If you 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! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7.11-12)A Bit of Housekeeping
Before looking at this truly fascinating passage, I apologize for dropping from sight this week. The early part of every year is very busy for me professionally—but this one is proving to be especially so. Over the next couple months I’ll be away from home more than usual. I left for my first assignment thinking I could carve out time to keep things up and running here. I was overly optimistic by half. Having learned my lesson, I’ll see everything is place for the normal three-posts-per-week schedule to continue uninterrupted. You mean very much to me and I personally can’t bear the thought of letting any of you down. With that, let’s dig into today’s text!
Matthew 7 finds Jesus rounding out The Sermon on the Mount, the most complete transcript of His teaching we have. It opens with The Beatitudes, a manifesto that lays out His doctrine of divine justice. Heaven’s reward belongs to impoverished and persecuted souls. Comfort comes to the sorrowful; honor is given to the humble; those craving righteousness are satisfied; and people who extend mercy obtain it. God reveals Himself to those who resist corruption, and He calls those who promote peace His children. Continuing on, Jesus shifts His focus from “them” to “you,” and in doing so, His message moves from rewards to responsibility. “You are the salt of the earth,” He says in Matthew 5.12—you preserve goodness. “You are the light of the world” (v14)—you illuminate lives. You forgive without being asked, you stay faithful to those you love, and you love everyone equally, enemies included.
Chapter 6 applies these principles to how we express faith, pray, handle daily anxieties, etc. Finally, chapter 7 marries both chapters to advance Christ’s doctrine of moral reciprocity. Everything He’s talked about so far has revolved around give-and-take. Now He defines the exchange rate, which basically comes down to this: determining what we need determines what we offer. If we want to be seen clearly and fairly, we look at others clearly and fairly. If we want our beliefs to be respected, we share them with those whose beliefs we respect. In this manner, what we desire will be granted, what we seek will be found, and doors we knock on will open.
A surface reading obstructs our view of what Jesus is really saying, though. It sounds like a pie-in-the-sky formula for happiness: be nice and everything will come up roses. That’s not His point. He’s instructing us to consider our needs and desires very carefully. Once we’ve distilled them to their essences, we can observe similar shortages in others and set out to fulfill their lacks and longings. Jesus reinforces this by completely reversing the perspective He establishes at the Sermon’s outset and uses up to this juncture. Instead of assuming the role of children of a beneficent Father, He urges us to take on the nature of our Father. He casts us as parents. In verses 9 and 10, He says, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” If we examine both examples, we find something truly astonishing.
Should our child ask, “Can I have a piece of bread,” it would never enter our minds to hand him/her a stone and say, “Here. Grind up some flour and bake your own loaf.” We’d automatically reach for ready-made food to meet his/her need. Should the child say, “I want some fish,” we’d never misconstrue that to mean, “Can I play with a cold-blooded, scaly animal?” The child craves protein; he/she wants replenished strength and energy. Why do we intuitively recognize the child’s true needs? We also get hungry and weak. We know exactly what he/she is feeling. Now, let’s listen to how Jesus ties all of this together: “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 good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (v11-12)
Knowing What We Need
And there it is: knowing what to offer others starts with a thoughtfully executed needs analysis. When we take the time to identify core needs we often express in secondary ways, we become highly adept at detecting others’ basic needs. Here are some examples of how this works. Do we truly want to be popular? Or are we actually seeking acceptance? Is wealth really our goal? Or are we anxious about long-term insecurity? Must we always have the last word? Or are we looking for confirmation our views matter and others are listening? Once we realize needs for acceptance, security, and respect drive our fantasies and demands we also realize how often they drive the attitudes and actions of others. What first strikes us as unseemly, outrageous, and selfish in them becomes more reasonable. We look beyond their wants and find their needs.
Without adequate understanding of our needs, we can’t effectively do for others what we would have them do for us. The Golden Rule never transcends its proverbial idealism to become the definitive force in our lives that Jesus intended. To fulfill Christ’s principle of moral reciprocity, knowing what we need to do for others entails knowing what we genuinely need.
Transcending The Golden Rule’s proverbial idealism requires a thoughtful analysis of our needs. Doing for others what we would have them do for us starts by knowing what really drives our demands and desires.
(Next: Not Done Yet)