You’re actually building a house when you hear Scripture — the Word of God. If you hear God’s Word but don’t do what it says, you become a foolish builder who builds his or her house on sand. That house will be crushed in a storm.
But when you hear the Word of God and obey it, you become a wise person who builds his or her house on solid rock. That house will stand up to any storm.
Wise people build their faith on the solid foundation of God’s Word. That faith will stand strong against the storms of life.
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My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less
— Edward Mote (1834)
par•a•ble [noun] a simple story used to illustrate the meaning of or a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the gospels
synonyms: allegory, moral story/tale, fable
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders emerges as a parable of wisdom. As it speaks to being a wise disciple of Jesus, its thrust should encourage us to “possess and practice wisdom.”
This parable is located both in Matthew and Luke. While the scene in Matthew’s parable apparently presents a picture of a waterless ravine with steep sides, which occasionally held a raging river after severe rains, Luke instead portrays a broad river. He also speaks of building a foundation for the house.
Matthew’s rendition of the Wise and Foolish Builders Parable follows Jesus’ preaching of his Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, the parable succeeds the Sermon on the Plain. In both cases the parable asks us to ponder what’s been said previously and, in turn, act on it.
See how this animated video emphasizes the need for us to rely fully on the strength of God and his Word.
Jesus famously used the analogy of wise and foolish builders in this well-known parable. The foolish individual listened to Jesus’ words and then promptly ignored them, acting like a man who built his house on a foundation of sand. The wise individual, however, listened to the words of Jesus and put them into practice, acting like a man who built his house on a solid rock foundation.
We’re likely aware that, in the construction industry, there are building codes that must be followed. These codes, devised by man, are intended to make houses safer and more structurally sound. Similarly, one might say that God has given us certain building codes for our lives. These plans, devised by God’s wisdom, are intended to make our lives better and more stable. So, an individual who builds his life according to his own whims is very likely going to find evidence of plumbing leaks, faulty wiring, and the possibility of the whole mess catching fire and burning to the ground. However, the individual who, having chosen a sound foundation, goes on to build according to God’s building plan, will likely find that things work together as they should, and the soundness of what’s been built hasn’t merely a lifetime warranty, but an eternal guarantee.
It’s essential to put all of Jesus’ parables into context, if we intend to understand and appreciate their value and importance. Luke tells us that Jesus was in Palestine where he presented to his Israelite disciples his Sermon on the Mount.
Palestine is a land of hills and mountains; in Jesus’ day, it was subject to violent rains and sudden floods. The Jordan River annually swelled to dangerous levels, becoming rapid and furious, spilling an extensive amount of water onto the plains below, sweeping everything away. Houses erected within reach of such sudden deluges — especially those founded on sand or other unreliable foundation types — couldn’t withstand such forces. Because mountainous rocks are common there, it wouldn’t have been difficult to find a reliable location with a solid foundation on which to erect a structure.
With that in mind, Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Plain (Luke) and his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) by illustrating the valuable benefit of obeying his Word. It’s not enough to hear his words and nod yes; his words must be actively and reliably obeyed. In both parable versions, Jesus compares a person who hears his word but fails to obey him to a person who hears, then builds his house on a solid rock.
So he began his Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders by asking the large crowd of disciples who’ve been following him an attention-getting question, followed by his enlightening follow-up answer.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice (Luke 6:46–47).
James, the brother of Jesus, added a like-kind, urgent reminder to his readers: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
Having had careers as a home remodeler and building inspector, I found this parable extremely easy to understand. I hope you can see its message clearly. Carefully read both of Jesus’ comparable verses: vv. 48–49.
“He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Luke 6:48–49).
At the base of any strong building lies a carefully planned, deeply-dug, and well-constructed foundation. Such is the first house in this parable. While this concept is obvious to us, it’s extraordinary to see how often people try to build their lives on little else than crumbling slabs of debris or of sand or even rubble. In all aspects of life — career, family, and relationships — it seems as though we try to build a “tower of strength,” without first making sure that we have a solid foundation on which to build. For some reason, we assume that if we just keep adding bricks, the structure will grow stronger and we’ll never need to address the core issue of our needing “bedrock.” So, if we lack a solid foundation when hard times come and raging rivers ensue, we’ll have no bedrock on which to stand. Those boulders that we’ve spent years stacking precariously — one upon the other — will begin to tumble.
Christ knew that some of his listeners would have been attracted to an already prepared, level surface of sand, rather than sites that required excavation to reach the hard and rugged bedrock. Human nature often chooses what looks easiest on the surface. But after enduring seasonal floods, as represented by trials and tests, such a builder would have nothing left but ruins. The sand beneath one’s home [or feet] reflects the shifting, uncertain feelings that foolish people possess. This second house in Jesus’ parable, no matter how impressive was its structure, stood on an unstable shifting foundation; it was, therefore, doomed to destruction. People, then and today, whose resolves do’t rest on having a personal, solid-as-a-rock relationship with Jesus, risk living in jeopardy.
We sometimes see such unstable construction in our spiritual lives. The key to the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders lies not only in the concept of choosing God as the foundation upon which to build our lives, but also in the effort required of us to ensure that the construction of the foundation itself is sturdy. God not only calls us to trust in him — to build on him — but he also calls us to seek him. Building our life on God ensures a well-constructed, very stable foundation for our lives.
Luke’s parable portrays the wise builder, not simply “erecting a structure on rock” but also “digging down deep” so he or she can discover this vital rock on which to build. Thus, the analogy emerges, urging us to dig deep in search for the rock upon which we’re to build our steady and devoted spiritual lives. We’re to dig deep so we’ll be able to find and relate to God, then ask him to become the foundation of our lives, for as St. Gregory says, “God is not to be found on the surface.”
Primarily, we must choose God as our foundation, then make the effort to “dig deeply into his Word,” endeavoring to “seek his will” and “obey his commandments.” We’re to discern the heart and mind of God, allowing each element to direct our actions. To do this successfully, we must search the Scriptures and understand the gospels to learn how to follow his commandments and discover who Jesus is.
As each of us looks to make God the bedrock of our spiritual lives, once we’ve found him he’ll become our firm foundation. We’re exhorted to be wise builders. Throughout our lives, a carefully constructed and faithfully maintained foundation will serve as our safe haven. God is the structural support element that will carry us through the many continuing trials we’ll face; he’ll support us throughout our remaining days on earth, all the way to our living with one another eternally with Christ.
Jesus shared his Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders to illustrate the folly of not listening to him. Today, those who hear and obey his words are like the person who builds a house on a firm foundation, unlike those who hear but ignore his words. When the storms come, Jesus assured his hearty Bible readers that their house will stand and their faith won't be shaken.
When we read, listen to, and obey Jesus, we'll likely feel peace, knowing that he's that strong foundation for our lives. And we can strengthen that foundation by reading the Bible, discussing our findings with friends, learning from other Christians, and praying, When heavy rainfall wallops us personally — whether betrayal, pain, or disappointment — we can rest assured that our foundation is strong and very solid. Our Savior will provide the support we need.
Let's get practical. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained then and today that we’re to build our house on solid rock, not on sand. But what is it that we’re to build? Our house, our faith, our life, our family, our church, our career, our hope? And what or who is that solid rock?
Most Christians would agree that the rock we build on is Christ himself. However, there’s more. Jesus says that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man.” We must practice what he preached. We’re to wisely put Jesus and his name into practice, letting him live in us as we live through him. That’s the essence of the Holy Spirit: Jesus must be a priority in our lives; through the Spirit of Jesus, we’re to work with and for Jesus. What good to us would the rock upon whom we build be, if we didn’t actively and purposefully integrate our actions with the structural stability of the Rock himself? It would be as if we used only straw to build on a solid-rock foundation. We must be strong in the Lord in all we do, from day to day, every day.
So, how are you doing at building a strong interactive relationship with Jesus? The Spirit of Jesus makes it easy to be strong in him, but it’s up to us to shift from complacent acceptance of Jesus being Lord in our everyday lives to becoming a dedicated, active, ongoing follower and servant of his. We’re obliged to “put his words into practice.” Remember these three action steps to take: Seek, surrender, and serve.
Not only are we to build our lives on Jesus, our Rock, but we’re also required to put his teachings into practice. As followers of the Lord Jesus, we’re to remember to devotedly trust and reliably obey him. By doing so, we’ll receive one of many rewards: Our “house” will remain steady and solid, unshaken by circumstances. Having read and appreciated this parable, we’ll be wise to build our lives on and in Christ the Rock. In today’s world, we’re to maintain a strong faith and hope in our Lord Jesus as we remain active in our service to and for him; in our next world, we’ll enjoy everlasting life and love with him.
The lesson this parable teaches is clear: We’re responsible for practicing what we read and know from the Bible. James reminds us:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22-–25).
James is telling us that it’s easy to see ourselves as being devout because we understand what we’ve heard. But our faithfulness requires that we practice what we’ve learned! Our dedication is shown in our willingness to walk in the light that we’ve received.
† Jesus presented his audience with two options: (1) Build your life on the solid foundation of obedience to him or (2) build your life on the unstable sand of your own ways… Help me, Lord Jesus, to abide in you, my solid rock, so that when the storms rise and the winds blow, I'll remain true to you — established forever by your grace, amen.