Be Careful How You Build | 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

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  • Be Careful How You Build | 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
  • Will it last? That is the most crucial question of any building project. While there are other factors to consider, nothing matters more than whether that building will stand the test of time. The same principle applies to the church.

    • The size of a church may impress people. 
    • The gifts of a church may attract people. 
    • The work of a church may benefit people. 

    That will not matter in the end. What is done for Christ and the church only has legitimate value if it has lasting value. 

    You may build great cathedrals large or small, 
    You may build skyscrapers grand and tall, 
    You may conquer all the failures of your past, 
    But only what you do for Christ will last.

    Will it last? That is the probing question of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. 

    1 Corinthians 3 rebukes and corrects division in the church at Corinth. The chapter begins by asserting that a divided church is a worldly church. The carnal-mindedness of the Corinthians was exposed by their choosing sides behind their favorite leaders. But these leaders were only servants through whom the Lord worked. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” 

    • God’s field points to the agricultural picture in verses 5-8.  
    • God’s building points to the architectural picture in verses 10-15. 

    “Building” is not a physical structure. There was no such thing as a church building until the fourth century. The “building” was the saints of Corinth. Every Christian congregation is a building. Matthew 16:18 says, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” 

    Jesus is sovereignly constructing his church to its final glory. Yet he graciously condescends to use us as his building construction team. It is our sacred duty and wonderful privilege to be God’s fellow workers. The text describes the church as a building to warn every leader and member: Only build what will last forever. How do you build to last?

    Build On The Right Foundation.

    A building project begins by laying the foundation. This is where our text begins. Verses 10-11 states two facts about the building of the church. 

    There are many builders.  Verse 10 identifies two categories of Christian workers. 

      The Lead Contractor. Verse 10 says, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation.” Paul founded the church at Corinth. Yet he refused to take any credit. It was “according to the grace of God given to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10 testifies, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 

      By God’s grace, Paul worked “like a skilled master builder.” “Skilled” is spiritual and practical wisdom. It contrasts the false wisdom of the would-be leaders in the church at Corinth. “Master builder” translates the Greek word for “architect.” As a general contractor or chief foreman, Paul “laid a foundation” in Corinth. Paul was a pioneering missionary. Romans 15:20 says, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.”

       The Construction Workers. There were no power tools, earthmovers, or modern technology to aid builders in the ancient world. As a result, building a grand edifice could take decades to complete. The one who laid the foundation may not have been alive when the structure was complete. This is what happened at Corinth. Verse 10 says, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.” 

      Paul established the church at Corinth during his second missionary journey. According to Acts 18:1-17, he ministered there for eighteen months before moving on to Ephesus. Then Apollos came to Corinth and built on the work that Paul began. This is how the Lord keeps leaders humble and members from exalting leaders. The Lord uses one to lay a foundation. Then he moves him out and someone else in to build on that foundation. 

      There is one foundation. Verse 10 is a stern and solemn warning: “Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” This is the only command in the text. It assumes you are doing something – building on the foundation. The concern is how you do what you do. “Take care” means to beware, watch out, or pay attention. Christian workers must not be careless. We must be diligent and vigilant. “Each one” indicates the individual responsibility of every Christian worker. Without calling names or identifying persons, Paul warns every church leader and member to be careful. 

      Why? Verse 11 explains: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” The foundation is the most important part of a building. The foundation must be laid if a building is to go up. Once the foundation has been laid, it determines the structure’s size, shape, and strength. This was the basis of Paul’s admonition. He had laid a foundation. It was not a random act or haphazard process. 

      1 Corinthians 2:1-2 says, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Christ crucified was the foundation of the church at Corinth. It is the foundation of every true church. Many will work to build up the church. There is no other foundation. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection accomplished all that was necessary for our salvation. 

      The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, 
      She is His new creation by water and the word. 
      From heaven He came and sought her, to be his holy bride, 
      With His own blood He bought Her, and for her life He died. 

      Build To Pass Final Inspection. 

      In my hometown, a congregation prayed, worked, and gave to build a new edifice. With the work more than ninety percent complete, the contractors quit. Enough work was complete for the congregation to move in. But city regulations were not met. So, this virtually finished building remained unoccupied for years because it did not pass inspection. Every spiritual structure will be inspected. How do you build to pass final inspection? 

      Choose Quality Materials. 

      • A building can collapse if it has a weak foundation.
      • It can also collapse if built with shoddy materials. 

      A strong building must have a firm foundation and quality materials. Verse 12 calls for quality materials: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw.” “If” introduces a true condition. You cannot choose the foundation. It has already been laid. You do choose your building materials.

      The listed materials have nothing to do with outdoing other workers. At the final inspection, the Lord will not ask why you were unlike someone else. All that will matter is that you gave the Lord your best. Galatians 6:4-5 says, “But let each one test his own work, and his reason to boast will be in himself and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”  

      The six materials listed in verse 12 are not of equal value. Gold, silver, and precious stones are infinitely more valuable than wood, hay, and straw. The notion that what you do does not matter if you are sincere, well-meaning, or hardworking is wrong. Building with wood, hay, and straw will not pass final inspection, no matter how good your intentions are. It’s not about what you do but how you do it. 

      • A sermon that exalts Christ is gold. A sermon of worldly wisdom is wood. 
      • A song that glorifies the Lord is silver. A song that displays my giftedness is hay. 
      • A service for Christ is precious stones. A service that makes me look good is straw. 

      Make sure everything you do is about Jesus! 

      Choose Lasting Materials. Verse 13 says, “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” What will heaven’s job review process be like?

      A Personal Review. Verse 10 says that “each one” must be careful about how he builds on the foundation. Verse 13 says that “each one’s” work will become manifest. Paul emphasizes our personal responsibility and accountability to God. Romans 14:4 says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” You don’t have time to judge other people’s work. Make sure you pass your review. 

      A Scheduled Review. Verse 13 says, “The Day will disclose it.” The Day refers to the Second Coming of Christ. A day of review is coming that no one can evade or escape. We should live every day in light of that coming day in which we will give account to the Lord. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

      A Thorough Review. Note the verbs. Each man’s work will become manifest. The day will disclose it. It will be revealed by fire. The fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 

      • You may be able to put on a good show for people. 
      • But nothing will be hidden in the final inspection. 

      1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”

      Build To Receive Eternal Rewards. 

      Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you repent of your sin and trust in Christ, you are free from the penalty of sin. Yet we will still give account for our lives. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” The tribunal of Christ will determine our heavenly reward.

        Good Work Rewarded. Verse 14 says, “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.”Again, “if” introduces a true condition. If it survives, you will receive a reward. “Survives” means “to stay or remain.” All our work will be thrown into the fire. The test will be to see if your work survives the flames. If it survives the fire, you will be rewarded. 

        Heaven is its own reward. Yet there will be rewards in heaven. Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” We are not told what that reward will be. We are assured that payday is coming. Matthew 25:21 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter the joy of your master.”

          Bad Work Destroyed. Verse 15 says, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” There may be work we have done that will not survive the fire. It will be burned up, and we will suffer loss.

          I believe Psalm 16:11 describes heaven: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” There will be perfect and eternal bliss in heaven. Yet we will suffer loss if we have done poor work for Jesus. I don’t know all this warning implies. But that is all the more reason to take it seriously. 2 Timothy 2:15 warns: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 

          There is no suggestion here that a believer can lose his salvation. “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved.” Salvation in Christ is eternal. John 10:28-30 says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, I greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” 

          If your work is burned up, you will suffer loss. But you will be saved, though only as through fire. This closing clause does not teach the Roman Catholic error of purgatory. No such place exists. Everyone will spend eternity somewhere – heaven or hell. But if you do not live for Jesus, your salvation will be like a narrow escape from the consuming flames.  

          • Christianity is about more than fire insurance. 
          • Christianity is building to receive eternal rewards.

          My father told a story about a couple that worked and saved to build their dream retirement home. They picked a contractor who would agree to build the house as they designed it. When he finished, they came to inspect the work. As they toured the first floor, they told the contractor that if the second floor looked as good, they would give him a bonus. But as they searched for the stairs, it dawned on them their designs did not include a way upstairs. 

          What’s your plan to get upstairs?


          H.B. Charles Jr.

          Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.