“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25, NIV).
Just 60 miles from where Jesus spoke these words, men were busily rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. What a sight it must have been, and how it carried the hopes of so many Jews—their former glory restored! Yet Jesus didn’t seem to be all that impressed, even prophesying that the magnificent temple, as stable as it seemed, would soon be toppled.
And He was right.
We mustn’t miss this context if we want to understand Jesus’ words here. He’s not really comparing building our life on a stable foundation as much as He is telling us, His followers, to build our lives around a new foundation—Himself! “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
The startling aspect of this statement is that God’s new work would not be built around a temple (which sounded like heresy to the Pharisees) and would not rely on a religious code or a religious system. God’s plan for the world would be based entirely on the surest foundation any faith could ever rest upon—the very words of God Himself, given to us in Jesus. The same voice that spoke the earth into existence, by His words would also speak a church into existence.
There is a second phrase that Jesus utters that we also need to take into consideration: “and puts them into practice.”
Merely hearing the words of Jesus does not give us a solid foundation. Merely reading His words, or listening to a preacher proclaim Jesus’ words, won’t set our lives on solid ground. It’s only when we put His words into practice that our foundation becomes sure.
In modern terms, we could put it like this: Is our character growing as fast as our library of Christian books? Are our hearts as full of love as our iPods are of our favorite sermons? Do we tune in to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as eagerly as we tune in to “The Message” on satellite radio? Are we in prayer more often than we are in church? Are we applying, living out, practicing what we hear? What truths are we familiar with in our heads, but know that we are not living out in our lives? That’s the very point, Jesus is saying, at which our foundation is threatened.
A friend of mine needed to repaint his house. When he started to scrape away the paint, he noticed some troubling signs and brought in a specialist who confirmed his worst fears: termites. He didn’t need to just repaint his house; in a very real way, he needed to rebuild it. Before he scraped away the paint, his house looked like it was in great shape. It was sitting right between two other houses, neither of which had termites, and you couldn’t have told that his was any different. But the weather that wore away his paint also revealed the rot within.
It’s the same way with our lives, Jesus says. You can stand by two church attenders and watch them listen to the same sermon or raise their hands during the same song in worship. Both can eat from the same communion bread and put checks into the same offering plate, but their foundation is not revealed in church—it’s revealed when the rain comes down and winds are unleashed.
I know a man who went to Bible college, married a Christian woman and was at church at least 50 weekends a year. He even thought about entering the ministry, perhaps upon retirement. The man had heard a lot of Jesus’ words and had even written papers about them. But he became a bit shaky in his faith when he began regularly skipping church to play golf. At first it was just once a month, then twice a month, then three times a month.
He started using Scripture as a point of argument instead of as a call to obedience. He began drinking more and worshiping less, and gloried in the idea that the “freedom” of the Gospel allowed him to use coarse language. Then the man was diagnosed with cancer, and he eventually decided that he couldn’t believe in a God who would allow such a faithful servant to become so sick, and he hasn’t been back to church since. In fact, he would consider himself an enemy of the church.
I know a second man who recently had a minor stroke. He was talking to his son when, all of the sudden, he could no longer speak. He survived the stroke and instead of losing the faith, his faith deepened. He realized how little time he might have left and dedicated himself anew to serving God. He drew several spiritual lessons from the ordeal and wrote a paper about it that lifted my soul to new inspiration. And he is more zealous now, after the stroke, than he was before.
Two storms. One house stands, one falls. They both heard the words of Christ, they both even studied Jesus’ words, but only one kept practicing what Jesus said.
We have to remember that the passage recorded in Matthew 7 comes near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest sermon ever preached. Jesus didn’t speak it to elicit admiration, foster inspiration or to impress us. Jesus said this sermon isn’t just to be read or merely memorized. It’s to be obeyed.
Daily, faithful obedience to God’s Word shapes our heart, transforms our will, molds our character as surely as a daily jog strengthens our heart and a thrice weekly bout in the gym brings forth muscles. No one session seems to make much difference, but faithfulness, over time, produces amazing results, in such a way that when the storms hit—and they will—we’ll be prepared. We’ll see “spiritual muscles” we never even knew were there. In other words, daily, faithful obedience in the little things prepares us to face the big things.
If we want a firm foundation, it’s not enough to just listen to Jesus. We must choose to obey. We must practice putting the words of Jesus Christ into action.
©2012 Gary Thomas
Gary Thomas (garythomas.com) is Writer in Residence at Second Baptist Church, Houston, and the author of numerous books, including “Sacred Marriage” and “Every Body Matters.” You can follow him on Twitter at @GaryLthomas.
Gary Thomas will be leading a seminar, “The Names of God: Knowing Who We Worship,” at The Cove Oct. 29-31.