Mark Twain famously said – “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
Now, in the context, he may have been saying something about the bible I might not be entirely comfortable with, however I think his statement should give us pause for thought.
The more I go on, the more I believe that much of the teaching of Jesus is straight forward – but the application of it is very painful! So instead of a literal obedience we look for loopholes or invent a theology that says Jesus did not really mean what he said – or even if he did he was setting an ideal that in reality is impossible to put in practice. And this happens all the time – because Jesus is just not practical! Especially when it comes to money, sex and power – to say nothing of his teachings regarding the poor, the alien and the dispossessed!
This week my attention was drawn to Jesus parable regarding true wisdom and the things to which the follower of Jesus must commit his or her life. The story is very well know, especially to those of us brought up in the evangelical incarnation of the church. We were taught it from childhood in chorus form:
“The wise man built his house upon the Rock and the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the floods came up but the house on the Rock stood firm.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand, and the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the sand fell flat.
So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ and the blessings will come down. The blessings come down as your prayers go up. So build your life on the Lord.”
It’s a nice chorus and the words and sentiment sound good. The only problem is that they miss the impact of what Jesus was teaching. In fact some of it is the opposite of what Jesus said! Yet such is the effect of a chorus repeated hundreds of time that it later becomes our theology. Ok -so I know you didn’t sing it in the Free Church of Scotland – but you can take my point nevertheless.
First of all Jesus told his followers: “In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble” (John 16:33). So our concept of “blessings” will sometimes have to be reviewed! But more importantly the touchstone of the true follower of Jesus is that he or she applies, acts upon and practices his teaching – not just retain a theological comprehension of it!
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation.”
Matthew 7:24 The Passion Translation (TPT)
The real blessing, true wisdom, is not only in the hearing of his words – it is in the doing and that is the point Jesus is making! In the context he is not even calling on people to build their lives on him – but in obedience to what he teaches.
We sometimes think that if only more people would come to church – if only I could get my family under the sound of the gospel – then all will be well. But be careful – there are thousands if not millions who call themselvs “Christian” and “hear” every Sunday but go away, to use the analogy of Jesus, and live as fools – for the simple reason that that have heard but do not practice:
“But everyone who hears my teaching and does not apply it to his life can be compared to a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
Matthew 7:26 (TPT)
It is not the outsider, the “unsaved” that are building their lives on sand (in this context) but followers of Jesus who hear him and are familiar with his teaching – but do not apply it to their lives.
The full impact of this parable become crystal clear when we note the context in which Jesus told it. His words preceding the story refer to the final day of judgement:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the realm of heaven’s kingdom. It is only those who persist in doing the will of my heavenly Father. On the day of judgment many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, don’t you remember us? Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we cast out demons and do many miracles for the sake of your name?’ But I will have to say to them, ‘Go away from me, you lawless rebels! I’ve never been joined to you!”
It is only after this introduction that Jesus tells the parable we have been considering. A sobering thought indeed.