World famous landmarks of medieval Italian architecture dot the European landscape. From Hadrian’s Wall in Britain to the Colosseum at Rome, impressive structures highlight Italy’s former prominence in engineering and architecture. Among these is one known the world over: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, also known as the Bell Tower.
Started in AD 1173, this elegant 180-foot, marble-limestone structure, revolutionary in design, is a favorite tourist attraction. Yet it contains infamous lessons in construction.
Built in three separate phases, the tower has a noticeable lean toward the south. Within its first five years, when it was still just three stories tall, the Bell Tower began to tilt due to a faulty foundation. For 830 years, the tower has been under continual renovation to prevent it from collapsing.
Since its development, construction professionals have come to understand the immense importance of building on bedrock. Entire projects have been completely stopped because of the instability of the earth below them.
A good builder knows that the ground must be firm and strong enough to bear a significant load prior to erecting any kind of structure. Having been a carpenter, Jesus Christ was familiar with different types of foundations and understood the importance of a solid one.
Notice what He said in Matthew 7: “Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (vs. 24-25).
Qualifying to receive eternal life in God’s kingdom is no different. Our survival rests on whether we have a proper foundation.
Preparing the Ground
Most modern building projects require some amount of site preparation. This is often directly proportional to their cost or size. Volumes filled with preset building codes and regulations ensure that structures stand the test of time and remain straight and firmly founded.
The physical components of a foundation are crucial to keeping a structure vertical. The type of subsoil (clay versus silt, sand versus bedrock) and the relative moisture content (wet versus dry) are determined through routine surveys and tests.
Teams of engineers, surveyors and various professionals spend hours meticulously sampling and surveying the ground before building. These experts understand lessons that ancient structures like the one at Pisa have to offer.
As true Christians, we should pay attention to their examples.
In II Timothy 3, the apostle Paul wrote that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God,” is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and that it makes us “thoroughly furnished” and “wise unto salvation” (vs. 15-17).
The Bible is an instruction manual filled with God’s regulations and codes of conduct. Therefore we must spend day after day searching, sampling, learning and testing it to ensure our spiritual building is “founded upon a rock” (Matt. 7:25).
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines the word “founded” as “to lay a basis for,” “erect” and “consolidate.” The King James Version translators rendered the word “lay the foundation,” “ground” and “settle.”
For true Christians there is only one foundation on which to build: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11).
Paul was not implying that we are to build on Jesus Christ’s physical body, but rather he was summarizing what God has always expected. Mankind is to live “by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).
But how do we build on the right foundation? By doing what God says!
One of the fundamental miscalculations in the early phases of construction for the Leaning Tower of Pisa was digging the foundation to a mere 10-foot depth, a little more than one-twentieth of the structure’s final height. (It is now common to dig a foundation approximately one-tenth of a building’s height.)
Although this may have been acceptable at the time, engineers failed to account for the unstable subsoil upon which the foundation rested. They did not envision the subsequent failure that would occur.
This lack of foresight proved costly.
The slender building (only about 50 feet in diameter) was built on diverse layers of subsoil with different load-bearing characteristics. A thin layer (7-feet thick) of the near-surface subsoil on the north side was sandier and stiffer in comparison to the clay-rich compressible layer of the south side.
Early in construction, the foundation on the south side could not adequately bear the weight of the building and began to compact more rapidly than the north side. The different rates of settlement led to an apparent rise on the north side and sinking on the south. Over the centuries, the foundation continued its slow failure, which made the building lean farther. Without regular repairs, the building would have toppled long ago!
Jesus warned the same would happen to those who erected spiritual houses on inferior foundations: “And every one that hears these sayings of Mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:26-27).
Attempting to build our lives on a mixture of God’s Word (bedrock) and the ideas of men (sand) is dangerous. Imbalance is certain and remaining vertical impossible. If not recognized and remedied, these spiritual imbalances will cause instability and severe inclines. The end result will be complete collapse and failure.
Only obedience to God’s truth keeps us free from the penalty of death (John 8:32). Christ made no exceptions: “Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven…Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock…” (Matt. 7:21-24).
We must dig deep into the truth and go through every detail to solidify our proper foundations.
Obedience Provides Support
The fifth chapter of I Thessalonians contains a command: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (vs. 21).
This verse’s meaning is plain within the subject of God’s truth: we should prove every doctrine of God. Even if a particular teaching does not directly apply to our circumstances, such as “divorce and remarriage” (for those happily married) or “makeup” (for a man), proving all doctrines establishes your obedience to the truth—and allows you to construct a bedrock foundation.
Over the years, some have fallen into the mindset that certain doctrines are “necessary for salvation” and others are not. Others seem to think, usually unwittingly, that certain doctrines do not really apply to them and are not as important.
Believing there is a selection of “core” or “important” truth in comparison to other “nonessential truth” is like standing with your left foot embedded in quicksand and your right foot planted on solid bedrock. There is no chance of standing up straight!
Putting this into perspective, how will we be able to teach all doctrines in the kingdom if we have not proven them now?
Simple shallow statements of belief or quickly glossing over a subject are not enough. We must take time to go through all the details and finer points of the truth in our minds. Over time, this knowledge and understanding will become part of us and will give us the necessary strength we need.
Picking or choosing which of God’s truth to follow is a severe error. If we do fall into this mindset, recognize the motivation behind this desire. In effect, we are stating, “It was a waste of time for God to record the other hundreds of thousands of words in the Bible.” Yet God declares in Psalm 12:6, “The words of the Lord are pure words…purified seven times” (12:6).
Disregarding such a plain verse puts a person on very unstable ground!
God has given us in His Word “all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that has called us to glory and virtue…” (II Pet. 1:3).
Eternal life, however, is the reward of those who not only read these doctrines, but who do them. That is why we are warned about those who do not obey the truth (Rom. 2:7), and that “not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (vs. 13).
Disobedience only results in one outcome: death (Rom. 6:23). True Christians must take time to consider the eternal implications of such a miscalculation.
If we are in any way selective in keeping God’s Word, we must honestly ask, “Am I exempt from these warnings?”
As “disciples continuing in His Word” (see John 8:31), there is no room to disregard any of God’s precious truths by supposing they “do not apply.” If certain details are missed or neglected during our spiritual construction, our building will collapse when pressure (temptations) and excessive force (trials and persecution) develop.
Dealing with the Elements
Although the main challenge of the Bell Tower has been unstable ground, weather conditions have also weakened its foundation.
It was not until the 20th century that the tilt began to dramatically worsen and researchers discovered another more severe problem occurring—the soil layer near the surface of the tower’s foundation began to fail in a way engineers had not considered. Much of these newly discovered problems were directly attributable to local weather conditions.
Try as we might to “foresee the evil” and hide ourselves (Prov. 22:3), certain unexpected trials and tribulations will put our foundations to the test. Jesus knew this well when He said: “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house…” (Matt. 7:25, 27).
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is close to sea level and prone to flooding. With heavy rains, the ground usually swells with water and becomes soft and pliable. Such conditions do not provide adequate support for the building. This exacerbates any underlying existing problems and increases the probability for failure.
Flooding can also cause washout, or removal, of a building’s ground supports. The more unsettled the ground is (sand or soil versus solid rock), the more prone to washout it will be.
Similarly, if we fail to mentally settle and solidify all doctrines of God, normal trials of Christianity will eat away at our faulty foundations. Worse, when someone is already flooded by certain lesser hardships, gale-force winds of severe tribulation will put a person’s spiritual building under extreme duress—usually ending in utter ruin.
The apostle Paul understood the importance of standing on solid doctrinal ground: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness…” (Eph. 6:13-14).
Notice it says “take unto you the whole”—not some—“armor of God.” The verse starts by saying one must gird his loins with truth. Psalm 119 removes any doubt of what the Bible means by truth: “all Your commandments are truth” (vs. 151), and “all Your commandments are righteousness” (vs. 172).
Righteousness is putting the commandments into action. How fitting that the second piece of armor is described as the “breastplate of righteousness.”
Building upon a faulty foundation results in a sloped, unsafe structure unable to stand when stricken by adversity. Conversely, an upright and strong spiritual tower is built on every doctrine of God. Anything short of a foundation of spiritual bedrock—all of God’s truth knit tightly together like elements set in stone—will result in a spiritual structure that creaks, tilts and has a high risk of collapse.
Upright and Sure
With these elements in mind, where do we learn the truth?
Paul answered this question by stating that the Church is “the pillar [post, support] and ground [support, the basis] of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15).
Understand. The true Church teaches the truth—not part of the truth or some truth, but the whole truth. It is through God’s Church that Christians learn necessary components to form a solid foundation for an upright spiritual building.
Uprightness is a godly quality: “The works of His [God’s] hands are verity and judgment; all His commandments are sure. They stand fast forever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (Psa. 111:7-8).
Strong’s defines the Hebrew word for “sure” in verse 7 as “to build up or support,” to be “firm or faithful,” “to trust or believe,” “to be permanent,” “bring up,” “establish” and “steadfast, sure, surely, trusty, verified.”
This verse presents a simple equation. In order to produce an upright spiritual structure, one must build on God’s commandments—all of them!
There is no room for picking and choosing, disregarding or ignoring biblical instruction. Simply put, human beings are utterly unqualified to make such decisions. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart [mind, will] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Further, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was inspired to record multiple verses in Proverbs warning against relying solely on our own decision making. For example, he said, “Lean not on your own understanding” (3:5). He also stated that “there is a way that seems right…but the end thereof are the ways of death” (16:25).
David also understood human nature is not naturally inclined to do according to God’s doctrines. In distress, he prayed, “Teach me to do Your will; for You are my God: Your Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness” (Psa. 143:10).
Christ knew His people would need guidance and direction. Therefore, He “gave” His ministers for “the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying [building] of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
Fulfilling this, all true ministers are required to teach all the truths of God as they have learned them (II Tim. 3:14). Building further on what the apostles and prophets have laid (Eph. 2:20), the entire Body should be firmly and vertically built on solid ground, able to stand all manner of adversity.
Ephesians 4:13 continues, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the [upright] stature of the fullness of Christ…”
May we all strive for this level of uprightness!
Making Difficult Repairs
Over the centuries, numerous attempts have been made to fix the Leaning Tower of Pisa by shifting its loads and altering construction. In 1934, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini poured concrete into the north side of the foundation. This, however, worsened the problem and the tower sunk deeper because of the increased weight.
On the verge of collapse and a risk to public safety, the Bell Tower was closed to tourists in 1990. Restoration was possible before complete destruction, but it was not without tremendous effort.
At that time, a plan to correct the structure’s lean began to be realized. For the next decade, engineers worked to add weight and steel cables while simultaneously removing 70 tons of subsoil underneath the north side. This complicated and financially painful $40-million restoration project halted and corrected the lean by approximately 1.5 degrees (from 5.5 degrees to 4 degrees), and bought the tower an estimated 200 additional years of stability.
If mankind can devise a solution for this massive problem, how much more can God with us?
As with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, undertaking personal restorations is tougher and more costly than taking the time to build properly at conversion. Repairs through correction are rarely easy. (Read Hebrews 12:11.) Yet, if there is a lean in our spiritual structures, we must seek correction through the scriptures.
Re-read II Timothy 3: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (vs. 16-17).
The Greek word for “correction” in this verse means to straighten up again.
All repairs require the right tools. As Christians, we know that through heartfelt prayer, meditation, occasional fasting, and effective Bible study, we can actively seek to correct our understanding.
Fervent study of God’s Word—earnestly seeking His will and not our own—will provide us the correction (enable us to make the repairs) we need. It will make us “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
Throughout the process, we must be teachable, willing to change and put forward persistent effort. (Read Hebrews 12:5-8 and Proverbs 3:11-12).
Although completely fixing the Bell Tower’s lean may never be possible, Christianity is different. We are all still in the building phase, not yet complete.
Philippians 1 states that we can be “confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (vs. 6).
Have no doubt that God will deliver on this promise and give us the help we need to succeed and attain eternal life (Mark 10:27).
Redeem the Time
With such precious little time left until Christ returns, each of us must ask: Are there areas in my life where I am leaning? Are there weak points in my spiritual foundation? Are there any places where I am not straight or upright?
Any shoddy workmanship in our doctrinal foundations must be fixed immediately. These unstable areas must be replaced with an unshakable love for God’s truth—all of it!
Christ recorded in Revelation 3 that this is one of the characteristics of the Philadelphian Church era: “I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (vs. 8).
Keeping God’s Word—doing all He commands—is the only way to hear Christ say, “Because you have kept the word of My patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (vs. 10).
Those who have kept and guarded every word of God are promised protection. Faithful Christians will be part of the ultimate spiritual building: “Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God…” (vs. 12).
Keep this goal in mind as you evaluate your spiritual structure. If instability is discovered, hope is not lost. But the time to act is NOW!
Apply the lessons from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Begin “redeeming the time” (Eph. 5:16) and avoid leaning toward a major catastrophe. Obey all of God’s commands and develop a strong foundation. Abide in God as your “strong tower” (Prov. 18:10).
Embrace each and every doctrine of God. Ensure that your building remains straight!