"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 [e]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." 1 Corinthians 3:10-14
There is much teaching on the gospel today, and that is a wonderful thing. It is impossible to lay any other foundation that lasts. Religion, good works, good intentions, miracles and spiritual experiences seem all too often to replace Jesus as the foundation of the Christian life. If any other foundation was laid in our lives other than Christ and His gospel, it was the wrong foundation, and we had better set it right. But for all those who start in the wrong place, how many more stop at the truths of the gospel, and never “go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1) - seeing the gospel worked out into the way that they live?
No one lays a foundation without the intention of building something on top of it. And yet, isn't that exactly what many “gospels” do today? The goal of many seems to be merely to “get people saved” and then to reassure them in justifying grace for the rest of their lives. But what about discipleship and spiritual maturity? What about progressing in holiness, and reaching others with the gospel? Without training Christians to serve God with their lives, all that we have is a foundation without a building. That is a useless foundation! Only those who do the will of the Father will be saved in the end (Matthew 7:21).
We are not saved by works, but all of the saved work. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved "for good works" (2:10). Faith always produces works, because faith without works is dead (James 2:17). How frightening a reality in an idle religious culture: the difference between the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 was that all the sheep had worked and all the goats had not!
This text teaches that all who are truly saved “work” (14-15). The question here is not if the Corinthians worked or not for the Kingdom of God; if they were righteous or unrighteous, active or inactive. They were following God and doing His work. The question this passage poses to us is: “Why did you work for the Kingdom of God? What was the wind in your sails; your supreme motive?”
One day, all of the people of God are going to have to stand before Jesus Christ in all His majesty and power to give Him an answer for the reason that we lived our lives. Our supreme motives, goals and desires will all be tried by the fire of His holiness. What in the world are we building? There is such a tendency towards self-promotion in modern Evangelicalism that it is hard to stand. Facebook culture (ie. here I am, I am great, love me) has tempted the best and the worst of us. It has gotten a hold of me one too many times.
Especially with the great temptation to self-promote today, we must probe ourselves well (with grace). What kind of materials are we using? Are we building with rare, precious materials, such as gold, silver and precious stones? Or are we building with common, worthless materials, like wood, hay and straw? One set is strong and durable, and its’ value will endure when put through the fire. These will bring forth treasures for God. The other is easily blown away by the weather, and becomes ashes when put through the fire. Its’ value is completely lost. In this case, the time laboring will prove completely invaluable to the worker. The Great Judge will take the wrongly-motivated person's life work and, in His justice, make it an ash heap. And then He will wipe away every tear, rewarding them wherever else He can (He is infinitely merciful and kind).
Are we ready for that great and terrible day? Are our motives right?
Having been "forgiven much" do we "love much", or are we still wallowing in the mire of self-promotion? Do we live out of selfless, supreme love to God, knowing and believing how He loves us (1 John 4)?
Do we build for the glory of God, or for our own selfish ambition?
Do we build for the good reputation of God, or for the good reputation of ourselves?
Our true intentions can be easily realized with a little bit of consideration. Our true supreme intention for work is revealed in the first thoughts that come into our minds at the thought of doing a good deed. Do our minds turn to how holy we will look, like the Pharisees with their long prayers and tassels? Do we imagine passersby and peers revering us as truly spiritual Christians, great evangelists, prayer warriors and revivalists? If we take these thoughts captive to Christ, then good. But that is not enough. We must not stop at taking the thoughts captive. Frequently recurring thoughts often (though perhaps not always) reveal a deeper heart issue. They reveal what we really want. At the end of the day, do we want to be promoted and revered? Do we want to be the man (or woman) of the hour - to be used of God for the sake of gaining a reputation? If so, that is true wickedness towards such a gracious Savior. It is a wound to Christ in the house of His friends! Jesus has given everything for us so that “we would no longer live for ourselves, but for He who died for us” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Is our service to God really service to ourselves?
What is a right motive for work? What will stand the fire? Jesus revealed it extremely clearly:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in Heaven.”
Our one goal in all of our work must be the glory of God - that people would praise our Father in Heaven! Let us be propelled by a burning passion for His honor in the world! There is one law - “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27). Strength suggests exertion, and exertion suggests work! Jesus is telling us how to work - by love! All of our work must be a work of supreme love to God, and glory to Christ. All else is sin, and will produce nothing but ashes when tested by fire at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Are we ready?
May the Spirit of God empower us for loving, selfless service and save us from selfish and self-promoting work.