Within the same verse (1Cor 3:9, ESV), Paul switches from one metaphor (“You are God’s field”) to another (“You are … God’s building”) in describing the Corinthian assembly. Yet the two figures are connected in that labor is expended in both. Paul instructs the Corinthians about the type of labor each believer contributes to the assembly, God’s building. If we carefully follow the building code Paul outlines, we can expect approval upon final inspection.
How Firm A Foundation
The foundation is the most important (and often the most time-consuming) part of a building. In verse 10, Paul says he “laid the foundation,” and that the foundation “is Jesus Christ” (v11). When Paul arrived in Corinth, he resolved to preach only Christ and Him crucified (1Cor 2:2), and spent 18 months laying the only foundation that could last. The Corinthians may have been ready to build a foundation on the name of a famous preacher (like Paul or Apollos), which is often done today, but they would be starting off with nothing firm under their feet. How important it is to see an assembly begin with the clear preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Once the foundation is finished, the builder begins to place the entire structure, one phase at a time, upon that foundation. In verse 12, Paul gives six examples (two groups of three) of the types of materials that can be built into the overall structure. The first trio of “gold, silver, and precious stones” is obviously contrasted with the second trio of “wood, hay, and stubble.” Every believer is building something into the assembly. Which trio of materials best describes your contribution?
First, these materials differ in their value. Obviously, gold, silver, and precious stones are incredibly more valuable than wood, hay, and straw. Some good questions to ask yourself today are, “Am I building something costly into the assembly? Have I sacrificed time, energy, and resources to contribute to assembly meetings and activities?” It is very easy to show up (if at all) and do little, say little, pray little, and make little difference to the work going on in God’s assembly.
Second, these materials differ in their availability. Wood, hay, and stubble can be obtained easily and with little effort. Gold, silver, and precious stones can only be discovered by digging, and digging deep. This reminds us of the need to dig deeply into the Scriptures to discover the rich meaning and application of God’s Word to our lives. Obeying and teaching these discovered riches will build quality materials into God’s assembly.
Third, these materials differ in their durability. The word for “precious stones” in verse 12 is the same word found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in 1 Kings 7:10, where the reference is to the stones used to build the Temple. It is likely that Paul had these massive stones in mind here, rather than jewels. If so, the first trio of gold, silver, and costly stones are all capable of enduring fire (vv13-15) without any real loss. Melted gold and silver are still capable of being recovered. But wood, hay and stubble are all consumed by the fire. Another good question to ask yourself today is, “Am I building something into the assembly that will last?” An encouraging word, a timely message, or a deed of kindness may be remembered for a believer’s lifetime. Let’s make sure we build what is durable and valuable into God’s assembly, because materials do matter.
Blueprints Not Worth Copying
Paul not only informs the Corinthians about good building materials, he also warns them not to copy the blueprint of this world. Verse 19 says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” The principles that spell success for a corporation are not necessarily the same principles that spell success for a church. Warren Wiersbe wrote: “The church in the Book of Acts had none of the ‘secrets of success’ that seem to be important today. They owned no property; they had no influence in government; they had no treasury (‘Silver and gold have I none,’ said Peter); their leaders were ordinary men without special education in the accepted schools; they held no attendance contests; they brought in no celebrities; and yet they turned the world upside down!” May God help us to build according to the wisdom of His Word and not the wisdom of this world.
Building to Please the Owner
In the concluding verses of the chapter (vv21-23), Paul sets before the Corinthians what the true goal of every builder must be – to glorify God. There were those in the assembly who were glorying in men (v4) and were a divided company because of it. Had their desire been to glorify God alone, they would have remained a united company. It is grace that allows us to be used in the building process at all (v10), so let us build, not with a desire to be noticed nor to impress those we deem “important,” but to build with our eye on the owner, for remember that Paul says the assembly is “God’s building.”
Inspection is Imminent
Builders are generally apprehensive about inspection day, for a competent inspector will discover everything that was not done according to code. Thankfully, there is opportunity to make things right and a re-inspection can be scheduled. The builder also knows the day when the inspector will arrive and can prepare accordingly.
We know that a comprehensive, once-for-all, life inspection is coming, with no re-inspections to follow. It will occur when Christ returns, and since no one knows the day nor the hour when He will come, His return could be at any moment. One of the things which will be assessed is what we have built into God’s assembly. It is a solemn possibility that God’s fire may expose our work as worthless (v15). Perhaps we ourselves will rejoice to see such work burned away. Thankfully, it is also possible for our work to endure the fire, because it was comprised of gold, silver, and precious stones. If so, we will receive a reward for our labor (v14). In the next chapter, Paul will encourage the Corinthians (and us) that every believer will receive praise from God on that day (4:5). If we build according to code, we have nothing to fear and everything to gain.