Why would a man build his house on the sand? When we think of all the time and expense involved in building a house, especially in the Middle East, it seems strange that the man mentioned in Matthew 7:24-29 would build his structure on the sand without a foundation. Yet, it cannot be disputed that many lives in our modern day are being built precisely in this way. In Matthew’s story, such builders are termed “foolish,” while those who exercise care in building are termed “wise.” We want to take a little time to examine what it means to be wise and foolish in a biblical sense. Some of the conclusions from scripture may surprise us.
THE BIBLICAL WISE MAN
When we think of “wise man” we probably think of someone who has excelled in academics. While it is true that the wise do increase in learning (Pr. 1:5), this is only a part of being wise in the biblical sense. There are many other things in the Bible that characterize a wise man. We are told that a wise man fears God (Pr. 9:10), that he listens to advice (Pr. 12:15), and is industrious (Pr. 6:6). He has a healthy tongue (Pr. 12:18) and has learned to guard his lips (Pr. 10:19). He wins souls (Pr. 11:30), honors his parents (Pr. 13:1), and receives God’s commands and keeps his laws (Pr. 10:8 & 28:7).
Perhaps more than all else, the biblical wise man receives God’s Law and keeps it. He builds his whole life upon it. We see that the wise man of our story dug deep and built his house on the rock (Mt. 7:24). He did something. It seems that both genuine Judaism and genuine Christianity are built in this way – with more emphasis upon deeds than upon creeds. In Judaism much emphasis is placed upon the concept of shomer mitzvot (guarding the Law). In modern Christianity we have gotten away from this concept, probably because of the great emphasis upon faith alone that has come down to us from our Reformation heritage.
Yet, in the Bible, faith and obedience seem to be one in the same. In Romans 1:5, Paul even speaks of the obedience of faith as if it were a unity. Quite simply, when people really believe they obey, and when they really obey they believe. Faith is nothing more than the flip-side of works and visa versa. There was a great emphasis placed upon deeds in primitive Christianity. Christianity had come fresh out of a Jewish milieu and had little patience for profession that was not backed up by action. We see this pointed out clearly in many passages of the New Testament. James simply says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (Jas. 2:26).
It should not surprise us that this emphasis upon deeds continued on in the early church for some time after the disciples passed from the scene. We see the same teaching in the writings of Clement of Rome, who was probably a contemporary with the Apostle Paul. We see it also in the writings of Polycarp, who was a personal companion of the Apostle John. In fact, it was several generations before the strong emphasis upon deeds faded from early Christian writings.
We might wonder today if the absence of this early Christian teaching is not causing us some problems. Obedience seems to be the key to real Christian living. It seems to be the key to power, victory and blessing. Today, like disobedient children, we ask things from our Father and are amazed that he sometimes withholds them from us. We pray for the sick and they do not recover – then we are frustrated, perplexed and bewildered. Apostolic Christianity didn’t have this problem. John sums it up with these words, “…we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him” (I Jn. 3:21-22).
Obedience seems also to be the key to real joy. In John 15:10-11, Jesus says that if we obey his commands, we remain in his love and therefore our joy becomes full. Too often Christians have little joy because they have little obedience. Instead of happiness and laughter in God’s presence they must hang their heads in shame and slink off into
There is another very important thing about obedience. It will certainly be the basis for the final judgment. Jesus says in Matthew 16:27, “…then he shall reward every man according to his works.” The Apostle Paul makes a similar statement in Romans 2:6, when he says that “God will give to each person according to what he has done.” Finally, in 2 Corinthians 3:13-14, Paul says, “…the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.”
So we must ask today, how are we doing with our building? Are we really keeping the Bible’s commands or are we merely giving lip service? Jesus says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). Such love put into practice would transform the church and the world today. He also says, “Give to everyone who asks you and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (Lk. 6:6:30). He warns us in these commands, “Do not judge…Do not condemn…Forgive…” (Lk. 6:37). In addition to the direct commands, there are many implied commands, making the total over 500 in the Gospels alone. Even though many of these may not be phrased in the imperative, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching” (Jn. 14:23).
Well, there were many wise men and women in the scriptures. David, Abagail, Ruth and many others were recorded as wise, however, fools always seemed to outnumber the wise men and women. Let us now take a quick look of what it meant to be a fool in the
A LOOK AT THE BIBLICAL FOOL
Again, when we think of “fool” we may think of someone silly. Perhaps we envision a jester in the king’s court, or someone going around doing stupid and silly things. This is not necessarily the biblical picture of a fool. In the scripture, fools are self-confident (Pr. 28:26); self-centered (Lk. 12:20); full of words (Ec. 10:14); they vent their anger (Pr. 29:11). They are slanderers (Pr. 10:18); they rage (Pr. 14:16); and are clamorous (Pr. 9:13). Isaiah 32:6 gives us a very good description of a fool: “the fool speaks folly, his mind is busy with evil; He practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the Lord; the hungry he leaves empty and from the thirsty he withholds water.”
We also see that fools are quick to start a quarrel (Pr. 20:3); it is a sport for them to do mischief (Pr. 10:23) and abominable iniquity (Ps. 53:1). They reproach others (Ps. 39:8); and are adulterous (Pr. 6:32). They despise instruction and have no heart for wisdom (Pr. 17:16). They say in their heart or by their lifestyle that there is no God (Ps. 14:1). They are not prepared (Mt. 25:2), and they will not stand (Ps. 5:5). The fool’s house will come tumbling down.
What will bring the fool’s house down? Quite frankly, it would probably fall in by itself if given time because it was built by a fool. Still, the Bible tells us that there is something coming that will destroy the fool’s house. The Bible speaks of an evil time that will come upon the earth in the end days. In that time there will be winds, rains, and floods that will test the lives of people. John speaks of it as “the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Jesus no doubt refers to this in Matthew 24:12 when he says: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mt. 24:12). Finally, Paul exhorts us to “put on the full armor of God, so that when THE EVIL DAY [emphasis mine] comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Eph. 6:13).
In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Paul gives us some colorful details of what the last days will be like. We learn that “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
It should not surprise us that virtually all of these qualities are hallmarks of the biblical fool. What is surprising is that these fools have a form of godliness. We didn’t know this about the fool who built his house on the sand. In Matthew 7:22, we learn something else about these end-day fools. They will call Jesus “Lord.” We know by this that they are really Christian fools. They have, no doubt, gone to many Bible conferences and seminars. Perhaps they have even taught some of them. They sing all the choruses and shout “hallelujah!” They make a profession of faith, but they are not obedient to the Lord’s commands. Because of this they are sent away to their destruction.
These end-day fools could have easily cured their folly by giving heed to the simple commands of the Bible. To the lovers of money it is commanded, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” (Mt. 6:19); to the boastful it is commanded, “let every man be slow to speak…” (Jas. 1:19); to the proud it is said, “Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand…” (I Pet. 5:6); to the abusive the Bible commands, “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Eph. 4:32). The Bible commands go on and on. If the end-day fools had only taken the time to put them into practice they could have been saved from their folly.
While we know from the scriptures that fools will abound in the last days, we also know that God will have his wise people. In Revelation 12:17, we see a group of Christians who hold the testimony of Jesus and obey God’s commands. The church has almost felt that these two things, grace and law, were mutually exclusive. Yet here they are bound together in perfect unity. It is to such as these the Lord will speak. He will not say “well said,” or “well thought,” or even “well taught,” but he will say to each one, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mt. 25:21).
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem (original publication date, 1991).