Introduction: This brief parable is given in the form of a rhetorical question, after which Jesus supplies the obvious answer in order to drive His point home. Then He goes on to offer some application of the parable's teaching. So, we will follow this simple order in our examination of the parable: 1) the question of the parable, 2) the answer of the parable, and 3) the application of the parable.
I. The Question of the Parable
The question itself is quite long and extends from verse 5 through verse 7:
NKJ Luke 11:5-7 And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves [ἄρτος, bread or loaf of bread]; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; 7 and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you '?”
As I have already indicated, this is a pretty long question, but it is pretty easily understood nonetheless. The question demands an answer something like, “Of course my friend would not refuse to help me in such a situation!” Jesus is simply asking us to think about how a friend would indeed get up in the middle of the night in order to help us with a need. And He assumes that we all have friends who would not refuse us but would help us out. After all, isn't this what friends do?
But beyond this simple point, Jesus also ties the question to the preceding context when He describes the man in the story as in need of bread. Notice that Jesus has just taught the disciples how to pray by use of what has come to be known as “The Lord's Prayer.” And in verse 3 He has said that they should pray, “Give us day by day our daily bread [ἄρτος].”
So, in this parable Jesus wants to encourage the disciples not to be afraid to keep asking every day for their daily bread. He wants them to know that they can be confident in seeking God to meet their daily needs. If a friend would get up in the middle of the night to give us bread when we have need, then wouldn't God also give us our daily bread? Especially since He has commanded us to ask Him daily for it? This is the idea Jesus has in mind, which will become apparent when we go on to examine the answer.
II. The Answer of the Parable
The answer is found in verse 8:
NKJ Luke 11:8 I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence [ἀναίδεια, literally shamelessness] he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
Perhaps the key term for understanding the meaning of this parable is the word translated persistence in the NKJV. The Greek word is anaídeia, and its meaning is strongly debated by scholars of Biblical Greek. In fact, this debate is reflected in the translation and notes of some of the modern versions.
For example, the NASB translates the Greek term anaídeia as persistence, but then it includes a footnote that reads “Lit shamelessness.” On the other hand, the ESV translates to word as impudence, but then includes a footnote that reads “Or, persistence.” So, which is it? Does the word mean something like shamelessness or impudence? Or does it carry the idea of persistence or perseverance? I think the ESV Study Bible does a pretty good job of laying out the issues in its study notes:
Impudence is Greek anaideia, which occurs only here in the NT. In all of its other known uses in ancient literature, the term means “lack of sensitivity to what is proper,” “impertinence,” “impudence”; it describes being without aidōs (“respect,” “modesty”). “Impudence,” then, would indicate that the friend is shamelessly and boldly awakening his neighbor, and of course the neighbor will give him whatever he needs. On this interpretation, Jesus' point is that if even a human being will respond to his neighbor in that way, then Christians should go boldly before God with any need they face, for God is more gracious and caring than any human neighbor. Some other interpreters believe that anaideia means “persistence” here, even though there are no other known occurrences of that meaning. Such a reading does fit the context, however, for the very next verses emphasize that believers must keep seeking, asking, and knocking (vv. 9–10) … Both ideas—a kind of shameless persistence—are possibly intended by this unusual term. (BibleWorks)
So, although the Greek word really does literally mean shamelessness or impunity or a lack of sensitivity to what is proper, the idea of persistence is also clearly indicated in the context, as the following explanation by Jesus makes clear. But before we move on to His application of this parable, it is good to consider for a moment what type of parable this is. It is what many would call an implied “how much more parable,” in which an argument is made from the lesser to the greater. For example, one prominent parable scholar observes:
As most interpreters agree, it is an argument from the weaker to the stronger. It is a “how much more” argument, a procedure common in Jewish hermeneutics, but the reader must supply the “stronger” element that makes explicit the intent of the parable. A second “how much more” argument is explicit in 11:13 and shows how the parable in 11:5-8 is to be interpreted … The parable says in effect: “If a human will obviously get up in the middle of the night to grant the request even of a rude friend, will not God much more answer your requests? (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 447)
That Jesus intends such a meaning becomes clear in His application of the parable, to which we will now turn our attention.
III. The Application of the Parable
The application of the parable is found in verses 9-13, and, as we begin to look at Jesus' application of this parable, we will see that He appears to have two main points of application in mind.
1. We must be constant in our praying.
This appears to be a primary focus in verse 9:
NKJ Luke 11:9 So I say to you, ask [Present Active Imperative > αἰτέω], and it will be given to you; seek [Present Active Imperative > ζητέω], and you will find; knock [Present Active Imperative > κρούω], and it will be opened to you.
That Jesus wants us to be constant in our praying – praying with passion and persistence – can be seen in two ways in this verse:
1) The use of the present imperative in each instance – keep on asking ... keep on seeking ... keep on knocking.
2) The progression of intensity in describing the actions of first asking, and then seeking, and then knocking.
Upon reflecting on these three verbs, “Richard Glover suggests that a child, if his mother is near and visible, asks; if she is neither, he seeks; while if she is inaccessible in her room, he knocks” (as cited by John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.184). I think Glover gets the metaphoric language of Jesus just about right.
So, we are to keep on asking. This is what we do when we are certain that the one we are imploring is near and can hear.
And we are to keep on seeking. This expects an action on our part. We have to actively look for the one we are imploring.
And we are to keep on knocking. This expects further action after having located the one we are imploring. It pictures us as persistently banging on the door to get the person's attention.
This progression of intensity in Jesus' use of metaphorical language teaches us just how passionately we should persist in prayer. For example, the more we may feel that God is distant – perhaps because we have already been persistent in asking – the more we are to persist in seeking Him. As the author of Hebrews reminds us:
NKJ Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Application: 1) The main point here is that God wants us to pray this way. He wants us to have to be persistent and to have to wait for answers from Him. Have you ever secretly thought that God must get tired of hearing your prayers? Or that you might annoy Him with bringing the same requests to Him? If so, Jesus wants you to know that God never gets tired of listening to His children! 2) On another note, have you ever thought that what you pray about most may reflect what is most important to you? And that what you persist in praying about demonstrates to God what you care most about? Or, as David Guzik puts it:
God promises an answer to the one who diligently seeks Him. Many of our dispassionate prayers are not answered for good reason, because it is almost as if we ask God to care about something we care little or nothing about. (Commentary on Luke, e-Sword)
When we stop to think about it like that, it can be very revealing and very convicting. On the other hand, perhaps each one of us should further ask of himself, “Do the things I pray most passionately and persistently for reflect what God is most concerned about?” (More on this later!) As Kent Hughes observes:
We naturally persevere in our prayers when someone close to us is sick. If one of our children becomes ill, we pray without ceasing. Likewise, if we are in financial trouble or if we are hoping for a promotion or if we have a frightening or dangerous task ahead of us, we generally find it easy to pray.
But do we persist in prayers for spiritual growth for ourselves or for others? Do we “ask... seek... knock” for a pure mind? Do we keep on knocking for a forgiving spirit or for the removal of an angry or critical spirit? I think that Christians usually do not! Consider what would happen if God's people understood what Christ is saying here and put it to work. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 235)
But aren't these the very sorts of spiritual things that we ought to pray the most for and that we can be most confident about God's granting us? I say the answer is an emphatic, “Yes”! And this leads us to our next point.
2. We must be confident in our praying.
In verses 9-13 Jesus indicates that we must have confidence first that God will, in fact, answer our prayers, and second that God will always answer our prayers in a manner that is best for us.
First, we must be confident that God will answer our prayers.
NKJ Luke 11:9-10 So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
There you have it! Jesus has stressed it three different ways … and then repeated all three two times so that we cannot miss it! God will, will, WILL answer our prayers! Of this we can be supremely confident!
Question: But this raises a very important question: Will God answer any and all prayers in the way that we desire? Will He give us anything we ask of Him as long as we just keep on asking?
There are seemingly countless “name it and claim it,” “prosperity gospel” preachers around these days that say “yes” in answer to this question, but we will see that a truly Biblical answer is “no.” We can see this not only from the immediate context of the passage but also from the context of the rest of Scripture.
The Immediate Context:
Remember that in the preceding verses Jesus has just taught the disciples how to pray, and His instruction there is quite informative:
NKJ Luke 11:2-4 So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. [God's will and glory should be foremost in all our praying.] 3 Give us day by day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” [Prayer for our own good is focused on our basic physical and spiritual needs.]
So, all prayer is to be focused ultimately upon the glory of God and the accomplishment of His will. And, even when we pray for our own needs, this should be with a view to the glory of God. This is the kind of praying Jesus has in mind when we come to the verses before us this morning.
If we want to be the kind of Christlike people the God has demanded of us, and if we want God to meet our needs – both physical and spiritual – to that end, and if we ask Him for such things, then we can be supremely confident that He will give us all that we ask for!
The Context of the Rest of Scripture:
Consider the teaching of James:
NKJ James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
James clearly teaches that we know we will always receive such things as the wisdom to be more faithful in living for God if we ask. But that isn't all he has to say about prayer. For example:
NKJ James 4:2a-3 Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Imagine the audacity and spiritual blindness one must have to ask God to feed their own selfish, sinful desires! How can such people dare to think He will answer their prayers as though He is their great credit card in the sky or the divine government agency that exists to subsidize their sin!
E. Stanley Jones was correct when he wrote:
Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God. (As cited by Kent Hughes in Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, p. 73)
As the Apostle John teaches with great clarity in his first epistle:
NKJ 1 John 5:14-15 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
And if we want to know what His will for our lives is, then we have no better place to look than to Scripture, which, as Paul teaches us, has been “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
When we pray that God will indeed accomplish these redemptive purposes in our lives and provide for us in every way so that these purposes may be accomplished, then we can, indeed, be confident that He will answer our prayers.
Second, we must be confident that God will answer our prayers in a manner that is best for us.
I think this is a primary point of verses 11-13:
NKJ Luke 11:11-12 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
Here Jesus is using several absurd examples to drive home the point that it is absurd to think that God will not lovingly answer our prayers. Kent Hughes may be on the right track in capturing the point of these examples:
In the Galilean setting for the giving of the Sermon on the Mount, the people were familiar with the flat stones by the shore that looked exactly like their round, flat cakes of bread, and with fish (more likely eels) that looked very muck like snakes. Can you imagine your son coming to tell you he is hungry and you give him a stone instead of bread? “Here son, enjoy!” you say mockingly as he cracks his teeth. “Oh, you didn't like that? Here, have a fish,” and you give him a harmful snake or eel. No first-century father would be as ignorant or cruel. (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 237)
Nor would any of us be so cruel! It would be absurd to think so. But that is exactly the point Jesus is making. If it would be absurd to think that any one of us would normally do such a thing, then how much more absurd would it be to think so of God!
NKJ Luke 11:13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!
If an evil human being can manage to love their children enough to give them good things rather than things that will harm them, then surely God – in whom there is no evil at all – will give His children only what is best for them! And in this passage Jesus gives a terrific example not only of what is good for us, but of what is the absolute best thing that we could wish for! He promises that our heavenly Father will give us the Holy Spirit when we ask Him! And with the Holy Spirit comes such blessings as a new heart, salvation through union with Christ, and power to overcome sin.
Conclusion: Of course, we who know Christ have already received the Holy Spirit, for without Him we would not be Christians at all! But we can still ask for a greater filling of the Spirit in our lives and for greater power to live for Christ and to overcome sin. And we can learn from Jesus what kind of prayer warriors God wants us to be.
I would like to conclude with a quote from Andrew Murray's book entitled With Christ in the School of Prayer, in which he comments on Luke 11:1, where the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray”:
Yes, let us joyfully say, ignorant and feeble though we be, 'Lord, teach us to pray':
Blessed Lord! Who ever lives to pray, You can teach me to pray, me to ever live to pray. In this You love to make me share Your glory in heaven, that I should pray without ceasing, and ever stand as a priest in the presence of my God.
Lord Jesus! I ask You this day to enroll my name among those who confess that they do not know how to pray as they ought, and specially ask You for a course in teaching in prayer. Lord! Teach me to wait with You in the school and give You time to train me. May a deep sense of my ignorance, the wonderful privilege and power of prayer, of the need of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of prayer, lead me to cast away my thoughts of what I think I know, and make me kneel before You in true teachableness and poverty of spirit.
And fill me, Lord, with the confidence that with a teacher like You I shall learn to pray. In the assurance that I have as my teacher, Jesus, who is ever praying to the Father, and by His prayer rules the destinies of His Church and the world, I will not be afraid. As much as I need to know of the mysteries of the prayer-world, You will fold for me. And when I may not know, You will teach me to be strong in faith, giving glory to God.
Blessed Lord! You will not put to shame Your student who trusts You, nor, by Your grace, would he put You to shame either. Amen. (As cited by David Guzik, Commentary on Luke, e-Sword)