12 If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become obvious, for the day[f] will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.[g]
[f] The day of Christ’s judgment of believers
[g]Lit yet so as through fire
1 Corinthians 3 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
So, Jesus builds the gathering of his people (church). He builds it upon a rock – which we’ve concluded from the context is most likely his unshakeable identity as “the Anointed One,” Israel’s prince by whom God would re-establish his rule on earth as in heaven and restore all things. The self-evident challenge of this work is that it must occur behind enemy lines under the nose of the enemy, the ruler of this world. On another occasion, (Matthew 12:22-32) Jesus declares that he has bound this strong man so he may plunder at will. (Matthew 16:13-20) Now he declares the defensive gates of this kingdom will be ineffective in preventing his penetration to plunder to build his church.
Upon his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus commissions special messengers (Apostles) to progress this building project. Preceding our text above, the Apostle Paul declares his role as a master builder to lay the exclusive foundation which is Jesus the Anointed One. He then challenges others to take care how they build upon this foundation – our text.
Our focus in last Sunday’s StraighTalking was the first part of Paul’s challenge: the building materials.
We noted the first care that Paul charges to church builders is to value and preserve the exclusivity of the foundation already laid.
For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ.
(Of course, we also care to remember that the English word “Christ” is not his surname. It’s his title, “the Anointed One”. It is essential to the exclusivity of his role as the living foundation of his church that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. (Matthew 16:13-20))
Then we examined what Paul means by…
If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, …
Paul evidently refers to these physical substances as metaphors of the building materials for a gathering of the Anointed One’s people (a church) are built. What are they really? We searched for clues in the context. We found:
Paul’s reference to laying the foundation as a skilled master builder. (v10) To what is he alluding? In the context of his description of the respective rolls of himself and Apollos in the Corinthian church, the source of divisions in the church, it’s evident that he alludes to preaching the Good News of Jesus, the Anointed One, establishing believers in living the Good News through teaching and exemplifying it.
They are a focus of the Anointed One’s judgement of his people at the consummation of his kingdom, for which he uses "fire" as a metaphor.
Desirable building materials will “survive” the scrutiny of this judgement as gold, silver and costly stones survive fire. However, this judgement will obliterate undesirable building materials so they will be “lost” as fire consumes wood, hay and straw.
And we identified a 4th clue from the Apostle Peter’s writing (1 Peter 1:4,5) …
Coming to Him, a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God— you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
… i.e., the reference to the development of believers as “living stones” into this building, a “spiritual house;” all becoming “a holy priesthood” whose priestly service represents “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ [the Anointed One].”
We took reference from the translators’ note of the NETBible…
The various materials described here, both valuable (gold, silver, precious stones) and worthless (wood, hay, or straw) refer to the quality of work built on the foundation, or possibly to the motivation of those doing the building. The materials themselves have been understood (1) as deeds or (2) as people (since ultimately the passage is addressing those who minister to others).
… and from John Piper…
So, you can see that the context is building on the foundation of Christ with kinds of teaching, which of course is interwoven with kinds of living, because what you teach is aimed at producing a new way of life.
In subsequent discussion we persuaded ourselves that church building material is what we TEACH, expressed:
- In WORD (oral or written) and
- In the LIVED LIVES of:
- The teachers themselves
- The believers they teach
- The COMMUNITY of a church
So then, we concluded Paul’s “gold, silver and costly stones” are metaphors for accurate teaching (in verbal.written communications, in lived lives and church community) of the Word of God; the commands of Jesus (Matthew 26:18-20), the apostles teaching (didache) (Acts 2:42)
And we perceived Paul’s “wood, hay and straw” are metaphors for either or both:
- The wisdom/philosophy of this world
- False teaching of the Word of God - that does not center on Jesus, God’s Anointed One.
Returning to John Piper we found accord …
Following the flow of the thought, I take gold and silver and precious stones to be faithful, biblical, apostolic, edifying truth that you’re building on gospel foundations with, while wood, hay, and straw refer to teachings that are either false or distorted or out of proportion or self-serving or contrary to the gospel in some way or contaminated with sinful thoughts or ways.
And from 19th century, Charles Spurgeon affirms …
Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’ ‘But what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.’ ‘But what is your practice?’ ‘There stands our practice. He is our example.’ ‘What then do you believe?’ Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’ Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.
And a riveting blog from Ray Ortland places the Apostle Paul's challenge to builders in contemporary terms …
Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths. Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile. Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless. But the New Testament binds doctrine and culture together.
The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Eph. 2:1-9).
The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Gal. 2:11-16).
The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Eph. 2:14-16).
The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Rom. 6:20-23).
The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Rom. 5:2).
The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10). And what is more basic than that?
If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t downplay the culture. But churches where the doctrine and the culture converge as one bear living witness to the power of Jesus.
Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope, and honesty—even if they have gospel doctrine on paper, they undercut their own doctrine at a functional level, where it should count in the lives of actual people. Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented, and in denial are revealing not just a lack of niceness; they are revealing a gospel deficit, a doctrinal betrayal.
The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good. But a further discovery of the gospel as culture—the gospel embodied in community—will be immeasurably better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.
It’s what revival will look like next.
And all God’s people said, “AMEN!”