Community Group Study Guide — The Generosity of God
Every one of us can come to the scripture and our thoughts about God with preconceived notions of who God is or who God ought to be. No one is a blank slate. Often our views can be shaped by our parents, our culture and our life experiences in ways we may be unaware of. If you’re born and raised in the American suburbs, with an upper middle class family, with a semi-religious kind of up bringing it is likely that you’ll approach God with a bent towards thinking God is there when you need him, good people get to heaven and you can pick and choose from various world religions to form your view of God. This is a generalization and not meant to be harsh, but this seems to be the general view that most Americans hold when surveyed about who God is. However, if you were part of the crowd hearing Jesus teach the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) your view of God would be radically different. The crowd was made up of two groups of people; on one side there were the religious teachers and Pharisees, and on the other side a group that was on the margins made up of people who were diseased, paralyzed, poor and afflicted (Matthew 4:23-25). A common teaching in the day of Jesus from those religious teachers would be that the poor, diseased and afflicted were suffering because of their own personal sin (John 9:1-2). The scripture does not teach this sort of system that is more similar to “karma”, but the religious leaders of that day would have seen God as blessing the righteous with health, wealth and prosperity and punishing the unrighteous with poverty and affliction (see the book of Job). If your life was marked by challenges, suffering and poverty then your preconceived view of God would be very different in the 1st century than it would be growing up in the “burbs” of America.
Jesus, in Matthew 7:7-11, desires for you to see God as the generous and gracious father that he is even if your life has been a mess and filled with suffering. It may be tough for you to see God as a God who is without limit in his generosity, but that is precisely why Jesus presses this point, especially in light of the people who heard him teach this and the generations of sufferers who’d read these verses for thousands of years after.
Matthew 6:19-7:12 is a subunit in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is teaching his disciples how to interact with the world we’re in. We’re to seek after heavenly treasure, go to the Lord in trust with our anxieties and strive to judge in such a way that we do not condemn, but rather restore. We’ve learned how challenging this can be which is precisely why Jesus goes to this teaching in Matthew 7:7-11, we can respond with trust towards God and love towards others because of the character of our heavenly father. One scholar goes as far as to say that these verses are the most encouraging and hope giving of the entire Sermon on the Mount. Let’s explore why that just may be the case.
We learn at least three things in this passage.
First, Jesus is encouraging us to be the kind of people who are going to the Lord all the time. If you’re prone to think that God is far off, reserved, grumpy or hesitant to be near you then this passage is meant for you. You’re invited to ask, seek and knock and to know with certainty that God hears and responds to his children. Hebrews 11:6 helps us to understand this thought saying “and without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Jesus wants us to know that God responds when we seek after him. When you feel like God does not care or that he is out to get you, respond by telling yourself the truth about God instead of giving in to your feelings in the midst of your circumstance. The Lord desires for you to ask, seek and knock. God’s goal in our redemption is to bring us into the fullness of his presence and that gives us access to the Lord.
Second, God provides for our needs out of his love and generosity. Jesus tells us here that everyone who asks receives, those who seek will find and if you knock the door will be opened to you. Jesus quickly follows this up with an illustration about the goodness of God in how if you ask for bread you will get bread and not a stone, a fish and not a serpent, etc. The reason for this illustration is to show us that God’s response is rooted in his generous nature. God provides for our needs and he is limitless in his ability to do so. That is why we can go to him, we will not exhaust him with our requests, prayers or neediness.
Notice too, the emphasis for God’s response towards his children is not on the persistence of your seeking or the words you use, but on the character of God. God is a more generous and loving father than any of us could dream up or hope to experience this side of heaven.
This is not a universal statement indicating that God will answer your prayers in the way that you have sought. We can sometimes fall into this trap of thinking that if we ask a certain way, with enough perseverance and the right language that God will respond by how we’ve asked (Matthew 6:1-4). But God, in his mercy, responds to our prayers with what we need and what is ultimately for our good. Think about some of the things you’ve prayed for in the past like a job situation or a relationship or for God to give you a certain thing; many of us have realized that if God answered the prayer in the way that we imagined that it would have been terrible for our lives. You may be married to a different person, stuck at a bad job or you may have missed a season of pain or health problems but you also would have missed out on what God did through that rough season. Rather, this passage is teaching us that God’s ways are greater than what we can imagine and that God is there when we seek and that his heart towards us is always one marked by generosity and overflowing love.
Finally, God has no bent towards evil (Matthew 7:11). Jesus contrasts humans to God to highlight God’s goodness. He points out that even though “we are evil” we can give good gifts. The application is to point us to God’s goodness; how much more will God give good gifts since he is fully and perfectly good? This statement is not to tear us down but to highlight something about God. If you’re following Jesus that means that God has set you apart and is in process of sanctifying you as you put sin to death and walk in new life. However, you still have a sin nature and will battle sin for the rest of your life which is what he means by saying “if you then, who are evil…” This is an example of Jesus using a measure of hyperbole to make his point that God has not bent towards evil whatsoever and that means that we can trust that whatever gift God gives us is good and perfect, coming down from the Father of Lights who does not change (James 1:17). Jesus wants you to delight in asking God knowing that God in return delights to answer.
The Lord wants his children to come to him and to know that he is generous and good. We are not to try and manipulate God or use God for our advantage, rather we are to see him as our good and loving father who provides for our needs out of the abundance of his love.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Are you aware of any default patterns you have for thinking about God that you know are wrong but you keep coming back to? What are they and how does this passage help?
Read James 1:17, Romans 8:32 and Matthew 7:11. How would you describe the generosity of God to someone who does not follow Jesus yet?
Though Jesus does not specifically mention prayer in this passage the verses go from “everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:8) to “your father who is in heaven will give good things to those who ask him!” How do these verses shape our prayer life? Do you find yourself hesitant to ask God? What are some of the things you’re currently asking, seeking and knocking for right now?