This is the first of what will be a series on the parables of Jesus. There are important lessons to be learned from studying these stories and illustrations. And I’m especially partial to them because the focus of many of Jesus’ parables is on the deceitfulness of religion and the dangers of following it, instead of pursuing a personal, individual relationship of submission and obedience to God that is free of religious influence and interference.
Again, the distinction must be made perfectly clear: religion is what most people in the world are involved in. It is man-made, false, deceptive and destructive. It gives lip service to God, is based on half-truths, has little or nothing to do with God, His plan and purpose, and has never been what God intended. Nowhere in the Scriptures will you find anything that even remotely resembles instructions for the formation of institutional religion and the denominations and other groups that call themselves "Christian". Some factions of it are based on lifeless tradition and ritual, some on human intellect and philosophical reason and some have as their very foundation the pursuit of a spirit they believe is God, but is, in fact, an array of demonic influences coming out of a spirit realm they don’t really understand.
Traditional, institutional religion ignores God’s plan and purpose in order to promote their own pet doctrines that either assume salvation for all who participate in their programs or they make their concept of salvation quick and easy to get and impossible to lose. They all have their own, ever-changing standards of morality that they confuse with God’s unchanging, true spirituality. And you’ll see, as we look at some of these parables, Jesus addresses these issues in a clear and concise way.
And just to make sure you understand exactly what I’m talking about, mainstream, institutional, denominational, traditional Christianity is what I mean when I use the term "religion" and includes the Catholics, the old-line denominations that came out of the Reformation and other religious protests, the Evangelicals, the smaller groups that the larger ones call cults (but aren’t really all that different) and the Pentecostals and Charismatics. In other words, religion is not a good thing. Religion and God is not the same thing and it’s a serious mistake to think they are. Enough has been said about this in previous papers, so I’ll just assume that if you’ve gotten this far down the list of articles on this website, or if you’re a subscriber to it, you must understand this and agree with it at least to some degree.
I’ve already talked about the purpose of parables in a previous paper (you can find it about half-way through the paper titled "The Kingdom of Heaven" and I recommend you read it), so I won’t cover that again. Except to say that parables are stories Jesus told using familiar subjects and situations to illustrate spiritual truths. It was apparent from their response (or lack of it) that most people who heard these parables didn’t understand or care to understand what Jesus was talking about. And it is also apparent that Jesus used parables often to separate those who were truly interested in spiritual things from those who weren’t, as I explained in the above paper in my examination of Matthew 13:10-17.
Further, I must add that it is easier for us today to make sense of these parables because they’re written in a permanent record and we have the luxury of being able to compare them to other information and truths in order to arrive at their meaning. If I had been in the crowd listening to Jesus, heard these parables only once and had no training or spiritual insight, I might have walked away thinking He was just a simple story teller and not a very good one at that, because His stories were common, lacking in drama, excitement or humor and held no appeal for my flesh (they weren’t "dirty" stories).
As the title above indicates, this paper is on the parable of the wise builder. It’s found in two of the Gospel accounts, in Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:47-49. In both, this parable concludes what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. The accounts vary only slightly, but what is said in the verses just previous to the parable differ. However, both help establish the meaning and purpose of the parable, thanks to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the sensitivity of the writers.
In the Matthew account the verses preceding the parable (7:21-23) go something like this:
"Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter My Kingdom, but only those who do the will of My Father Who is in Heaven. There will be many who will say to Me on the day I come to separate the sheep from the goats, Lord, Lord, don’t You remember all those great things we prophesied about You, and how we were always yelling at the Devil, and all those miraculous things we did that impressed so many people? Then I’ll tell them (and this will be the first time they have ever really heard My voice), I never knew you, so you must leave now. You were evil, because you disregarded the things I clearly taught."
The first sentence in the passage above is very similar to what is seen in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6:46) and is at the very heart of the parable of the wise builder that follows. Though there may be many who call Jesus "Lord", the fundamental question is not what they say, but whether or not they do the will of the Father. What’s interesting to me is that it should be obvious to any serious seeker of God that Jesus is pointing out in this passage that prophesying, yelling at the Devil (traditional religion calls it "spiritual warfare") and miracles were not important aspects of doing the will of the Father. And the people who concentrated their efforts on doing these things are the ones that Jesus denies entrance into His kingdom.
You can look at this passage another way. In the last sentence Jesus says that the ones who did the prophesying, yelling at the Devil and the miracles were evil, because they ignored what He had clearly taught. Yet, there’s a very large and visible segment of religion out there that stresses these things above everything else. Tell me they’re not deceived!
Here, Jesus is describing the activities of the religious "in" crowd and then tells them He never knew them (which tells us they never knew Him, either) and that all their impressive religious activity aside, they couldn’t enter His kingdom. There’s not a better passage in all of Scripture to illustrate the difference between the herd mentality of religious activity and the reality of an individual, intimate relationship with God. The common misconception of religion is that when you do religious things with the rest of the crowd, participate in religious meetings and programs, you’re actually (somehow) developing a personal, intimate relationship with God.
Call me crazy, but I’ve looked up the words "personal" and "intimate" in the dictionary and what people do when they participate in traditional religion has nothing to do with those words. And make no mistake about it, when Jesus says, "I never knew you", He’s saying, "We never had a personal relationship, there was never any intimacy between us". Yet, His description of them makes it clear they were involved in all kinds of religious activity and they were counting on it to get them to heaven. He also makes it clear they were wrong.
What we see in Luke 6:46 is similar, but short and to the point. "Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, but do not do the things I tell you?" Simple enough. "Why do you address Me with respect and acknowledge My authority, but ignore what I’m saying?" Nothing’s changed to this day. Millions of people think they’re going to heaven because they follow their denomination’s traditions and rituals. But that’s never what Jesus said. Millions more think they’ll go to heaven because they made a profession of faith, recited some "sinner’s prayer" or got baptized. Jesus didn’t say that either.
Then there are those, who, every time they sing some sappy song they get goose bumps, and everyone around them gets touchy-feely, and someone says something about the presence of God, so they believe they’re actually in the presence of God (because they "feel" so good), then somehow that magically translates into a relationship with God and, of course, they’re going to heaven. But Jesus didn’t say that. Or maybe they went to a "signs and wonders" meeting and fell on the floor or started laughing uncontrollably or learned they could speak in tongues, surely after such deep spiritual experiences as these they should be on their way to heaven. Sorry, that’s still not what Jesus said.
All those people would call Jesus, Lord. Outwardly, they would show Him some respect (at least as they understand it). But are they doing what He said? Remember, religion gives lip service to God. And that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about here. People will get involved in all kinds of meaningless nonsense in the name of religion. But the very thought of separating themselves from the herd and putting some time and effort into the individual, private, personal pursuit of intimacy with God scares them spit less. The religious crowd can’t bear to think of actually submitting to God and letting Him be in control. They’d rather make their own decisions and pretend that God is in agreement with them. Lip service.
Let’s look at the parable. This is Matthew 7:24-27.
"So, everyone who listens to these words of Mine and obeys them will be like a wise man who built his house on a solid foundation. And the rain started falling and the floods came and the winds blew, and beat against his house; but it did not fall, because it had been built on a solid foundation. And those who listen to My words and do not obey are like a foolish man who built his house on shifting sand. And the rain started falling and the floods came and the winds blew, and beat against his house, and it fell and was completely destroyed."
The comparisons here are fairly obvious. First, the wise man is the one who both listens to God and obeys Him. He’s likened to a man who builds his life on a firm foundation, secure in God and His plan and purpose. Then when the problems, circumstances, opposition and pressures of life come to bear, he’s able to understand them, benefit from them and stand firm in his relationship with God. Notice the consistency of Jesus’ story. Even when you build your life on the secure foundation of relationship with God, trouble still comes.
Remember, suffering, sacrifice and testing are part of the deal. God changes us and conforms us to the image of His Son (His plan and purpose) when we submit to these things. This is the process of allowing God to kill our flesh. This is true deliverance. This is spiritual reality. It’s not based on what your denomination teaches or what they do when they meet together on Sunday morning. It’s what takes place between you and God as you go to Him in repentance, submit to Him and determine to obey Him when He shows you what to do. This is real intimacy. It’s personal. It’s private. This is how you get to know Jesus and how He influences your life. And this is the only way you can really have a relationship with God.
There are those in religion who want you to think that true spirituality is evidenced by a prosperous, trouble-free life. All God wants to do is give you what you want. All He wants is for you to decide how your life should be, so He can bless you and make sure you have it your way. Of course, the opposite is true. God requires that we submit to Him and allow Him to be in control. And when we do, He’ll make sure we experience the floods and winds necessary to kill our flesh and make us like Him.
The foolish man is the one who listens but doesn’t do what Jesus says, the perfect description of a religious man who builds his life on the ever-shifting, insecurity of the world’s man-made religions. And the meaning of Jesus is clear when He describes the result: complete destruction (the word translated "great" in the KJV is the Gr. megas and means, great in intensity or degree). This is a destruction that has no remedy. The house cannot be repaired. The life that it illustrates cannot be saved. It’s a life without hope, without God, lost forever.
The wise builder and foolish builder illustrate the difference between doing the will of the Father and not doing it, between true spirituality and false religion. The wise builder builds his life on a firm foundation, secure in God, established in a relationship of true intimacy with God, dedicated to God’s plan and purpose. The foolish builder follows the herd (Jesus calls it the "broad road that leads to destruction" just a few verses earlier in Matthew 7:13-14).
To be continued in Part 2 - The New Cloth and New Wine.