Updated: Nov 18, 2022
“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. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” - 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
What do you tell a church known for its carnality? You remind them of divine accountability.
Indicators of the Corinthian carnality include that these Christians did not appreciate preaching like they should. They misunderstood the gift of tongues, and they were jealous of one another’s gifting which gave way to their constant strife and arguing. They were flippant during the Lord’s supper, and they had constant reports of fornication in their midst. These disciples of Christ were a carnal mess! (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul instructs the Corinthian believers to build on their gospel foundation a framework that will be tested by fire and to do so with the divine reward of finishing-well as their motivation. Let’s consider each of these four elements.
1. Foundation (vs 10-11)
God used the apostle Paul to lay a gospel foundation among this group of believers. Paul is the “wise masterbuilder” of verse 10. In Acts 18 we read of the founding of the church at Corinth. Paul spent “a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them.” (Acts 18:11) He gave them his time.
He “reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4). He testified “that Jesus was Christ.” (Acts 18:5). He taught them truth.
As a result, “many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8). He led them to spiritual triumph! This story of spiritual redemption is glorious, yet Paul recognizes that it was all by the grace of God. (1 Corinthians 3:10a)
Paul identifies himself as a humble “minister,” which means “servant.” (1 Corinthians 3:5) As far as he’s concerned, the foundational success of this amazing church-plant is all of God, and by His grace because it is “God that giveth the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)
From the beginning of his relationship with these Corinthians, Paul wisely understood the importance of preaching Christ to them. As a gospel-focused, “wise masterbuilder,” he knew that he needed to establish the foundation on Christ.
Instead of supernatural signs or worldly wisdom which people crave, Paul faithfully preached to them “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). He was “determined not to know anything among (the Corinthians), save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
As God used Paul to lay the foundation of their Christian faith, over and over again, he preached the gospel to them. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)
Who was the wise masterbuilder in your life? Recently we hosted a Sunday School class activity at our house. After food and games, each person in the room took time to share their salvation testimony. It’s wonderful to hear people recall how a camp counselor, or a pastor, an evangelist, or a parent, even a mother-in-law, :-) was used by God to present the gospel to that person and how they received Christ as Savior. We rejoice in the gospel foundation!
Then, Paul instructs Christ’s disciples to “take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” (vs 10) Paul says, “Be careful!”
2. Framing Materials (vs 12)
In verse 10 Paul is saying, “Take heed” or “Be careful” as you select framing materials that he describes in verse 12. As you begin to build, be careful to frame up the superstructure of your spiritual life appropriately and with precision.
Although there are six different materials mentioned in verse 12, it’s really referring to just two groups that can be summarized as combustible or non-combustible.
“Gold, silver and precious stones” are the materials Paul is exhorting the disciple of Christ to build with, while “wood, hay, and stubble” represent that which has no lasting value.
That’s really what Paul is getting at. He wants these disciples of Christ to “lay up treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19). He wants their lives to be eternally substantial, not just piously impressive, and definitely not carnally reprehensible.
To be clear, what is being built here is, “God’s building” and specifically, “the temple of God.” (vs 9; vs 16)
One historian points out that during the first century, as people constructed their houses, they would use wood to build their doors, hay mixed with mud for walls, and stubble or straw for their roofs. But, Christ’s disciples are not building average dwelling places for people to live. No! We are building the “temple of God,” “God’s building.” It should be adorned appropriately with “gold, silver, and precious stones.”
But what does that mean practically? How can a disciple of Christ build with “gold, silver and precious stones” today?
Understand that these framing-material options are figurative. They are an illustrative metaphor referring to a disciple’s “works.” Notice the word “work” used repeatedly in verses 13, 14, and 15.
Christian works include things like faithfully reading your Bible, a consistent prayer life, helping the poor and needy, whether that’s through a local rescue mission or a pregnancy center. Christian works include financial giving to your local church or missionaries who further the cause of Christ. Maybe your good works are seen through teaching Sunday School or special music in the church. Maybe your works are displayed in cleaning, mowing, ushering, or some other area of needful service.
After-all, Christian disciples are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” (Ephesians 2:10)
However, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is reminding us (in accordance with Matthew 6:1-21), that even works as virtuous as praying, financially giving, sacrificially serving, etc have the potential to either be eternally valuable, or they can be temporally vain. Even good works can be just wood, hay, and stubble. Things like waiting, praying, co-laboring, preaching etc, (Discipleship in Action attributes) can be done in a carnal way and amount to very little in eternity.
There’s coming a day of divine accountability for every disciple when the heart motive of our good works will be revealed.
3. Fire (vs 13)
“Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.”
One individual said, “I only have two days on my calendar. Today, and that day.”
This is the day when the motives behind our good works will be “revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”
Here’s the accountability! This is the day of the disciple’s divine accountability that I reference in my title. It’s called the “judgement seat of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:10, and it’s a day in which all of Christ’s disciples must appear. On this day, Christians will be judged not only for what we did, but why we did it. Motives matter!
If our “why” is wrong, it’s “wood, hay, stubble,” and the fire will quickly consume it. If our “why” is right, it’s “gold, silver, precious stones” and the fire will purify it. “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” (vs 13)
Right now, our good works are seen by others but in a somewhat concealed, opaque, or obscure way. Yet, there’s coming a day when those good works will be brought out into the open in a fully transparent way.
Notice the words “made manifest,” “declare it,” and the word “revealed” in verse 13. This is what the fire will do. The word “revealed” in this passage comes from the same word as the title for the book of Revelation. It’s the word from which we get apocalypse. It means to “take the cover off.” It’s the idea of removing the mask and exposing either religious hypocrisy, or highlighting Christian sincerely. 1 Corinthians 4:5 explains that the Lord “will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.”
The fire will test what we’re building, and why we’re building it. Are we building in hypocrisy or sincerity, duplicity or purity?
4. Finish (vs 14-15)
In the end, or at the finish, when the smoke from the fire clears, Christ’s disciples will either have reward or regret. That’s what 1 Corinthians 3:14 and 15a are teaching us. “If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss…”
The apostle Paul often uses athletic illustrations to make a heavenly point. He describes the idea of finishing a race well, and being rewarded in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In that text he instructs the Corinthian disciples to “run, that ye may obtain,” a reward. He reminds them (and us) that the key to an athlete’s success is temperance. Mental, emotional, and physical-self control is required for athletes and is often respected by their fans. High levels of self control often plays a significant role in determining the athlete’s reward.
Controlling the motives of our heart is essential if we hope to finish the Christian journey with reward. When impure motives enter our minds, we are to acknowledge them, and rebuke them. We are to confess them, and forsake them. (Consider Proverbs 28:13-14). This is why Proverbs 4:23 is so important. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
Jesus makes this point plainly in His Sermon on the Mount, specifically in Matthew 6:1-21. The Pharisee is rewarded for giving to the poor, for praying in public, and for fasting, but his reward is vain and hypocritical. He is rewarded, but it’s only with a burst of dopamine. It’s only the reward of impressing men, or people around you with your good works. At the finish, at the judgment seat of Christ, those who have done good works for the praise of others will have regret, while those who served as unto Him, will be “rewarded openly.” (Matthew 6:18)
Pure Christian motives will receive divine recognition or the “praise of God,” as explained in 1 Corinthians 4:5.
I heard one individual wisely say, “If you please Christ, it doesn’t matter who you displease. But if you displease Christ, it doesn’t matter who you please.”
In Revelation 22:12 the Bible indicates that when Jesus returns, He is bringing His reward with Him and He will “give every man according as his work shall be.”
A caution is given in 2 John 1:8 to avoid potential regret and receive your full reward. “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.”
Toward the end of Paul’s life in 2 Timothy 4 Paul said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Dear Christian disciple, press-on to the finish line! Rejoice in the human instrument God used to lay your gospel foundation. Be sure that your good works reflect a framework suitable for building the temple of God. This is exactly what the carnal Corinthian church needed to hear, and it may be what we need to hear. Because, there is coming a day of divine accountability on which the motives of our hearts will be revealed. On that day, we will either receive a reward, or suffer loss.
This is the disciple’s accountability.
May we be mindful that the establishing of the gospel foundation, and the superstructure that is built there upon, the temple of God, is all, “according to the grace of God,” (1 Corinthians 3:10) and for His honor and glory.
The above article was written by James C. Johnson and is a sermon he recently preached. James C. Johnson is the Pastor of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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