PassageThis is very much a quick overview of Jesus’ words, so you’d be better to go read them. But here is what Jesus says in the passage:
- He first rhetorically asks why people call him “Lord, Lord,” and not do what he says.
- He then states that anyone who comes to him, and hears his word, and does them, is like a house built on a solid foundation of rock. Even if a stream rises above its bed and hits the house, it will stand firm.
- On the other hand, he states that anyone who hears his word but does not do them is more like someone who builds his house without a proper foundation; if that same stream were to rise up and hit the house, it would immediately fall.
ThoughtsWhen I read this passage, I see a straightforward meaning, as well as a deeper one. The straightforward meaning comes right in that first verse:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (verse 46 (ESV))Do you call yourself a Christian? Well, do you do what Jesus says? If you don’t, you don’t really have the right to call Him “Lord,” because obeying Him is what it means to be a Christian. I’m not saying that you have to do it perfectly—nobody does—but your life should be marked by a willingness and desire to obey Him, as well as by improvement; you’ll never obey Him perfectly, but you should be doing better a year from now than you are now, and you should be even better a year after that. (I was going to say “today, tomorrow, and the next day,” when it occurred to me that humans are too up and down when it comes to obeying God, and tomorrow might very well be much worse than today was. But I figure over the course of a year, improvement should be showing…)
But there’s a deeper meaning I see here, too, which also starts in that first verse. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “why do you call yourself a Christian and not do what I tell you,” he says, “why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you.” The word “Lord” is used a lot in the New Testament, and Christians tend to throw it around, but we don’t often stop to think about what it means. When we call God, or Jesus, “Lord,” it’s not just another name for “friend” or “pall.” The word is literal: God is lord over our lives—or should be. God has a right to tell us what to do with our lives—both in the big picture and in the details—and we shouldn’t forget it. By all means, we should continue calling Him “Lord,” because He is—we should call Him that, and we should mean it.
As the rest of this passage shows, hearing God’s Word and obeying it should be the foundation upon which the rest of our lives are built. We will have hard times, but when we do—when the river rises above the river bed and tries to sweep us away—that foundation of obedience will cause us to stand firm. On the other hand, if we’re calling Jesus our “Lord,” but what we really mean is “friend,” and we don’t acknowledge that He really does have the right to tell us what to do, and we’re not trying to obey Him, there are going to come times of trouble that will simply overpower us. We won’t be able to stand on our own, but in God’s power, we can.
There’s a temptation in modern-day North America to divide the Bible into an Old Testament in which God bosses people around and a New Testament in which He completely changes His mind and decides to be friends with us instead. This is a serious misreading of the Scriptures: God is Sovereign Lord over all creation, always has been, and always will be. He created the universe, and He has the right to rule over His creation. It is that God who now offers us friendship. We do Him a great disservice if we forget about His sovereignty when we think about His friendship; frankly, we devalue what He has done for us when we don’t recognize how far we were separated from Him before He acted. It is extremely egotistical (not to mention foolish) to think that we know better than God, or can pick and choose from His Word and listen to the parts we want and ignore the rest. (For sure there are parts of the Old Testament that don’t apply to us in the same way that they applied to the Old Testament Israelites, but we can still learn about who God is by studying those passages.) We should be reading them, and trying to understand them, and asking others when there are passages we don’t get, so that we can make an honest effort to pattern our lives after Him.