Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ words as Matthew records at the end of the “Sermon on the Mount”:
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. (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)
This week, as I was reading Matthew in The Message, I came across this passage. This is how Eugene Peterson translates and interprets the parable of the wise and foolish builders:
These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hitâ€”but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. (Matthew 7:24-27 The Message)
When I read Peterson’s interpretation, Jesus’ words take on a specific application. In this version, it is not the person who once or occasionally hears Jesus’ words and yet refuses to obey, instead it is the person who studies Jesus’ words (Bible studies) and yet refuses to obey.
This reminds me of times when I have been involved in Bible studies – either personal or with a group. We have studied the context of book and the passage. We have examined the meanings of words and the grammatical structure. We have analyzed parallel passages. But, when we leave the Bible study, nothing has changed in our lives. This is an example of a group of foolish builders.
At other times, I have heard from followers of Christ who did not know Greek vocabulary or grammar – or much about English grammar for that matter. They could not quote Scripture, nor could they tell me the introduction material for any book of the Bible. But, these followers of Christ simply and consistently lived what had been revealed to them. This is an example of a group of wise builders.
There is nothing wrong with study, Greek or Hebrew vocabulary or grammar, introduction, or analysis. But, there is nothing specifically right about them either, unless they are accompanied by a submission to the Spirit of God and a desire to be transformed. But, then again, a lack of academic ability yet the presence of the Spirit of God can also lead to wisdom and transformation.
Do we study? Yes, but always with the awareness that knowledge and information alone are not our goal. We can engage in Bible study every day of the week. But, if this is not accompanied with a desire and a purpose of working the Scripture into our lives, then we remain foolish builders, and our lives remain built on the sand of our own intelligence.