1 Corinthians 3:10-15
According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon…
Under the figure of a building, the apostle continues to speak of the work of Christ's ministers, and specially of his own labours at Corinth. As the first to preach the gospel there, he had laid the foundation, upon which the teachers that succeeded him were to build. The reference is primarily to doctrine, but the principles apply to work and life as well.
I. THE FOUNDATION. This is Jesus Christ the Mediator (Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:6). He is the Foundation of truth: the system of Christian theology is built upon him. All Christian teaching and preaching must have him for their basis. The entire structure of knowledge rests upon him who is the Source of all wisdom, He is also the Foundation of life. The Church is built upon him, believers being "living stones" in the great spiritual temple. In both these respects Jesus Christ is:
1. A Divine Foundation. "Behold I lay." The Church requires a basis laid by God himself.
2. A sure Foundation. No work of God can fail. Jesus Christ is a Foundation, not of sand, but of solid rock (Matthew 7:24-27). It will bear any strain, even the weight of a world.
3. The only Foundation. This is the point emphasized here. Men build on other foundations when they rest their systems of belief on human opinion, or base their hope of heaven upon their own worlds, the merits of others, the general mercy of God, etc. But "other foundation can (δύναται) no man lay;" there is but one.
II. THE SUPERSTRUCTURE. Having found the true Foundation, we must "take heed how we build thereon." The work of ministers or of believers in general is here viewed as the superstructure. Two kinds of materials may be employed: "gold, silver, costly stones" - the beautiful and lasting materials, suited for a temple; or "wood, hay, stubble" - the baser and more perishable materials, fit only for a temporary house. Apply this to:
1. Doctrine. The "gold," etc., represents pure, scriptural teaching. Take Paul's Epistles, e.g., as a noble structure of truth built on Jesus Christ. Such doctrine is precious and abiding, like its Foundation. The "wood," etc., represents human opinions and speculations put in the place of God's truth. In Paul's time, Jewish tradition, Gnosticism, etc.; in ours, Popery, Ritualism, etc. Such doctrines are not truly edifying.
2. Life. The "gold," etc., is a Christian life of the noblest kind, built out of faith, hope, love. Pure, unselfish, Christ like character. Variety may be indicated in the three materials. Gold may denote the most brilliant service rendered by consecrated genius, heroic faith, patient suffering. Silver may indicate a work less brilliant, but useful - the honest doing of the Lord's will. Costly stones - marble or granite, e.g. - a life of solidity and strength, on which others may lean. Each of these classes has its own place and value. All are genuine. The "wood," etc., is a Christian life of the poorest kind, Dull as wood, with little spiritual insight. Swayed by public opinion, as the grass by every breeze. Barren as stubble, bringing forth little to the glory of God. What differences in the lives of Christians! Gold or stubble: which?
III. THE FIERY TRIAL. The true nature of our life and work is not always seen here. We judge wrongly of others and of ourselves. Men praise the wood as if it were gold; depreciate the gold as if it were wood. But "the day shall declare it" - Dies irae, dies illa - the day of fire, when Christ comes to judge (Malachi 3:2, 3; Malachi 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Time tests but partially; the thorough test is the judgment fire. Shall our work stand that?
1. The edifice of "gold," etc., shall stand. Truth will come through the fire; so will a genuine, unselfish, Christly life. Work for time perishes; work for eternity endures. The fiery ordeal will only bring out more clearly its true quality. The builder shall receive a reward in seeing his work abide (Philippians 2:16), in being recognized as a good workman (Matthew 25:21), and in wearing the crown of life (James 1:12). Observe, the reward is not for being on the Foundation, but for what is built thereon. Salvation is of free grace; the reward is "according as his work" (Revelation 22:12).
2. The structure of" wood," etc., shall be burned up. Error, falsehood, unreality; a life animated by a worldly, selfish spirit; - these shall be consumed. The builder is glad to get away with his life, as one escapes from a house in flames, saved "so as through fire." Picture the consternation of the poor builder as he sees the fire doing its awful work, and hears the crash of his life structure! He himself is saved for Christ's sake, but his labour is lost. Lessons.
1. See to the nature of your life and work as Christians. Apply specially to Christian workers.
2. Be not satisfied with bare salvation at last. Build with materials that will endure. Have an eye to the "full reward" (2 John 1:8).
3. If many on the true Foundation shall be saved only "so as through fire," how shall they escape that are building on a false foundation? (1 Peter 4:17, 18). - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.