In this, the seventh entry in our series on Breaking the Mould, we cover the final section of Jesus’ famous message: the sermon on the Mount. This means our passage is Matthew 7. Building is a metaphor we encounter in various illustrations used throughout the New Testament, and our title of “Building with Wisdom” is largely based off the final section of our passage today, the parable of the wise and foolish builders, but we will cover the whole passage through the lens of what it means to have Wisdom and how we may implement that in our lives. There are a wide variety of topics covered in this chapter including: judging others, prayer, true and false disciples and the importance of strong foundations.
Wisdom is something the Bible has a lot to say about. It is the gift that King Solomon asks for from God, and some of the books of the Bible, traditionally believed to have been authored by Solomon himself are described as the Wisdom Literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon/Songs). Proverbs, in particular, is overtly focused on the idea of attaining Wisdom and the preciousness of this. We are encouraged to “get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:5) and those who do so “love life” (19:8). It is better “to get wisdom than gold” (16:16) and that those who gain wisdom “find life and receive favour from the LORD” (8:32-35). So, according to Solomon at least, there are numerous advantages to Wisdom, but how do we then go on to utilise this Wisdom to build up the Kingdom of God? I will explore four ideas from this passage of what building with Wisdom would mean for us as we navigate our faith in a world where Wisdom is not highly valued.
1. Building with Wisdom requires Humble Hearts (v1-6):
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.Matthew 7:1-2
Firstly, building with Wisdom requires humble hearts. As we have just read in the first few verses of Matthew 7, Jesus gives us our first lesson. We must not fall into the trap of judging others. The reason for this is that there is only one true judge, Jesus Himself, because He is without sin, and He will judge all of humanity at the appropriate time.
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:Revelation 19:11-16
The most interesting thing about this is the idea that we should first remove the plank before our own eye before helping our brother with the speck in his eye. Whilst I don’t think this is saying that we need to be without sin before trying to help others to confront their own sin (which is impossible), I do think there is a point to be made about not leaving sin to fester. Perhaps planks are made up of many specks? We must be bringing our sin before the LORD, and repent of it, regularly, otherwise we will remain blinded to the truth of own wickedness. And if we are blind to our own wickedness, we will judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves.
There is also the warning that the measure of judgement you apply to others, is the same measure you will receive back from God. I am reminded of the parable of the unforgiving debtor, who after having his own massive debt forgiven by his King, wouldn’t forgive his own servant of a much lesser debt and has him put in prison. Upon hearing about this, the King puts the original debtor in prison to be tortured until his own debt has been repaid. We receive this warning at the conclusion: “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
In chapter 7, Jesus also uses hyperbole with the image of someone walking around with a plank in their own eye. He does this to really underline the point about being blind to one’s own sin. Today we live with a constant culture of comparison, whether it be comparisons between wealth, political viewpoints, fashion sense, looks, possessions, we just cannot seem to help making comparisons between ourselves and others. And, more often than not, these comparisons are judgemental of others, because we want to feel better about ourselves. We look at criminals and think we are better than them, because we are not guilty of major sins. I think culture in general likes to tell us that the problems of the world are all down to other people, without wanting to recognise the problem of our own sin. The heart of the human problem, is the problem of the human heart, and as we know our heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
We end this section with a rather curious verse which seems to have nothing to do with the preceding or following verses. The commentaries seem to suggest that Holy things should not be given to those who don’t appreciate them, and offer a possible link to Ecclesiastes 3:7 which says there is a time to speak and a time to be silent, with the idea that God’s truth must not be exposed unnecessarily to abuse or mockery.
2. Building with Wisdom requires Persistent Prayer (v7-12):
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Matthew 7:7-12
Secondly, building with Wisdom requires persistent prayer. All of the verbs here, ask, seek and knock, are the present imperatives used in Greek, meaning that this passage effectively means: Ask continually and it will be given to you; seek continually, and you will find; knock continually, and it will be opened to you. (7). This is reminiscent of Paul’s instruction to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) So, this seems clear, we must maintain a consistent prayer life, in order to receive what we need and to see the way opened before us.
Jesus continues by giving a short comparison between an ordinary father knowing to give good gifts to their children, with Father God giving good gifts to those who ask Him. From the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel, in chapter 11:9-13, we read that God gives us the Holy Spirit.
Ok then, we are encouraged to ask, seek and knock, with the promise that we will receive the support from God that we need, but we must be careful not to ask God for things with the wrong motives. James warns us about this when he writes: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) In the examples we see a request for bread and fish, both of which are classed as necessities, because they bring nourishment. Not so the example of stones and serpents. Stones are lifeless objects, and serpents are more than likely to be poisonous in the middle east. Ultimately though, we must ask for things that align with the purposes of the Kingdom of God, lest we seek treasure or pleasures merely for ourselves.
We end this section with the golden rule: do to others what you would have others do to you. This seems to tie back in to verse 2, but also the Old Testament commandment: “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23–27). However, Jesus seems to suggest that all the Law and the Prophets can be summarised as this.
3. Building with Wisdom requires Spiritual Self-Evaluation (v13-20):
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles?Matthew 7:15-16
Thirdly, building with wisdom requires spiritual self-evaluation. In this section, we read of multiple comparisons between different pairs of things: paths, gates, prophets, trees and fruit. As well as this, we see the different outcomes for each of the corresponding pairs, some leading to life and others leading to destruction. We begin by looking at two paths: we have the narrow gate which leads to the difficult way, and the wide gate that leads to the broad way. There is a danger here, because the wide gate and broad path lead to destruction, whilst the path to life is difficult to find and few find it. This is a warning to us that it is much easier to go with the flow in this world, choosing to live life like the masses, and end up on the wide path leading towards destruction, than to try and life distinctively from the rest of the world, which will lead to sacrifice and suffering, in order to find the narrow path and find the life that Jesus promises to those who remain obedient to His teachings. We must then evaluate our own spiritual walk, and ensure that we are not walking away from Jesus, the one and only way, truth and life, and instead walking towards the pleasures of the world and the desires of our flesh.
In our second couplet, we are warned of false prophets who are wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing. If we consider that God’s people are often described as His sheep, then the idea of fellow sheep being revealed to be wolves is terrifying. They may appear to be soft and speaking the truth, but underneath they are ferocious and are looking to devour us. Jesus advises that the way we will be able to determine true prophets is by their fruit (20). True prophets are compared to good trees that bear good fruit, whilst false prophets are compared to bad trees, which are incapable of producing good fruit. There is no-way that a thistle or a thorn-bush could grow grapes for example. And likewise, good trees cannot bear bad fruit. And, just like in the passage in John’s gospel that talks about Jesus being the vine, and that we must remain in Him to grow fruit, the trees that do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. This is a stark warning to us to consider what kind of fruit we are growing. Good fruit could be considered to be the fruit of the Spirit, but in general, I believe it to be behaviour that is pleasing to God and His will, whilst bad fruit is anything that is contradictory to God’s Will.
4. Building with Wisdom requires Firm Foundations (21-29)
24 “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. 25 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. 26 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. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”Matthew 7:24-27
Lastly, then, building with wisdom requires firm foundations. We begin this section with another comparison between two things: true and false disciples. Jesus explains to us that not everyone who believes themselves to be following Him will enter the Kingdom of heaven, in fact some who have claimed to do miracles and prophesised in His name will receive condemnation and the judgement that Jesus declares: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” This is a difficult idea to get our heads around, because, just like the wolves in sheep’s clothing from the previous section, it appears that this group of people have been acting in the right, but Jesus has access to more information than we do, hence why He is the one true judge. You see, He can see their motives, and ultimately, he sees that they are doing wicked things in the eyes of God, as opposed to doing the good works that God had prepared for them to do. Clearly then, something foundational was missing from their faith, and perhaps that is that they have not chosen Jesus as their cornerstone, because, as He tells them, he does not know them.
Our final parable then is the parable of the wise and foolish builders. Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount by saying that those who have heard these teachings and put them into practice is like a wise builder who builds his house on the rock. When the floods come and the winds beat down on the house, it does not fall because of its solid foundation. The foolish builder is compared to someone who hears the teaching of Jesus, but chooses to ignore them. In doing so, he chooses to build his house on the sand, and when the rains descend, the flood waters rise and the winds blew and beat down on the house, it fell. It is quite likely, that the foolish builder would have been mocked at the time, because torrential rains were highly frequent in this area, so floods would have been very common.
In terms of building a foundation into rock, it is much harder than building foundations into soil. It would have been a very painful effort of many hours of hard labour in order to build this foundation. How much effort do we put into building our lives upon the teachings and wisdom of Jesus? Are we more inclined to take the easier and quicker option, like the foolish builder, even though this has disastrous consequences? The warning here is just as relevant to us, as it was its original listeners in Jesus’ day, because if we have heard these teachings and then do nothing about them, we are just as foolish as the builder who lays foundations on the sand. No, we should instead choose to use these teachings of Jesus as a solid foundation upon which to build our faith.
Conclusion • How do we Build with Wisdom?
In conclusion, then, we have seen that in order to build with Wisdom in our daily walks with Jesus, we must have humble hearts and acknowledge our own limitations, namely our sin, and in do doing believe that just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, when we are weak that is when we are strong. Secondly, we must be persistent in prayer, asking for the resources that we need in order to follow God’s commandments and obey His calling. We need to be faithful in prayer, maintaining the dialogue with God so we know what to ask for and when to ask for our needs to be met. Thirdly, we must evaluate what is good and bad and make the necessary adjustments, i.e. removing sinful aspects of our lives. Just as Paul says we must consistently examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) And lastly, we must lay strong foundations, by listening to God’s teaching and putting it into practice, to have a solid base for continue to build with Wisdom in our walks with God.
See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould
- Brave Enough to Follow
- A life of Abundance
- Living Distinctively
- Renovation of the Heart
- Above All Else
- Building with Wisdom
- Why Worry
- Faith, Fear and Doubt
- The Need of the Hour