Building on the Rock Instead of Sand

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:24-29, ESV)

I didn’t grow up near the ocean, so when we did get to go to the beach it was a special occasion. As a child I remember family trips to a rental cottage on Myrtle Beach, spending our days on the sand and in the water. One of my simple pleasures was to stand in the surf, let the waves wash around me, and try to keep my balance as the tide washed the sand out from under my feet. The powerful water currents made it hard to remain on my feet, but I enjoyed the challenge! However, this fun pastime for a child can be a devastating experience for a family who watches a storm flood and erode the ground their home is built on, causing it to collapse.

Jesus uses this image of destruction as a warning to those who content themselves with hearing His teaching, but not putting His words into practice. Things may look okay as long as there are no stresses or challenges, but when waves of crises hit, the foundation of their lives is not strong enough to hold them up, and life falls apart. Only those who respond to His teaching, putting it into practice, will find that they can survive the inevitable storms of life.

In this passage, Jesus makes a claim that no other teacher of Israel had the right to make. He said His teaching was the truth and must be obeyed. Those who take heed and respond will be safe, but those who are content to listen without responding in obedience will see destruction. It’s no wonder that the crowds were astonished at his teaching. No one else had ever claimed this kind of authority before! In reality, no one else had this kind of authority. We must ask ourselves this question: “How am I responding to Jesus’ teaching?” Be careful how you answer this—it is easy to fool ourselves.

We live in a day when access to Bible content is easy for many of us. We hear Scripture read in church services, listen to sermons that explain what it says, listen to podcasts during the week, and read Scripture as part of our devotional practices. All of these are good practices and can have a powerful shaping effect on our hearts and lives. However, the danger we must watch out for is this: if we do not read and hear God’s Word with a heart that desires to learn, grow, and be obedient to God, then we may be fooling ourselves into thinking that knowing the Scriptures is good enough. If we do not commit ourselves to putting into practice what we learn from God in His Word, this knowledge does us little good, and may in some ways may actually be harmful to our souls.

I recognize, and confess myself, that my own obedience to God’s Word is only partial and imperfect. I know more Scripture than I am actually putting into practice, and that troubles me. However, that discontent on my part is actually a good sign, demonstrating that my heart’s desire is to be more obedient. So I pray that God would continue His transforming work within me. I guess the question I have to ask myself, and I encourage you to ask yourself is, “Am I content merely to know the Scriptures intellectually, or am I committed to living them out better and better as God guides me?”

This is a critical question for those of us who teach and lead Bible study groups. If our own hearts are content with knowing the Bible well, but not feeling any urgency to put it into practice, then we will also content ourselves with lessons and Bible studies that encourage those we teach to do the same. We will be satisfied merely with familiarizing them with what the Bible says, helping them understand it more fully, and enabling them to explain it to others. But our houses will be built on sand and will not stand during the storm. We must set our hearts to do better than this! We may not be perfect in applying the lessons of Scripture, but we cannot abandon pursuing that goal of obedience. God is a patient and loving teacher who will again and again show us the path to take, and He gives us the Holy Spirit to work in us to transform our attitudes and wills, so that obedience grows as the fruit of His life within us. We may at times feel discouraged as we see our own lack of progress, but because we are in Christ, and the Spirit is in us, we have hope. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV)

God is indeed at work within us, helping us respond in greater obedience to what we learn from His Word. He desires that we pursue this, recognizing that we have much to learn and many areas to grow in. May God help us set our hearts on greater obedience more than greater knowledge. If we do so, the greater knowledge and understanding will come as we experience the goodness of His teaching.

Father, I ask you to save me from simply being content in knowing and understanding your Word. Help me desire and learn how to put your teaching into practice so that my life is built on your sure foundation. Help my Bible studies to encourage a similar commitment and response in those I teach, so that together we can grow as your children, transformed more and more into your own character. Thank you for your love and patience as we learn to follow you more fully. Amen.

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