Use the best to stand the test
by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Text 1 Cor 3:1-17
Some time ago, I saw a question which read, “What on earth are you doing for Heaven’s sake?” That question could be taken any number of ways. I definitely wish more preachers had used this text so as to remind us that our deeds are important, and that this life is the only chance we have to do something for the Lord Jesus Christ. It would have made a difference in my life.
Our text is 1 Corinthians, chapter 3, beginning at verse 1, from the New American Standard version of the Bible:
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on 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. 14 If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 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.
Paul’s visit to Corinth is in Acts, chapter 18. Luke tells us Paul found a synagogue of the Jews and preached Jesus to them. Crispus and Sosthenes, both leaders of the synagogue, became believers in Jesus! Paul was now in another location (perhaps Ephesus) and wrote several letters to the Corinthian believers. First Corinthians was probably written some time after Paul left there.
I. The image of a child, not growing
One would think that this would have been plenty of time for these believers to have grown in the Christian faith but that apparently wasn’t the case. In chapter 1, Paul tells them one of the problems they had, namely, that these Corinthians were divided, some following Paul, others Apollos, still others Cephas or Simon Peter, and some claimed to be following “Christ”! We don’t have all the information but when believers are divided, it’s hard to accomplish much of anything. Certainly it would be difficult to grow.
And just as our own children grow, their appetites grow. As they get older, they come to need more than just milk and soft stuff like baby food: they one day become ready for the solid food. It’s normal, it’s natural, and it’s part of growing up for children as they head towards adulthood.
But that wasn’t the case for many believers in Corinth, as Paul stated in the first few verses of this chapter. He said that he couldn’t speak to them as mature believers, but as babies in Christ. If a child hasn’t grown at least somewhat, normally speaking, in two or three years, something is probably wrong. At Corinth, something was definitely wrong: they had not grown, in the faith, in several years, and that was not good at all.
II. The image of leaders, not competing
Besides the problem of not growing in the faith, these believers were apparently focusing on the differences between or among the “founders” or leaders. Paul was clearly one of the most educated men of all time, and yet, there seemed to be some obstacles. Paul would later write to these same Corinthians, of himself, “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible. (2Cor 10:10)’”.
Apollos, though, had a different reputation, so to speak. Acts 18:24 says, “Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.” In spite of that, though, we have no record in Scripture that Paul and Apollos had any conflict in any way. This is always good, when leaders agree that the main focus of any ministry needs to be Jesus Himself—NEVER what you or I or anyone else is trying to do if the goal is to make a name or reputation for ourselves.
Paul even asked the Corinthians, “What is Paul? And what is Apollos?” then answered the question, “Servants through whom you believed”. That was all. Servants for Jesus: nothing more, nothing less.
III. The image of a builder, working on a building
After he addressed the previous issues or problems, Paul shifts his focus to the idea of a “wise master builder” and the structure he’s trying to build. Paul had been in many Greek cities, and no doubt the buildings themselves must have caught his eye. He didn’t have to agree with what went on in any of these buildings, but surely he admired the beauty and longevity of so many. So now he’s applying the concept of the master builder to his own situation.
I found it interesting that the Greek word for “master builder” is the word we have as “architect”, but the meanings between now and then are vastly different. These days an architect is the one who draws up the plans and specifications. Seldom would an architect, these days, actually take part in the construction—but in Paul’s day, the “architect” was more like the general contractor, or project superintendent. This person seems to have had the responsibility to translate a set of drawings into a building as the engineer designed.
The fact that so many of the buildings standing in Paul’s time, when some had already been standing for centuries, are still here today speaks volumes as to the skill of those workmen. The Parthenon, for example, is still there, 2000 years after Paul visited Athens. Those engineers and workmen knew how to design and build a structure that would last a very long time.
Rewards or loss? It’s up to me
Paul goes on to list the various materials every builder could choose to use in the construction of any given building. He said that people could build with gold, silver, and precious (costly) stones; or, wood, hay (grass) or stubble. Certainly it would probably not be feasible to build an entire structure of gold—we’d need access to Fort Knox or a working gold mine for that to happen! But think, for example, of all the gold mentioned in the Old Testament in the worship or that time: so much was made of gold, including the Ark of the Covenant. So much gold went into the tabernacle and temple, it defies description!
Ditto for silver: a lot of silver went into the buildings. Exodus gives a list of what was made of silver and it’s mind boggling to fathom all that went into it. The high priest wore a breastplate with 12 precious stones, each representing the tribes of Israel. And that was just the Jewish faith. It’s anybody’s guess how much of the gold, silver, and costly stones went into the idol temples in the cities where Paul had been. The idea is that the cost of these materials reflected how durable these materials were: gold or silver might need to be purified, but these elements, these materials, will never fade away.
But the same can’t be said for wood, hay or grass, and stubble or, perhaps, cut or mown grass. Wood, eventually, rots or decays from exposure to the elements or insects. Hay or grass might have a purpose, as does stubble or cut grass, but they won’t, they can’t, last for an extended period of time. I read about Greek workmen, the builders of these magnificent structures like the temples to Greek gods and goddesses, and how they would live in huts or shacks made of grass or scraps of lumber. They stayed until the job was done, and then they left, but the structures they built endured for centuries.
In the same way, we as believers have the choice to choose the material we want to represent our works or deeds. We can take the easy way, and prepare wood, hay, or mowed grass, but what’s going to happen? When these works are tried by fire, there won’t be much remaining. Paul said that anyone who builds with these lesser quality materials would suffer a loss: but those who build with gold, silver, and precious stones would receive a reward.
None of us need to build with cheap stuff. None of us has to take the “easy way” and submit works of grass or wood for that final quality assurance check only to see everything burned up. We have the time to get and use the best. We have the promise that when we use the best, it will stand the test. Guaranteed.
There is, there has been, and probably will be, some lesser quality or “grass” works in my own portfolio, so to speak. The Lord is gracious and gives me, and every believer, a chance to do it right. I hope every believer will build with the best materials: to build for eternity. This life is all we have for doing something for the Lord. I hope you will decide to do the best you can for our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God bless.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.