NO OTHER FOUNDATION

1 CORINTHIANS 3:10-17

The building was an architectural delight. It stood perched on the edge of Fort Lauderdaleís Intercoastal Waterway like a great jewel lowered from heaven. In the night, its shimmering reflection would glisten across the bay. Glass elevators carried people swiftly and silently up and down its smooth surface. The top floor held a restaurant that slowly rotated on a mechanical axis, giving the delighted customers a panoramic view of the entire cityscape.

There was only one problem with the building. It was built on an insecure foundation. Millions of dollars have been spent trying to firm up the faulty foundation. More pilings have been driven in and many tons of concrete have been poured to firm up the foundation and to bring stability to an unstable building. It has been a number of years since the problem first surfaced and I donít know what the eventual outcome will be.

As Paul writes his epistle to the Corinthians, he addresses a people who are in danger of the same drastic mistake. These people are building their ministry upon an insecure foundation. They are building upon the foundation of human wisdom and human resource and human effort. As a result, their lives are filled with imbalance and instability.

 

THE MASTER BUILDER

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. (1 Corinthians 3:10).

In the previous paragraph, Paul has been viewing the ministry at Corinth through the analogy of farming. In verse 9 there is a transition. He says that the Corinthians are "Godís field, Godís building." This marks a pivotal point.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

1 Corinthians 3:9-17

Analogy of Farming

Analogy of Building

Godís field (3:9).

Godís building (3:9).

From this point, Paul switches to the analogy of a building. He sees himself as a builder for Godís heavenly construction company. He first of all begins with the foundation. This makes sense. After all, you donít try to start construction on a building by laying roof tiles. You donít start with the walls. You always begin the same way. You begin with the foundation.

Paul calls himself a "wise master builder." This is a significant title. It implies that there might be such a thing as a foolish master builder.

The phrase "master builder" is translated from the single Greek word arcitetkton. It is from this word that we get our English word "architect."

Paul was both a builder as well as a planner of churches, but his specialty was in foundations. Over the years, Paul had planted foundations in many cities. Often he would come into a city and preach the gospel and then leave. The seeds of his message would eventually spring up into a growing church. But Paul would have by this time moved on. And so, others would come in and water and nourish the growing church.

Apollos was only one example of someone who was building on the foundation that had been initially laid by Paul. Indeed, we are still building upon that foundation today. But that foundation is not centered upon Paul. The church is not Paulís church. Neither is it Peterís church. It is Christís church. When we come to verse 11 we shall see that the foundation is Jesus Christ.

There is a warning here. The warning brings us up to the present. Paul has been speaking of what he did in Corinth in the past, but now with this warning, he moves up to the present. It is a warning to all who build.

You might be thinking, "This doesnít apply to me. After all, I am not a preacher or an evangelist or a Bible teacher." I have news for you. If you are a Christian, then you are one of Godís workers. You have joined the ranks of the army of God. You are an ambassador for Christ. You are an heir of the kingdom. You are a son of the living God. You are engages in Godís building project, whether you like it or not. There are only two questions:

On what foundation are you building?

What building materials are you using?

 

THE FOUNDATION

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11).

The only foundation of Biblical Christianity is Jesus Christ. He is not merely a part of Christianity. He IS Christianity.

Many people seem to think that Christianity is merely a code of morality that says, "Do this" and "Donít do that." Many have tried to hold to these codes without the reality of Jesus Christ. But this will not work.

Some churches have been built upon traditions. Others have been built upon a code of conduct. Still others attempt to build on sentimental love or an emotional experience. But Jesus is the only solid foundation of the church. A church built upon any other foundation is not a church of God.

 

THE BUILDING MATERIALS

Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. (1 Corinthians 3:12-13).

Having secured an adequate foundation in Jesus Christ, the next question that faces the builder is the choice of building materials. Paul describes two basic types.

What do these materials represent? Do they represent natural abilities? Do they represent spiritual gifts? No. I would suggest that the identity of these building materials cannot be understood apart from the context of the last two chapters. Paul has been making a series of contrasts between the believer and the unbeliever.

Unbeliever

Believer

Sees the message of the cross as foolishness

Sees the message of the cross as the power of God

Those who are perishing (1:18).

Those who are being saved (1:18)

Tried to come to know God through its wisdom (1:21)

Came to know God by the preaching of the cross (1:21)

The wisdom of men (2:5)

The wisdom of God (2:5)

The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God (2:14)

But he who is spiritual appraises all thing (2:15)

Must have a diet of milk (3:2)

Able to receive solid food (3:2)

Builds with wood, hay and straw

Builds with gold, silver and precious stones

This contrast continues here. The wood, the hay and the straw refer to those things that are built by the natural man. The gold, silver and precious stones are those things that are built by the spiritual man.

Paul has already established that the foundation is Jesus Christ. He is building upon that foundation and others are also building upon that foundation. But not everyone is using the same building materials. Some are using building materials that are of the Spirit. Others are using building materials that are of the flesh.

It is interesting to note that Paul lists three different types of building materials with each group. He does not say that gold is better than silver or that precious stones are not quite up to the proper standards. And yet, I think that there is a very specific reason that three different appropriate materials are mentioned. It is because not all of the building materials of the Spirit are the same. If I may be permitted to mix my metaphors, let me point out that Paul planted while Apollos watered while another may have weeded. Not all of Godís work is the same work. Just because one man has a ministry of evangelism does not wrong that another is wrong to have a ministry of teaching. What is important is that we are using the proper building materials and that we are building upon the correct foundation.

You are building for eternity. You may object, "But John, Iím not building anything. Iím not an apostle or a prophet or a preacher of a Bible teacher." It doesnít matter. You are still building. The only question is whether you are using the right building materials. You are either building with gold, silver and precious stones or else you are building with wood, hay and straw.

This is the problem. It is possible for the Christian to use the wrong building materials. It is possible for the Christian to build with the building materials of the flesh. It is possible for the Christian to act like the unbeliever.

This is dangerous. It is dangerous because there is coming a time of judgment. It is dangerous because there is coming a time when the Heavenly Building Inspector of the universe will pass judgment on the quality of your work.

 

THE BUILDING INSPECTION

...each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. (1 Corinthians 3:13).

A new building usually must pass an official inspection before a certificate of occupancy can be issued. Government officials come out to the site of the building and test its structure to make sure that it is built according to the proper codes. This is to insure that the building is sound.

God also has a set of standards by which He will judge the quality of our labors. There is coming a day of judgment.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10).

There are several observations that we ought to make from this passage:

At this point, you might object, "I thought that God judges the heart." Indeed He does. But your outward actions always come forth as the fruit of what is in your heart.

Donít miss this! The way you live is a direct result of what you believe. Donít tell me that you love Jesus if you do not obey His commandments. Show me your faith by your works and they I will know that it is true faith.

I was working with the fire department when Hurricane Andrew swept across South Florida in 1992. I had opportunity to go down to where the greatest damage had been done by that great storm. There were hundreds of houses that had been completely blown away. Entire communities were gone. But in the very center of the worst devastation, I noted one house that was virtually untouched. It was a house made of coral rock. It had weathered the storm. It had been tested and the storm had not been able to hurt it.

There is a storm warning. A storm of testing is on the horizon. It shall come and it shall test the building of your life. You will be tested to see of what it is you are made.

1. The Day of Testing: Each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it (3:13).

Your work is not evident today. I can look at the things that you do and I cannot always be certain whether they are of the Spirit or of the flesh. But there is coming a day when such uncertainty will vanish away. There is coming a day when the true character of your life will be known. It is the day of judgment. It is the day when Christ shall return.

2. The Means of Testing: It is to be revealed with fire (3:13).

Fire is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of judgment.

Now Paul tells us that the fire will actually be the means by which our works shall be judged. They will have to stand up to a trial by fire. This fire will not harm gold or silver or precious stones. The only thing that fire will do to such materials is to purify them.

 

THE REWARD OF THE LABORERS

If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. (1 Corinthians 3:14-17).

Paul describes three types of laborers in this passage. They are as follows:

1. The Man Whose Work Remains: He shall receive a reward (3:14).

This is the first type of laborer. He is the laborer who is faithful to the Master. He is the laborer who builds on the proper foundation and who uses the proper building materials. God rewards this faithful laborer.

2. The Man Whose Work Is Burned up: He shall suffer loss (3:15).

This is the second type of laborer. His work is on the proper foundation, but it is of the wrong materials. He is a believer in Christ and is rooted on the foundation of salvation, but his life and his work has too often resembled that of the unbeliever. As a result, he suffers loss. His lifeís work has been wasted. It is burned up.

Yet God is gracious. This unfaithful laborer is still saved, though all that for which he has worked has been lost to the flames of judgment. He did not deserve to be saved (none of us did). But God does not give him what he deserves. God gives him grace.

God never gives any of us what we deserve. If He did, we would be in hell right now.

3. The Man Who Destroys the Temple of God: God will destroy him (3:17).

Here is the third type of individual. He is the man who attempts to destroy the temple of God. He is not a faithful laborer. He is not even an unfaithful laborer. He is an enemy. He is one who attempts to tear down rather than to build. He is one who tries to divide rather than unity. He is one who is more interested in holding up the distinctions between Paul and Peter and Apollos than in building the kingdom of Christ.

What is this "temple of God" that he tries to destroy? It is the church. We see this in the previous verse. Paul says that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (3:16).

That is a striking description. It is one that is reminiscent of the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the place where Godís presence had once been manifested. It signified the presence of God on earth. Within the innermost part of the temple had been a special treasure. The ark of the covenant. This was a wooden chest overlaid with gold. Inside had been kept the pieces of the ten commandments. On the top of the ark was a golden cover known as the mercy seat. The statues of two cherubim spread their wings over the mercy seat. This mercy seat was the royal throne of God. It was the most holy place on earth.

But there is another holy place today. It is the church. I do not mean that it is a building. The church is not a building. The church is the body of believers. This is the most holy place of God. The Spirit of God dwells inside the heart of each and every believer and within the church collectively.

Are you a believer? Are you one of Godís people? If so, then the Spirit of God lives inside you. You are Godís holy place on earth. You need to remember that. You need to be aware that you are Godís place of holiness in the midst of an impure world.

God takes very special care of His holy place. He says that if any man destroys that holy place, then God will destroy him.

This is serious. There were those within the Corinthian church who were trying to destroy the church by bringing in division. This strife was a threat against the very existence of the church. Paul warns that there is coming a judgment against those who work such division.

The day of judgment is coming. In light of that truth, you need to ask yourself where you stand. What kind of laborer are you?