One of the great comedic patterns of my life was the distinction between mine and my little brother’s definitions of a “clean room.” When our parents told us to clean our rooms, I would make some attempt—lame though it may have been—to actually put clothes where they belong. I would put my shoes where they went, and pick up trash. I would vacuum (if specifically told to), and make sure my desk was organized. My little brother, on the other hand, would simply pick all random items off the floor and either sweep them under his bed or stack them in his closet. In theory, his room was “clean,” though if the parents cared to conduct a closer inspection they would have been well advised to wear a HAZMAT suit. When they said, “clean your room,” they MEANT something underneath the words. What was important to THEM was an objective, specified picture of “clean.” What my brother subjectively argued was “clean” was not the same picture. The difference between these two notions provided much comedy in the 1970’s. If we were to please our parents, our definition of “clean” must match up with theirs.
24Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them, is like a wise man who built his house on a rock; 25and the rain came down and the river came and the wind blew against that house, and it did not fall, because it had been built upon a rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand; 27and the rain poured down and the river came and the wind beat against that house, and its fall was great.
Jesus prepares to close His Sermon on the Mount with a powerful rubric: a contrast between wise people (those who hear His words AND do them) and foolish people (those who hear His words AND DO NOT do them). What, exactly, have His words been in this sermon? He has passionately argued that sin is endemic to the human condition, and that righteousness is not. He has demonstrated that all the Law-obeying in the world can never be counted as righteousness. He has contended that self-sufficiency is a myth, and that all provision truly comes from God. In the same breath, He explicitly told His disciples to stop worrying about their provision, but to seek the righteousness of God as a first priority, and trust Him to provide for them. He taught them that relationships with God and with others are more important than rituals, and that true righteousness is marked by humility and a refusal to see the self as superior to the other. Those who trust God can count on His provision when they ask—and even when they don’t—and that among the provision that God has granted the most significant is the giving of the Messiah, in Whose name alone man might enter heaven. Though the only way man may be saved is by trusting Christ for that rescue and the resultant righteousness, there is no question that Christ intended for His disciples to live a certain way as a result of that faith. They were to treat one another a certain way, and they were to love one another and provide for one another. They were to see their relationships with each other as sacrosanct, and they were to leave judgment to the only One Who may do that. To hear His words and dismiss them as irrelevant would be the very definition of foolishness.
So how did we get to a place where we tend to do exactly that? We hear the Word, and we affirm it. We nod approvingly and store it in our hearts—and then go about our business as though we are capable of the Christian walk by ourselves. Go back and review how much of chapters 5,6, and 7 had to do specifically with relationships—and you will quickly get a sense of how important it was to Jesus that you NOT attempt this alone. He designed you to be in community. And if you don’t like that, there’s something wrong with YOU, not them. You cannot grow spiritually by sitting at home, reading some scriptures, listening to some internet preachers, and trying harder. That sort of moralism is exactly what Jesus was passionately decrying in the Pharisees. If He has truly saved you, then you are on a new road—a road that must be traveled with others. You cannot take seriously any part of the New Testament and fail to connect with others. To attempt to do so is to “hear” His words and then to fail to do them.
Gathering in community seems, at first blush, to be somewhat easier in our modern technology-driven world. I would argue, though, that it’s actually harder. Chat rooms, blogs, and interactive websites are frequently seen as replacements for actual interaction. You simply can’t love and serve one another online. If your pastor is just a moving image on a video screen, he’s not a pastor—he’s just a preacher. So your first step in “doing” these words you hear from the Lord is to get to church. The Church was founded by Jesus Christ, and belongs to Him. Your objections to the Church and the multitudinous ways you’ve been offended in the past are immaterial, irrelevant, and yet another reflection of the Self in the face of God’s own selflessness. Quit crying about the past and go fellowship with the community of the saints. You need it—trust Jesus on this one. The next step is to nurture your regular devotional life with interaction with a small group of those saints. Get some friends together and hold one another accountable. Email, text, or call one another regularly and help one another grow. You’ll defeat spiritual enemies this way, and you’ll grow by leaps and bounds. A Christian without friends is likely not a Christian at all, since so much of Christian theology is predicated on friendship. Finally, in your interactions with others, remember that you’re not as important as you think you are. The needs of others outweigh your own—and your resolution of interpersonal conflict is necessary to your spiritual growth.
His idea of the spiritual life is the correct one, regardless of how you have been defining it. Don’t just read His words, close the book and hope for the best. If you REALLY read His words, then you can see what’s important to Him. Make it important to you, too.