Apostles and Wisdom: Part 6 of 13 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Christ is often called the foundation; the stone; the cornerstone upon which the church is built: “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?” (Matt 21:42; KJV). The meaning is, that no true church can be built which does not embrace and hold the true doctrines respecting him—those named in the preceding paragraph. The reason why no true church can be established without embracing the truth as it pertains to Christ, is that people can only be saved by faith in Him; and where this doctrine is missing, everything is missing that enters into the essential idea of a church. The fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion must be embraced, or a church cannot exist and where those doctrines are denied no association of people can be recognized as a church of God. Nor can the foundation be modified or shaped so as to suit the wishes of people. It must be laid as it is in the Scriptures; and the superstructure must be built upon that alone.

Here, in this phrase, the apostle informs us what foundation he had laid at the bottom of all his labors among them-even Jesus Christ, the chief corner-stone: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20; KJV).Upon this foundation all the faithful ministers of Christ build. Upon this rock all the Christians base their hopes. Those that build their hopes of heaven on any other foundation build upon sand. It is in Christ only that God is reconciling a sinful world to himself—“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19; KJV). This explains more fully the ministry of reconciliation. It was not God who was to be reconciled, but the world. In Christ it is offered peace and shown the love of God. The ministry of reconciliation is to persuade men to accept God's love and mercy, and to repent so that he can forgive their trespasses. Jesus is the firm, immovable Rock of Ages, and he is in every way sufficient to bear all the weight that God himself, or the sinner, when he believes, can lay upon him.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

Paul described two opposite kinds of materials, as the chart reveals. It will become important to see that those materials on the left will not be consumed by fire, while those on the right are consumed by fire. Generally speaking, the different materials represent a variety of teaching and works by the builders on God’s foundation.

Now if any man build upon this foundation

Now, if any man represents any teacher of biblical doctrine; or any individual Christian. The main discussion in this chapter has centered on the wisdom of apostles, preachers and teachers of religion. We must not overlook the fact, however, that the principals laid down here are applicable to all Christian conduct and Christian service. Paul carries forward the metaphor concerning building construction in this and the following verses, except now he assumes that the foundation is laid; that it is a firm foundation; that the essential doctrines in regard to the Messiah are the real basis on which the structure is raised. But, he says, that it is of vast importance to take into account the kind of structure that will be built; whether it will be really beautiful, and valuable in itself, and will it be able to stand up to the scrutiny it will have to bear on the last Great Day; or whether it will be squalid, worthless, erroneous, and therefore will be destroyed by the One who sets upon the throne. It is His desire that the church and the individual Christian has a solid foundation that has been laid well, and on this foundation a truly magnificent structure has been built; not one that is shameful and worthless. So the true foundation of a church may be laid, or an individual can be converted, in the true doctrine relating to Christ. That church or that individual may be built up and decked out in all the graces which truth is able to produce; or there may be false principles and teachings added; doctrines that will dilute the Gospel and lead men astray; or feelings of piety, which may have nothing to do with true religion, but are mere delusion and fanaticism.

There has been some difference of opinion in regard to the interpretation of this passage, since some question whether the apostle intended to represent one or two buildings. The former has been the more common interpretation, and the sense according to that is, "the true foundation is laid, and it would be wrong to construct the building with degraded and worthless materials. It would be absurd to work them in with those which are valuable; it would be absurd construction that uses wood, and hay, and stubble along with gold, and silver, and precious stones, since that would present a lack of conformity and beauty; and so it is with the spiritual temple. There is offensiveness and unfitness when the spiritual temple is raised by interweaving truth with error; sound doctrine with false.”

When you remember that Paul has been writing about wisdom in these first three chapters, you can easily see the connection. The Corinthians were trying to build their church by man’s wisdom—wood, hay, and stubble. They were following the wisdom of this world, when they should have been depending on the wisdom of God, as found in the Word—gold, silver, and precious stones.

gold, silver, precious stones,
These materials are precious and enduring; apostolic doctrines and men molded into the image of Christ are this type of material, as well. The "gold, silver, precious stones," can all withstand fire—“And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald” (Rev 21:18-19; KJV). This was the New Jerusalem as seen by John in a vision, and it was pure gold. The symbols indicate that the city is beautiful and rich beyond comprehension. The costliest materials known to mortals are named in order to give us some idea of its beauty and opulence. The three materials should be considered individually if we are to understand why each one is considered a proper building material, and how it relates to the Church and Christians.

Gold. Gold is the symbol of that which is valuable and precious, and may represent truth and holiness which will withstand the assessment of the great Day. So the precious doctrines of truth, and all the feelings, belief, opinions, habits, practices, which truth produces in an individual or a church, will endure the trial of the last great Day. It can also be said with certainty that Gold represents the character and moral attributes of the Godhead—and the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col 2:9-10; KJV).

Silver. Silver represents the redemption brought about by God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Precious stones. By the stones referred to here, the apostle does not mean "gems" which are valuable and cherished for jewelry, but beautiful and valuable marble slabs. Here the word "precious" means that which is obtained at a "price," which is both costly and valuable; and is particularly applicable, therefore, to the costly marbles which are used in building. The figurative sense here does not differ materially from that conveyed by the silver and gold—truths which set forth the righteousness, the glory, and the excellencies of the person and character of Jesus Christ

It may be quite enough for the purpose of edification to say, that, by gold, silver, and precious stones, the apostle certainly means pure and wholesome doctrines. Those who build with gold, silver, and precious stones are those who receive and spread the pure truths of the gospel, which hold nothing but the truth as it is in Jesus, and preach nothing else. This is building well upon a good foundation, when ministers not only depend upon Christ as the great prophet of the church, and take him for their guide and infallible teacher, but receive and spread the doctrines he taught, in their purity, without any corruption mixed in; without adding or diminishing.

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