Wise or Foolish?

The Sermon on the Mount is not a program for reforming civil society, implementing economic justice, or creating the perfect society. Instead, it provides clear instructions for how the disciples of Jesus must live in the present age as faithful citizens and envoys of his Kingdom. His teachings are not optional. To stress the point, he concluded his Sermon with a stern warning. Modifying, compromising, or ignoring his words could result in the everlasting destruction of the would-be disciple.

Rock Column on Beach - Photo by Alejandro Piñero Amerio on Unsplash
[Photo by Alejandro Piñero Amerio on Unsplash]

On the day when his disciples appear before his Throne,
many individuals who did perform great deeds in his name will nevertheless be rejected and driven from his presence.

  • (Matthew 7:21-23) - “Not every man that says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but he that is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name did many works of power? And then will I confess to them: I never knew you! Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness!

In the passage, Jesus does not classify those he rejects as pagans or especially immoral sinners. They even call him “Lord.” They prophesied, exorcised demons, and did many other mighty deeds in his name. The emphasis is on the term “many” - the “many” things they did in his name. The warning is not just applicable to a tiny minority of disobedient believers.

Moreover, he does not call their miracles counterfeits. The problem was something deeper than the ability to perform miraculous signs. Not only does he not acknowledge them as belonging to him, but he also describes them as “workers of lawlessness.”

On the day when Jesus judges his own, he will command such men to “depart.” Elsewhere in his teachings, he warns of the coming day when his opponents will be “cast into outer darkness, where they will be wailing and gnashing of teeth!” Jesus did provide us with an explanation for how men became “workers of lawlessness.”

  • (Matthew 7:24-27) - “Therefore, everyone who hears my words, these ones, and does them will be likened to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock; and the rain descended, and the streams came, and the winds blew, and rushed against that house, and it fell not; for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these my words and does them not will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the streams came, and the winds blew and lashed against that house, and it fell, and its fall was great.”


The man who hears and does his words is like the “wise” builder who constructed his house on a rock-solid foundation. In Luke’s version, the wise man is quite thorough – “He is like a man building a house who dug and deepened and laid a foundation upon the rock” – (Luke 6:48).

The Greek word rendered “wise” or “prudent” in some English versions, phronimos, indicates someone who is thoughtful, intelligent, attentive, and astute. This term is the origin of the English noun ‘phronesis.’ It is used for exercising wisdom when determining goals and how to achieve them.

In contrast, the man who fails to heed his words is compared to the foolish man who built his house on a foundation of sand. The Greek term rendered “foolish” is môros, denoting one who is dull, witless, unthinking, and heedless.

What determines if a man enters the Kingdom is whether he heeds the words of Jesus. It is the man who does them who is “wise” and therefore rewarded on the day when it counts the most.


But which of his “words” did Jesus mean? At the outset of his Sermon, he declared that he did not come to discard the “Law and the Prophets,” but to “fulfill” them.

The Pharisees were renowned for their scrupulous observation of the Law, including the added oral traditions that went beyond what the Law required. Nevertheless, their meticulous law-keeping WAs insufficient for entrance into the kingdom. Thus, the Nazarene did not come simply to renew the Torah. Something more was needed.

In his concluding remarks, the “words” that must be heeded are the ones declared by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount; all of them, and without exception.

Anyone who desires to enter his Kingdom must live a life characterized by humility, hunger for righteousness, mercy, a pure heart, the avoidance of retaliation, peacemaking, honest communications, and a willingness to endure unjust suffering for his sake - (Matthew 5:3-12).

HIS disciple must be a light shining in a dark world. Not only is he forbidden to kill, but he must not harbor anger towards another man. Instead, reconciliation with the offended party is his top priority - (Matthew 5:13-26).

The disciple must not lust after someone who is not his spouse. He must keep a lifelong commitment to his wife. Rather than swear oaths, he should speak plainly with true words - Let your “yea be yea, and nay, nay” - (Matthew 5:27-37).

To inherit the Kingdom, it is necessary to eschew retaliation and violence. HIS disciple is summoned to love, pray for, and do good to his “enemy.” By showing mercy to his foes, he will become “complete” just as the “Father” - (Matthew 5:44-48).


The man or woman who seeks loopholes in his words does not have the mind of a disciple and risks rejection by Jesus as one of the many “workers of lawlessness.”

HIS disciple must not do works of righteousness for the adulation of others. Hypocrisy is incompatible with discipleship. Instead, he must center his life on the “Kingdom of God” and “lay up treasures in heaven” rather than in this world. As an heir of the Kingdom, he “cannot serve two masters.” His allegiance to Jesus must be absolute - (Matthew 6:1-24).

The disciple must not judge or condemn others. Judgment is the prerogative of God alone. Instead, he should treat others as he wishes to be treated. In this way, he will “fulfill the law and the prophets.” He must stay on the narrow path and avoid the popular and “broad” roads of this age - (Matthew 7:1-6, 7:7-20).

Much is at stake in how we respond to his words. Men who do not heed and do them will be rejected. Therefore, it is unwise to ignore the words of Jesus, select which ones we will obey or ignore, or create loopholes to get around the more inconvenient ones.

The Sermon on the Mount is an “instruction manual” for how his disciples are to live regardless of the values, demands, and expectations of the surrounding society.

Following his teachings is not easy. In places, his words are quite challenging, and many theologians, pastors, and Bible students have worked diligently to domesticate his more troubling sayings.

By claiming that “only he who hears these words of mine and DOES them will enter the Kingdom,” Jesus places absolute authority in his teachings, an authority that exceeds even that of the “Law” and the “Prophets.” We place our lives in great peril if we ignore, modify, twist, and disobey his words.



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