Sunday, June 03, 2018

On the Mount (33)

The house on the rock. We all know what that’s about, right? As the lyrics of the old Sunday School song put it:

“So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessings will come down.”

Well, yes, that’s certainly one application: your life. But I don’t think we need to stop there, do we? You never know, we might miss something.

Once again, let’s go back to the Sermon on the Mount and remind ourselves what the Lord Jesus actually said:
“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.”
In Greek, as in English, the word “house” may describe a physical structure or it may stand metaphorically for something else. This being a parable, the house in question is not literal. But what sort of house are we building when we hear and do the words of Jesus?

Our Earthly House

The most popular answer is almost surely that of the Sunday School tune, in which the “house” refers to the life of the individual believer. We may think of that in connection with our physical bodies, just as the apostle Paul speaks of “the tent that is our earthly house”, or we may think of it in connection with our spiritual lives. Either works, though obviously the latter is much more important. When we look back over the last three chapters of the Lord’s teaching comprising this Sermon, we can see that it applies any number of ways.

The believer who is “salt” and “light” in the world is living consistently with the words of Christ and bringing glory to the Father. His “house” is solid. The follower of Christ who deals with anger, lust or retaliation in a godly manner almost surely lengthens his days on earth. He does not allow himself to be consumed with rage or eaten away by bitterness. His house is solid. The believer who forgives is forgiven, and knows it. What a wonderful, comfortable state to be in. His house is solid.

I could go on, but you get the point, I’m sure, and we have other “houses” to consider.

A Worthy House

The very same Greek word is used metaphorically, both by the Lord Jesus and others, to describe not a structure but a household. Jesus spoke to his disciples about letting their blessing come upon a “worthy” house, obviously not meaning a structure of wood or stone but the atmosphere of home and family. It is in his “household” that the prophet is without honor.

What do you think: do the teachings of Christ in the Sermon provide a rock-solid foundation for a believing household? Hmm. Well, for starters, that effective ban on divorce certainly doesn’t hurt. A godly intolerance toward lust will certainly help both husbands and wives steer clear of temptation. The injunction to love even one’s enemies may be sorely needed by Christian parents when dealing with teenagers. And the application of the Golden Rule to family relationships can take a lot of the sting out of submission.

Again, I could go on, but you get the gist.

A Great House

Further, the Greek word for house is used metaphorically by the apostle Paul to describe the church. He tells Timothy, “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.” If the context does not make obvious that the church is in view, then surely Paul’s “building” metaphors in Romans and Corinthians cinch the deal.

While the Sermon on the Mount contains no practical instructions for church life such as those found in the epistles, it is abundantly clear the attitudes urged upon those who claim to follow Christ and own him as their Lord cannot help but build up the people of God, both individually and collectively. The Lord tells us here how love behaves characteristically, and Paul and others take those principles and apply them to specific church problems in Corinthians and elsewhere. Why should the tongues-speaker care whether his brother is edified when he is enjoying the use of his spiritual gift? Why should he sit down when he’d like to continue pontificating? Because “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” of course. We could parse the Sermon line by line and apply most of its principles to church life in just this way.

Paul uses the word “build” in the sense of developing individuals, spiritually edifying entire local churches and even to describe his own work in church planting through the gospel. The man or woman who builds into the lives of his fellow believers according to the teaching of the Lord Jesus is building a house that will last for eternity. Such a structure is unshakable.

The Master of the House

In Matthew 24:43, when the Lord speaks of the “master of the house”, it is evident the “house” in question is not the individual, the family or the church, but rather the existing world order. Whether we think of neighborhoods, cities, societies, ethnic nations or multicultural empires, we cannot help but build into the cultures in which we were born and live. Everything we do or do not do has a ripple effect through society around us.

To promote the teaching of Christ in the world today is undoubtedly to risk encountering hostility, but it also provides the best possible foundation for robust, lasting political entities that do not exploit one population demographic at the expense of another. One example will suffice: practiced consistently by even a fraction of the productive members of a society, the teaching in the Sermon with respect to giving to those in need could be socially transformative, much as Christians all over the world have been agents of productive change over the centuries.

To the extent that any given political “house” is built on the moral principles found in the Sermon, it is bound to prosper and be a blessing to its citizens. And to the extent that it is not? Well, as the Lord himself put it, “great was the fall of it.” Kingdoms and empires throughout history have maintained their dominance through a variety of political strategies, but none except Israel was ever the logically-coherent product of a single, perfect Mind. The inherent weaknesses of strategies constructed on human wisdom have toppled each of these great societies in succession.

Our prosperous Western societies have all-but-completely abandoned the teaching of Christ. They stand atop a foundation of sand, and the rain is coming.

This subject may need a second post …

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