Two Builders

Matthew 7:24-27

Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and the other trusted employees, “Look, I’m going to leave. And while I’m gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I’m away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip.” Everyone agrees. He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess–weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the gal at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, “What happened? Didn’t you get my letters?” You say, “Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We’ve even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have ‘letter study’ every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters.” I think the president would then ask, “But what did you do about my instructions?” And, no doubt the employees would respond, “Do? Well, nothing. But we read every one!” Isn’t that the truth about our Christianity? We are fairly good at hearing the Word of God. We are very good at pointing out when other people are not living up to the Word of God. But when it comes to our own obedience, do we ever have a tough time! Or, we’re like the little boy in the hospital who had gained a reputation for wreaking havoc with the nurses and the staff. One day a visitor who knew about his terrorizing nature made him a deal: “If you are good for a week,” she said, “I’ll give you a dime when I come again.” A week later she stood before his bed. “I’ll tell you what,” she said, “I won’t ask the nurses if you behaved. You must tell me yourself. Do you deserve the dime?” After a moment’s pause, a small voice from among the sheets said: “Gimme a penny.” We have half an obedience, and we expect to get paid at least a proportion of what we think we are owed. But that is not the picture that Jesus paints. We must have a full foundation. And that foundation for our lives is obedience to all of Jesus’ words.

Jesus is now at the very last part of the Sermon on the Mount. We finish what He says today. It is the end. And the end is all about obedience. The great contrast here is the contrast between obedience and disobedience. Jesus gives us yet one more analogy, or parable, to explain to us the difference. There are two builders. They build two houses. They might look very much alike. However, there is one essential difference between the two houses. One has a foundation of stone, and the other has a “foundation” of sand. Sometimes you cannot tell the difference simply by looking at the two houses. The only thing that will show the difference between the two houses is a certain kind of testing. In the analogy, the testing consists of floods, rain, and wind. Obviously, floods, rain and wind are not going to move a foundation of stone. At least, they won’t in Israel at this time in history. We will leave tsunamis out of the picture for the moment. We are talking about a storm, a violent storm, maybe even a hurricane. That doesn’t move the foundation of stone. However, the foundation of sand simply cannot hold up to that kind of punishment.

Now, it is important to realize what this storm represents in Jesus’ parable. It does not represent the normal trials and tribulations of life, through which we must pass. For a long time, this is what I thought. However, there is conclusive evidence in the context that the storm actually refers to the Final Judgment. In verse 22, Jesus uses the words “On that day,” plainly referring to Final Judgment. And the whole paragraph of verses 21-23 consists of talk about the Final Judgment. Jesus, then, did not change the subject in our paragraph. Rather, He continues and concludes the discussion. The Final Judgment will determine what kind of life you have built. You see, the building refers to the life we live. Are we building our lives founded on obedience to God’s Word, or are we building our lives on sand, disobedience, simply not putting into practice what Jesus says in this Sermon? Jesus is referring to the entire Sermon on the Mount, when He says “these words of mine” in verse 24. We are to put into practice the entire Sermon on the Mount. To do anything else is building on sand. The wind, and the flood, and the rain of God’s searching glance on Judgment Day will be able to tell what the foundation of someone’s life is.

Now, this passage is not advocating a works salvation. The building that we are building is not our salvation, but our life. This is important to keep in mind, since trying to earn our salvation is in fact building on sand. Jesus commands us to trust in Him alone for salvation. So, this passage is not telling us to build our salvation on obedience.

No, the analogy goes like this: everyone is a builder. Everyone is building a house, and our lives are those houses that are being built. There are two ways of building. One is wise, and one is foolish. The wise man builds his house on a strong foundation of obedience to all the principles laid out on Scripture. Every time he makes a decision, every time he he wakes up or goes to sleep, he tries to do to it all in obedience to the principles in God’s Holy Word. That is the path of wisdom. The path of folly is to simply coast along in life, not bothering very much about the commandments of Jesus, or the Ten Commandments, or anything else in Scripture. Foolish people often give lip service to these great principles. They are like the people in the story I gave at the beginning. They look at the letters, even memorize the letters. But when it comes to actually doing what is said in the letters, they ignore it. That is the height of folly. There is no way that any kind of lackadaisical attitude toward the law can be a good thing. That is the very definition of folly.

The point then is to desire to have wisdom, and therefore to desire obedience. We should desire it as much as the young man in this story: There’s a story about a proud young man who came to Socrates asking for knowledge. He walked up to the muscular philosopher and said, “O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge.” Socrates recognized a pompous numbskull when he saw one. He led the young man through the streets, to the sea, and chest deep into water. Then he asked, “What do you want?” “Knowledge, O wise Socrates,” said the young man with a smile. Socrates put his strong hands on the man’s shoulders and pushed him under. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up. “What do you want?” he asked again. “Wisdom,” the young man sputtered, “O great and wise Socrates.” Socrates crunched him under again. Thirty seconds passed, thirty-five. Forty. Socrates let him up. The man was gasping. “What do you want, young man?” Between heavy, heaving breaths the fellow wheezed, “Knowledge, O wise and wonderful…” Socrates jammed him under again Forty seconds passed. Fifty. “What do you want?” “Air!” the young man screeched. “I need air! “When you want knowledge as you have just wanted air, then you will have knowledge.” Do you desire wisdom? Do you desire obedience as much as you desire air to breathe? Only then will we be wise.

The way of foolishness is the way we must shun. The story is told of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong disdain for “religious” things. As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship. October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever–the best in the entire county. When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God. Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.” The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite. In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared. It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

So, those are the two ways of building. They are the same thing as the bad tree versus good tree in verses 15-20. The houses are like the two roads described in verses 13-14. It is all the same thing. There are two ways of beginning, two ways of building, two ways of living, and two ways of facing judgment.

What is the result of these two building projects? The wise man’s house stands in the Day of Judgment. It is always a sure bet to obey what Jesus has told us.

But the result of the foolish man’s building is utter ruin in the Day of Judgment. It is evident that wise men are obedience, and foolish men are disobedient. It is folly to disobey the Word of God, or to ignore the Word of God, or to give mere lip service to the Word of God. That is all folly. Jesus’ statements here are very similar to what we find in the book of Proverbs. There we constantly see the way of Wisdom and the way of Folly contrasted. Wisdom is righteous and obeys God, whereas folly is wicked and disobeys God.

So what are you doing with your life? Which way are you building? You cannot build both ways at the same time. It is possible to switch from building on sand to building on a solid foundation. That is possible only by the grace of God, but it is possible. If you have not been living in obedience to Jesus’ commands, then start doing it. That is the call of our text.