(Please read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 in your go-to Bible. I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)
Our common life is founded on the reality of God.
We’ve been talking about real life the last couple Sundays and we will continue to look at topic today as we delve one more time into 1 Corinthians 3. But last Sunday something happened in Texas that made life seem unreal. You all realize that I am referring to the horrible massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The savagery of the attack has shattered our illusions of safety. In an almost superstitious way we believed that a cross on the building and worship inside the building made us bullet-proof. We have been forcefully reminded that our safety is in God alone. No measure of false confidence, no amount of earthly material, is going to make us feel safe. Again, our safety is in God alone.
To illustrate this fact, I learned that in Prince William County – the place where FBC, Sutherland Springs is located – the police had scheduled a “Worship Watch” event aimed at training faith leaders on how to create a safer house of worship. It was scheduled to take place November 21st.
We can and should take steps to protect our house of worship and the precious people who gather inside. We can no longer assume that people will respect sacred places or that any place is safe because it is too small to attraction attention.
While we do this, real life must continue. We must continue to build our faith in Christ. Love manifest in spiritual growth must remain our priority. True security comes from knowing we are in God’s hands and from being united in that assurance.
Realistic Identity = Who are we?
1. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).
2. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).
Realistic Expectations = What can we do?
- We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).
In verse ten, Paul identifies himself as a foundation-builder. Here he is writing about starting the church in Corinth. He spent 18 months there, getting the church going.
Though he identifies himself as a WISE BUILDER, Paul is not boasting. From the start, he acknowledges that his ministry has depended on the GRACE of God. When he added, SOMEONE ELSE IS BUILDING UPON IT, Paul acknowledged he founded the church in Corinth, but had since turned its leadership over to others. Whether leaders or followers, everyone who attempts to build up the church must do so carefully, not selfishly or aimlessly, but in deliberately Christ-like fashion.
In verse eleven, Paul identifies Jesus as the only foundation-builder. Here he is writing about our faith as a whole, the world-wide Church of which Jesus is the Founder and Head. The FOUNDATION of all the churches was laid by Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).
Anything built on that foundation must be done in the character and spirit of the Founder, following His teaching. After all, good builders follow the blueprints. If anything contrary to the foundation is attempted, it will not stand. Paul delivers this warning because a false foundation is worse than no foundation at all.
In verses twelve through fifteen Paul illustrates Judgment Day (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4; Hebrews 10:25) as the time when what every person has built on the foundation will be tested by fire. The quality of each person’s building materials will be tested.
– GOLD, SILVER, and COSTLY STONES are not typical building materials. The temple that existed in Paul’s time was adorned with precious metals and stones and it may be that he wants the reader to envision the temple. We assume Paul meant to contrast valuable and enduring materials with the cheap and temporary stuff. Perhaps the point was something like, “We’ve all seen ornate, beautiful buildings that have stood for generations. We’ve also seen simple huts that last for a few seasons. Where would you like to live?”
– WOOD, HAY, and STRAW were more widely used at that time. I suppose someone could make a quick shelter with this stuff, but a real home would have to be made of more durable material.
– There’s no mention of stone or brick, the most common material for permanent structures. There’s another thing missing too; Paul does not guarantee any of the six materials he mentions will automatically survive the fire. My guess is this means that we shouldn’t be fooled by outward appearances. Like buildings, people and churches can have impressive facades but inwardly are firetraps, doomed to destruction.
The means of testing will be by FIRE (see 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; 2:8; Daniel 7:9+; Malachi 4:1), presuming that everything we’ve built in life that is NOT of the Lord will be destroyed. What is of the LORD, built with His help, will SURVIVE. (See 1 Peter 1:7; fire improves faith.)
In the Bible, FIRE is a symbol of purification and destruction. Either could be implied here. But FIRE is also a symbol of God’s presence (the pillar of fire that lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt). In this case, all of the above can be appropriate.
The person’s eternal reward is determined by what survives the flames. Paul indicated two possible outcomes:
– NOTHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED (they will go to heaven) but will receive no further REWARD; he will SUFFER LOSS, the loss of heavenly rewards. Picture here the person whose home is destroyed by fire and they escape only with the clothes on their back. The person is glad to be alive but wishes the result was different.
– SOMETHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED and receives additional rewards while in heaven.
The word REWARD can also be translated as “wages.” Paul wrote extensively in chapter nine of this letter that he had a right to receive material and financial support from the Corinthians when he worked among them. As an act of grace, he did not press this right, but worked outside the church to provide for his own needs.
This testing is obviously done only on believers; the unbelieving and unrepentant have no foundation in Christ and will not have any place in heaven; they are not SAVED.
2. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).
You don’t have to be a great carpenter to realize that either a poor foundation or use of inferior building materials will shorten the useful life of a structure, maybe make it unsafe. A skilled carpenter can easily spot these kinds of defects.
When we were house-hunting in Illinois, we leaned heavily on the advice of a professional carpenter in our congregation. I called Jack a “Forensic Carpenter” because he could look at a house and tell you not only the quality of materials and workmanship, but also the order in which the work had been done. He could compile a history of the structure on the basis of his inspections. We ended up with a nice home and Jack was one to thank for that.
Similarly, all Christians are to be builders. Our daily living – if we live for Christ – will develop our building skills in relation to building up our church, our relationships, and our selves. Our objective is to become, like Paul, an EXPERT BUILDER where things of faith are concerned.
The means of building each other up are found in being positive, being biblical, and being loving to one another. We must be creative and sensitive in the ways we reach out to one another because our ultimate objective is to point out Jesus.
Let me offer an example as we conclude. Think of someone in your life who needs to be built up. Either buy or craft a Thanksgiving card that points to Jesus. On the card, write all the things you can think of that make you thank God for that person. Write a prayer for their well-being. Mail it or deliver it in person.