“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.” (Matt. 7:24-27)
Building codes may seem complicated, tedious, and expensive, but they exist for a reason. Ignore them, and someone is going to get electrocuted, the toilet won’t drain right, or the basement will flood. A friend of mine in plumbing had a guy who wanted to put a word-burning stove in his garage. These require very expensive, double-walled stainless steel pipe. He just wanted to use the existing duct work. “You can’t,” my friend said, “It’s too hot. It’ll melt the pipe and burn your garage down.”
His response: “I don’t care.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has laid out the “best practices” for life construction. Now it’s up to us to decide if they’re worth the effort. Often, they strike us as unrealistic—pie-in-the-sky stuff. The truth is we are the ones who are unrealistic. We use gas line for water, then rage when the fittings leak.
“The truth is we are the ones who are unrealistic.”
We would love to build a Thomas Kinkade house that basks forever in the sunshine under a rainbow. But that’s not the world we live in. At the end of Matthew 7, Jesus steps back into that “wisdom literature” way of talking. He even uses the words “wise” and “foolish.” There will be thunderstorms, floods, and hurricanes. That’s life. Jesus is telling us how to build a house that will stand up to that.
Another reason we may avoid Jesus’ way is because it seems to cost too much. That’s the paradox of the Kingdom—it costs everything and it costs nothing. It all depends on the value we place in these shadowlands. This sermon is dangerous only to those who cling to shadow values. It proclaims that a house built on them is doomed. Our only options are to surrender those values—trade them for Kingdom values—or have them stripped away. We cannot cling to smoke and fog.
Instead, we can build a house on Kingdom values. The secret is that this house is more durable in both this life and the next. In this broken world, we ground ourselves in things that will last. Therefore, they can endure anything this life can throw at us.
“In this broken world, we ground ourselves in things that will last.”
So where do you need to start your “life renovation”? What needs to die? What “treasure” do you need to let go of? What little “kingdom” of yours do you need to let fall?
Now, building a house takes time. Re-orienting the way we live—the way we relate to God, to others, to ourselves, to the world around us—takes practice. So even if we decide we do want to build our life on the foundation Jesus has laid in the Sermon on the Mount, we won’t be experts overnight. We’re going to need to take this stuff into the arena and get bloodied up a bit. As the saying goes, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you learn to do it well!”
As we build, we need to offer ourselves grace. As Christians, we tend to be surprisingly unforgiving of our own failures. Failure means we tried. That alone is a win. When we fail, we can prayerfully reflect on what happened, preferably with other Christians, and see what we might try next. That’s how we grow. We only ultimately fail when we don’t learn from our failures.
“When we fail, we can prayerfully reflect on what happened, preferably with other Christians, and see what we might try next.”
As I was writing these articles on the Sermon on the Mount, there were times I failed miserably to do what Jesus was saying. A voice in my head would say, “That’s the exact opposite of what you just wrote. If this stuff can’t be lived out, it’s meaningless gibberish.” (Guess whose voice that was.) But another Voice answered, “The power of the Sermon on the Mount is not negated by the times you failed; it is revealed through the times you succeeded.”
Give yourself permission to grow—however messy that process is.
Start small. Jesus covers just about every area of life in this sermon. If I go through the sermon, list all the areas where I’m falling short, and try to work on all of them at once, I’ll be overwhelmed. That’s not how the Holy Spirit works.
Chances are, there is one area that he is calling you to grow in right now. Which one? Probably the one that sticks in your mind because you don’t want to deal with it. But because the Holy Spirit is committed to forming Christ in you, he won’t let it go. You can pray about it, submit it to him. Start looking for resources to help with the ‘how’ questions, and trust the Spirit to lead you to them.
“Give yourself permission to grow—however messy that process is.”
Also, don’t be afraid to hear from unconventional sources. You may have noticed that a lot of the people I cited in these articles aren’t Christians. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Paul was a missionary who traveled an entirely un-Christianized world. He often found people who already had a strong moral compass (Rom. 2:12-15). They were good people who were waiting to meet Jesus. When they did, he was not entirely unfamiliar to them.
If you finish this series of articles, log off, and walk away, saying, “Good study. Very interesting. What’s next?” you missed it (cf. James 1:22-25). Reading some articles about building a house doesn’t mean you built a house. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling to you to start building. How will you respond?
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32).
The world we live in is a broken and faded imitation of the life God intended. In this sermon, Jesus shows us the way out. Jesus invites us to leave behind this dying world and join him in the life of the Kingdom.
Jesus is calling.
The Kingdom is near.