously hosts took their obligations to their guests (Gen 19:4–8; compare Judg 19:23–24).  <fn>Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Today, if someone was travelling in the middle of the night, they’d stop by some 24-hour fast food place if they were hungry – before going to someone’s house.  Yesterday, my wife and I went to visit her family – and we were the ones bringing the food to her brother’s home.  Things are just different now.  However, as we saw above, failure to offer food – at a minimum, some bread – would have been unacceptable.  We probably can’t relate to that – but it’s important that we at least try to understand – put ourselves in their “sandals” – in order to really grasp what Jesus us saying in this passage. 

BTW – this is also the reason it’s so important that we read the correct interpretation of the one verse where we saw a problem – Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him.  We absolutely need to realize that Jesus’ message is directed to us – not to someone else.  Jesus is telling us how to pray – not telling someone else, with the possibility that we might think He wasn’t talking to us.

Lk 11:7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’

Now we see that the person inside – the one with the bread – doesn’t want to be disturbed any further. already not too happy about this unwanted visitor in the night.  He’s already upset about his kid’s being woken up – because that’s one more problem to deal with.  And – he recognizes that he’s giving this bread away – he’s not going to get anything in return for all these problems.   And even if he does get something later for the value of the bread – it’s certainly not going to make up for all the other side-effects of this middle-of-the-night disturbance.

However – Jesus continues –

8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

Jesus says that in spite of the circumstances – the man doesn’t want to be bothered any longer – the man with the visitor isn’t going to settle for anything less than providing for his guest.

There are two cultural reasons for this – two reasons why we shouldn’t settle for less.

One has to do with hospitality – the way guests were treated in OT times –

Although the people of the Bible inherited cultural notions of hospitality, it is important to note the distinctive character and unique motivations of hospitality as described in the Bible. Hospitality in its biblical context is shaped by the beneficent character of God. It reflects his saving acts and is regulated by divine instruction. One reason that the people of Israel must treat aliens and strangers with hospitality is that Israel experienced being strangers and aliens in Egypt (Exod 22:20; 23:9; Lev 19:33–34; Deut 10:19; 24:17–18; see also Jer 7:5–7). Another reason to practice hospitaility is that Yahweh cares for aliens and strangers (Pss 39:12; 68:6; 146:9) and his people should share his concern.  <fn>Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

This shows the difference between doing the right thing because it makes us look good – and doing the right thing because it’s a reflection of our beliefs about God.  When it comes to doing something for God – we shouldn’t settle for less.  If the bread was only about saving face for us – or letting our guest grumble silently about our lack of hospitality, maybe we wouldn’t go to that much trouble.  However, if it’s about what we would call “testimony” about God – living out what we claim to believe – then having something for the guest to eat isn’t about us any longer – it’s about God.  In that case, we’d go to much greater lengths to get the bread – because it’s not about just the bread – it’s about God.

And so – Jesus continues –

8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

But Jesus had even more in mind when He said this –

The practices of hospitality have both pragmatic and symbolic functions. Pragmatically, hospitality enabled early Christians, like others in the ancient world, to travel when commercial options were limited and unsafe. For Christians, this was especially important for propagating the Christian message and weaving a network of relationships among local church bodies. The connection between hospitality and mission begins in the ministry of Jesus (Matt 10:9–15; Mark 6:7–11; Luke 8:1–3; 9:1–6; 10:1–16). Just as showing hospitality was a means of advancing the mission, withholding hospitality could be a vehicle for discipline. Since itinerant teachers and philosophers were a ubiquitous phenomenon, it was important for the early Christians to learn to exercise discernment and distinguish between valid missionaries and false teachers. Thus, while extending hospitality is the Christian norm (e.g., 3 John 5–8; see also Pol. Phil. 1:1; 1 Clem. 1:2; Herm. Man 8.1.10; Herm. Sim. 9.27.2), the New Testament advised Christians to deny hospitality to errant teachers who would exploit their generosity (e.g., 2 John 9–11; see also Did. 11–12; Ign. Smyrn. 4:1; 7:2).
Symbolically, hospitality functions as an expression of reception and communion, the solidarity of the Christian family. By “eating and drinking” with sinners and tax-collectors (Matt 9:11; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:1–2; compare Acts 11:3) or washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:3–17), Jesus, though a literal guest, makes himself to be covenantal host in the practice of hospitality. The same impulse is evident when Paul instructs Christians to “welcome (προσλάμβανω, proslambanō) one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed (proslambanō) you,” (Rom 15:7; compare Rom 14:1–3) and when he sternly rebukes Cephas (Peter) in Gal 2:11–14, for failing to eat with Christian Gentiles. Christian hospitality thus functions as the emblem of the divine welcome in Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is not surprising that hospitality is regarded both as a general obligation for all Christians (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9) and as a particular quality and duty of those who would be leaders of the church (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8; compare 1 Tim 5:10). The NT explicitly names hospitality among the virtues that characterize Christian living (Matt 25:35; Rom 12:13; 1 Tim 3:2; 5:10).  2)Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Let’s look at the example of Matthew 25:35 to see just how important this is.  As we read the passage below, keep in mind that Jesus is talking about giving someone bread – and very likely water as well, to wash it down.

The Sheep and the Goats

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Now, that’s important.  It’s about a whole lot other than making a guest feel bad for the rest of the night.  It’s about forever.  Definitely worth waking up a friend in the middle of the night.

Let’s also look at the flip side.  What if you were the person with the bread – the one who didn’t want to be disturbed?  Would you refuse to lend your friend the bread – or would you get if for him?  Even more so – would you do it after much yelling and shouting at each other – or would you do it right away – willingly even?  After all – it might be the difference between your friend being in the sheep line – or the goat line.  

Ouch.  Harsh.  And yet – it is possible that some would give up – stop trying to do the right things – and be in the goat line because of that.

Fathers

We now move from friends to fathers.

Culturally, a father as the head of the family was very important in Biblical times.  Here’s a small sampling of why the father figure was so important –

FATHER. The position and authority of the father as the head of the family are expressly assumed and sanctioned in Scripture, as a likeness of that of the Almighty over his creatures. It lies of course at the root of that so-called patriarchal government, Gen. 3:16; 1 Cor. 11:3, which was introductory to the more definite systems which followed, and which in part, but not wholly, superseded it. The father’s blessing was regarded as conferring special benefit, but his malediction special injury, on those on whom it fell, Gen. 9:25, 27; 27:27–40; 48:15, 20; 49; and so also the sin of a parent was held to affect, in certain cases, the welfare of his descendants. 2 Kings 5:27. The command to honor parents is noticed by St. Paul as the only one of the Decalogue which bore a distinct promise, Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:2; and disrespect towards them was condemned by the law as one of the worst of crimes. Ex. 21:15, 17; 1 Tim. 1:9. It is to this well-recognized theory of parental authority and supremacy that the very various uses of the term “father” in Scripture are due. “Fathers” is used in the sense of seniors, Acts 7:2; 22:1, and of parents in general, or ancestors. Dan. 5:2; Jer. 27:7; Matt. 23:30, 32.  <fn>Smith, W. (1986). In Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Let’s look at the Ephesians 6:2 reference in particular –

Children and Parents

Eph 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Eph 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Notice – this is a two-way thing going on here.  Paul has instruction for both the child and the parent.  Unfortunately, all too often these days, there is no father in the household.  In spite of a headling stating The Majority of Children Live With Two Parents, Census Bureau Reports – here are the sad details reported inside the story , from 2016 –

The majority of America’s 73.7 million children under age 18 live in families with two parents (69 percent), according to new statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is compared to other types of living arrangements, such as living with grandparents or having a single parent.

The second most common family arrangement is children living with a single mother, at 23 percent. These statistics come from the Census Bureau’s annual America’s Families and Living Arrangements table package.

Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of children living in families with two parents decreased from 88 to 69. Of those 50.7 million children living in families with two parents, 47.7 million live with two married parents and 3.0 million live with two unmarried parents.

During the 1960-2016 period, the percentage of children living with only their mother nearly tripled from 8 to 23 percent and the percentage of children living with only their father increased from 1 to 4 percent. The percentage of children not living with any parent increased slightly from 3 to 4 percent.

This is yet another unfortunate example of how people today have a hard time relating to cultural norms from biblical days.  When we read the passage below, we need to relate what Jesus says to the way it was back then – or else the way it should be today – not necessarily to our own parents, or to our own lack of one or more parents. 

With that in mind, let’s proceed.

Lk 11:11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

For me – while I was never given anything deadly to eat – I can relate to not getting the fish or the egg – I can relate to getting either one in a condition that I would have chosen to go hungry rather than eat it.  I know that way too many of you have no trouble at all relating to things far worse.  

Jesus continues, with the assumption that we have / had good parents, who would have given us the requested items, in an edible condition.

13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Jesus now says that no matter how goo our parents were (again, assuming they were good) – God will give us so much more, and it will be so much better.

The key – again – is that Jesus is talking about something we ask for.

The Lord’s prayer – it’s praying for things.
The friend – he’s asking for bread.
The example of the fathers – it’s the children asking for food.

Asking.  Always about us asking.

Before we dig deeper into that – let’s look at the next passage in our list at the top of this article.

Mt 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you …

Once again, let’s start with the context.  Before the section titled Ask, Seek, Knock in Matthew’s Gospel, we have one titled Judging Others – and after it we have The Narrow and Wide Gates

Judging Others

While maybe not as directly related as the surrounding passages in Luke, there are things to consider here.

Mt 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

As we’re going to see in the Ask, Seek, Knock section – this is very much about treating other people the way we want to be treated.  We will be judged the way we judge others.  God will look at us – “sizing us up” may be a better contemporary phrase – the way we look at others.

Mt 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Obviously, this is about hypocrites.  However, it also continues the thought from the previous portion of the passage.  One might get the idea – or maybe want to get the idea – that we should just mind our own business and not get involved in other people’s business – under any circumstances.  But there’s a problem with that idea.  How can that be the right thing to do, when we also read things like this – first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Obviously- something’s wrong. 

There’s an old James Bond movie that actually gives us an idea of what happens when we don’t get involved – when we let others so things like walk away from God..  it’s Live and Let Die.  Because that’s exactly what will happen when we see our Christian brothers and sisters messing up – with the speck in their eye.  However – when we’re even worse, with the plank in our own eye – we’re in no condition to be trying to help someone else.

Mt 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

Finally, we get to Jesus comparing some people to dogs and pigs.  

Now – for the dog lovers, like me – and the pig lovers – we have to realize there are more cultural differences in this verse.  Neither of these animals were kept as pets back then.  Far from it.  For dogs, we tend to see verses like these –

Ex 22:31 “You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.”

Phil 3:2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

And, for pigs –

Isa 66:17 “Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things—they will meet their end together,” declares the LORD.

Isa 65:2 All day long I have held out my hands  to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good,  pursuing their own imaginations— 
Isa 65:3 a people who continually provoke me  to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens  and burning incense on altars of brick; 
Isa 65:4 who sit among the graves  and spend their nights keeping secret vigil;  who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of unclean meat;

So we see there are limits.  Not limits to helping / trying to save someone – but in some cases, limits on who we try to save –

This verse is not a directive against evangelizing the Gentiles, especially in a book full of various supports for this. “Dogs” and “pigs” refer to any persons who have given clear evidences of rejecting the Gospel with vicious scorn and hardened contempt.  <fn>Zondervan NIV Commentary; An Abridgment of the Gold-Medallion Winning Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, Michigan; A Division of HarperCollins Publishers

This, of course, is in line with what Jesus said when He sent out the twelve to preach the Gospel –

Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Limits.  Something not expressed in Luke’s Gospel within the context of what we’re examining here, but certainly present here in Matthew.  We’ll get more into that shortly.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

Mt 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

I’ve often said, the Narrow Gate isn’t narrow because God wants people to wait in line to get into His Kingdom.  It’s narrow because, relatively speaking, a whole lot less people are going to go through it compared to the number of people who’ll be going through the Wide Gate.

Everything we’ve looked at so far, including the passages that provide context to the Ask, Seek Knock sections, provide instruction for us – teaching us how to get the Narrow Gate.

Jn 16:24 “… Ask and you will receive …

Finally, we get to

joy will be completeJn 16:24 “… Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Your joy will be complete

Timing is everything.  I just took a break to go get lunch – Taco Bell $5 Quesarito Box Box.  Add some “fire sauce” and it’s got to be one of the best fast-food drive-through meals.  Anyway, as I’m sitting in the car waiting for the people in front of me – the ending to this comes to mind.  Before that, I had no idea where / how this was going to end – but all of I sudden, it was there – I knew.  Here’s a hint – it was something about the joy of having a Quesarito with fire sauce.  A warning though – don’t take that too literally.  In fact – not literally at all.  Consider it like a parable – a “non-literal utterance”.

So – let’s proceed.  Here’s the context surrounding this final passage – Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Given that this is already getting quite long, let’s just look at the NIV titles of the sections before and after the one we’re looking at.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot really understand what the Bible says.  Jesus tells us this, as in –

Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The Disciples’ Grief Will Turn to Joy

This is the section containing Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.  We’ll deeper into it in a moment.

Jesus Prays for Himself

Prayer – again.  Following the examples we saw above, Jesus prays first for Himself.

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

Next – Jesus prays for those closest to Him – the ones He counts on to spread the Gospel.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

Finally, more prayer – this time for all believers.  

Prayer – and asking.  We see them over and over in this topic.

Now – let’s look at The Disciples’ Grief Will Turn to Joy.

Jn 16:17 Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jn 16:19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Jn 16:25 “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Jn 16:29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

Jn 16:31 “You believe at last!”Jesus answered. 32 “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

Jn 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Within this context, we begin to see what 24 … Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete actually means.  However – it’s still only “begin to see”.  

First – let’s look at the beginning of that verse –

24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

We see a qualifier there – Jesus is talking about something we ask for in His name.  Oops.  Going back to my Taco Bell lunch – I’m not going to be asking for a Quesarito in Jesus’ name, no matter how much joy it may bring me while I’m eating it.  Yes – in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask for our daily bread, referring back to the “manna from Heaven” – but learning from the experiences of the Israelites at that time – I’m not going to rumble against God if He chooses to give me manna instead of Taco Bell!

Let’s back up a bit more, and we have –

23 … I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

It’s another instance of asking for something in Jesus’ name.  Let’s face it – anything and everything Jesus says is important.  But when Jesus says something twice in a row – it’s really important.  And that’s twice in a row where Jesus is telling us that what we ask for – when He says any of the variations on “ask, seek, knock” – it’s in His name! 

It’s not that we are to literally ask for anything.  We could.  I could ask for Taco Bell in Jesus name,  But then I’d fully expect to get “Are you still so dull?” for an answer.  Even that, it’d probably only be the first time.  Somewhere I’d also get something like “Do you still not understand?”.   And worst of all, for me – “You are ____ teacher, and do you not understand these things?”.

We also need to remember the things we saw earlier – from the context of the passages in Luke and Matthew.  The limits on what we’re to ask for – these things are sacred – ans we should ask accordingly.  When we pray for something (appropriate, of course) for someone else, we should always pray for ourselves / get ourselves right with God first.  And we should remember that the things we are to ask for are related to following the path to the Narrow Gate, as opposed to the Wide Gate.  Or maybe the things we ask for are to bring glory to God – not to us.

We have a Father who cares so very much for us.  For me, even in second or third grade, this was something I still remember – because of how badly I wanted a Father like that.  Our requests, as much as we’re even capable, should reflect that kind of love.

\And them the thing that really came to mind and hit me over the top of my head while waiting at Taco Bell –

23 … I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

And your joy will be complete

This is one really good way to know if what we’re asking for is appropriate.

Yes – the Quesarito would bring joy.  And it would last about as long as it takes to eat it.  Actually – a bit longer than that.  But – that’s not what the Bible means by “joy”.

Consider this –

Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

True enough – driving in southern California is a trial – and perseverance is needed in order to get through it.  But a drive to Taco Bell isn’t what James had in mind.  No – it’s all the other stuff that happens to us, especially the kind Jesus spoke of –

Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

or

Lk 22:31Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

I’ve had plenty of those times.  And I often wonder things like – when will it end, or will it end in this life?  

However – it hit me while I was waiting for lunch – those aren’t even requests.  It’s not like I’m asking for stuff to stop happening.  It’s more like grumbling.  I think a lot of that is because I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to ask for them to stop.  Even Job, after he lost his sons and daughters responded like this –

Job 1:20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: Job 1:20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,  and naked I will depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;  may the name of the LORD be praised.” 
Job 1:22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

So who am I to ask God to put an end to whatever is happening to me?  It’s nowhere near what Job went through.  It feel like the drip, drip, drip … of Chinese water torture (is that even a real thing?) – but nothing like Job’s experiences.

However – why should I not ask for something like this –

Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control  and against such things there is no law.  

Those things – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control – meet all the requirements that we’ve looked at.  They will help to get me right with God.  They will, through my actions and responses, bring glory to God.  They will put me in a position where I can help others to know God and to be saved.  And I feel fine asking for them in Jesus’ name.

With all that’s been going on, I am finally learning about the joy of being with God in the midst of troubles.  Just like Jesus promised – it’s a level of peace and calm that’s nothing short of miraculous.  More joy, or more of any of the other 8 fruits of the Spirit would also bring about the final portion of John 16:24 –

24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Given all of this, that was the most important lunch I’ve ever had.  Asking to remember that God is with me in times of trouble – that’s good.  It’s important.  But with such a loving Father – we can ask for so much more.

Way more joy than what I got from eating the Quesarito.  A Joy that will last for ever,  And things to ask for – to make the joy even more complete than what I have now.

It’s funny – and sad – when things are going well, we ask for things like the fruits of the Spirit.  But when things aren’t going go well – when God is really wanting and waiting for us to ask for these things – we don’t.  We forget.  We get overwhelmed.  We rely on ourselves.  All kinds of excuses.  So what I ask for now – in a time of relative peace and calm – and in Jesus’ name – is that the next time a storm comes on me – that I remember to ask for the fruits of the Spirit at that time – immediately.  Yes, it will bring more peace, joy and calm to me.  But through that – it will also bring more glory to God, and hopefully also bring others to God as well – seeing what God has done for me.  Should the storms stop – that’s be awesome.  But if they don’t – that’s OK too.  As Jesus also said, at the time of His greatest storm, while praying in Gethsemane –

Lk 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

How about you.  
What are you asking for – in Jesus’ name?

 

Series Navigation<< The problem of – With all your mind. Or not?The problem of “handing it over to God” >>

References   [ + ]

1. Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The practice of hospitality was not uniquely Jewish or Christian; it was a pervasive feature and high value in both the ancient Near East and Graeco-Roman worlds. The OT and NT both reflect this cultural obligation to the traveler and stranger and treat practicing hospitality as expected and commendable (Gen 18:1–15; 19:1–3; 24:1–10; Judg 19:15–21; Job 31:32; 3 John 5–8), while failing to practice hospitality was seen as exceptional and condemnable (e.g., Deut 23:3–4; Psa 94:6; Wis 19:13–15; Matt 10:14–15; Luke 7:36–50; 11:5–8; 3 John 10–11). The way Lot offered his daughters for the sexual gratification of the mob to protect his visitors is a vivid, if distorted, illustration of how seriously hosts took their obligations to their guests (Gen 19:4–8; compare Judg 19:23–24).  <fn>Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Today, if someone was travelling in the middle of the night, they’d stop by some 24-hour fast food place if they were hungry – before going to someone’s house.  Yesterday, my wife and I went to visit her family – and we were the ones bringing the food to her brother’s home.  Things are just different now.  However, as we saw above, failure to offer food – at a minimum, some bread – would have been unacceptable.  We probably can’t relate to that – but it’s important that we at least try to understand – put ourselves in their “sandals” – in order to really grasp what Jesus us saying in this passage. 

BTW – this is also the reason it’s so important that we read the correct interpretation of the one verse where we saw a problem – Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him.  We absolutely need to realize that Jesus’ message is directed to us – not to someone else.  Jesus is telling us how to pray – not telling someone else, with the possibility that we might think He wasn’t talking to us.

Lk 11:7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’

Now we see that the person inside – the one with the bread – doesn’t want to be disturbed any further. already not too happy about this unwanted visitor in the night.  He’s already upset about his kid’s being woken up – because that’s one more problem to deal with.  And – he recognizes that he’s giving this bread away – he’s not going to get anything in return for all these problems.   And even if he does get something later for the value of the bread – it’s certainly not going to make up for all the other side-effects of this middle-of-the-night disturbance.

However – Jesus continues –

8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

Jesus says that in spite of the circumstances – the man doesn’t want to be bothered any longer – the man with the visitor isn’t going to settle for anything less than providing for his guest.

There are two cultural reasons for this – two reasons why we shouldn’t settle for less.

One has to do with hospitality – the way guests were treated in OT times –

Although the people of the Bible inherited cultural notions of hospitality, it is important to note the distinctive character and unique motivations of hospitality as described in the Bible. Hospitality in its biblical context is shaped by the beneficent character of God. It reflects his saving acts and is regulated by divine instruction. One reason that the people of Israel must treat aliens and strangers with hospitality is that Israel experienced being strangers and aliens in Egypt (Exod 22:20; 23:9; Lev 19:33–34; Deut 10:19; 24:17–18; see also Jer 7:5–7). Another reason to practice hospitaility is that Yahweh cares for aliens and strangers (Pss 39:12; 68:6; 146:9) and his people should share his concern.  <fn>Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

This shows the difference between doing the right thing because it makes us look good – and doing the right thing because it’s a reflection of our beliefs about God.  When it comes to doing something for God – we shouldn’t settle for less.  If the bread was only about saving face for us – or letting our guest grumble silently about our lack of hospitality, maybe we wouldn’t go to that much trouble.  However, if it’s about what we would call “testimony” about God – living out what we claim to believe – then having something for the guest to eat isn’t about us any longer – it’s about God.  In that case, we’d go to much greater lengths to get the bread – because it’s not about just the bread – it’s about God.

And so – Jesus continues –

8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

But Jesus had even more in mind when He said this –

The practices of hospitality have both pragmatic and symbolic functions. Pragmatically, hospitality enabled early Christians, like others in the ancient world, to travel when commercial options were limited and unsafe. For Christians, this was especially important for propagating the Christian message and weaving a network of relationships among local church bodies. The connection between hospitality and mission begins in the ministry of Jesus (Matt 10:9–15; Mark 6:7–11; Luke 8:1–3; 9:1–6; 10:1–16). Just as showing hospitality was a means of advancing the mission, withholding hospitality could be a vehicle for discipline. Since itinerant teachers and philosophers were a ubiquitous phenomenon, it was important for the early Christians to learn to exercise discernment and distinguish between valid missionaries and false teachers. Thus, while extending hospitality is the Christian norm (e.g., 3 John 5–8; see also Pol. Phil. 1:1; 1 Clem. 1:2; Herm. Man 8.1.10; Herm. Sim. 9.27.2), the New Testament advised Christians to deny hospitality to errant teachers who would exploit their generosity (e.g., 2 John 9–11; see also Did. 11–12; Ign. Smyrn. 4:1; 7:2).
Symbolically, hospitality functions as an expression of reception and communion, the solidarity of the Christian family. By “eating and drinking” with sinners and tax-collectors (Matt 9:11; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:1–2; compare Acts 11:3) or washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:3–17), Jesus, though a literal guest, makes himself to be covenantal host in the practice of hospitality. The same impulse is evident when Paul instructs Christians to “welcome (προσλάμβανω, proslambanō) one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed (proslambanō) you,” (Rom 15:7; compare Rom 14:1–3) and when he sternly rebukes Cephas (Peter) in Gal 2:11–14, for failing to eat with Christian Gentiles. Christian hospitality thus functions as the emblem of the divine welcome in Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is not surprising that hospitality is regarded both as a general obligation for all Christians (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9) and as a particular quality and duty of those who would be leaders of the church (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8; compare 1 Tim 5:10). The NT explicitly names hospitality among the virtues that characterize Christian living (Matt 25:35; Rom 12:13; 1 Tim 3:2; 5:10).  <fn>Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2. Anderson, G. P. (2014). Hospitality. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Let’s look at the example of Matthew 25:35 to see just how important this is.  As we read the passage below, keep in mind that Jesus is talking about giving someone bread – and very likely water as well, to wash it down.

The Sheep and the Goats

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Now, that’s important.  It’s about a whole lot other than making a guest feel bad for the rest of the night.  It’s about forever.  Definitely worth waking up a friend in the middle of the night.

Let’s also look at the flip side.  What if you were the person with the bread – the one who didn’t want to be disturbed?  Would you refuse to lend your friend the bread – or would you get if for him?  Even more so – would you do it after much yelling and shouting at each other – or would you do it right away – willingly even?  After all – it might be the difference between your friend being in the sheep line – or the goat line.  

Ouch.  Harsh.  And yet – it is possible that some would give up – stop trying to do the right things – and be in the goat line because of that.

Fathers

We now move from friends to fathers.

Culturally, a father as the head of the family was very important in Biblical times.  Here’s a small sampling of why the father figure was so important –

FATHER. The position and authority of the father as the head of the family are expressly assumed and sanctioned in Scripture, as a likeness of that of the Almighty over his creatures. It lies of course at the root of that so-called patriarchal government, Gen. 3:16; 1 Cor. 11:3, which was introductory to the more definite systems which followed, and which in part, but not wholly, superseded it. The father’s blessing was regarded as conferring special benefit, but his malediction special injury, on those on whom it fell, Gen. 9:25, 27; 27:27–40; 48:15, 20; 49; and so also the sin of a parent was held to affect, in certain cases, the welfare of his descendants. 2 Kings 5:27. The command to honor parents is noticed by St. Paul as the only one of the Decalogue which bore a distinct promise, Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:2; and disrespect towards them was condemned by the law as one of the worst of crimes. Ex. 21:15, 17; 1 Tim. 1:9. It is to this well-recognized theory of parental authority and supremacy that the very various uses of the term “father” in Scripture are due. “Fathers” is used in the sense of seniors, Acts 7:2; 22:1, and of parents in general, or ancestors. Dan. 5:2; Jer. 27:7; Matt. 23:30, 32.  <fn>Smith, W. (1986). In Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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