Apostles and Wisdom: Part 8 of 13 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor)
by John Lowe
and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
And the fire shall try every man's work is a statement that everyone understands, since it is a property of fire to test the qualities of objects. Consequently, gold and silver, are not destroyed by fire, but are purified from dross. Wood, hay, and stubble are consumed. The power of fire to try or test the nature of metals, or other objects, is often referred to in the Scriptures: “and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire …” (Mal 3:2; KJV). (Also see Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 24:15; 1 Peter 1:7). It should not be thought that the material fire of the last Day will have any tendency to purify the soul or to remove that which is unsound; but it is true that the scrutiny and testing of the Judgment will remove all that is evil, similar to how fire works to purify gold and silver. They are not burned but purified as they pass unhurt through the intense heat of the furnace; and in a similar way, everything that is genuine passes through the trials of the last great Day, of which trials the burning world will be the precursor . That great Day will show what is genuine and what is not.
Since the apostle is describing what takes place at the Judgment Seat of Christ, we know that the character of the person will not be judged, but his work and stewardship will be tested. It is altogether possible for a teacher or preacher to produce results here on earth which appear to be excellent and of substantial quality, and yet at the Judgment Seat of Christ that work will be found to be worthless. God judges righteousness; we judge appearance. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, faithfulness, not popularity will count. Only quality, not quantity or bigness will count. Faithfulness and quality are the two essentials of stewardship that will bring rewards.
The quality of stewardship is determined by the extent to which the steward magnifies and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ, by the scriptural truth of his teaching, and by the influence of a pure, sanctified, holy life. There will be a lot of surprises at the Judgment seat of Christ. Some persons we thought would be on the front rows will be on the back rows, and some who we thought would be in back will be in the seats of honor on the front row. It will be a real “eye opener” when the Lord of Glory passes out the crowns and rewards.
My prayer for you is the same as I pray for myself; that you will be there, and you will receive from the Master all you have earned of crowns and rewards, and together we will lay it all at his feet and join the angels in singing his praises. “OH WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE, WHEN MY JESUS I SHALL SEE!!”
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
If any man's work abide
That is, if any minister's doctrine will bear the test of sincere scrutiny, and endure the fire of the word; like gold, silver, and precious stones will endure a literal fire, it will shine all the brighter for being tried by this fire. The fire does not purify the worker, it tests their workmanship.
As you may well know, a little piece of gold isn’t as visible as a hay stack. Possibly God is the only One who knows that it is gold. Now a haystack is another thing—I have traveled across flat Kansas farmland, and it seemed to me I could see haystacks that were twenty miles away. There are a lot of people building haystacks, and everybody hears about what they are doing. The haystacks are going to be tested someday, and then there won’t be one haystack left because the testing is going to be by fire. The same thing will be true for works of wood or stubble. I am of the opinion that we have many wonderful saints of God about us today. I have been able to meet some of these folks—some of them personally and some by reputation—whom God is using in a marvelous way. They taught the true doctrines of Christianity, taught and practiced right behavior and views of piety; on the great day, when the real qualities of all things will be made known, they will not be ashamed. They are building a superstructure with gold, silver, and precious stones on the firm foundation which is Jesus Christ; their work will endure and it will honor God; and the Lord has a reward that He will give them on the last Day.
The fact that people do not fully understand this passage is
inherent in the truth that some have built up the theory of purgatory—the idea that when we die, we go to a place where we are purified by fire before we go to heaven—based partly on what is stated here. The whole concept of purgatory is foreign to the word of God, but the advocates of it are still deriving immense revenues through the preaching of it. The Catholic clergy, seeing that this doctrine, when properly managed, might be made an inexhaustible source of wealth to their order, have represented this fire of purgatory as having been ignited at the beginning of the world, and have kept it burning ever since, and they have taken to themselves the power of detaining souls in that fire, and of releasing them from it, only after they have drawn great sums of money from the ignorant and superstitious. This writer is grieved to know that even now there are some, who were once baptized into Christ and served as elders of God's church, whose children are paying to get them prayed out of purgatory! Purgatory is strictly a human invention, and denies the finished work of Jesus for the believer.
which he hath built thereupon;
I am a structural engineer (retired now), and I have some experience in building design. It always begins with an analysis of the soil to establish the size and type of foundation required to support the building. Foundation design involves calculating the shape and thickness of the concrete slab and the size and location of the rebar with consideration for the load that the structure will apply to it and the ability of the soil to bear the load of building and foundation. So you see, the foundation is extremely important. For that reason, the minister must build upon the word of God as it applies to Christ; the one sure foundation.
As for Paul and Apollos, it will appear that they not only laid a solid foundation, but that they built regularly and well upon it—that they used the proper materials, formed them well and placed them in the proper order. The foundation and the superstructure functioned as if they were one piece. The foundational-truths, and those that had an obvious connection with them, were taught together. It may not be so easy to recognize this connection now, or to know what works would abide the trial back then; but on the Great Day there will be a full discovery and we will see everything as it really is.
he shall receive a reward;
The Lord’s minister will receive a reward if he is building with gold, silver or precious stones, either from the churches of Christ here, who will honor, support and respect him for his faithful labors in the ministry; or from Christ on the day of judgment, who will say, well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. He has not only preached the truth, but he has labored in the word and doctrine. And the reward is to be according to the quality of that labor and the nature of his work. See 1 Corinthians 3:8. If all that he has taught and done proves to have been genuine and pure, then his reward will be in proportion. Note, faithfulness in the ministers of Christ will meet with a full and ample reward and eternal compensation. OH LORD, HOW GREAT IS THEIR REWARD! HOW MUCH IT EXCEEDS THEIR JUST DESERTS!
THE SUBJECT OF REWARDS IS SOMETHING THAT ALL CHRISTIANS ARE INTERESTED IN. FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO KNOW MORE, APPENDIX 2.7.1 HAS BEEN ADDED AS PAGES 145-149.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
If any man's work shall be burnt
“Any man” can be applied to you and me; but the chief subject of this verse is the work done by the ministers of God. If any minister has preached a doctrine that has been rejected by the churches, because it is not able to bear the light and heat of the fire of God's word, his work will be destroyed. And then, on the Day of Judgment, God Himself will pluck off all disguises, and make things appear as they really are. He will reject his work if, for instance, he has preached that it is necessary to incorporate the law with the Gospel, or stated publicly as a doctrine of God anything which did not proceed from heaven, he will suffer loss and all his time and labor will be found to be used up in useless words and activities. The apostle is focused here on the man’s work, not the man; the man’s work will be burned and all that can remain of it is that part which contains truth and uprightness.