«According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ» (l Corinthians 3:10, 11).
PAUL USES several figures to illustrate the role and mission of the church. In this case he uses the image of a building and he presents himself as the builder, architect, and servant who builds upon an immovable foundation.
The foundation is Christ Himself. It is not a physical person, but His gospel, His message, and His revelations written by prophets and apostles, The architect does not manufacture the foundation. It is Christ who defines and lays the foundation, and no one can lay another, nor improve upon it.
The apostle now refers to materials that can be used in the construction (l Cor. 3:12). There are expensive, permanent, and durable materials (such as gold, silver, and precious stones) and cheap, unstable, and perishable materials (such as wood, hay, and straw). With the first we build for heaven; with the latter, for earth. With some we build the house of God; with the others, the house of men.
While the construction is underway there may be no differences, but when trials come, either one thing or the other will be exposed. As in the parable of the two foundations recounted by Jesus, one house built on the rock and the other on the sand remained apparently «equal» until they were tested by stormy winds (Matt. 7:24—29; Luke 6:46-49).
The fire will test the work of each person, and show, on the one hand, mature Christians who are stable, anchored on a rich experience in Christ, of «sound doctrine» and a consequential life (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 2:1). The same fire will show, on the other hand, immature and unstable believers, based on their own dissatisfied opinion and human wisdom.
The same sun that melts the butter hardens the clay. Depending on the material, the same fire refines and purifies some; but consumes and destroys others. Paul uses three verbs in I Corinthians 3:13-15. The first is «become clear,» or «be shown»; the second is «reveal,» that is, to find out or be uncovered; and the third is «test» whether it is genuine or false.
It was not easy to build in Paul’s day. «One after another the foremost of the builders fell by the hand of the enemy. Stephen was stoned; James was slain by the sword; Paul was beheaded; Peter was crucified; John was exiled. Yet the church grew. New workers took the place of those who fell, and stone after stone was added to the building. Thus slowly ascended the temple of the church of God» (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 597).
It is not easy to build today, either, but it is worth it. We are still a building under construction. Let us move forward together, using the right materials, and finish building the Lord’s church.