Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8
When I first read this passage, it appeared like an unlimited gift card to Amazon. But if you back up a little and look at the context you will notice that these verses are nestled between four hard sayings of Jesus. First there is this part about not judging our brother and getting the planks out of our eyes.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 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? 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? 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. Matthew 7:1-5
Afterwards, there is the “Golden Rule” and the part about the narrow road.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow (stenos) gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small (stenos) is the gate and narrow (thlibo) the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:12-14
There are two different Greek words translated “narrow” in these verses, stenos and thlibo. Stenos describes the gate which is narrow or strait. Thlibo describes the way. Thlibo means narrow or straitened but is also means to press as the pressing of grapes, to press hard upon, afflict, to suffer tribulation and trouble. It is interesting that the noun forms of both these words are used by Paul in Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble (thlipsis) or hardship (stenochoria) or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35
There is affliction and suffering and pressing down hard in the narrow way. We are asked to let God work in us repentance of old ways and transformational change. To press out of us the hypocritical judging and unloving tendencies – through trouble and tribulation and distress if need be – until he can press out good new wine. Few want to choose that way. Most would rather just stick with the Amazon gift card.
In this context, for what am I to be asking, seeking, knocking? Well, for one thing, I am asking for “HELP!” Help to be able to see the planks in my own eye. Help to choose and go through the narrow way of affliction, suffering, tribulation, that he may produce good fruit in me that may be pressed into good wine.
What am I knocking on? What door? Jesus said he was the door. He is saying here that if I knock there it will be opened. He is the door or gate into the sheepfold where I am safe while I learn to follow and imitate the Shepherd. Jesus also said that he is the Word and the Truth. If I knock on the Word it will be opened to me. I will find the hidden treasure. I will begin to understand the mind of Christ.
What am I seeking? God. Just God. I want to have “a naked intent toward God.”[i] For only there in his Presence, in his strength, with his help, will I be able to do the narrow Way, the thlibo.
Do not judge your brother.
Take the plank of wood out of your own eye.
Ask, seek, knock!
Treat others as you would want to be treated.
Follow the narrow way.
For more about the pressing of grapes and the narrow way see The Pressing of Grapes
Photo by Sheila Bair
[i] Quoted from The Cloud of Unknowing, by an anonymous Christian mystic.