1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 23
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998|
|There are three things about the works of God that I want you to see. First of all is the grace that enables the work; second, the warning that accompanies the work; and third, the test that will determine the work.|
The Works of God
1 Corinthians 3:9
No man can do the works of the Father. We have seen this very clearly in 1 Corinthians 3. Whether it be the increase in people who get saved or whether it be the spiritual development of those who are saved, only God can do this.
Now there was growth when Paul was in Corinth and later on when Apollos followed him as the pastor of that church. Look again at 1 Corinthians 3:6. Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” Now that is in the imperfect tense. During that period of time there was growth going on and God was causing the growth. Not only when Paul was there, but when Apollos was there.
But then he goes on to show that God is always affecting growth. That is who He is. Look in verse 7: “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” He puts that in the present tense. It is almost as if the apostle Paul is saying, “Listen, God is always affecting growth.”
Corinth is not growing at that point. But if they will come back to verses 29 of chapter 1 and begin to live what the Christian life really is and get attached to God, attach themselves to His purposes and to His will, then God is the one who is always causing growth, always affecting increase in a person’s life and through a person’s life. But when an individual chooses not to live that way, he keeps himself out of everything God wants to do to grow him and to work through him. God and God alone does His works.
You know, that principle is found all through Scripture, particularly with Jesus as our example. He says in the 5th chapter of John, “I can do nothing of my own initiative, only of my Father.” He put himself into that situation, totally subjective to His Father’s will. Then in John 14:10, Jesus says it so clearly that I don’t see how we can miss it. He is our example at this point of how we are to live. As He was to the Father, we are to Him. As the Father was to Him, He is to us. Look in John 14:10. It is a tremendous passage here. He says, “Do you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” “Do you believe that?” He asks. “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative.” Now look. “But the Father abiding in Me does His works.” Verse 11 continues, “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves.”
You may say, “Well, how are these works accomplished? If God and God alone can do His works and He wants men to be vessels through which He does His works, how is this accomplished?” Look in John 6:28. Now to me again, it is so clear you don’t even need to add anything or take anything away from it. It just says it. This takes away our arrogance. This takes away our boasting in ourselves. We know what we are not as we get into Scripture, as we see who He is and what He is. In John 6:28 it says, “They said therefore to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’” He answers them in verse 29, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”
That word “believe” is the word pisteuo. The word has the idea of obedience in it. It comes from peitho, which is found over in Hebrews 13:17 when it talks about obeying your leaders. It is translated obedience. It means to be so persuaded by who He is that you are willing to demonstrate that by doing what He tells you to do. It is in the aorist active subjunctive. Aorist tense means do it, like that Nike commercial, just do it. Make up your mind and do it. Active voice carries with it the idea of do it on your own will, your own volition. Don’t let some preacher have to come in and cause you to do it. Make this your own choice. But then also subjunctive, it is a little iffy that everybody will do that.
Again I want to say, immature believers like we have in Corinth are people who choose not to do that. They would rather attach themselves to a preacher than to bow in absolute submission to Christ. And they just deceive themselves and cheat themselves out of being a vessel through which God Himself could work. This was the church of Corinth. You must understand that because that is the whole background of the study in 1 Corinthians. When Paul first went there, they were babies. They should have been babies because they were just born into the kingdom. That is verse 1 of chapter 3. It says, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men,” back then, “but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.” They were thirsty and he gave them milk. But the problem was that later on, they continued to be babes in Christ. They continued to live in that immaturity. And to demonstrate that and to prove it, they attached themselves to the preachers who had taught them rather than to the one who the preachers had taught them about. Therefore, they had missed it.
In verses 58, Paul still in his argument that you should never attach yourself to preachers, tries to show them that preachers are just vessels through which God does His work. That is all they are, conduits, like a pipe that water flows through, like a line that electricity flows through. They are just a conduit through which God can do His work. They are servants to Him, so they are a part of what God is doing.
Paul has been addressing the works of God and trying to show them that what a man does apart from God never qualifies. When God does His works through men, it is easily seen. So don’t attach yourself to man, attach yourself to God.
Now, in verse 9, he is still talking about himself and Apollos and the fact that they are equal in quality and essence but different in their assignments. Look at what Paul says in verse 9 of chapter 3: “For we are God’s fellow workers.” Remember some were of Cephas, some were of Paul, some were of Apollos. He says, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
That little term, “fellow workers” is an interesting word. We get the word synergy from it. It has the idea of something intimately entwined together. It describes a divine partnership that Paul and Apollos had with God. The word “with” that is used in that word is the little word sun which gives us the idea that what Paul and Apollos did, though separate from each other, could not have been accomplished if God had not been in the mix. But just as they were God’s fellow workers, they were God’s workers together with Him. It was God’s work and they were the vessel through which He worked. They simply were servants who were surrendered and cooperating with Him.
As they were God’s workers, the church at Corinth was God’s field, God’s building. Not man’s but God’s field and God’s building. There were other fields and other buildings. There was one at Ephesus and in Philippi when you talk about the believers here.
He says, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” The word for field is the word that means a tilled field. Metaphorically it means here, of course, the church. That is what he is talking about. He is writing to them. He says, “You are God’s field. God has appointed His workers through which He does His work in this field here that is the church of Corinth.” But he also calls them God’s building.
The word for building there is the word that means a building that is under construction. This is a beautiful picture he is drawing here. God is using His workers to work in His field and to construct His house. Now, in this analogy, you see the work of Paul and you see the work of Apollos. Paul was the one who had the commission to go and plant the seed in the field which they are. But then Apollos came along to help construct the building upon the foundation that Paul had left.
So his context has been and continues to be not attaching yourselves to men. Just vessels, that is all they are, equal in essence and quality before God. Different assignments but just vessels through which God has been doing His work. Paul, working in the field; Apollos building the building on the foundation that Paul had left. The work of God here seems to be paramount. It seems to come to the surface as to what Paul is talking about. Why would you want to hook yourself up to a man when all he is is a conduit? Why don’t you just become a conduit yourself, attach yourself to God and let God use you to be a part of His works?
The grace that enables the work
There are three things about the works of God that I want you to see. First of all is the grace that enables the work. Now understand, man cannot do the works of God. God enables man, but God does His own work through the man. God’s work is a work of grace. Grace is not just the undeserved favor of God. Certainly it is. We don’t deserve it and can never earn it or merit it. But God’s grace is also the enabling power of God. Romans 6:14 says we are no longer under law, we are under grace.
Paul shows you that being under grace is being a brand new creature in Christ in Romans 6:15. He shows that we have brand new potential but also a brand new problem. We still live in bodies of sin. But the grace that God now has for us is His enabling power. Any demand that He puts upon me is not a demand upon me but a demand upon the life that He has given to me. Jesus living in me is the embodiment of that grace, and He enables me to be everything that He commands me to be.
Look how Paul describes His work in verse 10 of 1 Corinthians 3. He starts the verse off and says, “According [that is a key word, kata] to the grace of God which was given to me.” If you want to talk about where the work came from, it is according to the grace of God. When you use the word kata, according to, it is so powerful. It means that what happens must reflect the measure of where it comes from.
Let me give it to you this way. If I was a rich man and wanted to give you some money, would you rather me give it to you out of my wealth or according to my wealth? If I gave you according to, it has got to reflect the measure of what I have. Now, this immediately shows you the tremendous eternal quality of this work. Paul says, “It is according to the grace that is given to me that all of this is taking place.” So it is always enabled by the grace of God. Paul didn’t do according to his own ability. He did it according to the grace of God, to his availability to God. It was God in him and through him that affected what Paul was about to do. It was a gift to Paul. He says, “According to the grace of God which was given to me.”
Something hit me as I saw that phrase. It was given to Paul, and some of us say, “Oh, I wish God would have given me that kind of grace.” He did! Look back in 1 Corinthians 1:4. He gave it to all believers. All of us have access to this grace, the enabling power of God. That is why we never have an excuse. If we sin, we sin and we might as well own up to it. Our flesh is there and many times it overpowers us. And when it does, it does. But as we are willing to surrender to Him, His grace takes over and growth takes place. His works are now enabled in our life.
It says in 1 Corinthians 1:4, “I thank my God always concerning you [he is talking about the believers in Corinth], for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.” There is the embodiment of grace. You have Christ in your life. You have access to His grace.
Look in 2 Timothy 2:1. Paul says essentially the very same thing to Timothy. It is not as if Paul got something we didn’t get, or Peter got something we didn’t get. All believers who have received Christ have received the enablement of that grace. It is there potentially within us. In 2 Timothy Paul is in prison, but he is writing to Timothy passing the baton. He says in 2 Timothy 2:1, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” If you want grace, you have grace. You have the embodiment of that grace which is Christ Himself. And if He lives in you, then as you partake of Him, He enables you to do what He commands you to do. That is the way it works. It is a wonderful message.
So many people think the good news is just for the lost. No, no. It is for the saved. To realize that Christ not only saved us and gave us life, but Christ is our life. He enables us to do whatever His Word commands us to do.
Now Paul goes on. Look in 1 Corinthians 3:10. He says, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder, I laid a foundation.” Now, he laid a foundation, according to the grace that God had given him. Planting the seed of the gospel was what God had enabled him to do and assigned him to do and God had done that through him in Corinth. The word for “wise” is sophos. We have seen this so many times, especially in 1 Corinthians. It means the ability to rightly use truth. Paul had that ability to take the Word and to practically apply it in his life.
But the word “master builder” is the word we get the word architect from. As a matter of fact, the first part of the word, arche, denotes a rank or degree. The second part of the word, tekton, is the word which means workman, or a master builder. Isn’t it interesting how many architects sometimes like to come up with their own design apart from what their clients have demanded? You can tell them what you want, but sometimes you get an architect who is thinking his own way and he wants to draw it his own way. If you have a good architect, all he is going to do is make visible what the design is of the client that he is working for.
The apostle Paul didn’t have the design, he didn’t have it all. Jesus had that. He just became as an architect. Through him the works of God worked in such a way to make it visible so that people could clearly see what God wanted to do through his life. Paul had laid a foundation. That is so key to understand.
In verse 11 he tells us what that foundation is, “for no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Now we saw earlier that Paul preached Christ and Him crucified. That is the foundation. There can be no other foundation but Jesus Christ. This was done among the Corinthians according to the grace of God working in the heart and life of Paul. It wasn’t according to Paul’s ability, but his availability, and God was using him to build a foundation, to plant that seed in the field so that a building could be built upon it. Paul now shows where Apollos came in and gives room for others. He says, “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.” You see, Apollos came in after him.
The word for “another” is not heteros, which means another of a different kind, but allos, which means another of the same kind, of the same quality, of the same essence. Another servant God is using came along after me and is building upon the foundation that I laid of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Now, that is the foundation. There is no other foundation but that for the believers. Therefore, somebody came in to build upon it.
But the building upon it is in the present tense. Paul and Apollos had gone from Corinth. When Paul was there and Apollos was there, it was being built upon, and others came along to build upon the one foundation that Paul was assigned to lay there in Corinth. This shows to me that there is no arrival point down here. We are to be building constantly, growing constantly, increasing constantly. And others come along to build upon the one foundation which is Christ and Him crucified. Every man who followed Paul and Apollos and on down the road, had come along in a teaching position to build upon the foundation that Paul, under the grace of God, had laid there in Corinth. That foundation was Christ. So the grace enables the work.
God wanted a church in Corinth. He had a man whom He called and assigned to do it. He gave him the grace to carry it out. Paul went and preached the Word, and the foundation was laid and the building began to be constructed. Others came along behind Paul to build upon that foundation. So we have the grace that enables the work.
The warning that accompanies the work
But the second thing that I want you to see is the warning that accompanies the work. He gives a warning here. Because he is the one who laid that foundation, he is seeing a problem in Corinth. He sees immaturity everywhere, and he knows that immaturity normally somehow attaches itself to wrong teaching. So he gives a warning in verse 10: “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.”
Now whoever follows Paul and Apollos, who have both left Corinth, and builds upon the work that God started through Paul and Apollos continued, whoever they are, must build carefully upon that foundation. Now, the generic context would be all believers. We are all building upon a foundation. Remember the parable of building upon sand or building upon the rock. All of us are there. But the specific context here, he is talking about the teachers and the preachers who come along behind him. They should be careful how they build upon the foundation he laid for that church. It wasn’t laid upon either Apollos or Paul. It was laid upon Christ. And any man who ever brings back that foundation and tries to replace it or remove it, is out of God’s will. Paul gives a warning to that individual.
Now it is implied here. So far our text has not said that some people in Corinth had been so enamored by the wisdom of Corinth and the ecstatic knowledge that they had the gurus that we talked about who always went to the Temple of Apollo. Some of them evidently were trying to infiltrate the church, so Paul is giving a warning. He is saying, “I want to tell you something. Whoever comes after me had better be careful how he builds upon the foundation I have laid.” Paul, in fact, is really saying, “I was only a secondary cause of laying this foundation.” You have to stay with me on this one. Jesus has always been the foundation, whether I laid him or not. He is always the foundation; I was the secondary cause. I went and preached the gospel and laid that foundation, but Jesus has always been the foundation.
Look at the term there in verse 11: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” is in the present tense. It is constantly laying there. Whether anybody is preaching Him or not, He is still the foundation, He is still the cornerstone, He is still the one who must be built upon. Nobody can remove it, and nobody can replace it. No other doctrine, no other thing can replace Jesus Christ and Him crucified, being the foundation of the church. No way in any world can we do that.
Turn to Luke 20:17. There is a parable here that Jesus gives that I think is very appropriate to what we are talking about here in 1 Corinthians 3; the fact that Jesus is the foundation, whether anybody had ever been to Corinth and preached Him or not, He is still the foundation. In Luke 20 we have the parable of a farmer who plants a vineyard and then rents it out to some vine growers. He goes on a trip. He says, “I have a nice vineyard out here. I am going to rent it out to them for a certain price.” And he goes on a journey. When he returns, he asks them for what is rightfully his. It is his field. They had been working in his field and he asked them for what is owed him.
Well, the slaves who went to make the request were beaten each time he sent them. Finally he says, “Well, I don’t know what is going on here. I will send my beloved son. Surely they will hear from him, because he is the one who will inherit it from me.” So he sent his son. But the growers beat the beloved son to death so that this man could not have any claim on the field whatsoever and they would get it when he died.
Then Jesus adds in verses 17 and 18. Of course, the picture is Jesus and how He came and how they crucified Him. But look at what he said in verse 17: “But He looked at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” The word for “stone” there is lithos, which can be used interchangeably with foundation.
What he is saying here is, “Upon this stone, upon this foundation, upon Jesus Christ, a man must build. And if a man seeks to reject it, if a man seeks to remove it and stumbles over it, he will be broken or the stone will fall on him and crush him. Nobody will ever remove or replace the stone, the eternal foundation that a man must build upon for all of eternity.” That is what he is saying. So Paul says, “Hey, I am a secondary cause here. I came and preached Him, but if I had never come, Jesus is still the foundation. Whether I preach Him or not, He is the foundation upon which a man must build.”
In Corinth Paul was able to lay the foundation by the enablement of the grace of God. Remember what Paul said in Philippians. He said, “I tell you this weeping, there are people standing among us that are enemies of the cross.” That is a part of the foundation to understand that Jesus came to die for us. But if a man comes to remove or replace that foundation, he is not in the energy of grace, obviously. He is in the energy of his own flesh. What we just read in Luke 20, that kind of fleshly effort, will never survive. Nobody can remove it and nobody can replace it. There is the grace that enables the work but also the warning that accompanies the work. And the apostle Paul says, “Hey, whoever comes after me, you had better be careful how you build upon the foundation which before I ever laid it among you was already laid, which is Christ Jesus the Lord.” He is the stone the builders rejected, but He is the stone, the foundation we must build our lives upon.
So there is a warning there for those who come after. He planted the field, but in building the building they not mess up the foundation that was begun.
The test that will determine the work
Well, we have the grace that enables it and the warning that accompanies it. But the third thing is the test that will determine the work of God. There is going to be a test one day to determine the work of God, whether God did it or God did not do it. There is a lot here to understand. Look at verse 12: “Now if any man building upon the foundation [a man is going to seek to do this] with gold, silver, precious stones,” that is one category, and then “wood, hay, and straw.” That is another category.
You see, the foundation is Christ, already laid. Paul, the secondary cause, came and laid Him among the Corinthians. He laid the foundation of Jesus Christ. Paul now shows that there are basically two kinds of builders here. There is one builder who is good and there is one builder who is bad. There is going to be a test to determine whether or not they are in the enabling grace and the work of God or whether or not they are doing it out of their own flesh. God is going to test that one day. You are going to see the fleshly works of man who tried to build upon the foundation of Christ which was only enabled by the grace of God.
You have the gold, the silver and precious stones which are the good materials. The other is the bad materials, the wood, the hay and the stubble; two classes of materials. The gold, the silver and the precious stones can stand the test of fire which God is going to use one day to test these works. They can stand it, God’s judgment. But the wood, the hay and the stubble cannot. One is building a mansion, the other is building a shack.
Now you have got to remember the context here. All of us are building on that foundation. Once you are saved, there is a building that is going up. He talks about that over in Ephesians very clearly, that we are a household, we are being built into the temple of God. There is something going on, a growing experience. But in the context, he is specifically pointing and warning the preachers and the teachers who come in behind him and would seek to do anything but build constructively and enabled by the grace of God upon the foundation that has already been laid.
Well, in the context, the gold, the silver, and the precious stones represent that which is enabled by the grace of God. Paul says, “According to the grace of God given to me, I laid a foundation.” That is how it is all done, by the grace enabling of God. Now, what would that mean? Well, the same grace that enabled the laying of the foundation is the grace that enables the building upon the foundation. What would that be?
There are several verses that will help us. These stones would represent the righteous deeds that are produced when we walk by faith. Look over in Romans 1:17. This is righteousness. This is what comes as a result of being a servant to Jesus Christ, enabled now by His grace. I am never enabled by His grace until I am surrendered to Him. But in Romans 1:17, look what we find. He says in verse 17, “For in it [the gospel, the good news of Jesus] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” But then he clarifies it. Look at what he says. He quotes out of Habakkuk 4, “as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”
Now these righteous deeds come from surrender to Christ. So, as a man would come in to build upon what Paul had laid (Paul was enabled by the grace of God), this man must be enabled by the grace of God. So if he is enabled by God’s grace it means that he is surrendered to Him and God is working through him. Therefore, what he does will stand the test one day because it will be true righteousness that came out of him. Righteousness is that which comes from a surrendered relationship to Christ. If you want to be righteous, bow down to Him and surrender to His Word. Admit your flesh, confess your sin, repent of that sin and let Jesus be Jesus in your life. Righteousness is the outflow of that.
Remember Isaiah 64. He said, speaking of Israel’s righteousness, “Our righteousness, you stack it all up. It is filthy rags in God’s eyes.” No man in the energy of his flesh can produce what God commands of righteousness. But enabled by His grace this righteousness can come as we walk by faith, for without faith it is impossible to please God. So whoever comes after him, Paul would be saying to him, you had better bow down and you better be the one through whom God can do His work and honor His Word.
But the second of these things that we could look at, these are the good works predestined before the foundation of the world. Look at Ephesians 2:10. Isn’t it amazing what people think are righteous acts? What did you do righteously this past week? “Oh, Brother Wayne, I read my Bible 22 times.” I mean, it is like we have our own standard of what we think righteousness is. But righteousness is the character and lifestyle resulting from surrender to Christ. All of us struggle with our flesh. Nobody is exempt from that. The ones pointing their fingers are the ones you had better beware of because once you start living this life, you realize how wretched our flesh really is and how quickly we can snap back into the other way of living.
Well, these are the good works predestined before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship [we are not our idea, we are not a product of what we have done], created in Christ Jesus for good works [now watch this], which God prepared beforehand.” In other words, you can’t get a committee and come up with it. God knows what they are and God alone knows what they are. We must be in touch with Him so these righteous works can be worked through us that we should walk in them.
Now, these precious stones could also perhaps be synonymous with that which comes from surrender to the Word of God. Look over in 2 Timothy 3:1617. We always read verse 16, but rarely do we ever read verse 17 and the two go together. You know, it is amazing to me that you go to different parts in the world, in mission places and you find people. As soon as they get a Christian, they throw him into the work. That is crazy. We need to put him up under the Word. The Word comes before the work. We have been upside down for so long, it is not even funny in many places. 2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable,…” That is a good phrase. A friend of mine had a business card and that is what he put on it. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable.” He didn’t say anything else. He said, “That got more attention! Profitable.”
But if you look up the word “profitable,” it doesn’t mean in a tangible, physical way. It means in a spiritual, eternal way. It is profitable. It is profitable for teaching, for clarification of what the Word of God days. It is profitable for reproof, that which exposes us as the sin that is in our life. It is profitable for correction, and the word really means to take a broken arm and set it straight. Isn’t it great? God’s Word not only reproves us, which we hate to deal with, but it corrects us. That is the beautiful part of it. But it is also profitable for training in righteousness. The word is paideuo, which means child training, not teaching. Teaching is first, but training is at the end of it.
You know, teaching can be done in ten seconds, but training takes maybe years because you must be trained, you see, in that area to where your senses will respond correctly when you are trained. My Dad used to raise English setters. Training those dogs was something else. Watching my Dad train those dogs helped me understand the Word of God and the place it has in my life and your life. It is not a onetime thing. It is over and over and over and over and over and over and over. Finally one day, your reflexes begin to respond properly to what the Word teaches and so you are not only taught, you have been trained as a child has been trained.
But look at verse 17. It is so clear. Why is all this necessary? “That the man of God may be adequate.” The word adequate has the idea of when you are packing to go on a trip and you have got everything loaded that you are going to need for the journey and now you are ready to go. You are ready for the journey. You are ready for the work once you have been trained by the Word. He says, “equipped for every good work.” That which is the gold and the silver and the precious stones.
How many times do we take a brand new Christian and throw him right into the work as if that is where he needs to be? No! Put him under the Word so he can be equipped for God through His enabling grace to do His work. That is the way it is supposed to be. It is incredible to me in some of the places I go I find people who do not have any kind of understanding of even what the good news is, but they have been out working for God. Well, look out. One day every work is going to be tested by fire. If we are not going to put people up under the Word, we are putting them right into that which is going to burn one day, the wood, the hay and the straw. The wood, the hay and the straw to me would be the fleshly works, the dead works that we present back to God, that which comes apart from a surrendered relationship to Jesus Christ. That which we do and ask God to bless, which God didn’t need to begin with. It is amazing how arrogant men and women are in the body of Christ, as if God really needed us. We act that way.
Have you ever made this statement? “If that man ever gets saved, God is going to be glad to have him!” Well, that is an interesting statement. Why would God be glad to have him other than the fact that He loved the whole world and gave His Son to die for him? He doesn’t want anything that man can do. He wants that man to be available so that He can do something through that man. I don’t know why we can’t see that.
Well, the wood, the hay and the stubble. The context here are preachers and teachers who build upon the foundation that Paul has laid. Apollos came in and continued to build upon it. Paul warns them and says, “The works that you do, buddy, if they are not enabled by grace, then they are going to be wood, hay and stubble and they are not going to stand the test. You better be careful how you build upon the foundation that we have laid.” It implies that there are other builders out there who are not building upon the foundation wisely. And these other builders are Christians.
That seems obvious because in verse 15 he says, “If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” So in other words, they are going to be people within the body of Christ, but those who are going to build carefully enabled by God’s grace upon the foundation and those who choose not to, perhaps they would rather read the newspaper and give updates as to what world news and times have to say rather than preaching the Word of God. As a result of that, they are not coming alongside and help people to build upon the foundation which is Christ. The responsibility falls upon two groups. It falls upon the teacher and the listener. It falls upon the teacher who is not enabled by God’s grace, but thinks he is a gift to God. “I can really help you out, God.” He goes out and tries to do all these things and build these crowds and thinks that God is impressed with it.
But you also have the listener, like at Corinth, who only wants milk and doesn’t want the solid food. You know, you can go to a lot of churches and find the pastors that they have and you can say they are not happy with the pastor. But if you stay around the people for a long period of time, you realize they got what they wanted. They didn’t want somebody to come in and build upon the foundation. They wanted somebody to come in with milk, that which is easy to receive and that which doesn’t in any way affect the flesh. But the test will come.
C. S. Lewis once said, “Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices.” God not only looks at the works, but He looks at the motives behind the works. It is going to be the secret things of a man’s heart that one day will be revealed by fire. We think the works down here are wonderful. They will stand before God one day. And if those works were not enabled by His grace, which is the only way God can do His work through a person, they will not stand the test of fire. Therefore, we will be rewarded, as we saw the last time, according to our labor and some of the rewards are going to be very sparse.
Verse 13 says, “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.” Now, each man’s work will be evident. Again, the specific context is teachers and preachers, but also the whole body of Christ. Don’t ever think that you can escape the context and say, “Well, he is not talking to me. He is talking about people….” No, no, no. Every man, not just teachers and not just preachers, every man’s work will one day be judged by fire and the quality of it.
Look at the word “evident.” The word evident is the word phaneros. It means to be made manifest. Literally it means to shine forth. Now, this is the same root word that we get the word “epiphany” which is the word used of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will come forth in brilliant light. He will shine forth.
What I get out of this is, we may hide behind what we want people to think are our good works down here. We may hide behind the motives that we don’t want anybody else to know about and we may hide behind fleshly junk. But one day when He comes, in a moment, in a split second, everything that we have done will be made immediately obvious in the light of the brilliance of His presence.
You know, there is a word for sincere in the Scriptures and it means without wax. When something is sincere, it is without wax. Over in those lands it is very hot. Have you ever made pottery? Have you ever used a ceramic mold and didn’t let it set up long enough and it cracked? Suddenly you realize that you have ruined the whole thing. But they wouldn’t give up. They took wax and put it in those cracks. Then they painted over that to make it look like there was nothing wrong with it. The people would take it home thinking they had bought a real nice thing and sit it up in the window and the heat of that sun would melt that wax. And all of a sudden they would see that underneath that paint were these cracks. So they learned to start holding it up next to the sun. And when they put it up next to the light, all that which was broken and cracked could easily be seen. One day, we will be judged according to whether it is wood, hay and stubble or whether it is precious stones. It is going to be judged by the light.
Notice he doesn’t say works, plural. He says work, singular. Every man’s work will be judged. Now think about it. Every man’s work. We are building a house, folks. It is one building. It not just this work or that work. It is the building that those works have put together on the foundation which is Christ Jesus. And that building will be built depending upon whether we have tried to build on it with our fleshly effort or whether or not we have walked surrendered to Christ, admitted our sin when we have sinned and failed, and we have confessed it and repented of it, not tried to have any reputation of our own, but only protected the reputation of Christ in us. And as we have lived that way, there is going to be a certain house that is built upon the foundation. But if we haven’t lived that way and choose not to live that way, it is also going to be quickly evident as to how we have built our house. It doesn’t have anything to do with eternal life, but I think it has everything to do with our enjoyment of that eternal life.
You see, Christianity is laughed at by many people today because it seems like it has no integrity. Oh, it has a lot of integrity. We are right now preparing to live with Him one day. And if we are not willing to let Him rule our life now, if we are not gaining our joy from just obeying Him now, what makes us think it is going to be that different when we see Him one day? Somehow there is a degree here of rewards that he is talking about, of enjoyment of the life that has given to us. And you may never see it down here. You probably won’t because we have watered it down so much in America that nobody knows the difference anyway. But one day we will stand before Him and in the brilliance of His light, we will be seen immediately as to whether or not we are products of grace or products of the flesh added to grace. It will be quickly seen. Anything that man does apart from his relationship with Christ will not stand the test of fire.
But you are going to stand before God one day. And only that which is enabled by His grace out of a surrendered servant heart to Him is going to stand the test of fire. It is a house that we are building upon the foundation, not just the teachers that Paul is warning. Every one of us are building on that foundation. How are you building upon it?