Building a House that Will Last

A Study in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders


February 3, 10, & 17 ~ Pickering Standard Church


PART ONE - The Nature and Purpose of Parables


A parable is a story that is true to life but which is not necessarily factual, the events portrayed in a parable could take place in life but have most likely not actually occurred, much like the novels of our day portray lifelike events which have usually not happened. Parables may be considered to be an extended simile, a comparison of one thing to another using the words "like" or "as." The Bible contains many similes, one example of which is shown below:


2 Samuel 23:3-4 - When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.


The parable is designed to teach one main point, as the parable of the Good Samaritan is used by Jesus simply to teach the concept of loving one's neighbour by defining what a neighbour is. Simply put, a parable is a story about normal, day to day occurrences such as could happen to any of us but which contains within itself items of heavenly significance. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.


Jesus spoke in parables for two reasons: The first reason, which He gave to his disciples, was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10) that those who heard the parables would not understand the revelation that was being given to them.


Matthew 13:14:15 - In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ''You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.


In other words, He would speak the revelation of God to the people of Israel but in such a way that they would not be able to understand Him due to God's anger at their constant stubbornness and rebellion. They would be able to hear what Jesus was teaching but would not be able to understand His meaning because they continued in their rebellion and for their reward God gave them over to their lies. They would be unable to understand the truth even though they heard it because the lies of Satan had more power in their lives than the love of God. Therefore Jesus' parables were intended in this context to further confound those who heard Him speak them.


His second reason for speaking in parables was to speak heavenly revelations to those who listened to Him in such a way as to make His lessons both memorable and applicable. As we read any parable we must remember that Jesus was using them to speak on matters of utmost importance and yet the simple vehicle He used to convey His lesson permitted it to be easily understandable to the people who heard him. A lesson that is easily understood is also more readily applicable. Each of Jesus' parables had an appropriateness to the life and situation of those who heard it (even now His parables are timely and understandable) and the parable of the wise and foolish builders is no exception. Jesus used the simple example of a builder building a house upon a solid foundation to withstand the storms that would beat against it in order teach us that our lives must also be built on the solid foundation of His teaching in order to withstand the storms of life.


PART TWO - An Evaluation of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders


The parable of the wise and foolish builders appears twice in the gospels, both accounts of which have been represented below for the purpose of comparison. As we study the parable of these two builders we will read a story to which any of us who have ever built anything can relate, even children understand what flooding can do to a sand castle. Yet from this story we can also learn valuable lessons on our preparation for eternity. It is easy from these simple, everyday words describing the obvious necessity of the proper design of a house to leap to Jesus' intended lesson of properly building one's own life in such a was as to be prepared for the storms and trials of life.


Matthew 7:16-27 - "By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' "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. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."


Luke 6:43-49 - "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."


The parable of the wise and foolish builders makes up the closing remarks of Christ's discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon itself took place as great crowds of people were following Jesus throughout the region of Galilee and He sat on a mountainside and began to teach them. Of the Sermon on the Mount Matthew Henry remarks in his commentary that:


This chapter [Matthew 5], and the two that follow it, are a sermon; a famous sermon; the sermon upon the mount. It is the longest and fullest continued discourse of our Saviour that we have upon record in all the gospels. It is a practical discourse; there is not much of the credenda of Christianity in it--the things to be believed, but it is wholly taken up with the agenda--the things to be done; these Christ began with in his preaching; for if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. The circumstances of the sermon being accounted for, the sermon itself follows, the scope of which is, not to fill our heads with notions, but to guide and regulate our practice.


The Sermon on the Mount may therefore be summarized as a guide to practical Christian living to which the parable of the wise and foolish builders forms an appropriate conclusion. In it Christ emphasizes the contrast between those who hear the word of God and do it and those who hear but do not understand. In his letter James, the brother of Christ, expresses an identical idea:


James 1:19-27 - My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-- he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.


James illustrates an interesting parallel between looking in a mirror and forgetting what you look like and building one's house on the sandy ground. Both Jesus' teaching and that of James are prefaced by the statement: "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who." This preface is used to indicate that those who have heard the word of Christ and yet have failed to do what it required of them may be likened to the example that follows. In Christ's message we see that the comparison is made to a foolish man building a house on sand with no foundation. James uses the example of looking in a mirror and failing to remember what it shows us. James is not saying that we must remember how we appear upon viewing ourselves in a mirror or we will be fools. He is instead telling us that if we look into a mirror and notice that something is wrong with our appearance and yet we fail to correct it we are fools. We have used the mirror as a tool but we have done so inappropriately since we have not allowed ourselves to be changed by what it showed us. The parable of the wise and foolish builders is not so much a parable about the proper foundation of one's life as it is about doing what is simply and obviously required. Jesus in this parable is telling His hearers that if they fail to act on the clear and sensible teaching of God they are no wiser than a man who builds his house in ignorance of all that common sense says is essential.


It is evident from the parable that Jesus believes that His teachings strike a chord within the hearts of His hearers. It is understood without stating that the Christian lifestyle properly lived just makes sense. No less a humanist than the writer H. G. Wells agrees with Him, at least in principle. In his books "God the Invisible King," and "War and the Future" Wells makes two seemingly contradictory statements:


God the Invisible King - This book sets out as forcibly and exactly as possible the religious belief of the writer. That belief is not orthodox Christianity; it is not, indeed, Christianity at all; its core nevertheless is a profound belief in a personal and intimate God. There is nothing in its statements that need shock or offend anyone who is prepared for the expression of a faith different from and perhaps in several particulars opposed to his own. The writer will be found to be sympathetic with all sincere religious feeling.


From this statement and those that follow, as well as from the general tenor of the majority of his writings, Wells defines himself as a non-Christian. Yet in the final statements of "War and the Future" Wells has this to say:


War and the Future - I believe that only through a complete simplification of religion to its fundamental idea, to a world- wide realisation of God as the king of the heart and of all mankind, setting aside monarchy and national egotism altogether, can mankind come to any certain happiness and security. The precedent of Islam helps my faith in the creative inspiration of such a renascence of religion. The Sikh, the Moslem, the Puritan have shown that men can fight better for a Divine Idea than for any flag or monarch in the world. It seems to me that illusions fade and effigies lose credit everywhere. It is a very wonderful thing to me that China is now a republic.... I take myself to be very nearly an average man, abnormal only by reason of a certain mental rapidity. I conceive myself to be thinking as the world thinks, and if I find no great facts, I find a hundred little indications to reassure me that God comes. Even those who have neither the imagination nor the faith to apprehend God as a reality will, I think, realise presently that the Kingdom of God over a world-wide system of republican states, is the only possible formula under which we may hope to unify and save mankind.


Very clearly Wells believes, along with most other thinking humans, that regardless of one's beliefs the primary hope of mankind for a better future lies in mankind living according to the his own understanding of the what the teachings of Jesus stipulate.


Jesus tells us that the wise builder dug down to the rock so that he could build his house upon it. The rock in this context is not the same as the designation given by Jesus to the disciple Peter:


Matthew 16:18 - And I tell you that you are Peter (gr. petros), and on this rock (gr. petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.


The word Peter is translated from is "petros" which signifies a rock or a stone, such as we would be able to pick up to carry, throw, or place in a wall. The word rock is itself translated from the Greek word "petra" and is a stronger version of the word "petros" meaning a more substantial type of rock such as a crag or projecting ledge. While petros would be a stone such as is used in the wall of a house, petra would be the rock upon which the house would be built. Staying with Jesus' statement to Peter, what He was saying was that He would build His Church by using individuals such as Peter as building stones (petros) laid upon the foundation (petra) of faith. This is the same use of rock, or petra, that Jesus employs in the parable of the wise and foolish builders; as a foundation suitable for building upon, not as the smaller stone which He uses to rename Peter. But in both cases, that of Jesus building His church and the wise builder building his house, the meaning of the rock upon which the structure is built is identical. The rock that underlies the wise builder's house and Jesus' Church is solid and unmoveable, something that is worthy of the faith that is placed in it. (Although clearly Jesus is infinitely more worthy of our faith than is the foundation of our house.)


In Evaluating the Parable it is important to realize that in either account of the parable the preceding verses will shed a great deal of light upon the point that Jesus is teaching. His comments on a tree being known by its fruit is indicative of the impact He wants His teaching to have in the lives of those who hear Him. It is not an accident that this parable occurs immediately after Jesus statement that:


Matthew 7:21 - Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.


Remember that the Sermon on the Mount is an extended illustration of the practical aspects of Christian living, and that the parable serves as its summarizing conclusion. Let us look the primary points of the parable to see how they apply to what preceded it:


The first obvious conclusion of the parable is that a proper foundation is necessary. Two houses were built with the primary difference between them being in what supported them. Externally there may have been no apparent difference between the houses, they would have appeared the same to the casual observer just as most houses today appear similar to each other. Under normal circumstances the houses would not have functioned significantly differently from each other either. Both would keep the rain out and the cool in, both would shield the occupants from prying eyes and preying beast, and both would support the various activities of the people who lived in them. Jesus tells us that the major difference between the houses was one that none but the most observant would notice: One house had no foundation, it was simply built upon the sand. This house would have had nothing to support it once the sand upon which it was build began to shift and be carried away. When the storms came the house with no foundation was destroyed but the house built upon rock stood fast.


The second conclusion is that, regardless of their foundation, both houses would have seemed to be adequate to the task for which they had been designed until a severe and unusual test was placed upon them. In each case the parable speaks of a torrent striking the house and conveys the idea of a severe storm beating against the structure. If we were to extend the parable beyond its obvious meaning to that which Jesus intended and we study its application to the living of life it is easy to see that regardless of one being a Christian or otherwise the average individual will be able to deal with common, day to day events of life in a similar manner (assuming a similar morality). It is not until some severe tempest comes and beats against us that the surety of the Christian's foundation becomes apparent.


The third conclusion leads us to understand that Jesus is not so much teaching about foundations as He is teaching about the importance and wisdom of doing what He teaches. It is obvious to all that a house without a foundation is a foolhardy enterprise and that the person who builds such a house in which to live is no more than a fool. In the same sense anyone who heard or received the teaching of Jesus and failed to act upon them in a positive manner is also no more than a fool. Jesus is not merely teaching about the necessity of a foundation but He is teaching that there is only one foundation worth building upon.


PART THREE - Examples of Wise and Foolish Builders for Personal Application


2 Kings 5:15-19 - Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant." The prophet answered, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing." And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. "If you will not," said Naaman, "please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also -- when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this." "Go in peace," Elisha said.


Luke 12:13-21 - Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." (See also the story of David and Nabal in 1 Samuel 25.)


The two passages above illustrate the point that Jesus is making in this parable of the builders by showing that how we live our lives is determined by the foundation upon which we are building our lives. What we believe is important will determine the actions we take. In the case of Naaman, he had come to a sudden realization that he had met a God who had power and who was truly worthy of his worship. He made an immediate request to take some of Israel's soil home with him on which he could build an altar to worship God and a plea that he would not be guilty of idolatry as he accompanied his king into the temple of his own god. In meeting the God of Israel his own life was shown to have no value, the foundation on which he had been building were revealed to be false and he did a remarkable thing by immediately jumping to the God who healed him as the basis for his life. The change in his way of thinking was instantaneous, complete, and it affected his life to the extent that he completely rejected the god(s) he had grown up with in order to serve the one true God and be concerned about offending Him.


In the second passage it is clear that the rich man's life was built upon a foundation other than love for God. The hearers of this particular parable would have understood the man to have been a Hebrew, one of their own countrymen, who had forsaken the God of his fathers for the elusive pleasure of wealth and earthly peace. He was not even portrayed as a man who would be generous to those less fortunate than himself, it is clear from the scripture that he is entirely selfish and wants to hoard all his wealth for his personal benefit. In either case both men's lives continued on as normal until the great tempest, death, arrived to test them. Naaman, building on the foundation of God, stood firm but the rich man, building on the foundation of wealth, collapsed "and the ruin of it was great." In either case the end result of the involved was dependant upon their response to God's revelation of Himself to them.


It is clear from an evaluation of the parable of the wise and foolish builders that Jesus is not referring to the necessity to our survival of building our lives upon any foundation but upon His foundation. The parable shows the importance of not only using a foundation but of using the proper foundation. Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus teaches us that He alone is the proper foundation:


John 14:6-7 - Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."


Many of the problems which face society in general, as well as the individuals that make it up, can be traced to an improper foundation. We will do well to make sure that we are standing on Jesus as our foundation for He alone is worthy of our trust and able to support us through all the storms of life.