Plumb Lines and Levels


My Daddy was a carpenter.  I grew up making “villages” for my miniature people and animals out of piles of sawdust and pinning curls of wood shavings into my hair when I was pretending to be a princess.  I became familiar with Daddy’s tools, and he showed me how to use them: the plain, the saws, the sanders, and, of course, hammers, nails and screwdrivers.  To this day I love beautiful woods with interesting grains and can’t help running my hands over their smooth polished surfaces.


One of my father’s tools often made its way into his sermons.  It was his “plumb line”, a piece of heavy metal shaped like a tiny child’s top and tied to a piece of twine.  He used it as the acid test on vertical supports like wall framing, beams, pillars and the finished edges of walls of wood and masonry.  The plumb line was pulled by gravity, so even unlevel ground that could fool the naked eye, couldn’t fool the plumb line.  If the plumb line said the board was straight, it was straight.  Cross beams could then be lined up on the horizontal and their accuracy could be measured with the “level”, a wooden board with a hole in the center across which two tiny tubes of oil had been fixed, each with a bubble inside.  The “plumb line” and the ”level” measured the quality of a carpenter’s work and predicted whether or not, years later, the plaster applied to that wall would crack or the floor joists laid would creak.  The plumb line and the level could even prophesy whether a hundred years from now a building would still stand straight and strong. 


There are in any age, at any time, winds of public opinion, changing trends, and popular viewpoints.  There are styles of dress, transportation, décor and behavior.  There are “fads” and “stars” and “influencers” and “idols”.  There is political rhetoric mainly designed to get votes by appealing to voters’ immediate material advantage and current felt needs.

But there is only one perfect model and one accurate measuring stick that is trustworthy.  It is the “plumb line” of God’s word and the walking, living Word – Christ himself, the great leveler.  Against this Living Word everything else must be measured if it is to stand the winds of change and the storms of time.

The prophet Amos lived at a time not unlike our own.  It was a time of control freaks, self-sufficiency and affluence, yet a time when the poor were too often oppressed and injustice was an accepted practice.  Religious performance was common but spiritual integrity and real obedience to God was uncommon.  Here in his own words Amos said: “The Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, checking it with a plumb line to see if it was straight”. 

And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

I answered, “A plumb line.”

And he replied, “I will test my people with a plumb line……” (Amos 7:7-8a)

Jesus was a carpenter. He would have been very familiar with this measuring device. He came to be the living, walking plumb line so that our lives would stand straight and strong, enduring and withstanding all the pressures of the times. He asks us to be citizens of another Kingdom, and to measure wealth, success, acceptance, and status by another measuring device than the fickle opinion of the current culture. It is an eternal edifice that we are building with the moments and choices of this day.

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