Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 10. Choices and Consequences
Mt 7:24,26 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….. 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 parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock (for it is a parable, a story rather than mere word comparisons of the analogies we have seen so far) is probably the most famous story that any child who has been to Sunday School will have learnt – and perhaps even sung about. The story is about making choices and the consequences that follow and in that, it is just like the analogy that Jesus spoke about a few verses earlier – going through the narrow gate of obedience brings life, compared to going through the wide gate which leads to destruction. That too was about choices and the consequences that follow. That cannot be emphasised enough in respect of this present parable and as such it goes to the very heart of everything about the Christian faith – which is all about making choices, and the consequences that follow.
The starting point though, of this very comprehensive little parable, is the nature of two men – a wise man and a foolish man, and they are shown to be what they are by the choices they make and the consequences that follow. It is a mystery why people are like they are. Some argue genetics, others argue upbringing, but the reality is that we each have free will and although there may be either hereditary or training (or lack of it) that suggest to us certain paths to take, we each have free will and sufficient intellect (at least for the vast majority) to decide which path we want to take. Very often the path follows very shallow or brief thinking, but the ability is there, even though we may not use it to its fullest extent.
Before we go any further, it is perhaps worth checking this as a broader scriptural teaching. Solomon wrote, “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble.” (Prov 22;8) and “he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.” (Prov 11:18) which, combined may be the reason for the apostle Paul’s teaching: “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7,8) It is the same teaching as we find here, although here we are left thinking a little more about the nature of the ‘destruction’.
There is nothing unusual about this matter of making choices for it appears in many ways in life. Economics is sometimes defined as the ‘science’ of making choices as to how to use scarce resources. Sometime politics is said to be how to make choices for the best running of society. Psychology is about how all behaviour is or is not a matter of choice. When it comes to spiritual choices they prove to be the most significant of all because they not only affect the present but also the eternal future.
So we have two men, a wise man and a foolish man and in Jesus’ story they both decide to build a house. One builds his house on rock and the other on sand. This is not rocket science, this is stuff that any child can understand. But then a storm comes along with torrential rain, and the obvious happens. The rain just runs off the rock but washes away the sand and so the second house collapses. It is a patently obvious story.
Now what is it all about? Jesus makes it very plain for he prefaces both halves of the story with the explanation: “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.” (v.24 and “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.” (v.26) It’s all about listening to Jesus and then making a choice – whether to obey his instructions, or not.
But Jesus doesn’t just say building on rock is smart and building on sand is stupid, he spells out why it is – because we live in a world where storms come and the foundations are tested. Ah! This is at the heart of this story – the foundations, rock and sand as we’ve already seen. One can withstand storms and one cannot. Obeying me, says Jesus, means you can withstand the storms of life. Disregarding my teaching means the storms of life will bring you down. So two things to be further considered: what are ‘the storms of life’ and what is the teaching of Jesus?
Well ‘storms of life’ occur because we live in a fallen world and they can be things that just naturally randomly happen because the world is not working as it was when God first made because of the effect of sin, even on the physical world (which few of us understand). They can be literal storms, floods, hurricanes etc., things that cause physical damage and may destroy our homes or our businesses. But they may also be things that are caused by the sinfulness of mankind and so we may bring them on ourselves because of our own folly, or others may seek to bring them on us. In the month I write this the world has known cyber attacks which in the UK means dozens of hospitals were shut down putting lives at risk and causing immense inconvenience. The sinfulness of mankind. We have also in the UK a terrorist bomb killing and maiming dozens, specifically targeted at young people and children. The sinfulness of mankind. Even more we have had three random terrorist running amok in London killing people with knives. The sinfulness of mankind. Because we live in this fallen world, we can get caught up in the outworkings of such things – ‘natural’ or man-made. These ‘storms of life’ can include physical illnesses or infirmities, mental breakdowns, relational breakdowns and so on. They can all be things that threaten to bring us down in misery or collapse. How do we cope with such things?
So what is Jesus’ teaching? Repent, turn away from your self-centred and godless life and turn to God. Receive what Jesus has done for you on the Cross so that your sins may be forgiven, you may be adopted into God’s family and receive the power of His Holy Spirit into your life as a new power source. Sometimes we call that power source ‘grace’, His ability imparted to us to enable us to cope with whatever comes along and to rise above it. THIS is why Christians can survive while their neighbours subside into a heap of misery, this is why when there are national catastrophes it is so often Christians who rise up and provide solace, care, concern and help.
It is not because they are good in themselves, but because they become the instruments of God who wants to bring these things, help to people who are suffering. Why doesn’t God stop these things, people often say? Because you demand independence and so He respects you enough to give it to you, and so He won’t leap in to counter every wrong thought, or wrong deed that unleashes harm – but He is there the moment you turn to Him and seek Him. He doesn’t want harm to come to you, but He respects the choices you make – to build on rock or sand and, if you built on sand, He will be there if you cry out to Him when your life fell around your ears – but how sad that it has to come to that sometimes!
Addendum: Three further thoughts
- Not merely hearing but putting into practice. I wonder how many churches go this far?
- Bad choices: Jesus can redeem the less than perfect choices we sometimes make!
- Storms of life: these happen because it is a fallen world and not the fault of the second builder – the focus is on not making poor choices and not on laying guilt for the storms of life than come – God may allow them but they can ‘just happen’