Series on I Corinthians, II The Message of the Gospel, E Foundation, Text:3:10-17, Title: Building the Church.


How shall we build the Church? “Focus on the Family” magazine did a survey of churches and told us that baby boomers are looking for six things in a church: good music, social groups, big meeting rooms, a quality kitchen, ample parking and clean restrooms. And then it said, “The work of the wise pastor begins here!”  Let me clearly state that i like all of these things. I'm in favor of them, but i wonder how the apostle Paul would  respond. He calls himself here a wise master builder, an expert builder or architect. Where did he begin? The Doonesbury cartoon below illustrates the user friendly version of the gospel that is so popular among people. The inquirers want no guilt, no redemption, no negativity, and their desires include feeling good about themselves, and racquet ball. So far as i can tell the church in Corinth had none of the desirable features mentioned, but it did have a good foundation. Paul goes on to talk about the problems of building on that foundation. As we have seen there was disunity in the church at Corinth. People were boasting about the particular teachers they followed. Steve Brown has an illustration about horses. He says if you simulate an attack at thoroughbred horses they will stand in a circle facing one another so they can kick at the enemy with their back legs. However if you do the same thing to donkeys they will stand facing out at the enemy and end up kicking each other. This is a remarkably apt description of the church at Corinth and all too often of the church today. You can't build the church that way, so let us look at what Paul says first concerning the cornerstone, then the contribution and finally the consequences.

I The Cornerstone

What foundation did the apostle Paul lay? He tells us in verses 10 and 11 that the foundation is Christ, By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. You remember he said earlier, I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. So it is the content of the gospel as opposed to worldly wisdom which is in view, and the Apostle renews his assertion here that Christ and him crucified is the only foundation. Paul summarizes this in I Corinthians 15, Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,  and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. He is not speaking here about the enemies of the cross of Christ who reject the foundation. Rather, he speaks to those who believe the gospel and to how they build on that foundation. In a time when people join churches because it is socially acceptable, or because they want to curry God’s favor, or to make themselves feel better, we should examine the foundation. Such motives may build churches, but they don't build The Church. Paul describes the true Church in Ephesians 2:19-22, Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Obviously you cannot build the church without saving faith in Christ, and without determining that each and every member is on the right foundation. But then after you build the foundation, you make your contribution.

II The Contribution

Paul was not present. How were others building on his foundation? What kind of contribution were they making? Paul talks about the building materials. either gold, silver and precious stones, or wood, hay and straw in verses 12-15, If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. These terms define the teacher as well as the teaching. I base this on Paul's advice to Timothy. He tells him that he is advising him how people ought to conduct themselves in the church which is the pillar and ground of the truth, which rests on the sure foundation of Christ. In I Timothy 3:15 and 16 Paul's advice to Timothy is Take heed to yourself and to your teaching. Now Paul is talking about teachers here but it applies to all of us since we are all to be ministers and we are all to teach at some level. If we want to build we need to take heed to ourselves and our teaching. Consider first our content and then our conduct. Using the illustration of TV evangelists is wearing kind of thin, and the abuses are not at all confined to them nor are they all bad, but as they say, “if the shoe  fits!” You turn on your TV and you hear the gospel clearly proclaimed and you say "good foundation," but then you are told that you must be healed of your sickness, or you must speak in tongues, or you must be prosperous, or you must pursue self-esteem. This is exactly the kind of thing Paul is talking about.  Self-centered thoughts abound, but the doctrine of the Bible centers on others. If you examine the curricula of modernist seminaries you will find some embarrassing subjects. The value of the seminaries we support is their commitment to a core curriculum of solid biblical studies so that people can be instructed in the Word and not in trivial nonsense. Also, there are consequences to proper building. What you need is not the preacher's passion but the passion of Christ. Not the convictions of the cleric but the cross of Christ. The second issue here is conduct. Building with gold and silver and precious gems is costly. Paul paid a price for his position. He invested his life and suffered greatly.  A hundred years ago D.L. Moody attempted to lovingly criticize the Church of his day. His words are timeless. He said that the church reminded him of firemen straightening the pictures on the walls of a house that was burning down. All too often we're not committed to building and what we contribute is the wood, hay and stubble of trivial human concerns. So much of the debate of our legislatures is trivial. It is political posturing. It is fiddling while Rome burns. Dear Friends, in the church, these things ought not to be.

III The Consequences

To state the obvious,the materials which Paul lists are an extreme contrast in flammability. The day of judgment will be revealed as a day of fire. The quality of each man's work will be revealed by whether it can stand up to the fire of God's judgment, not man's. Many who are unknown here-whose faithfulness is hidden from all but God will be revealed in that day. A wonderful seminary professor of mine, John Skilton, took care of his parents and when they died he took over their home in inner city Philadelphia and called it Skilton house in their memory. They carried on an extensive diaconal ministry. It was a humble occupation for a great scholar. Others who are very renowned may also become obscured through service. i am sure that all of us take great comfort from Paul's assurance that although our works may not stand the test of fire, we can still be saved, as he says in verse 15, He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. We ought to take comfort. Praise God, His grace is greater than all our sin, but it is a travesty to suggest that it does not make any difference what we do. There is nothing in the character of God, the teaching of scripture, or the content of the gospel to suggest in any way that what we do is unimportant. In verses 16 and 17 Paul gives us a reason to be careful in building, Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. The Greek word temple means the temple proper, the holy place, the very dwelling of God. How would you build if you were working on such a project? You are. In verse 17 I don't think Paul is saying anything contrary to verse 15. He is just speaking of the destruction of man's work or what he builds, but this leads me to meditate on the loss versus the reward. Paul says you're rewarded if faithful, but he doesn't say you're punished if you're not, just that you suffer loss. It's hard to describe the feeling of loss but i suspect it's like this. When i think of my forbears my grandparents, my parents, teachers, caretakers, how lovingly and sacrificially they gave of themselves, I am almost never concerned about what they didn't do. It's my own omissions that pain me. When i think of my wife and her expressions of love and care over the years, it’s what i have failed to do that concerns me. Is there any pain worse than knowing you ought to have done something and now it’s too late? i suspect this is the heart of the loss. So while you have the opportunity build on the foundation,build rightly, build sacrificially and you will have no regret. The day is coming