Apostles and Wisdom: Part 7 of 13 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor)
by John Lowe
wood, hay, stubble;
Wood, hay, and stubble are nothing more than mere imitations of pure Bible doctrine. These materials, instead of rightly dividing the Word of Truth, symbolize the persuasive words of man’s wisdom: “From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Tim 1:6-7; KJV). These materials could represent heretical doctrines, and damnable heresies, which are diametrically opposite of rightly dividing the Word of Truth; but what is probably meant is the empty, trifling, useless things; such as fables, endless genealogies, human traditions, Jewish rites and ceremonies; which through the intolerance of education, and through ignorance and accident, without any bad intentions, might be introduced into their ministry by men who had been brought up in the Jewish religion. Then there is also the wisdom of the world, the philosophy of the heathen, oppositions of science (falsely stated), and speculations, vain and idle notions. Or in a word, everything that may now be advanced in the Gospel ministry that does not honor the grace of God, or is in keeping with the person, blood, and righteousness of Christ, or is consistent with the Spirit's work of grace. The same minister at different times, and sometimes at the same time in his ministry, lays the foundation, Christ, and builds on it for a while with excellent and valuable truths, raises a superstructure of gold, silver, and precious stones, and then covers it with trifling, impertinent, and inconsistent things, with wood, hay, and stubble; and so at last, this promising, stately building becomes a thatched house.
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
The apostle’s testimony is that all are not good builders, not even those who stand upon the one true foundation, which is Jesus Christ. However, this work of bad builders will not last, because one day the light of the truth will shine on it and dissolve the darkness that surrounds it, and show it for what it is—false doctrine. And God in his time will check out all buildings to see if they are good or not. Those which are found to be pure and sound will still continue, and the workmen will be praised. But those that are not pure and sound will be consumed, and the workman will be frustrated because they labored in vain, and they will be embarrassed on the great Day.
Every man's work shall be made manifest:
The dictionary defines manifest this way: “readily perceived by the eye or the understanding; evident; obvious; apparent; plain: a manifest error.” By every man's work the apostle is probably referring to doctrine, which is the religious principals every Christian either advocates or teaches. He says here that sooner or later every man's work will be seen for what it truly is, both to him and to his hearers; who will be able to see the inconsistency, irregularity, and deformity of such a building; it may have a solid foundation and excellent materials were used to construct the building, but in the end it was covered with trifling or incoherent stuff—wood, hay, stubble.
God keeps perfect records. Not even a cup of water is overlooked when it is given in his name or two mites when it is dropped into the offering plate by a poor widow. Every minute detail of stewardship and service, right or wrong, is kept on record; and on the Great Day it will be declared gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or stubble.
for the day shall declare it,
Bible scholars disagree on what day Paul is referring to here; whether it is the Tribulation, the White Throne judgment, the Bema Seat of Christ, the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, time in general or the Second Coming of Christ. I believe he is talking about the Bema Seat of Christ, because he is writing to believers in the Corinthian Church, and believers will appear there to receive rewards and to be judged for their works; Christians will not go through the Tribulation and only the lost will stand before Christ on the Day of Judgment. But in the face of all the controversy surrounding the day mentioned here I will offer the following observation. “There is a time coming when a discovery will be made of what men have built on this foundation, which is Jesus Christ: Every man's work will be made manifest, will be laid open to view, to his own view and that of others. Some may, while sincerely believing they are doing the right thing, build on the good foundation with wood, hay, and stubble, and never realize the wrong they are doing; but on the day of the Lord they will see their own conduct in its proper light. Every man's work will be made manifest to himself, and made manifest to others, both those that have been misled by him and those that have escaped his errors. Now we may be mistaken about ourselves and others; but there is a day coming that will cure all our mistakes, and show us ourselves, and show us our actions in the true light, without covering or disguise: For the day will declare it (that is, every man's work), because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will try every man's work; which is the subject of the second part of this verse.”
Because it shall be revealed by fire;
The Greek reads, “It is revealed In fire.” It is the work that is revealed in the fire, not the day. The Bible often mentions the fire of God’s judgment. Fire is one of his attributes. It is true that God is love (1 John 4.8); But in Hebrews 12.29 we are told that he is also a consuming fire: “For our God is a consuming fire.” Fire will destroy everything in its path, and the judgment of God will thoroughly search for and destroy everything that is vile. Nothing that is vile will enter the city of God; only that which is entirely genuine and durable can go there. Works of gold, silver, and precious stones will not be destroyed; they will only be brighter for having gone through the fire.
Paul wrote this in his letter to the Romans: “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11; KJV). Each of us will have to stand before Jesus, whose countenance is like the sun shining full strength, and whose eyes are described in Revelation 1:14: “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire” (Rev 1:14; KJV).
Fire always separates the destructible from the indestructible, and the same thing is true at the judgment seat of Christ. Everything that we think, speak, preach, do, give or live that is not for the sole purpose of glorifying Christ will be burned and consumed.
Once again, there is controversy over when this will occur. The "fire" which is referred to here, is without a doubt the fire which will come with the consummation of all things—the end of the world. That the world will be destroyed by fire, and Judgment will be ushered in by a universal inferno, is fully and frequently revealed: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10; KJV). (Also See Isaiah 66:15; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Peter 3:7). The burning fires of that Day, Paul says, shall reveal the character of every man's work, similar to how fire sheds light all around, and exposes the true nature of things.
The fire is not purgatory (as Rome teaches), not restricted to those dying in "venial (pardonable) sin"; the supposed intermediate class between those entering heaven at once, and those dying in mortal sin who go to hell. This fire is not until the last day; the supposed fire of purgatory begins at death. The fire of Paul is for trying the works of a person; the fire of purgatory tries the persons. Paul's fire causes “loss” to the sufferers; Rome's purgatory causes great gain, when the person confined there reaches heaven at last, if only it were true. Therefore this passage, quoted by Rome, is altogether against, purgatory. “It was not this doctrine that gave rise to prayers for the dead; but the practice of praying for the dead which crept in from the affectionate but mistaken concern of survivors gave rise to the doctrine.”