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Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian perspective.

This page analyses the familiar parable of the two builders with special reference to Family teaching.

 

The Wise and Foolish Builders

This familiar story is presented to children in pictures, songs, flannelgraphs, devotions, and Sunday school story times week after week after week. In fact, this story is so well-known, that it hardly seems possible to misinterpret it. Family children know the story well, and anyone who has spent any time teaching children in the Family probably has the catchy jingle permanently stuck in their head: “The wise man built his house upon the rock… but the house on the sand went splat!

However, a close examination of this parable reveals some rather startling applications, and highlights an important principle of Bible study: Always examine the context of a passage before jumping to conclusions about what it means.

 

The parable of the two builders

Matt 7:24-27

24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  26 Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall. 

NASU

The usual lesson drawn from this story (both in and out of the Family) is that of obedience. We must be sure to obey Jesus, and then everything will go well. If we are disobedient, we have only ourselves to blame should catastrophe come. Or, the parable is applied to life in general: we must build our lives on Jesus, who is the rock, and then things will go well for us. Or, when things do go wrong, the Lord will be sure to rescue us. So, unfortunately, the story is sometimes used for a kind of Christian marketing: If you are a Christian, your life will be strong and stable. If you are not a Christian, you will be beset with problems with which you will be unable to cope.

Often, the parable is taken as an allegory, in which each element represents something. Perhaps we try to find things that the “house” symbolises: the Christian life, our actions and projects, or our decisions. The “rain” and “floods” must represent problems, troubles or sorrows and so on. In the parable, the storm slammed against both houses, not just that of the foolish man. Therefore, we say that while both Christians and non-Christians encounter severe problems, only Christians will be able to cope. Perhaps we allow ourselves some smug self-approval: I’m smart because I’m a Christian; it’s a bit dumb to reject Christianity. Or, we focus on the fact that the wise man’s house did not fall and use the story to support the so-called ‘prosperity Gospel,’ which teaches that if Christians are obedient, faithful and believing, they will not lack in finances, or in health, and they will not be afflicted with troubles and problems.

The Family has its own twist on the application of the parable, claiming, as it does, that the writings of its leaders are the inspired word of God for today. Family members are told therefore to take special heed to these writings, obeying them willingly. If they do so, they will be blessed; if they do not, trouble is likely to befall them. In fact, the founder of the Family warned that those who were disobedient to him may encounter problems of various kinds. God’s protection may be withheld, resulting in accidents, there may be sickness, financial trouble, or even death. For example, in one infamous letter he explained that the murder of a Family member (who was attacked by an intruder in her flat) was directly attributable to the fact that this person was not following Family teachings close enough. She was disobedient, and God’s protection had been withdrawn.

The intended result of such teaching is that Family members become afraid to disobey the teachings of their leaders, whether or not those teachings actually conform to the Bible.

These kinds of lessons are neither honest nor scriptural.

 

Interpreting parables

It is very common to allegorise biblical parables, treating each one as though it was intended to be a mini “Pilgrim’s Progress” in which every detail represents something. Indeed, some parables have symbolic elements: in the parable of the sower, Jesus said that the seed was the word of God (Luke 8:11). However, and this is very important, it is wrong to allegorise every element of the parables, as doing so forces unintended meaning into the story. We must understand that in general, each parable teaches one important point. The details of the story provide the setting, but it is the overall message that we must understand and apply, long before we insert fanciful allegories into the story elements.

Many Christians treat the parables as though they were free allegories, available for any interpretation, as long as a suitable representation can be found. Now, of course, when we apply the parable, it is convenient to look for aspects of our own lives that relate to the story, but this is easily distorted. The principle is this: Do not treat the parables as allegories. The purpose of each parable is to bring out a particular point, and it is that point that we must apply.

For example, the point of the parable of the servants waiting for their Lord (Luke 12:35-40) is to always be ready, always prepared for the return of the Lord, as it will be unexpected. It is not right to attempt to allegorise the servants, the lamps, the tasks, the thief, and so on, even if the lesson we draw out is generally scriptural.

The parable of the wise and foolish builders has an obvious point: obedience to Christ’s words will result in security, disobedience in catastrophe. However, before we decide that the “security” we obtain will be financial or in the realm of physical protection, or that the “catastrophe” is sickness, poverty or death, we should look closer at the passage to determine exactly what Jesus was saying, and this brings us to the single most important rule of Bible study: Look at the context.

No Bible passage exists as in individual entity, as a separate verse or paragraph sliced out of the Bible and kept in a “promise box.” Every Bible verse or passage relates to its contexts, and the more we understand those contexts, the more accurate our understanding will be. This is a skill completely neglected in the Family, which is one reason why Family members readily accept false teaching: they do not know that they are to look at the context of Scriptures in order to interpret them correctly.

There are actually many ‘contexts’ that should be examined: the historical context, the geographical context, the linguistic context, the grammatical context, the synthetical context (how the entire Bible fits together), the cultural context and so on. The context that concerns us when understanding the parable of the two builders, is that of the chapter in which it is located. How does it relate to the verses around it?

For more on the principles of Bible interpretation, click here.

First, we will look at a point of grammar.

 

Therefore

The first word in the parable is “therefore” (vs.24). The importance of this word cannot be overemphasised. It shows that this parable is vitally linked to the previous passage, that it cannot be understood without considering what has gone before. It means that Jesus intended that this parable form the conclusion or the consequence from what He said previously.

Therefore NT:3767

A conjunction indicating that something follows from another necessarily; hence, it is used in drawing a conclusion and in connecting sentences together logically,

then, therefore, accordingly, consequently, these things being so

As respects details, notice that it stands in exhortations (to show what ought now to be done by reason of what has been said); it serves to gather up summarily what has already been said.

(Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)

 

This parable forms the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, both in the book of Matthew, chapters five to seven, and in Luke, chapter six. Therefore the parable may form the conclusion to the entire Sermon on the Mount. Alternatively, it may refer to the previous ‘thought’ in Matthew chapter seven. If we are to understand it, it is imperative that we study it as it relates to the preceding verses.

First, we may take the parable to refer to the entire Sermon on the Mount. It then becomes a fearful warning to obey Jesus’ words. Our lives will become dangerously unstable if we do not build them solidly on obedience to the principles in the Sermon on the Mount. To give some examples that are particularly relevant to the Family, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against teaching that the Law was inapplicable (Matt 5:17-19), although the Family has specifically rejected the commandments against adultery. Jesus also explained that all sexual lust was included in the sin of adultery (Matt 5:27-28), although the Family’s sexual teachings explicitly contravene this teaching. Jesus said divorce for most reasons constituted adultery (Matt 5:31-32), although the Family treats marriage lightly and thinks little of divorce. Jesus told His disciples to pray to God the Father (Matt 6:9), although the Family refuses to do so, claiming that God is “too big for them.”

If this is the case, then the Family is on extremely shaky ground. It does not matter how much individual members are obedient to what their leaders tell them, as due to their disobedience to these explicit commands, they are firmly in the position of the foolish man building on sand. They do not obey the commands of Christ throughout the Sermon on the Mount and they will suffer the consequences.

 

Four warnings

On the other hand, it is more likely that the word “therefore” refers to the immediately preceding thought. Matthew chapter seven begins with an exhortation not to judge (vs. 1-5), talks about prayer (7-11), and institutes the Golden Rule (vs.12). The remainder of the chapter contains four warnings that in all likelihood should be grouped together: they may be referred to as the warnings of the Narrow Gate, the False Prophets, the Deceived Believers, and the Two Builders. It is highly probable, then, that the parable of the wise and foolish builders comes as the conclusion to this ‘warning’ section. The word “therefore” at the beginning of verse 24 indicates that the message of the parable should come as the consequence of what has come before. Examining those passages together brings far greater depth to our Bible study than when we consider them separately.

Matt 7:13-23

13 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 

15 Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 

21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ 

NASU

There is here first, a general warning about salvation (the Narrow Gate); second, a warning about those who would prevent people from getting saved (the False Prophets); and third, a warning about personal attitudes that prevent salvation (the Deceived Believers).

 

The Narrow Gate

In verses 13-14, Jesus warns of the difficulty of “finding” the gate that leads to life, and of the relatively “few” people who would actually locate it. This is talking about eternal life, and eventual salvation in the kingdom of heaven, as the alternatives presented here are either “life” or “destruction.” Here is also a general warning that the path to heaven is not easy; it involves personal difficulty. Further, we may note that there is no corporate path to heaven. In other words, as ‘many’ enter the broad gate and ‘few’ the narrow gate, we may conclude that nobody should presume that if they imitate other believers in their church or group that they are on the road to heaven. To draw a specific application, no Family member is saved through his or her conformity to the Family. There is no “Family” corner in heaven. Salvation is an individual experience.

 

The False Prophets

Jesus continues warning His audience in verses 15-20, this time of a specific group of people who would try to entice them to the broad gate that leads to destruction. These “false prophets” are those whose personal lives do not testify to godliness, regardless of the words they say. The “fruits” of the prophets are not, as thought in the Family, the number of conversions effected by the followers of the prophets. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the number of converts is the measure of the truth of the message. In fact, a moment previously, Jesus had explicitly warned that ‘many’ would go to destruction. Therefore, He cannot have been saying that a true prophet would be known by many converts. “Fruit” does not represent converts. Rather, “fruit” represents the results of one’s life as demonstrated in one’s own personal behaviour. In Galatians, Paul said that the “fruit” of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and so on. The “fruit” of false prophets is their sinful lives.

This passage is a warning that each person should realise that his or her own salvation is a personal issue between him or herself and God. It is extremely dangerous to accept the teachings of a “prophet” whose personal life negates the words he or she says.

 

The Deceived Believers

Next, Jesus warns that the acknowledgement of Himself as Lord in itself is not sufficient for salvation (vs. 21-23). From this section, we can also conclude that prophecies given in Jesus’ name are not necessarily true prophecies. Neither are miracles or supernatural events proof of truth. In other words, even if it seems as though someone is getting answers to his or her prayers, this is no indication that this person is a godly man or woman. Here, Jesus describes people who believed in Him (they called Jesus ‘Lord’), they prophesied in His name, and they even cast out demons and performed miracles, all in the name of Jesus. Yet Jesus said He would tell them to leave; that He did not know them.

What was wrong with these people? There is no mystery about it, Jesus said that they did not do the will of the “Father who is in heaven” (vs. 21). They were practisers of “lawlessness”; they were “evildoers” (NIV vs.23). Here we can draw a general principle: disobedience to God is lawlessness. Those who live lawless lives disobey God, and they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This passage does not say that people who do good works will get into heaven. Rather, it says that true believers obey God: if they do not, it means that their faith was not genuine. “Doing God’s will” is the opposite of “lawlessness.”

Again, Jesus did not say that only those who are righteous all the time could enter heaven. He did, however, say that those who “practised lawlessness” would be excluded.

 

The Two Builders

The parable of the two Builders contrasts two people, one wise and the other foolish. The primary indication of their wisdom or foolishness was in their choice of building sites. However, Jesus was obviously referring to more than architectural or geological know-how. Upon hearing the parable, Jesus’ audience would immediately berate the foolish builder, not so much because he was a poor builder, but because he had not taken the time and effort to research the situation. He hadn’t asked experienced builders. He hadn’t made enquiries to determine the best site. Or, if he had, for some reason, he had refused to listen to good advice. The wise man was wise because he acted upon the correct information. The foolish man was foolish because he had neglected vital information during the planning phase of his building project.

Jesus directed his story at two groups of people, who He said were similar to the builders in the parable. These people had heard Jesus’ words and either put them into action or did not do so. They either acted on Jesus’ words or they did not. To underscore the link between the parable and the immediately preceding passage, Jesus said, “every one who hears these words of mine” (vs. 24, 26). In other words, Jesus said that the words He had just said, which His audience had just heard, were now to be put into action. To extend the application a little further, modern Christians who ‘hear’ the words He said (by reading them in the Bible) are under obligation to obey them.

The consequences of obedience or disobedience are severe. The wise builder’s house “did not fall” but the foolish builder’s house was completely destroyed − “great was its fall” (vs.27). In making this comparison, Jesus is not referring to minor blessings or problems. When the foolish builder’s house fell, he lost everything he had; all his efforts were in vain. It did not matter how beautiful the house had been or how much work he had put into it. It was gone. By contrast, the wise builder’s house remained standing. Again, it did not matter whether the house was beautiful: it stood against the storm.

The application of this comparison is clear. If we do not obey Christ’s words, utter destruction is certain. However, it is important here to determine exactly what would be destroyed, what the consequences of disobedience or obedience are.

 

Eternal consequences

Jesus said, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them…” (vs. 24). This parable is a dire warning to obey the words He had just said. Therefore, the parable acts as a conclusion to the three previous warnings discussed above. In other words, Jesus said that it would be dangerous to disobey the message He had just given. In fact, our obedience makes the difference between survival or utter destruction, between salvation or damnation.

These particular statements are far more than good advice. They must be taken as instructions upon which our eternal destiny rests. On the one hand, there is “life” (Matt 7:14), “good fruit” (vs. 17), “entering the kingdom of heaven” (vs. 21) and “not falling” (vs. 25). On the other hand, there is “destruction” (vs. 13), “being thrown into the fire” (vs. 19), “not entering the kingdom of heaven” (vs. 21), “departing from Christ” (vs. 23), and “falling with a great fall” (vs. 27).

 

The dangers

There are many perils that may befall those who wish to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven: It is far easier to find the way of destruction (vs. 13), as the way of life is narrow and the gate is small (vs.14). There are those who would deceive people, who appear as God’s leaders (vs.15), yet whose motivation is to destroy. They may use miracles and prophecy to deceive (vs. 22), yet they themselves will be shut out of heaven (vs. 23). Some people will be deceived by false prophets, and some will be self-deceived.

 

The hope

Jesus told His hearers to enter the narrow gate. Despite the difficulty, it is certainly possible. On another occasion, Jesus explained to his disciples that salvation was impossible with men, but with God, “all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). He warned His disciples to “beware,” indicating the means by which they would be able to identify false prophets (Matt 7:15,16). Those who do the will of God the Father “will enter” (vs. 21). And, those who put these words into practice will not fall (vs.25).

 

The warning

Jesus used the parable of the two builders to warn His audience, as well as those who would read His words in the Bible, that neglect of His teachings would have disastrous consequences. In particular, if we do not pay heed to His warning about the broad way that leads to destruction, or to the warning about the false prophets, or the warning about self-deception, we are liable to lose not only our lives but our eternal soul.

 

A warning for the Family

Most Family members are undoubtedly sincere. They are utterly convinced of the veracity of their faith. In fact, they are so convinced that they never truly examine the Bible to determine whether their faith actually conforms to biblical doctrine. Here is the first application: a personal relationship with Jesus is insufficient in itself to guarantee eternal life. Jesus warned of those who called Him ‘Lord’, yet were excluded. The Family prides itself on its perceived position as Jesus’ lover, yet Jesus Himself called for His followers to do the will of His Father in heaven.

Second, the Family relies heavily on ‘prophecy’ to substantiate its teaching, and miracles to provide for its members. Yet Jesus warned explicitly that neither prophecy nor miracles could be taken as proof of salvation or truth. “Many” people, He said, would be excluded from heaven even though they had prophesied and performed miracles. Answers to prayer are no proof of salvation.

Third, the proof of a true prophet, is not his followers or converts. Rather, it is his personal holiness, his obedience to biblical commands. In the Family, there are various widespread sins, acts which are specifically forbidden by both the Old and New Testaments, yet which are condoned and promoted by Family leadership. This indictment must specifically include the founder of the Family, whose well-publicised personal life included persistent sexual sin.

Family members, please consider your souls, submit to the truth of God in the Bible alone, and repent of the sin that has been taught you. Nothing could be more important.

 

Finally

The parable of the two builders is no mere exhortation to general obedience, nor does it contain a promise of prosperity to those who obey Christ. Rather, it is a dramatic warning not to neglect salvation, for indeed, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb 2:3 NASU). It warns us not to allow ourselves to be deceived by false prophets or to fall into the easy way that ultimately leads to destruction, or to cling to a false hope bolstered by prophecies or miracles.

The horror of the fate of those who neglect the truth of this parable can hardly be exaggerated. Jesus did not tell this story to children, nor does it contain advice for young people to ‘be good.’ It is not an exhortation for Christians to become disciples, nor is it a promise of prosperity or stability in this life. Rather, it concerns our eternal salvation, and the ultimate fate of those who reject Christ. It warns that if we do not listen to Christ, we run the very real risk of being shut out from the kingdom of heaven ourselves.

 

Matthew 7:24-27

24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  26 Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall. 

NASU

 

 

See also

Salvation

Basic Bible Interpretation

Further study

The Fatal Failures of Religion: #6 Mistaken Identity by Bob Deffinbaugh

Empty Words and Empty Hearts by John MacArthur

Built on the Rock by Steve Zeisler

References

The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV) 1984, International Bible Society, Colorado Springs, CO.

The Holy Bible: The New American Standard Bible Update (NASU) 1995, The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. This valuable resource is available online here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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