When I was about to move into my home, I discovered that an old car dealership was being demolished and giving away its salvage antique brick. I soon envisioned a backyard patio with moss-covered brick shaded by a sweetly scented magnolia tree. So some friends and I spent hours digging down deep, breaking up stubborn Georgia clay and tossing aside roots, rocks, and nails to prepare the ground. It was a lot of hard work that seemed a bit overwrought at the time since I didn’t live in a flood plain, but the instructions I followed said that a solid foundation was critical. Now nearly twenty years later, my patio sits on level ground and happily, the blossoming magnolia tree is still providing shade.
Jesus speaks of trees and foundations in his Sermon on the Plain, which Luke records for us in his gospel. He tells the crowd gathered around him, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45). Jesus declares that when one’s life is rooted in goodness it will be evident, for it will produce good fruit. He characterizes “good” throughout this chapter as that which flows from a heart devoted to God: it seeks to “save life,” show mercy, and is generous.(1) “Give, and it will be given to you,” says Jesus. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” There is a one-to-one correlation between one’s actions and the fruit produced; as the Scriptures say, we reap what we sow.(2) Just as figs cannot grow on thornbrushes either can good fruit come from a heart that feeds upon evil. Jesus declares that though one’s life might offer the appearance of goodness, what the heart treasures will ultimately be revealed.
Like the explicit instructions I consulted for laying my patio, perhaps Jesus’s use of the word “evil” seems a bit overwrought for our modern ears. We may use such language to describe a rogue dictator or mass murderer, but as for me, the description doesn’t seem to fit the people I know—or (I hope) my own heart. However, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” says Jesus. If I dig down deep, I see that when I speak biting words, there is anger, fear, or envy; when there are inpatient interruptions, there is lack of love and mercy. Such words and actions reveal what I prefer to conceal in the recesses of my heart.
Jesus builds upon this metaphor in his next statement: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Although one’s words may suggest a deep commitment to God, one’s actions—which flow from what the heart treasures—ultimately unveil where one’s true priorities lie. Jesus continues, “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” Just as what a tree bears ultimately reveals whether it is a thornbush or a fig tree, so a structure shaken to its core will disclose its foundation.
As one New Testament scholar observes, “[Jesus] is not formulating some ethic that we could not follow independent of a relationship with him. Having a relationship with him is at the base of faithfulness.”(3) With any intimate relationship, laying such groundwork takes a great amount of time and involves putting into practice what one confesses (“I love you”) in not only words but also deeds. And yet, says Jesus, the fruit of such a relationship is sweet, withstanding life’s storms and offering shelter even in the midst of darkness and doubts. True faith in God is dug down deep and is secure, for “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.'”(4)
Danielle DuRant is director of research and writing at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) See Luke 6:9, 35, 38.
(2) See Galatians 6:7.
(3) Darrell Bock, Luke (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 129.
(4) 2 Timothy 2:19.