Build the House
From Proverbs 14 verse 1 we read that “a wise woman builds her house, but the foolish plucketh it down with her own hands.”
If we apply this passage to ourselves, we can relate the house being built or torn down to the ecclesia. We can also relate ourselves individually to the wise or foolish women whose actions have either a positive or negative affect on the ecclesia. If there’s a way we can examine ourselves this morning as we reflect on the life of Christ that might be it: do our thoughts and actions, conversations and other communications build up or tear down the ecclesia?
It’s interesting to note that there isn’t any middle ground mentioned in Proverbs 14; there are only two sides to the coin. This is reminiscent of Christ’s words when he said, “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” (Luke 11:23 KJV) Our hope is to be with Christ and gather with him. We hope to work along side him in his field as he builds the ecclesia, preparing a people to be received by him at his appearing.
When you read the phrase “build her house” in Proverbs 14, your mind might picture a structure hammered together with beams and nails. And generally speaking, you wouldn’t picture a woman in that line of work. However, there’s a passage from Ruth which uses a similar phrase. In the context of that passage we find that it doesn’t apply to carpentry. Instead the phrase lends itself to a different interpretation, one similar to how we would define the ecclesia.
In Ruth chapter 4 verse 11 when Boaz told the elders that his wife was going to be Ruth, they responded:
11 … “We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel.” (KJV)
Rachel and Leah were not carpenters and the house they built was not a building. The house of Israel is made up of its people. Rachel and Leah (as well as their two maid-servants) built that house by giving birth to 12 sons. Rachel and Leah built the house of Israel by being fruitful and multiplying.
That could suggest that Proverbs 14 is saying a wise woman builds her house by bearing children. While that is valid to a certain degree, I think a more poignant interpretation comes from our reading in Galatians. There Paul wrote of the fruit of the spirit and encouraged the Galatians to bear that kind of fruit. From that perspective, you can see how bearing the fruit of the spirit would build the house of God.
If that’s what it means to build the house, what does Proverbs mean when it says “plucketh it down?” A search using Englishman’s concordance shows that the phrase “plucketh it down” often applies to people as well. In general it applies to the enemies of God whom have been or who will be overthrown. So if building the house means bearing the fruit of the spirit and building the house of God, plucking it down would mean uprooting the fruit of the spirit and tearing down the house of God.
Given those options we would hope that we would always play the role of the wise woman or only come in contact with her. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. We could all point to incidents in our lives were we have either been victimized by or played the role of the foolish woman. I’d suggest that the foolish woman of Proverbs doesn’t intentionally tear down the house of God – after all, she’s called a foolish woman, not an evil woman. Nevertheless, she leaves in her wake a path of unintended destruction – damaged, scarred or even ruined faith.
There are many ways the foolish woman can strike, and I think in his letter to the Galatians, Paul addressed one of those ways. In his letter, Paul focused a great deal on the Law of Moses. Many of brethren at Galatia had begun returning to the law. Paul’s admonition to them was not to return to the old ways. He said they should walk in the spirit bearing one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of Christ.
By reverting back to the Law of Moses, I think the Galatians became the foolish woman of Proverbs. Instead of building the house of God through the spirit, they were tearing down the house of God through the law.
Throughout his letter to them, Paul drew contrasts between the law and the Spirit. He also does this in his second letter to the Corinthians.
In 2 Corinthians 3 and verse 3, we read from the NIV:
2 Corinthians 3:3
3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (NIV)
And continuing in verse 6:
2 Corinthians 3:6
6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (NIV)
For some time I’ve been intrigued by that phrase; the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. I think the letter of the law kills in one of 2 ways. First, the law might kill through God’s righteous judgments on the wicked. As Paul said, all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. Second, the law can kill the fleshly desires that live in us. What I mean is, when we came to a knowledge of the truth, recognizing God as the creator who sustains our lives, and saw how our ways were in opposition to God. We turned away from those ways and forsook our former way of life. According to God’s word we have tried, and continue in the struggle of, putting to death the desires of our sinful nature.
While the death of the old man is pleasing to our Heavenly Father, that is only half of the journey. As Paul said, the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. Life through the spirit is the intended result of our faithfulness. If we only put to death our sinful desires, we will never accomplish anything. At best, the death of the old man only means we won’t do anymore damage. If you liken that to sitting in a boat that’s sprung a leak, just because you don’t make anymore holes in the boat doesn’t mean the boat will not sink. To prevent sinking you have to take action. You either need to patch the hole, bail out the water or row to shore.
The death of the old man needs to be replaced with a new life. That new life comes from the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is the underlying principles of the letter of the law. They are lessons that the written code was intended to teach. So while the letter of the law tells us what we shouldn’t do, the underlying principles of that law emphasize what we should do. The letter of the law kills the old man, but spirit of the law gives life to the new man.
As an example, the law says “Thou shalt not steal.” The letter of that law identifies for us that God views stealing as sin. In our willingness to obey God we put to death in ourselves our desire to steal. But the letter of the law doesn’t spell out for us what God wants us to do. It’s the spirit of that law that teaches us how to live. It’s the spirit of the law that teaches us how we can best serve our Heavenly Father.
It seems to me that Jesus taught the full _expression “thou shalt not steel” when he said (as recorded in Luke 6:30):
30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (NIV)
In this comment you can see how Christ extended the principle of the law far beyond the written code. In his wisdom he gives us direction about how we can live our lives. And as you know, Christ did this throughout his ministry; elaborating on the Law of Moses showing us the spirit that gives life. Through his teaching, Christ builds us up and continues to form us into the temple of the living God.
Yet in spite of this type instruction, the Galatian ecclesia had started to revert back to following the written code. This is something that I think is easy to do and is an area where we could be at risk. Not that we would revert back to the Law of Moses, but I can see how easy it would be to reduce the teachings of Christ into another set of written codes. Instead of viewing the wisdom of Christ as something that gives life, we can view it as something akin to the letter of the law.
I think this can be illustrated using the passage we just considered from Luke. We will teach our children that if someone takes something that belongs to them, don’t demand it back. We teach this lesson hoping they will not become selfish and self centered – in other words, we hope the command will put to death the desires of their human nature.
But does the letter of Christ’s command apply in all cases? Is there ever a time when I should go against what Christ taught and demand something back that has been taken from me? As an example, how would you advise me to act if a stranger plucked Nathanael out of his stroller and walked away with him? Should I or should I not demand Nathanael back? And if I do demand him back, am I in opposition to Christ’s teachings?
My guess is that you would answer that I should demand him back and that doing so would not go against the teachings of Christ. While those answers may have been obvious, the principle behind the answers may be difficult to explain. For a young child, those nuances might be impossible to understand. But as the child grows, the need to teach the nuances of the principles becomes increasingly important. The decisions they make on a day to day basis become more significant and critical. But the advice or instruction they need isn’t always easily discernable. Much of the time the right decisions need searched for as hidden treasure.
Teaching these nuances doesn’t only apply to children. It applies to anyone who asks for our advice – whether old or young, inside the truth or outside of the truth. We are all faced with opportunities to teach God’s word. And if we step up to the plate at those opportunities, we can either impart the written code, or we can impart the spirit that gives life. We can either tear down or we can build up those who need help.
Unfortunately it’s much easier to teach the “taste not touch not” perspective of the lessons of Christ. While this approach is certainly appropriate on some occasions, it does not always have a positive effect. What I mean is, most of us know the commands of God. From time to time we find ourselves sinning by breaking those commands. During those times simply being told how wrong something is doesn’t provide any necessary help required. First, it’s something we already know. Second, it only adds to the burden of guilt we’re already carrying.
That seems to be the role of the foolish woman of Proverbs 14. She tears down the person who is sinning instead of building them up through the spirit. What is needed during those situations is the patience and kindness of Godly love that will lead that person to repentance. As Paul wrote in Galatians 6 verse 1:
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. (NIV)
In saying this, Paul seems to emphasize the importance of the role of the wise woman – she is able to restore the one caught in sin. She doesn’t tear down the offending person. She builds them up gently in the love of God. And not only does she build up the one who sinned, she also builds up others, teaching them to administer the grace and mercy of God through the spirit that gives life.
Without a doubt the letter of the law has its place. It tells us what sin is and is a schoolmaster unto Christ; it is the blade that prepares the soil. It plows under the weeds, uncovers the stony places and furrows the earth that it might receive the seed of the gospel.
However, no amount of plowing will ever produce a crop. No matter how much effort the farmer puts into his field, it will never produce fruit until the seed has been: planted, watered and received the required nourishment. Only then will the harvest be realized.
There is still weeding that needs to be done, but we need only weed those areas that need weeding, taking care not to plow under the tender buds that have sprouted.
That is the difference between the wise and foolish women. The foolish woman plucks up the seed as she weeds the field, but the wise woman has patience and kindness towards her produce. She nurtures the seed as it matures, waiting until the time comes for it to be gathered into the storehouse.
If we desire to be the wise woman and help build up the ecclesia, our task is to grow in our knowledge of the spirit that gives life and learn to administer it properly. That’s not an impossible task, it just requires our effort on our part and our looking to the master for his guidance. And we can have confidence that if we labor in the fields, God will give the increase.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was always building up the ecclesia. He always showed tender care for those who sought the truth. He didn’t tie heavy loads on men’s shoulders and not lift a finger to help. On the contrary, those who sought after Christ found the help they needed. He constantly sought to expand the understanding of those he taught, even those who sought to kill him. He forgave the sins of those who transgressed. He comforted those who forsook him. He strengthened those who would be in his service. And to this very day he is doing the work of his Father.
These are blessings we have each received, brothers and sister, and through them we have been built up into the temple of the living God. Truly we have benefited from the fruits of Christ’s labor. And not only that, but the blessings we have received are things we can impart to each other. Things that will help build up the ecclesia and manifest the glory of God. We have been tremendous blessed through the grace and mercy of God, and with this bread and wine we remember how those blessings have come to us. As we reflect on the life of Christ and how he has built us up, let us also consider how as the bride of Christ, we can be the wise woman who helps build his house.
Craig Craver North Industry
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