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Established November 2008
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
1 Corinthians 3
9: For we (Believers) are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Last week I closed mentioning that Believers are not independent agents or contractors doing and saying whatever they want within God’s church. We are God’s building. We are subcontractors, working for God and with one another, and the church which is likened to a field and a building is actually God’s field and God’s building.
The church belongs to God. It is not the property of its members and the Body of Christ is not free to act in any manner in which it chooses. If God is going to sanction growth in His church, it is imperative that every Believer plant and water according to His design, because on our own we have nothing worthwhile to contribute to this activity. We need God’s help. Jesus Christ taught this same principle when He described Himself as “the true vine” saying, apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-8).
This is the point Paul is making as he carries the analogy of the church as a building over into 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 and I’ll meet you there.
1 Corinthians 3
10: According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder (following God’s design) I laid a foundation, and another (person comes along after me and) is building on it. But each man (and woman) must be careful how he (or she) builds on it. (Romans 12:3)
11: For no man (or person) can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, in describing Paul’s ministry among the Corinthians, he begins with a declaration of grace. Considering his history as a destroyer of God church, Paul knew that his status as a worker in God’s field or on God’s building was based on God’s undeserved favor and not on his own merit.
Like a wise master builder (following God’s design) I laid a foundation, when Paul planted the church in Corinth, Greece (Acts 18), he laid the only Foundation that can be laid – the person and work of Jesus Christ. Yet he understood that others would come along after him and build on this Foundation: and another is building on it. So, Paul says let each person pay attention to how they build on it: But each man (and woman) must be careful how (or she) he builds on it. Paul’s point being, the Foundation has already been laid, so a person can’t build on any other Foundation, but an individual can build unworthily on the one Foundation.
A construction engineer is aware that the shape of a building, to a great extent, is determined by its foundation and that the foundation provides the parameters for how the rest of the structure is to be built. As members of God’s church, or more to the point, the Body of Christ, each Believer must always bear in mind the nature of Jesus Christ; that is to say His personality and His true doctrines as we go about our day influencing others for the Lord Jesus Christ. When we do so, we’re building on the one Foundation either directly or indirectly.
Everything we build on the Foundation Paul laid must be in keeping with the shape of the one Foundation. Paul is specifically speaking of Jesus Christ’s life and the finished work of the cross. Paul says this begins by taking on the same attitude as Jesus Christ: Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8; Romans 12:1-3).
The church in Corinth was struggling spiritually. They began to put their faith in several “human” leaders instead of the One who had laid down His life for all so that all who believe may have life in Him (John 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:15). So, Paul reminds these Corinthians of the church’s one Foundation which is Jesus Christ, the Lord. He then instructs them by warning them in verse 12 that they must be careful how they build on it.
1 Corinthians 3
12: Now if any man (or woman) builds on the foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13: each man’s (or the individual’s) work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work (or workmanship).
During the Middle Ages many Gothic churches were built. Gothic churches were beautiful and elaborate structures. They required a vast amount of energy, time and money to build. What I find most fascinating about these churches is the manner in which they were constructed. A mine was established, often as distant as 50 miles from the construction site. When the rocks were mined volunteers from all over the countryside would form a human chain from the mine to the building site. The rocks would then be passed hand-to-hand all the way to the construction site. If anyone in this human chain dropped the stone or failed to do his or her part the church could not be built because the build required the efforts of everyone involved.
Fast forward to today and we find the church is still dependent upon Believers to faithfully work together in building God’s Church. If we fail to properly build His church according to His design, it will never be all that God desires it to be. More importantly, as the Bible clearly states, what we do with our lives here and now in regard to this effort will have serious ramifications on our heavenly experience; for our future rewards are derived from helping God build His Church here on earth.
To that end, Paul mentions 6 building commodities, in two groups at verse 12, in descending order of value. In light of his discussion over the last two chapters and his obvious concern for the Corinthian’s spiritual maturity, I’ve narrowed his list down to two items: cheap and costly, or if you prefer imperishable and perishable.
Gold, silver, and precious stones are imperishable materials fit for construction on the Foundation which had been laid by Paul because they will endure the test of fire. When Paul speaks of gold, and silver, however, he’s not talking about earthly minerals. This is merely figurative language meant to represent the wisdom of God (the Word of God) which is imperishable (Isaiah 40:8). To be more specific, Paul is speaking of God’s hidden and secret wisdom: but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory (1 Corinthians 2:7).
Besides the precious doctrines of truth found in God’s Word these three commodities also represent feelings, habits, opinions, practices, and views which these true doctrines stimulate either in an individual Believer or in a particular church group (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In effect we’re talking about an individual’s or a church’s spiritual growth or how much distance they’ve put between themselves and old Adam.
As for these precious stones, Paul isn’t talking about diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. He’s referring to those huge foundation stones that were carved out of fine granite or marble and used in building the magnificent structure. They were costly stones because they required a great deal of man-power in quarrying them, shaping them, and fitting them into place.
But wood, hay, and straw are inferior building materials, unfit for construction on the foundation which Paul had laid because they are neither imperishable nor “fireproof.” These building materials represent the perishable things of human wisdom that perceives the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the cross as foolish. They also represent false or perverted doctrines within God’s church such as the prosperity gospel and the Word of Faith movement. If a person genuinely comes to faith in Jesus Christ but then begins placing their faith in the words of men instead of the true doctrines found in God’s Word, they are placing “things” on their spiritual foundation which will eventually be burned up; these deceptive and false teachings have no place on the Foundation Paul has laid.
Wood, hay, and straw also represent an individual’s intentions and motives lying beneath the works they perform. If you’re not serving God wholeheartedly, intending to step back out of the limelight so that the honor, glory, and praise goes to Him alone. Then perhaps you should check your “motives.” In other words, if you’re interested in making a name for yourself, receiving a “pat on the back” for you’re efforts, or if you’re working but complaining about it to everyone within earshot, then your works are all about you. God may not be in the picture at all, and if this is the case, verse 13 is a wake-up call!
Let’s go to verse 13.
1 Corinthians 3
13: each man’s (or Believer’s) work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work (or workmanship).
The Greek word for evident is Phaneros (pronounced: fan-er-os’) and means – manifested; to be plainly recognized or known. What every man and woman has built on the one Foundation will become evident or manifested (placed under the spotlight for inspection): for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire. Our Apostle Paul makes it clear here, as he does at Romans 14:10-12, that every Believer will have his or her service for the Lord examined by the fire of divine scrutiny one day.
Please turn with me to Revelation 19:11-12 and we’ll see what this divine fire Paul’s talking about is: And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war (note the capitalization of the words Faithful and True this is referencing deity; it’s the Lord Jesus Christ! Let’s read verse 12 now) His eyes are a flame of (what) fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on them which no one knows except Himself.
Flames of fire aren’t shooting from the Lord’s eyes. This is symbolism and the book of Revelation is filled with it. Permit me to help you understand it’s meaning with an illustration: have you ever stood toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye, with someone who looked to be staring right through you while you were having a serious conversation with them? I had a commanding officer in my division who fit this description. He was a force to be reckoned with. I thought he could read my mind at times… I would forget to breathe when I was in front of him. Well, that’s nothing compared to what the Lord Jesus Christ is capable of doing when he gets you and me in front of Him at the Bema Seat Judgment and examines our works or “workmanship” done in and for the building of His church.
Elsewhere in the New Testament our Apostle Paul describes the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as, “in blazing fire,” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7), an appearance that denotes judgment as well.
Now I think we’re ready for verses 14-15.
1 Corinthians 3
14: If any man’s (or woman’s) work which he (or she) has built (using the first 3 commodities Paul mentioned) on it (the one Foundation) remains, he (or she) will receive a reward.
Jesus Christ will examine everyone’s intentions and motives. If a person has built using gold, silver, and precious stones, then they will receive their reward: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds (works) in the body (church), according to what he (or she) has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Paul wants the Corinthians (and us) to understand that the day is coming, (sometime after the rapture of Body of Christ) when each person’s workmanship (even those things done in secret) will be judged by Jesus Christ Himself, and this includes their knowledge of God’s Word and what they did with that. Paul has this to say on the subject: In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (or faithful). (1 Corinthians 4:2)
A trustworthy person is one who fulfills a given responsibility and who rightfully carries out an obligation or duty. Every Believer should have a heart that desires to please their Savior and be faithful to Him in all things. In order to “find” my God-given responsibilities and duties, I must go to the pages of God’s Word, the Bible, to learn of them.
The concept of the Bema Seat comes from the ancient Olympics, where a judge would sit on the Bema Seat at the finish line to determine what position the runners came in – first, second, third, and so on; and then to give out the appropriate rewards. This is the imagery behind the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ as described in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.
The Scriptures do not say when this judging will take place and the timing of the event doesn’t really matter. So, let’s not get tangled up discussing “the when,” when the only thing that matters is being prepared for your final exam!
When you consider your life up to now are you the least bit concerned about what Jesus Christ will say and do at the Bema Seat Judgment? Are you the least bit anxious about all the opportunities you’ve wasted; for the time you frittered away on foolish and frivolous activities; for the people you could have helped; for all the moments you lacked the courage to speak to someone about Jesus Christ and God’s free gift of grace, etc. If so, this somber warning in verse 15 from our Apostle Paul is intended for you.
1 Corinthians 3
15: If any man’s (or woman’s) work is burned up (because they used perishable building materials which Paul likened to wood, hay and straw), he (or she) will suffer loss; but he himself (or the Believer) will (still) be saved, yet so as through the fire.
Paul wants these Corinthians to know that every one of them bears the responsibility for his or her contributions in building upon the one Foundation and will receive rewards based on the quality of their workmanship. If they build carelessly, they’ll suffer loss. There will be no finger pointing and the “Blame-Game” will not be in play at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Each person will take ownership of their activity or inactivity whether good or bad.
Just so you know there won’t be any unbelievers present at the Bema Seat Judgment. This has absolutely nothing to do with condemnation of God’s fellow workers. The sin issue was settled once and for all at the cross (Romans 8:1). Instead, this has everything to do with, “What have you done with your salvation?” Rewards and not salvation is the subject matter here. Salvation, per Scripture, is a free gift of God (Ephesians 2:8); rewards are earned by the Believer by good works (fruit-bearing): For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for (what) good works, which God prepared beforehand (before the foundations of the earth) so that we (Believers) would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 3:5-17).
So, You’re Saved; What Now?
All that is done for sake of personal gain, popularity, influence, or to impress the world and its inhabitants will add up to zero before Jesus Christ at the Bema Seat. This Truth should make every Believer stop and consider the questions Jesus Christ will be asking them on that day; questions such as:
“How faithful were you to My Word?”
“Did you share My gospel with others?”
“Did you honor Me in your business, in your school, and during your idle hours?”
“Were you accountable to your spouse, your family, your friends, your co-workers?”
“Did you love your spouse as I loved the church?”
“Did you teach your children My Truths?”
“Were you more interested in becoming like Me or the world around you?”
“Did you accurately handle the word of truth?”
It’s been said experience is a hard teacher because it gives the test first and the lessons come after. However, our Apostle Paul has given us numerous written guides to help us prepare for our final exam. Every day that the Lord Jesus Christ’s return is delayed is one more day in which we have time to prepare for it. Let’s not waste time…
“Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest of these is: ‘it might have been.”
John Greenleaf Whittier
I heard a sermon preached on verses 14-15 one Sunday morning that I’ll never forget; it had that kind of impact. He used an illustration of a huge file room up in heaven, rows upon rows of file cabinets filled with the files of every Believer who has ever lived. These files contained every thought, word, deed, and missed opportunity of every individual in the Body of Christ.
The Lord took this man to the “file room,” selected his file, and then walked him to a nearby warehouse. Upon entering the building the man observed brightly wrapped packages stacked from floor to ceiling as far as the eye could see. Jesus led the man over to a corner of the warehouse where hundreds of beautiful packages were piled to the ceiling and said, “All these rewards the Father meant for Me to give to you. However, because you were not faithful with a few things I entrusted to you, they must remain here forever, unopened.” (Matthew 25:14-30). The saddest part of his illustration, when he hammered it home, was that this entire warehouse and many others like it in heaven were dedicated solely for the purpose of storing Believer’s lost rewards.
One of the applications (life lessons) we learned from our study of Romans is "We are not saved to sit – we’re saved to serve!" So, what are you doing with the abilities, gifts, talents, and the Word of God that God has given to you, while the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven, waiting to return, and His return is imminent? Are you sitting on them or are you putting them to work? And if you’re serving the Lord, what’s motivating you?
Permit me to direct you to a Bible verse through which you should filter every thought, word, and deed in your life – for the rest of your life, in light of your future appointment with the Lord Jesus Christ before the Bema Seat: Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Colossians 3:23-24).
(To be continued)
[Published weekly on Friday]
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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
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