Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Being Wise or Foolish – More Than a Children’s Song

What is knowledge? Essentially, knowledge is what we know or can know. It is based upon facts or experiences which come from a variety of sources and settings. Several students will graduate this month which is indicative that they have acquired sufficient knowledge to meet the standards set by the school board and administered by the school.

What is wisdom? I have always defined wisdom as applied knowledge. Wisdom does not automatically come with age, but many who are older have learned from the “School of Hard Knocks” which does, indeed, imply wisdom. But we all know of someone, or perhaps many, who have never learned. Thus, they do not become wise, they merely repeat the past, and often draw pity from others.

So, knowledge and wisdom are indeed different. I will share what keeps knowledge from becoming wisdom at the conclusion of this message, but for now what we need to know is that Jesus uses the word foolish to refer to those who only have knowledge of what He says, while those who apply what they have learned from Him are considered wise.

Some first learned the principle of this lesson when you were in the preschool department of Sunday School. It is possible that some learned the song of the wise and foolish builder before learning the ABC’s. But the principle of this final part of Jesus’ sermon is not meant for children, it is meant for adults like you and me. And Jesus makes His point clear – some who hear will choose wisely and others will respond as fools.

This distinction between the wise and foolish person fits well with how Jesus has concluded His overall sermon. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Jesus concludes this sermon by contrasting two types of people – those who follow Him and those that do not. The types are described by:
  • the gate they enter. (Matthew 7.13-14).
  • the fruit they bear, by whose will is done (vv. 15-23).
  • the foundation they use. (vv. 24-27).

Today, we are going to touch on this last one, but per the words of Jesus, we have to consider a third group of people as well.

Before we look at the three types of people, we need to consider two general aspects of this text to help us better understand Jesus’ words. First, we generally understand the idea of building on a rock or sand. But let me provide some clarity based upon the Palestinian landscape. Israel is very hilly and rocky which allows for a good foundation. When we were there a couple of years ago, it is evident that most every home or building was built into or on a hill. The primary exceptions were greenhouses and tents of the Bedouins which are nomadic by nature and therefore do not need a permanent foundation. Thus, Jesus audience knew well which terrain was suitable for building and which should be avoided.

Second, we must understand that the storm Jesus describes is identical for each situation. The words He uses are identical – “rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew” in both situations. While the storms in our personal lives may be different, Jesus has painted a consistent picture in each situation to show the storm is not what is important – because it is inevitable – it is the foundation on which we rest that truly matters.

The Wise Hear and Follow Jesus (Matthew 7.24-25)

Jesus uses the word “does.” That is, many have heard, but only the wise “do” what Jesus has commanded. Again, doing what Jesus says does not mean life is easy. The same storms affect those who follow Jesus and those who choose their own path. But only those who follow – or are doers – can be considered wise.

You may recall the story at the end of Mark 3 when Jesus was teaching a group of people and His biological family came wanting to see Him. Jesus responded that “whoever does the will of God” is truly His brother, sister, and mother. That is, those who know AND do God’s will are truly apart of the family of God. They are the true believers.

Frankly, we don’t like to hear this because it means that many people whom we admire, respect, and love may not truly be followers of Jesus. They may know more about Jesus than we do, but Jesus says if they are not acting on that knowledge then they are not wise. Last week Sam preached about the fruit of those who believe versus those who do not believe. The good fruit comes not just from knowing, but from doing. It is through our doing that we prove we have wisdom.

One more note before we leave this first point. We must remember that Jesus’ sermon is ultimately about righteousness. So, it is not just doing, but it is doing because we are righteous. This is a critical point otherwise people could claim that our doing is about earning something like salvation. But that is not what Jesus is saying at all. Jesus has laid out the need for righteous living throughout His sermon and in these last three weeks we see how those who are actively seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness truly live. Three particular verses in the Proverbs give credence to this as well. (See Proverbs 10.25; 12.7; and 14.11.) Thus, this theme of righteous living is evident throughout the Bible, but Jesus spells out specific aspects of it as He preached on the mountain that day.

The Foolish Hear and Ignore Jesus (Matthew 7.26-27)

Contrasted against those who hear and do is those who have heard, but “does not do them” referring to the commands of Jesus. These people believe they are wise and may look like it from afar. They may have the same skills to build their house, use the same building materials, and in every other way mimic a true follower of Jesus, but their choice of a foundation will eventually bring about their ruin. Effectively, they may have deceived others and maybe they have even deceived themselves, but in the end, Jesus is not fooled.

In fact, Jesus brother James later wrote of this very notion. In James 1.22, he wrote that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” otherwise we deceive ourselves. He then equates the idea of someone looking into a mirror and immediately forgetting what s/he looks like when away from the mirror. But, James continues, the person who acts on what He hears will be blessed by God (which harkens back to the Beatitudes Jesus taught as He began this sermon we have been reviewing!).

As Sam preached last week, many false teachers exist who teach one thing and do another. In essence, a gap exists between what they say and what they do. Now, Jesus is attacking another false type of faith – those who hear and yet do not do. To Jesus, both situations reveal a false faith.

The Rest Need to Hear About Jesus

The third group in Jesus’ concluding thoughts are not mentioned here directly. They are not included among those who are wise, nor are they included with the foolish. This group is ignorant – not in a foolish kind of way, but in the sense that they do not know. Why do I say this? Notice Jesus words in verses 24 and 26. Both sentences begin with the idea of “everyone who hears these words of mine” which implies that some have not heard Jesus’ words. To everyone who has heard, the message is clear – some are wise and others are fools. But what about those who have not heard?

They need to hear about Jesus, about His teachings, and be taught to follow. Remember, Jesus’ final words in Matthew are not just to make disciples who know commands, but to make disciples who observe them. Jesus instructed us to teach others to observe all that He commanded. That is, we are not to instruct others to merely hear and be measured as a fool. We are to help them “do” in order that they will be considered wise. And, for us, if we have heard that we are to make disciples and do not do so, then we are being fools. Some may take exception with my words here, but realize these are not my words, these are from the very lips of Jesus!

If we consider this command to make disciples in the context of the Golden Rule, then if we would want others to teach us about Jesus, we should be teaching others as well. And remember the two principle truths about the Golden Rule I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. First, as we see in today’s passage, it is meant for everyone who hears Jesus words. That is, if we desire to follow Jesus, the Golden Rule applies to us. Second, the Golden Rule requires we do something. The wording Jesus used forces us into action which fits perfectly with today’s message. Everyone who hears Jesus’ words and does them is wise – and that includes “doing” the Golden Rule.

So, the question is, will you hear and be wise by doing or be a fool by going on your way? The question may sound harsh, but let’s put that question in the context of our over-arching question for this series.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

If we know that God is indeed glorious, then it should impact how we live. Of course, it should impact how we hear and respond, which is the key according to this entire sermon Jesus has preached. We can hear Jesus’ words, reflect on Jesus’ words, memorize Jesus’ words, appreciate Jesus’ words, etc. But if we do not do them, we are fools. Jesus is communicating throughout this message, and throughout His ministry, that knowledge is not all that is required, it is about doing. And the difference between knowing and doing is what makes one wise. The difference between knowing and doing is what makes one a follower of Christ. The difference between knowing and doing is the difference between being a member of a church and being a part of the Body of Christ.

Which do you want to be – a fool who simply hears or one who is wise because of what you do?

When major storms approach we consider the importance of foundations. We are told to retreat to our basements during a tornado because the foundation is more likely to protect us. But some do not have basements (e.g. those in mobile homes) and thus, without a strong foundation, are in more peril. The same is true for people who face storms physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. People often fall apart because they have no support system – and that support system must begin with a foundation of faith in Jesus. That foundation is not simply a knowledge of Jesus, but a trust in Him. It is not only knowing who He is, but believing and doing what He says. Again, it is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Thinking back to the beginning of this post, if you have read this post you have some knowledge of the Bible. Even if you had never heard anything about the Bible before, you now have some knowledge on the concluding words of Jesus’ sermon with some related verses also included.

But to become wise, we must all now begin to put into practice what we have heard (or read) – not just from this post, but all of Jesus’ words. Doing requires us to make sure all of His preceding words (teaching) are done (all of Matthew 5-7 in perfect context). So, to gain wisdom we must, for instance, give, pray, and fast with the right attitude. We must seek treasures in heaven not on earth. We must seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness by asking, seeking, and knocking. Etc. In actuality, to be wise, per Jesus, we must begin to do these things.

But many will choose not to do them. Why? Fear. As Gary Haugen shared in a conference I attended last year, “Fear is the difference between what you learn and what you actually do.” We all know far more than we actually do. That is obviously true. But why? Because we fear losing our time, or losing our friends, or making our family mad, or not having enough money, or.... Yes, any of those ideas may be true. However, it seems as if Jesus has addressed these concerns throughout His sermon. And overcoming each of these fears begins with what we seek first... “BUT seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33).

How do you overcome fear? By seeking God. That’s it. And once you do that you will be on the way to doing what He wants you to do which, according to Jesus, makes you wise.

And, thus, our JOURNEY letter for today is: OOBSERVE.

We cannot be wise without obedience. We cannot be obedient without knowing. So, we must know in order to do, but our knowing is more about our becoming more like Him. We do not do out of obligation or a desire to avoid some sort of penalty. We do for Jesus because of love and in response to what He has done for us. Doing is important, but Jesus wants us first to be – that is why we seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness. As we become more righteous – that is, more like Jesus, then doing becomes more natural. Yes, we must observe...we must do. Per Jesus that is the sign of wisdom, but the first thing to do is to seek God and become righteous.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

Take time to focus on becoming (more) righteous this week. It is the first item of business per Jesus and is done by asking for God to grant it, seeking to find it, and knocking at the narrow gate to enter. Beginning by seeking first His Kingdom and righteousness will put you one step closer to being wise in Jesus’ eyes.

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