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20. Good Tree, Good Fruit, Good Foundation (Luke 6:43-49)
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Gospel Parallels §§77-78
James J. Tissot, 'Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 6.6 x 9.2 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.
"43 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 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. 46 Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
47 I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48 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. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." (Luke 6:43-49, NIV)
The Sermon on the Plain concludes in today's lesson with two parables: (1) the Tree and its Fruit, and (2) the Wise and Foolish Builders. The first helps disciples see the difference between true and false faith. The second illuminates the difference between true and false disciples. These parables aren't deep; you'll learning nothing you don't already know. But maybe, just maybe, by meditating on them afresh, Jesus will speak them to you personally. Speak, Lord.
Good Fruit, Good Tree, Bad Fruit, Bad Tree (Luke 6:43-44)
"No good (kalos) tree bears bad (sapros)
nor does a bad (sapros) tree bear good (kalos) fruit.
Each tree is recognized by its own fruit." (6:43-44a)
Just two kinds of trees, Jesus says, oversimplifying in order to differentiate between good and bad. The two adjectives describing the trees and fruit are common in Greek:
- kalos -- "beautiful" ... of quality, in accordance with the purpose of something or someone, "good, useful." In the physical sense, "free from defects, fine, precious ... morally good, noble, praiseworthy, contributing to salvation, etc."185
- sapros -- "decayed, rotting," literally of plants and their products, and figuratively, "bad, evil, unwholesome."186
Jesus points out that some men's lives produce good and wholesome results; others' produce evil and unwholesome results. Look at the fruit, Jesus is saying, and you can tell what's inside. I think Jesus is trying to help his disciples see that the Pharisees' religion is corrupt within them.187 The parable of the tree and its fruits is one of those inside/outside sayings.
What is inside can't help but display itself in one's actions. The next verse (6:44b) shows that Jesus isn't talking about good trees that are sick and malnourished, and produce poor quality fruit (such as the soils in the Parable of the Sower). He is talking about trees that bear edible fruit vs. trees that bear inedible fruit.
"People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers" (6:44b).
Mouth Fruit (Luke 6:45)
"The good (agathos) man brings good (agathos) things out of the good (agathos) stored up in his heart, and the evil (poneros) man brings evil (ponēros) things out of the evil (ponēros) stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." (6:45)
Verse 45 talks about moral character using another pair of common Greek adjectives. Like kalos and sapros used in verse 43, these also have literal and figurative, physical and moral meanings, depending upon the context:
- agathos -- In an external sense, "fit, capable, useful." Of inner worth, especially moral, "perfect, upright."188
- ponēros -- In the physical sense, "in poor condition, sick, painful, virulent, serious" or "bad, spoiled, worthless." In the ethical sense, "wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, degenerate."189
The corruption that is inside a person (Greek kardia, "heart") can't help but manifest itself in his words and deeds. Jesus uses an interesting word translated "stored up" (NIV) or "treasure" (KJV). It is Greek thesauros, from which we get our English words "thesaurus" and "treasure." It means "the place where something is kept" such as "a treasure box or chest" or "storehouse, storeroom." Then it can refer to "that which is stored up, treasure."190 What do you "store up" and pack away into your heart? Praise, complaining, bitter memories, superiority, inferior self image, self-satisfaction? What is your "self-talk." It will inevitably come out in your words. You may think you are carefully hiding it, but you will have a "Freudian slip" and reveal your true self.
Out of the "abundance" or "overflow" of the heart the mouth speaks. The Greek word is perisseuma -- "abundance, fullness."191 But Jesus isn't talking about a good heart and an evil heart to foster introspection, but to instruct his disciples to listen carefully to a person's words, for they reveal his heart.
Sometimes a person's fame and acclaim can mask or cloud our minds. Like a glib talk-show host with the gift of gab who blusters. But if you listen very carefully, you can discern his real values, what makes him tick.
We're all like that. We have an exterior persona (at least one). Some of us seem rather transparent. Others are very guarded and private. But our mouths will eventually tell what is within, and will reveal our hearts. Listen carefully, Jesus is saying. Listen carefully and you'll be able to tell what this person has stored up inside -- and whether he is committed to God or committed to himself.
The Oxymoron of Heedless Followers (Luke 6:46-47)
Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Plain with a final parable. Surrounding Jesus are hundreds, thousands of people listening. I'm sure that after his meetings, people would come up and tell him that they want to be his followers. But how many of these hearers will actually put into practice what I am teaching them? Jesus wonders. Only a fraction. So he exhorts them to both listen to his words and put them into practice.
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice." (6:46-47)
Jesus is obviously disgusted by the so-called followers who don't really follow.
The Greek word for "lord" is kyrios. Its basic meaning is an "owner" of possessions, specifically of one who has come of age and controls his own property. The meaning "owner" passes easily into that of "lord, master," one who has full control of something. The word is also used of the owner of a slave, and as a designation of God himself.192
When pious Jews read the Bible, they felt the divine name Yahweh too holy to pronounce, for fear that they might break the Third Commandment. So they substituted the Hebrew word adonai, "Lord," in its place whenever they read it. In most of our English Bibles the word Yahweh in the Old Testament appears as "LORD" in small caps. When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into the Greek Septuagint in the first century BC, the Hebrew word Yahweh was always translated by the Greek word kyrios, the Greek word for "Lord." Thus, when Jesus' followers are calling him "Lord, Lord," they are speaking to him with extreme reverence and respect, bordering sometimes on worship.
The problem is that they don't put Jesus' teachings "into practice." The Greek word that underlies this phrase is the very common verb poieō, "do, act, practice, commit, carry out."193 Too many so-called followers don't practice what they preach. They can say the words, and sling the religious jargon with the best of them. But when it comes right down to it, their lifestyle doesn't emulate that of their Lord. They may call themselves disciples, "hearers, followers," but they aren't following. Jesus tells a parable to describe them.
Digging Deep Foundations with the Shovel of Obedience (Luke 6:48)
"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." (6:48)
This parable is also used to conclude the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:24-27). The point is similar, that not putting Jesus' teaching into practice results in disaster. But in Matthew, the comparison is between the building sites-- rock vs. sand. In Luke, the comparison is between what the builders do on the building site. The one who hears and obeys Jesus' teaching is like the builder who "dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock." The rock was covered with dirt. The diligent builder takes the time and effort to do it right. It is harder work that way, but the house stands when disaster strikes.
Surface Construction with the Hammer of Heedlessness (Luke 6:49)
"But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." (6:49)
My worst nightmare is a church workday when an enthusiastic helper volunteers to paint the church nursery. Good. It needs it. Give the man a brush, and paint bucket. An hour or two later he comes back with a smile on his face. "I'm done. Want to see?"
Proudly he opens the door, careful not to touch the flat wall paint he has slathered on the door. He has also put flat paint over the switch plates and door knobs, window trim and base boards, gotten paint on the glass and light fixtures, and dripped it on the new carpet. He's enthusiastic but careless. He wants to do it the quickest, easiest possible way. Forget preparation. Forget masking and covering and removing hardware. Get on with it.
Jesus' quick-fix builder cut his teeth on painting church nurseries. Slap the house up with the hammer of heedlessness. It looks like Christianity. But when storms come, when the creek rises and overflows its banks, when the dam breaks and a wall of water crashes into the quick-fix house, it soon washes away. It isn't attached to any foundation, and the ground it is sitting on is quickly undermined.
Here in California we have very specific building codes that specify foundations of a certain width and depth with imbedded bolts to attach the mudsill to the foundation wall. In addition, in earthquake-prone areas, building codes require metal tie-downs anchored in concrete to fasten the structure to the foundation. When a 6.5 or 7.0 earthquake ripples down the fault zone, it's soon apparent which houses are fastened to foundations.
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My dear friend, how firmly anchored is your life to the Rock Jesus? How carefully have you put his teachings into practice? Are you a serious, conscientious follower? Or a slipshod, enthusiastic believer who never gets around to anchoring his life in Jesus? Torrents do come to our lives. Earthquakes do bounce us around. Maybe you've just had a serious trembler in your life. It's not too late to ground your life in Jesus. Pray this prayer with me.
Lord Jesus. I've been a believer in You for a long time. But I must admit that I've been careless about actually living out what you've been teaching me. Please forgive me for my carelessness and foolishness. Lord, do whatever it takes to bolt me securely to You as my foundation. Whatever I have to undo, or redo, give me the persistence to do it. I want to be solid with you today. I give my life to you afresh right now, Jesus, my Lord. Amen.
"For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45b)
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- Con men continue to trick people and take advantage of them. How can you tell them, according to Jesus' teaching?
- How does what you say when you're angry indicate what is in your heart?
- What areas of your life where you AREN'T following closely has the Holy Spirit been convicting you about?
- How can you tell if you are a true follower of Jesus? Is being "born again" a good indicator? What does "born again" mean if it doesn't affect a person's lifestyle?
 Kalos, BAGD 400.
 Sapros, BAGD 742.
 I come to this conclusion for three reasons. (1) The Lucan context for the passage is judgmentalness and mercilessness (6:37-42), something Jesus later criticizes the Pharisees for (11:37-54). When this saying is used in the Sermon on the Mount, it is used in connection with the expression "false prophets" and "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15-20). (3) Later in Luke, Jesus caricatures the Pharisees as being filled with "greed and wickedness" while outwardly appearing clean (11:39-40).
 Agathos, BAGD 2-3.
 Ponēros, BAGD 690-691.
 Thesauros, BAGD 361.
 Perisseuma, BAGD 650.
 Kyrios, BAGD 458-460.
 See poieō, BAGD 680-683.
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