The Greek Answer
to the Meaning of Life
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
~ Matthew 7:7
I try to restrain myself from talking about the Greek or Hebrew original text of the Bible — with mixed success — because when I hear teachers do it, it turns off the audience and adds little or nothing to their message. (Not to mention, about 99.9% of the time they say something wrong.)
But there is an important lesson to be learned from the original of this passage, because in the Greek New Testament, all three verbs in Matthew 7:7 — ask, seek, knock — are in the present tense rather than the simple imperative tense.
Greek uses tenses very differently from the way English does. What is called the “present” tense does not necessarily say anything about when an action occurs! If you want to say, “Give me the book at the present time,” in ancient Greek, you do not use the present tense. (I’m sorry if this is confusing, but it is a confusing subject; divinity students, who receive two semesters of introductory Greek, generally never are able to grasp how differently Greek uses tense.)
Instead, and unlike English, the “present” tense is used to indicate continuous or habitual action — whether now or ten years from now (or sometimes even ten years in the past). “With the present, the force generally is to command the action as an ongoing process.” (The Basics of New Testament Syntax, by Daniel B. Wallace (Zondervan, 2000), p. 210.)
That does put the quote in a different light, doesn't it? Do we knock once, asking to be let in; and then once we are in, we stop knocking? No, that is not what the Bible says. The Bible says, “Knock, ask, and seek continually and habitually.”
A lot of people do exactly that. Their church life and personal spiritual life becomes settled and set. But this is not what Christ tells us to do. We are supposed to knock on his door every day. He is not a stressed-out homeowner and we are not residential telecom salesmen; He has invited us, nay, He has commanded us, to knock on his door habitually.
The other two parts are even clearer. We should certainly ask Him for what we want every day, but it is the “seek” part where we really have a chance to do ourselves a favor: For the wise person will seek God every minute of every day of his life; this is the meaning of the Scripture. This is such a powerful action that it constitutes, in my mind, the meaning of life.
So many people live in an anxious, confused existentialist state, trying to ponder the “meaning of life.” And yet, they never knock on the one door that will open for them and give them the answer, much less do so continually or habitually. Seek after Christ and, if you think you have found Him, keep on seeking. He isn't hiding. We only have trouble finding Him because we are blind. But it is in the trying to know Him that our lives are filled with purpose; for it is the highest and best goal of humanity.
Lord, let me seek you every waking minute of my life. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer