One of the shows my wife and I like to watch on HGTV (Homes and Gardens Television for the single men out there!) is Income Property. The premise of the program is that some investors (usually a married couple) are looking for a house that they can subdivide into at least two units so that they can live in one and then rent out the other, thereby lowering their monthly mortgage payments in the present and leading to residual income in future years. The host has dealt with rentals for some time and is an expert renovator. He shows the investors a few properties, telling them the pros and cons of each, estimating how much money it will take to get the place up to speed and how much they can expect to make from the rental unit. The investors decide on a property and then the host goes about renovating it to provide a place for the couple to live in and a legal rental unit for them to make money on. Unlike many politicians—I mean reality series hosts—Scott, the host of Income Property, tends to actually under-promise and over-deliver. He stays within budget and the rental is worth more than he anticipated. That being said, a couple of weeks ago we saw an exception to that rule. The couple investing picked a property that ended up having a faulty foundation. Scott couldn’t tell this up front, but it was painfully evident when he went about digging around in the process of turning the basement into a rental unit. It had to be fixed. If not, then it was only a matter of time, and perhaps only a short time, before the water seeping in at the base of the house would not only make the basement unlivable, but could lead to a cracking in the walls of the upstairs floors as well. It was a costly fix, but it had to be fixed. The project ran significantly over budget and over time. The rental unit, as usual, ended up appraised more than anticipated, but the host was still upset that he was not able to live up to the budget he had promised for the investors.
You see, faulty foundations are serious things. And if you think they can be disastrous to homes, they are much more so to lives. Long before I knew much about the Bible, I remember learning a song as a child in church accurately instructing us about the results of a man who builds his house upon a rock versus a man who builds his house upon the sand. The lyrics of that simple, yet deeply profound, song come to us from Matthew 7:24-27. These verses form the conclusion of the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount, as our Lord declares that those who have listened to His message (the whole Sermon extends from Matthew 5:1 to Matthew 7:27) and act accordingly are like a wise man who builds His house upon a rock, a sure foundation. Conversely, those who have heard His teaching and yet go about life with a business-as-usual attitude are like foolish men who build a house that, while perhaps looking beautiful on the outside, is constructed on sand, a faulty foundation that will surely crumble. In this month’s newsletter, we will look at a couple of faulty foundations and then turn back towards the one true bedrock sufficient for life and godliness.
The Faulty Foundation of Others…2 Chronicles chapters 22 through 24 tell a tale that could easily be coming to a theater near you. Ahaziah, sovereign over the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He ended up slain at the hands of Jehu while visiting with the ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Athaliah, mother of Ahaziah (and the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel), didn’t spend much time in sorrow and grief over the loss of her son. She was quick to grab the throne of Judah becoming its one and only female monarch. In order to help ensure that no threat would arise to her power and position, she had all her son’s kids, her own grandkids, slain. However, Jehoshabeath, sister of Ahaziah, was able to stealthily rescue one of her brother’s sons, a child named Joash, from Athaliah’s murderous rage. Unbeknownst to the wicked queen, Jehoshabeath and her husband Jehoida, the high priest, raised young Joash in the house of God for the next six years. When Joash turns seven, Jehoida presents him as the rightful heir to the throne and the people displace the wicked and unpopular Queen Athaliah. In case you got lost somewhere in the storyline, let me recap the basics. The King gets murdered—his mother seizes the throne and tries to kill all her grandkids to keep them from threatening her reign—one of the babies gets sneaked out and is raised by the high priest in the house of God—when the boy turns 7 he is presented by the high priest as the rightful heir of the throne—the people do away with the wicked Queen and install the boy as King.
Now let us continue. Joash was only 7 years old when he rose to the throne of Judah. The dominant, and perhaps only, male influence on the young boy’s life was Jehoida the high priest. Not everyone who served as high priest was worthy of that position, but Jehoida was a genuine man of God who served the Lord and the people rather than his own interests. He influenced the young monarch in the paths of righteousness leading to a turning of the people towards the Lord and a renewed focus on caring for and funding the house of God. Indeed, Joash, though young, was a good king: at least he was as long as Jehoida was living. Upon the death of his mentor Joash was approached by wicked officials of the kingdom. He quickly fell under their influence and the once godly monarch abandoned the house of the Lord and began to serve and lead the nation in worshipping idols (most notably the Asherim—images of female deities set up on wooden poles).
Scripture records that God sent prophets to try and steer the king and the people back to righteousness, yet to no avail. The ultimate representation of the fall of the nation and of the king was when Zechariah, son of Jehoida (the high priest who had spared, raised, and basically made it possible for Joash to be crowned king), was stoned to death in the very court of the house of the Lord at the command of Joash because he dared to declare that the nation was going to suffer terrible consequences for their evil ways. The terrible consequences did come, and swiftly. Aram (Syria) came into Judah and wrought much destruction, killing all the officials and leaving Joash very sick. Joash’s own servants conspired against him and killed him on his sickbed. So hated was Joash that he was not buried in the tombs of the kings.
Joash was a king who seemingly had a great faith, but that faith had an improper foundation, that of another human being. Once Jehoida, the foundation of his faith, passed away, so too did his apparent godliness. There are many people who have others as the foundation for their faith. Some seemingly godly kids “lose” their faith when they go to college and are away from the foundation of their parents. Some seemingly righteous people go astray when the “big-time” minister they idolize (literally) or the local pastor who they thought they knew falls into some incredible sin. Still, others fall into shipwreck because someone they trusted betrayed them and the hurt is so deep that they blame the Lord and turn away from Him, showing that their belief in God was really ultimately dependent upon how others treated them. Whatever the case might be, the source of our faith cannot be in other human beings. Only God is God and other human beings are a faulty foundation upon which to build life and godliness.
The Faulty Foundation of Self…Matthew 19:16-22 relays to us a meeting between Jesus and a man we have come to call “the rich young ruler.” The rich young ruler was a respected member of the community. You would have loved to have him as a neighbor. If you had a daughter you would have delighted to see him coming to the door to court her. You could have trusted him to look over the house when you were on vacation. He would have been there to help the old ladies cross the street, to courteously open every door, even to mow the grass when you were just too tired. He would have been in church every Sunday and been the first to volunteer for every religious function. Still, even with all of his good works, he wondered if there might be something missing.
He approached the Lord Jesus and asked what he must do to obtain eternal life. The very question implies that he thought he could earn eternal life in some way or, more likely, that he simply wanted the Lord’s confirmation that he had already done enough to pay for it. Christ responds by telling him to keep the commandments and ultimately begins listing some of them. For those familiar with the Decalogue (The 10 Commandments), you know that they are basically split into two categories—the first four deal with man’s responsibilities to God and the last six basically cover man’s responsibilities to his fellow man. The commandments Jesus begins citing to the rich young ruler are those of the second category. The Lord tells the man that he must not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not lie and that he should honor his father and mother and treat his neighbor as himself. A smile comes to the young man’s face and from a confident (better said, cocky) heart he tells the Master that he has kept these commandments from his youth up and asks if there’s something else he’s lacking to earn eternal life. Jesus could have responded by letting the man know that he hadn’t kept these commandments since sun up, much less from his youth up. The Lord could have re-preached the Sermon on the Mount reminding the man and all those gathered around that if they harbored anger for their brother then they were guilty of murder and if they had even looked upon a woman with lust then they were liable for adultery in their heart. However, instead of pushing back on the young man’s assertion that he had kept these commandments, Jesus gives him a pass and cuts to the real chase telling the rich young ruler that if he wanted to be complete then he needed to sell all that he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Christ. Matthew 19:22, one of the saddest verses in scripture, records that at that statement the young man “went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.” Had the Lord really offered the man a chance to buy eternal life with the riches of this world? Not at all! Christ was merely showing the rich young ruler that he was unwilling to obey the first commandment (and the first category of commandments), to have no other gods before the LORD.
The rich young ruler was trusting in his own goodness to obtain eternal life. He had become his own false god. He turned and walked away from the true One. There are many people who are trusting in themselves for the foundation of their faith. If they do enough good and stay away from enough bad then they are confident in their relationship with God. If they have enough of what the world calls success then they assume that they are doing great and the Lord is smiling on their efforts. However, if they don’t do enough good or stay away from enough bad or if they experience failure as defined by this world, then they are not confident in their relationship with God and believe that He is frowning upon them. Trusting in ourselves will either lead to pride or despair, and both of those destinations are far from the port of righteousness. Our own works, our own possessions, our own character, apart from Christ, are a faulty foundation indeed upon which to build life and godliness.
The Faithful Foundation of Christ…The space in this month’s newsletter is fast coming to a close. So let me leave you with a verse that will hopefully serve as a truth and a tease. A truth that will give what we already know is the only faithful foundation for life and godliness and a tease that will hopefully lead you to reading all of 1 Corinthians chapter 3 where Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit waxes much more eloquent on foundations than could I. Okay, without further adieu, let us end with 1 Corinthians 3:11 which states that, “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And all of God’s people said, Amen!