Anytime you decide to take on a building project it is vitally important to find the right people who are committed to using the right materials and doing the work with skill, intentionality, and excellence. If any of these elements are lacking in your building project then the outcome could very well be disastrous. Let me explain.
The idea for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington was exhilarating when it was first conceived. The bridge would span the nearly mile wide Puget River and would be the third largest suspension bridge in the world behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge.
The original designer intended to create solid stability for the bridge by using a standard design for suspension bridges, but when the cost came in at around $200 million in today’s money, a cheaper option was found. The choice of the cheaper option meant using plate girders that were only one-third of the height of the originally proposed trusses. As a result, instead of stability, the bridge was extremely flexible and vulnerable to high winds.
The construction workers who were working on the project noticed right away that the bridge would sway even when mild winds would blow through the river valley. They nicknamed their project, “Galloping Gertie.” When a 40 mph wind swept through the river valley on November 7, 1940, the bridge started twisting and buckling. The support cables began to snap and before the day was over the bridge had dropped into the Puget River…just four months after it opened. Be careful how you build.
I did a Google search this past week about disasters caused by shoddy work and building materials and ended up reading story after story from around the world about homes, hospitals, schools, and government buildings collapsing. You have to be careful how you build. I don’t know the first thing about architecture, building design, or construction management, but I know Someone who does. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build My church, and all of the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Jesus promised to build His church and He promised that nothing will ever be able to topple it. Now that’s a good word and a great promise.
Even though Paul was not one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, he must have been aware of Jesus’ words. I believe this with all of my heart because of what he wrote in our next section of 1 Corinthians. Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 and let’s read together.
9 For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. 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 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. 16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are. (1 Corinthians 3:9-17 CSB)
In our Scripture from last week Paul described the church as a field. He said he planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. Today, Paul switches his metaphors and describes the church as a building. In verse 10, Paul writes, “I have laid the foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it.” We need to understand the phrase, “skilled master builder,” because if we don’t we might easily come to the conclusion that Paul was being boastful or arrogant in describing himself as a “skilled master builder.” This phrase comes from the Greek word, “??????????” (architekton) which can mean, “a master builder, an architect, or the superintendent in the construction of buildings.” Paul saw himself as carrying out the master plan of Jesus, the One who said, “I will build my church…” In Romans 15:20, Paul wrote,
20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. (Romans 15:20 NIV)
Paul was a church planter. Everywhere he traveled he started churches. He would share the Good News about Jesus and then start a church with those who became followers of Jesus. In building buildings there is nothing more important than laying a solid foundation, and in building the church, the same holds true. Paul laid the foundation for the church in every city he visited and regardless of the size of the city, the demographics of the people, or the culture of the city–Paul knew there could only be one foundation. He tells us, in verse 11,
11 For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11 CSB)
One foundation and yet we all know that it is easy for churches to get off track and become something other than what God designed it to be. In every generation, throughout history, there have been those who have tried to make the church more and more appealing to the world. They leave out some of the teachings of the Bible because it might be offensive, they adopt some of the methods that are proving to be successful in the world, and they begin to be driven by current events rather than simply teaching God’s Word. Before you know it, you no longer have a church with Jesus as the foundation.
We, as followers of Jesus here at Britton Christian Church, must constantly ask ourselves if we are building, present tense, on the firm foundation of Jesus. And the second question is, “With what are we building?” I’ll let Paul explain what I mean by the question. Read verses 12-13 with me.
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 will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:12-13 CSB)
In these verses Paul’s aim is not to describe two types of buildings, but two types of builders: Those who build with materials that will endure and those who build with materials that are temporary and combustible. “Gold, silver, and costly stones” represent the best, the most faithful, and that which will endure. “Wood, hay, or straw” represent that which is cheap, inferior, and temporal. In far too many churches the leaders have had the same mindset as those who engineered and built the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Isn’t there a “cheaper” way, an easier way, a less costly way?” I want to share a great illustration with you from God’s Word about the mindset of a builder who built with gold, silver, and costly stones.
1 Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the LORD God. 2 With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God– gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble– all of these in large quantities. 3 Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple: 4 three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, 5 for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen. Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the LORD today?” (1 Chronicles 29:1-5 NIV)
Now, what I want us to notice is not the materials that David gave to build the temple, but instead, let’s focus on David’s mindset. David held nothing back. He gave his all for the building of the temple. He was not willing to hold anything back in his service to God. Paul never built a church in any city he visited with literal gold, silver, or costly stones, but the way in which he built those churches was with an effort and commitment that were golden. Like David, Paul would hold nothing back, he would give his all in his service to the Lord. The question is, “Do you and I have the same mindset as David and Paul? Are we holding nothing back in our service to the Lord or are we giving a half-hearted effort and building with wood, hay, and straw?”
Every one of us here this morning is investing our lives in something. I can promise you that we are investing with “gold, silver, and costly stones” in those projects or people that we value the most. I can also assure you that we are investing with “wood, hay, and straw” in those commitments or people that we may enjoy from time to time, but truth be told, we just aren’t that passionate about them.
For far too many of the followers of Jesus, the church, the body of Christ, has been a second tier commitment and passion. For many young families their involvement in church is really driven by their desire to have some kind of moral foundation built in the lives of their kids. I’ve seen it over and over again through the years. Once the kids graduate from high school, or the kids become disinterested, the parents disappear. For others, their involvement in the church is driven by their need for social interaction. They’ve made friends who attend “this” church or “that” church and they have simply followed their friends there. They have no real understanding of the nature and purpose of the church, they just want to hang out with their friends. In their minds, church is a good alternative to going to the club. Still others are involved because of their need. They are struggling with life and need some direction. They are lonely and need some connection. They are business people and are looking for some new contacts. I’ve even had the experience of a politician attending BCC looking for some votes. As soon as the election was over he was gone. The underlying common denominator among all of these folks is “me.” They are looking for what the church can do for them, not realizing the church is all about Him, it’s all about Jesus. In verse 16, Paul writes,
16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16 CSB)
This verse is eye-opening, it teaches you and me that the church is more than social outlet, it is more than a place that provides services for the community, and it is more than any civic club. The church, Jesus’ people, when they gather is the very dwelling place of Almighty God. That is a radical teaching today because those of us who follow Jesus in America in 2021 have so individualized our walk with the Lord that we have lost our understanding of the purpose of the church, the gathering of God’s people. Look at the verse again. Paul writes, “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” See the word, “you?” In the Greek New Testament that word is plural. God’s powerful presence dwells in the gathering of His people.
The people of Corinth knew all about temples and sanctuaries, they were all over Corinth, but devoted to idols and false gods. Paul is telling the people of Corinth, “In your gathering, the powerful presence of Almighty God dwells, moves, and acts!” The people of Corinth needed to know God. How would they come to know Him? By seeing His people living out His calling on their lives, by their love and devotion, by their faithfulness to God and one another, by their compassion to one another and especially to those who were cast off, broken down, and run over by society.
It is vitally important that we, Jesus’ people, when we gather, our greatest desire is not to get our needs met, but for His glory to radiate from our gathering. That’s why we praise Him and no man or woman. That is why we worship Him, we learn His Word which teaches us about Him and His calling upon our lives together, and then we go out into the world and we serve, we love, we forgive, and we proclaim His name in word and deed. Why? Because of who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing in our midst. This is what it means to be the sanctuary of our great God.
This was Paul’s passion for the church in Corinth. He knew they were the sanctuary of God, that the very Spirit of God dwelled in their midst, and that God had a plan to demonstrate His glory, grace, mercy, and power through His gathered people in Corinth. Paul knew it, but it is pretty evident the people either didn’t know it or didn’t care because they were known for other things by outsiders.
We’ve already seen the power struggle taking place. We will see in later chapters of Paul’s letter that there were nasty legal battles going on between members of the church. We’ll see how the church leaders were not only not addressing, but celebrating the immorality taking place among their members. Their worship services were a disaster. They weren’t glorifying God at all. Instead, everyone was focused on their personal experience. Paul was trying to help them regain their focus and return to their purpose as God’s gathered people.
It is easy to point out the failure of other churches, but we need to ask, “How are we doing? Are we building with gold, silver, and costly stones or are we building with wood, hay, and straw? Does the glory of God radiate from our gatherings or are we oblivious to the fact that this is our one aim and ambition?” Is there any way to know if how we are “building” God’s church will endure or will be shown to be less than our best and temporal? Well, if you were building a house before you could ever move in and occupy your new home it would have to undergo an inspection wouldn’t it? The City has certain codes that must be met for your home to be approved and so it is for the followers of Jesus. Paul writes,
13 each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:13 CSB)
In some Bible translations, like the English Standard Version and the New International Version, the word “day” is capitalized. There’s a reason for that. Paul is not just speaking about some “day,” he has in mind “the Day.” He has already referenced this day in chapter 1. Paul wrote,
6 In this way, the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you, 7 so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:6-8 CSB)
What day? It is the “day of our Lord Jesus.” The Bible teaches us that there is coming a day when all people will stand before the Judge and that Day is called “The Day of the Lord.” For non-believers the Day of the Lord will certainly be a day of judgment, but for the followers of Jesus it will be a day that will reveal the workmanship, the quality, of our building efforts. Gordon Fee writes,
As ‘day’ brings everything ‘to light,’ so a great Day is lying before all, when everyone’s work will be exposed and seen from the divine perspective. (Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. pg. 153).
Now, please, please do not make the mistake of believing that your good work is what saves you. We are saved by grace through faith. It is God’s grace alone, through faith alone. Our work for the Lord is not the source of our salvation, but our work for the Lord is most certainly a sign that we have been saved. Martin Luther once wrote, “Idle faith is not justifying faith.”
It is obvious that Paul has in mind the followers of Jesus and that he wants to make clear that the day and the testing by fire will not determine one’s salvation. This is clear from verse 4-15. Let’s read it together.
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. (1 Corinthians 3:14-15 CSB)
Paul says those whose work survives the fire of testing, those who built with “gold, silver, and precious stones, those who gave their all, who refused to give God anything less than their best, they will receive a reward. Those followers of Jesus who built with “wood, hay, and straw,” those who walked through the gates of salvation and took a seat, never giving God’s call upon their lives a thought, those who served Him half-heartedly, only doing the least they needed to do to get by, always choosing the easy path, their work will be burned up, “but he will be saved.” Our work does not save us, but Paul says those who work with all of their heart, whose one ambition is to live for God’s glory and to serve faithfully, they will receive a reward.
What kind of reward does Paul have in mind? A Starbucks gift card? A heavenly lottery ticket? A $600 check like the one we got from the government? Paul wasn’t thinking of any of those or anything else we could even imagine. A little later in his letter to the people of Corinth wrote,
25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25 NIV)
When Paul wrote this he was thinking about the Isthmian games which were held in Corinth which were held in the Spring. There were horse races, athletic contests, and later on, musical contests. Originally, all of the winners received a crown made out of pine branches woven together, but in the 5th century B.C., the crown was made out of celery that had been woven together. No wonder Paul says, “They do it to get a crown that will not last.” You know the type of dedication, determination, and focus it takes to be an athlete. Paul says we are to be even more dedicated, determined, and focus. We are not working and serving for a perishable crown, but one which is imperishable.
The Bible speaks of many different crowns that God will give to His faithful servants. There’s the “crown of righteousness” that we read about in 2 Timothy 4:7-8. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 we read about the “crown of rejoicing.” We learn about the “crown of unfading glory” in 1 Peter 5:4. And James tells us, in James 1:12,
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 NIV)
Now, you need to know that these crowns, given to God’s faithful servants, won’t be displayed on our mantle in heaven. Neither will we strut down the golden streets of heaven like we’d drive around town in our new Lamborghini, or wear short sleeves throughout the winter so everyone can see our new Richard Mille Tourbillon watch. You know the one right? Rafa wore one in the last French Open. What’d you pay for it? I picked it up for a cool million. If we won’t show off our crowns then what will we do with them? I can answer that question for you. Turn with me to Revelation 4:4 and let’s read together.
4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads…10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:4; 10-11 NIV)
There’s no doubt in my mind that we will respond to the presence of God in the same way as the twenty-four elders. Afterall, what is a crown when we are able to fall before the One who gave us life, redeemed us with the blood of His own Son, and has loved us with an everlasting love? I hope the Lord will reward with a crown so that I can have the opportunity to lay it at His feet, don’t you? Be careful how you build my friend.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
1 Corinthians 3:9-17