A Time to Break Down and a Time to Build
A Time to Break Down and a Time to Build Up
For fourteen years it was my privilege to pastor the Calvary Baptist Church of New York City. During that period my wife and I literally lived on the job, and from the lofty windows of the hotel suite we called home we monitored quite a panorama of happenings in that great "Fun City." One common sight that lingers in my memory is that of busy workmen, falling debris, loaded trucks, to be followed later by eager builders, giant cranes, and rising buildings. The more I reflected upon this "daily happening" in the life of a city, the more I saw a spiritual principle in the architectural formula of demolishing the old before establishing the new.
The work of grace in the human soul may be divided into two distinct operations of the Holy Spirit. The first is to break down rebellious lives into nothingness and self-abasement before God, and the other is to exalt the crucified and risen Jesus as Lord upon the ruins of repentant lives that are open to the grace of God.
With this as our clue, let us look at:
The Challenge of God to Demolish the Old Building
In the symbolism of Scripture, the human life is often spoken of as a building. For instance, our Lord Jesus said, "Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matt. 7:24). The house He was referring to was the entire structure of the human life.
Now apart from God no man can build a house that will endure for eternity. In fact, because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), every human building has been condemned. In spite of this condemnation, however, people still persist in living their lives apart from God; God does not get through to them. It follows, therefore that before a new building can be established, the old one must be demolished, and the only way to accomplish this is to knock down the walls. Significantly enough, when the four walls are demolished, the roof that shuts us off from God inevitably collapses!
Let us then consider the four walls that have to be demolished before we can start building anew. In man's response to God's call of salvation, there are four biblical conditions that are clearly laid down. The first is repentance, the second is faith, the third is obedience, and the fourth is forgiveness. The walls that shut us off from God are the opposite of these conditions. Let us take them one by one.
1. The wall of unbrokenness must be demolished. In the ministry of John the Baptist, then later of our Lord, and finally of the apostles, the note of repentance was always sounded as a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom of God. Paul sums this up when he testifies "to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Repentance means a change of mind leading to a change of life. It implies and involves a true spirit of brokenness.
Naaman the leper illustrates how the spirit of unbrokenness can change to true repentance (see 2 Kgs. 5:1-27). It will be remembered that he came to the prophet Elisha, requesting that the man of God might "heal him of his leprosy" (2 Kgs. 5:6). The prophet told him to wash in the Jordan River seven times and promised that, as a result, his leprosy would be cleansed. On hearing these instructions we read in 2 Kgs. 5:11-12 that:
Naaman became furious, and went away and said, "Indeed, I said to myself, 'He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.' Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage.
Here is graphically dramatized the spirit of unbrokenness. But Naaman had discerning servants, and they came to him and pleaded that he would change his mind and reconsider his ways; and amazingly enough, for a man as proud as Naaman, he did repent, and he went down to the Jordan and dipped himself seven times. That activity of dipping symbolizes true repentance and brokenness; and as a result, we read that "his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kgs. 5:14). Here, then, is one wall that must be demolished, if our lives are to be built anew.
2. The wall of unbelief must be demolished. The Bible specifically states, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). Indeed, the Word of God declares, "Whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). Just as God cannot get through to us without brokenness and repentance, so it is equally true that He cannot do anything for us without faith.
Even though an apostle, Thomas was a man who disbelieved. He could say in the presence of those who had actually seen the risen Lord, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). In grace and mercy Jesus later confronted unbelieving Thomas and said, "Do not be unbelieving, but believing" (John 20:27). Hearing those words Thomas was thoroughly convicted of his sin of unbelief and cried, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).
If we want God to do anything for us, we must "believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).
3. The wall of unyieldingness must be demolished. Writing to the church at Rome, Paul reminds his readers that he, with them, "received grace ... for obedience to the faith" (Rom. 1:5). No doubt, he had in mind a moment in his illustrious career when the light of God's revelation broke through to his heart and revealed his own unyieldingness and rebellion against Jesus, whom he had been persecuting. Humbled, in the dust of repentance, he cried, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" (Acts 9:6). Later, referring to this heart response, he could testify, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19). It is not surprising, therefore, that all through his writings Paul puts great stress on the need for total obedience to the will of God.
God can never fulfill His purpose in our lives while the wall of unyieldingness is still standing.
4. The wall of unforgiveness must be demolished. Jesus said: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). I believe that more people are kept out of the full blessing of the gospel of God through unforgiveness than for any other hindrance to salvation. They may be convinced that repentance, faith, and obedience are necessary, but deep down in the heart there is a wall of unforgiveness still standing. A moment's thought on the matter reveals the unreasonableness of this attitude. What right has anyone to expect the forgiveness of God when in that same heart is harbored bitterness, resentment, and unforgivingness against others?
Jesus settled this once and for all when Peter asked: "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21-22). Needless to say the Savior's words were intended to convey the thought of unqualified and unconditional forgiveness. At the same time, however, the Master's statement did not (and does not) teach license with God or with man. If we only seek forgiveness in order to sin again, then we show no signs of repentance, or obedience (Rom. 6:1).
It is clear, then, that the walls must be broken down before God can build anew. And interestingly enough, the word for "break down" occurs eight times in the Old Testament, and in each case has reference to the demolition of some wall or hedge. There are, of course, walls of God's devising which must be built up around our lives; but here we are talking about the walls of man's devising which shut in human sinfulness, and therefore, shut out divine holiness. The Bible insists that without holiness "no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). Let us see to it, then, that no walls of the old building are left standing. By God's grace let us demolish unbrokenness, unbelief, unyieldingness, and unforgivingness in our lives. Then, and only then, can we face:
The Challenge of God to Establish the New Building
Once again, throughout Holy Scripture, there are many illustrations of the new building which God wants to erect in our lives, for we are reminded that "unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Ps. 127:1).
Perhaps the most striking passage on the new building that God wants to establish in human experience is found in the Gospel of Luke: "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'" (Luke 14:28-30).
As children, we used to sing:
We are building day by day,
At our work and at our play,
Not with hammer, blow on blow,
Not with timber sawing so.
Building a house not made with hands,
Following Jesus' perfect plans;
Little builders all are we,
Building for eternity.
How true it is that we are all building for eternity!
But to stand the test of eternity we need to build aright, and in the verses just quoted, the Lord Jesus teaches us how to build for eternity. First, the new building must be spiritually conceived. "Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it" (Luke 14:28). Intention presupposes thought, plan, and design. We dare not build for God in a haphazard or fortuitous manner. When Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle, the Lord said unto him, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain" (Heb. 8:5). The Word of God alone contains the plans of the divine Architect. Unless our conception of what we build finds its authorizations and specifications in the Holy Scriptures, we waste our time on earth and lose our reward in heaven.
Secondly, the new building must be sacrificially constructed. "Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost" (Luke 14:28). When the Savior contemplated the cost of building the tower of salvation for men and women, He gave everything—His time, His energy, His body, His life's blood. If you and I are going to build for God, then we shall have to invest everything. It is foolish to begin without counting the cost. The Word of God argues against such a procedure. The work of demolition must be thorough and complete, and the work of building must be just as decisive and disciplined. God wants builders who will labor at any cost.
We must be sure that the foundation is right, "for no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). In terms of personal experience, this means that Christ will be the indwelling controlling presence and power in our lives.
The materials must be right. The apostle warns, "Let each one take heed how he builds" (1 Cor. 3:10). If the construction is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, then the materials of gold, silver, and precious stones will be of enduring worth. On the other hand, if the work is being performed in the energy of the flesh, the product of self-effort will be nothing more than wood, hay, and straw (see 1 Cor. 3:12).
Furthermore, the workmanship must be right. "Each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). It matters not only what we build, but how we build. The Lord must do it in us and through us, for "unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Ps. 127:1).
Thirdly, the new building must be successfully completed. "Lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'" (Luke 14:29-30). As we ponder these words we are bound to ask ourselves whether they describe the half-built lives and half-finished ministries we see around us today! One of the tragedies within the Christian church is the thousands of so-called believers who represent uncompleted buildings. These people once responded to some special challenge, declaring that they were ready to go anywhere, at any time, at any cost in the service of Jesus Christ, but now they depict the unfulfilled dreams and shattered hopes of "would-be builders." Like Lot's wife, they have refused to go all the way with God, and therefore, have crystallized into monuments of uselessness and shame (Gen. 19:26). Like Ananias and Sapphira, they have held back part of the price and so have been cut off before their life's work was done (Acts 5:1-11). Like Demas, they have loved this present world and so have failed to finish their course (2 Tim. 4:10). If we mean business with God, then we must build by the power of the Spirit to a successful completion. Nothing less than that will merit the Savior's, "Well done, good and faithful servant.... Enter into the joy of your lord" (Matt. 25:23).
I have been a pastor; I've also been an evangelist across this country and all over the world. The longer I have lived and the more I have preached, the greater has been my concern for this matter of finishing well. So many people start with a burst of enthusiasm—and that's right and that's healthy. But I often ask the question, "Is that going to be maintained?" It's one thing to start right; it's another to continue in a steadfast fashion, and I say that with deep sincerity. It matters most that we finish right. The apostle Paul could say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7). Only because he could say that, could he add, "There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8). You see he wasn't ashamed or afraid to look into the face of his Master and say, "Master, you've chartered my course—I found it; I followed it; I finished it." Did you start well, but lose the goal and the glow? It isn't how you start that matters only, it isn't only how you continue, but how you finish. You are called to endure, and to endure until the end. Are you prepared to look into your Savior's face this very moment and say, "Lord Jesus, keep me faithful until the very end." How true, then, are the words that there is "a time to break down, and a time to build up" (Eccl. 3:3). If the demolishing has been done, and done well, then you are ready to build. Or, more accurately, God is building in you and through you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there is a challenge—the challenge of God to demolish the old building and establish the new building. Are you and I prepared to break down walls of pride, unbelief, disobedience, and unforgivingness in order that in us may be born a faith which counts upon God to build "a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1)? If the answer is yes, then let us enlist in God's program and make sure that day by day we count upon Him to build brick upon brick with such precision, such conviction that when the storm comes we will find ourselves unshaken. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, "A wise man ... built his house on the rock" (Matt. 7:24).
— Time for Truth, A