From the Editor:
Charles E. Bradford, author, veteran evangelist, pastor, and world church administrator, became the first African American to be leader of the North American Division Seventh-day Adventists in 1979. He passed away in September 2021. With deep respect and affection for our friend and leader we revisit this feature from the Message Vault, circa January/February 1990.
More than with words, our actions build our lives.
These wise words were spoken by Jesus. They still speak to us today:
“What then of the man
who hears these words of mine
and acts upon them? He is like a
man who had the sense to build his
house on rock. The rain came down,
the floods rose, the wind blew, and beat
upon that house; but it did not fall, because its foundations were on rock. But what of the man who hears these words of mine and does not act upon them?
He is like a man who was foolish
enough to build his house on sand. The
rain came down, the floods rose, the
wind blew, and beat upon that house;
down it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew
There is nothing vague about Jesus’ teaching. It is plain, unvarnished, straightforward, forthright—with no circumlocution, no bureaucratic jargon. As He speaks, I picture Him as always standing and sitting straight, looking
people in the eye, speaking with a ring of authority in His voice. He challenges them to make a radical decision to follow Him at any cost—but He never bribes them.
The Wisdom in These Two Words
He uses His parables skillfully, seeking somehow to penetrate the self-protecting armor covering their hearts.
He wants above all for His hearers to hear, to get hold of reality, to understand “where it’s really at.” Even as He
speaks, He knows some are turning down their hearing aids, tuning Him out; others don’t catch the signals He is
sending because there is distortion and disturbance—faulty reception. The problem is that of breaking through.
Two words stand out in the conclusion—hearing and doing. Somehow man has to bear the message. It must pierce the barriers and register. “Faith cometh by hearing” (Romans 10:17). “Take heed therefore how ye hear” (Luke 8:18). “Be more ready to hear” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). “Be swift to hear” (James 1:9). “He that hath an ear, let him hear” (Revelation 2:7). Hearing is important.
But Jesus and the biblical writers had in mind more than registry of an auditory
signal. To be complete, hearing must be combined with doing. Hearing in the biblical sense means “response, action, and followthrough.” Jesus understood what was in man, what makes him tick, long before psychology
and behavioral science came along. We are just beginning to understand that more fully. According to
studies, we retain 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we see and hear, 70 percent of what we say as we talk, and 90 percent of what we say as we do a thing.
Jesus Demonstrated through His Incarnation
Again, the Bible anticipates modern man’s findings when James says, “Only be sure that you act on the message and do not merely listen; for that would be to mislead yourselves. A man who listens to the message but never acts upon it is like one who looks in a mirror at the face nature gave him. He glances at himself and goes away, and at once forgets what he looked like. But the man who looks closely into the perfect law, the law that makes us free, and who lives in its company, does not forget what he hears, but acts upon it; and that is the man who by acting will find
happiness” (James 1:22-25, NEB*).
Simply to verbalize, talk a good game, know all the right words by definition, is not Christianity. Quintessentially,
Christianity is always incarnational—words clothed in flesh: first in Jesus Christ, who is reality and truth, and
then in His followers, who demonstrate and give concrete meaning to that same word and truth in human experience. Going to church, hearing sermons, attending prayer meeting—these are important functions. It is a fallacy to think, however, that these good things are an end in themselves. During the sixties many people thought they were enlightened liberals simply because they went to all the big civil rights rallies and sang “We shall overcome . . .” Now in the seventies a great many young Blacks confuse the trappings, the semblance,
and the show of power (rhetoric and handshakes) with changing the situation in the Black community. Away with
Deep down within we know that the word that is heard must be acted upon to become effective. “It is through action that character is built” (Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 149). “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17).
Inattention, a Sure Way to Block Your Blessing
This brings us back to Jesus’ powerful conclusion. Two young fellows, perhaps just married, thinking about the future and the families they hope to have, choose homesites. One decides on the hilltop; the other, on the grassy plain. Don’t criticize the second man too severely. The formidable task of hauling building supplies to the top of the hill is enough to turn the average person away. The building on the grassy plain goes rapidly; the hilltop project, painfully slow. At last both are complete.
The people can see the story develop as Jesus talks. The brown hills are horizontally furrowed by ominous-looking gulleys, reminders of the severe eroding effect of the flash floods that take place from time to time in Palestine. But they do take place, and it takes only one flood to ruin a life. Then, as the children’s Sabbath school song has it, “the
rains came down, and the floods came up!” Everyone in Jesus’ audience knew the outcome.
What the preachers have been telling us is right—it is only when Jesus’ words are taken seriously and brought to the center of life that they become effective. The casual listener may leave “unbenefited” even in an audience with the greatest of teachers. Moreover, continued inattention to the word makes the listener less capable of receiving a good strong signal. The kind of hearing Jesus requires involves a total response to His claims.
The Dream House
There is a principle here that serves all of life. There is no magic formula, no easy way, to instant character or personality development and growth. Lasting human relationships are built block by block. In the final analysis, we build the house we must live in.
One of the bedtime stories that sticks with me is about Jim, a construction foreman who made his boss rich. They
turned out scores of quality homes. The boss got his commissions; Jim got his wages. Envy, the pernicious little green-eyed god, gnawed away all the while at Jim’s spirit until it got the better of him. Jim saw his chance to get even with his employer when, on the eve of his European vacation, the boss gave him the plans and specifications for a special project, a real dream house with orders to spare nothing. “Money is no object; put in it only the very best.”
It was no problem for the skilled craftsman to make a killing for himself by cutting corners and substituting the
cheapest materials, while at the same time making everything look first-class. Then came the day that
the boss returned. His first question was about the dream house. Jim told him it was finished—nothing in
it but the best. But his revenge was short-lived. You see, the boss had planned all along to give Jim a retirement
gift, a comfortable home—the very best—along with a good salary for life.
As the years passed by and Jim’s house, which he himself had built, showed signs of rapid deterioration and
decay—rattling windows, leaky roof, faulty plumbing—Jim’s own thoughts were his worst accusers. Jesus didn’t overdraw His picture story or load it down with an endless string of pretty moralisms, and neither will I. It isn’t
*Texts in this article credited to NEB are from
The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the
Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the
Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. Reprinted