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? (11:13)
This premise, expressed in the form of a comparison, is the foundation upon which the whole discussion rests. Christ’s opening words, If you then, being evil, express the biblical doctrine of total or radical depravity. Even His true followers, those who had embraced Him as Lord, Savior, and Messiah, were still evil (ponēros; “bad,” “wicked,” “worthless”; also used as a title for Satan [Matt. 13:19, 38; John 17:15; Eph. 6:16; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19]). Significantly, the Lord did not say that they do evil, but rather that they are evil. Though they are redeemed and forgiven, sin remains a powerful operative principle in believers (Rom. 7:14–25). Yet despite being evil, human fathers still know how to give good gifts to their children. It is natural for even unbelievers to love their children, be kind to them, and provide for their needs. The image of God in that sense in people, though warped and scarred by the fall, is nonetheless still present.
The contrasting phrase how much more is the key to the Lord’s point. Reasoning from the lesser to the greater, if human fathers who are sinners, who love imperfectly, and often lack the wisdom to know what is best for their children lovingly provide for them, how much more will God, who is absolutely holy, loves perfectly (cf. John 13:1), and has infinite wisdom give what is best to His children. As the psalmist wrote, “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11; cf. 34:9–10; Matt. 6:33; Phil. 4:19).
Then Jesus concluded His point by promising that believers’ heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. This is an intriguing statement, which differs from the Lord’s teaching of this same truth on a different occasion, as recorded in Matthew 7:11. There He spoke of the Father giving what is good; here He expanded that and spoke of God’s giving the Spirit, who is the source of all goodness and blessing, to live within every believer.
To those who ask for a gift, He gives the giver; to those who ask for an effect, He gives the cause; to those who ask for a product He gives the source; to those seeking comfort He gives the comforter (Acts 9:31); to those seeking power He gives the source of power (Acts 1:8); to those seeking help He gives the helper (John 14:26); to those seeking truth He gives the Spirit of truth (John 16:13); to those seeking “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23) He gives the producer of all those things. The indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Tim. 1:14) is the source of every good thing in the Christian’s life (Eph. 3:20).
Though the New Testament would bring more complete revelation concerning the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with the Old Testament revelation concerning Him. They understood that He was involved in the creation (Gen. 1:2; cf. Job 33:4). Further, they knew that the Holy Spirit was associated with the coming of the Messiah (Isa. 61:1–3; cf. Joel 2:28–29, which was partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost [Acts 2:16–21]). They also understood that Messiah would send the Spirit to regenerate (Titus 3:5) and indwell those who put their faith in Him (Ezek. 36:25–27; cf. John 7:38–39; 14:16–17, 25–26; Titus 3:5).
The Holy Spirit is the cause of every truly good thing in the life of a Christian. He convicts unbelieving sinners, enabling them to be aware of and repent of their sin (John 16:8). They enter God’s kingdom of salvation by being born of the Spirit (John 3:5–8) in regeneration (Titus 3:5) and confessing Jesus as Lord through the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). It is through the Holy Spirit that they receive the knowledge of God (1 Cor. 2:11–12)—knowledge not understood by the unregenerate (v. 14). The Spirit frees believers from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2; 2 Cor. 3:17) and seals them for eternal life (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). They are baptized with the Spirit, placing them in the church, the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), indwelt by the Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Tim. 1:14), and filled (controlled, empowered by) with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The Holy Spirit empowers believers for evangelism (Acts 1:8), intercedes for them (Rom. 8:26), sanctifies them (1 Cor. 6:11), makes them progressively more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), pours out God’s love into their hearts (Rom. 5:5), and gives them hope (Rom. 15:13).
Bold, confident prayer results in communion with God and all the rich blessings of His goodness as believers experience the reality that He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).
13 Luke specifically mentions the Holy Spirit, who was promised (Ac 2:33; cf. Lk 24:49; Ac 1:4). The giving of the Spirit in response to prayer can already be found in 3:21–22 where the descent of the Spirit takes place when Jesus was praying. This promise also anticipates Acts, where one witnesses the dramatic descent of the Spirit on the believing community (cf. Shepherd, 137–40).
11:13 / though you are evil: Lachs (p. 142) suspects that underlying “evil” is the Hebrew word biša, which originally was intended only as an abbreviation for bāśār vādām (“flesh and blood”). He notes that to describe one as “flesh and blood” is to call someone mortal, and he cites a rabbinic tradition that parallels the logic of Jesus’ saying very closely: “If this man, who is flesh and blood, cruel and not responsible for her [his divorced wife’s] maintenance, was filled with compassion for her and gave her [aid], how much more should You be filled with compassion for us who are the children of Your children Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and are dependent on You for our maintenance” (Leviticus Rabbah 34.14).
Holy Spirit: Gundry (pp. 124–25) suspects that Luke’s “Holy Spirit” may be original, while Matthew’s (literally) “good things” (7:11) is a Matthean modification. I do not agree. Given Luke’s pronounced interest in the Holy Spirit (recall 1:35, 41, 67; 2:25; 3:16, 22; 4:1, 14, 18) it is much more probable that it was Luke who changed the original “good things” (as is read in Matthew) to “Holy Spirit” (so Schweizer, p. 192).
11:13 A human father would not give bad gifts; even though he has a sinful nature, he knows how to give good gifts to his children. How much more is our heavenly Father willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. J. G. Bellet says, “It is significant that the gift He selects as the one we most need, and the one He most desires to give, is the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus spoke these words, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given (John 7:39). We should not pray today for the Holy Spirit to be given to us as an indwelling Person, because He comes to indwell us at the time of our conversion (Rom. 8:9b; Eph. 1:13, 14).
But it is certainly proper and necessary for us to pray for the Holy Spirit in other ways. We should pray that we will be teachable by the Holy Spirit, that we will be guided by the Spirit, and that His power will be poured out on us in all our service for Christ.
It is quite possible that when Jesus taught the disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit, He was referring to the power of the Spirit enabling them to live the other-worldly type of discipleship which He had been teaching in the preceding chapters. By this time, they were probably feeling how utterly impossible it was for them to meet the tests of discipleship in their own strength. This is, of course, true. The Holy Spirit is the power that enables one to live the Christian life. So Jesus pictured God as anxious to give this power to those who ask.
In the original Greek, verse 13 does not say that God will give the Holy Spirit, but rather He will “give Holy Spirit” (without the article). Professor H. B. Swete pointed out that when the article is present, it refers to the Person Himself, but when the article is absent, it refers to His gifts or operations on our behalf. So in this passage, it is not so much a prayer for the Person of the Holy Spirit, but rather for His ministries in our lives. This is further borne out by the parallel passage in Matthew 7:11 which reads, “… how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
11:13. The Lord closes the motivational illustration with an argument from the lesser to the greater. If fallen human fathers intuitively give their children “good gifts,” God the Father will surely provide “the Holy Spirit” to those who petition Him. Belief in Jesus as Savior constitutes the only condition for receiving the Spirit in the present church age as shown at the home of Cornelius (cf. Acts 10; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 12:12–13). The reference here however probably pertains to Israel on a national scale—they would ask the Father for the Holy Spirit by their belief in Messiah and repentance (cf. Acts 2:38–39, 40–41). The following context shows why Israel did not experience this blessing on a national scale in the first century.
Ver. 13.—How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? In St. Matthew we find the last portion of this teaching related as having taken place at a much earlier period of the Lord’s ministry. It is more than probable that much of Jesus Christ’s general instruction was repeated on more than one occasion. There is an important difference between the words reported by the two evangelists. St. Matthew, instead of the “Holy Spirit,” has the more general expression, “good things.” In both accounts, however, is the Master’s assurance that prayer, if persisted in, would ever be heard and granted, and there is the all-important limitation that the thing prayed for must be something “good” in the eyes of the heavenly Father. How many requests are made by us, poor, short-sighted, often selfish men, which, if granted, would be harmful rather than a blessing to the asker! Here the Lord, the Reader of hearts, having taken notice of some of the deep earnest longings, perhaps scarcely crystallized into prayer, of his own disciples, of a John or a James, pictures the case of one who deserves a special deepening of the spiritual life, and prays some prayer for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Such a prayer, says Christ, must be granted.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1412–1413). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.