There are many different kinds of inspections you may have to go through in life: troops are inspected, so are hospitals, elevators, boilers, and automobiles. Finances and tax returns may be inspected by auditors. Your body fluids may be inspected for illegal substances. And even as a child your room may be inspected by your parents for cleanliness and allowance worthiness.
In almost every larger city, building additions (even on your own home) and the erecting of new structures require permits and the passing of a series of inspections. Sometimes building progress stops while they wait for an inspector to approve the work.
In our text this morning Paul uses the analogy of builders who must submit their work to inspection. Paul pictures the church of God as similar to a building that is being constructed. The strength of the building depends on the materials with which the builders build. We are told God will inspect our work. This is one inspection we should not take lightly. If we want to pass the inspection, Paul tells us what we need to do.
We Must Build on the Right Foundation
10 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. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Paul says we need to build on the correct foundation. Paul called himself an expert builder. The word in the Greek is the word “architect”. Paul saw himself as functioning much like a builder and designer. He was the one who planted the church in Corinth. He laid the foundation on which the church was built. Others have come after him (Peter, Apollos and others) who built on the foundation he laid.
The foundation is what holds a structure steady. Most of the foundation is hidden. It isn’t even noticed by others. In much the same way, the foundation on which we build determines the strength of our church and of our lives. It is not flashy, it is something deep. It is the conviction of our lives. It is our attitude. It is what we rely on when life gets difficult.
Paul said the only true (or sufficient) foundation is the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is only as we build our churches and our lives on Christ that we are building on the true and lasting foundation. Practically this means that as we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, our confidence in life is anchored to Jesus and the work He did on our behalf rather on the things that we do or the programs we produce. Our values in life are drawn increasingly from the sure Word of God rather than opinion polls and worldly experts. Our direction in life comes more and more from God’s Spirit through His Word rather than from the fads of our day. Our attitude toward life is increasingly filled with gratitude for the mercy and grace of God, rather than the sense of entitlement so common in our society.
In Matthew seven Jesus talked about two houses one was built on rock the other on sand. Jesus said when the rains came down the house on the sand crumbled, the house on the rock stood firm.
Those who build on a faulty foundation will look good for awhile. However, when the storms rage, these foundations crumble. When the church builds on something other than the person and work of Christ (say its focus is numbers, programs, creativity, “relevance”, politics, social action), it becomes a church in name only. It is not a true church.
Our Building Materials Must be of Highest Quality
12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 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. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Do you remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? They each built a house. One made their house of straw (it was the quickest), one built his house out of sticks, and the last one built his house out of brick. When the wolf came by he was able to blow down the house of straw and the house of sticks. The house of brick stood strong.
God is concerned for quality in His church and in the lives of His people. He wants us to build with gold, silver and precious stones. Unfortunately, we are inclined to shortcuts (wood, hay, and straw). To the naked eye it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between quality and veneer. Paul says, “God knows, God sees, and the truth will be revealed.”
We see some evidence of this in our own time
- The reporter who wins a prize is shown to be a liar who made the whole story up
- The athlete exalted for his power is shown to be a person of shortcuts who achieved his power through drugs rather than hard work.
- The degreed scholar is exposed as one who stole the ideas in his thesis
- The man exalted as a beacon of virtue is exposed as one whose virtue is only in the public eye; in private, his life sordid and dirty.
It is tempting to build God’s church and our lives using shortcuts as well.
- We choose to do what will draw a crowd rather than what will require commitment
- We pursue what is flashy over what is solid
- We proclaim pop-psychology rather than difficult truth about sin and the wonder of God’s grace
- We indulge our children rather than teach them to make good choices and the importance of values in life
- We do what we “have to do” instead of doing all we can
- We choose convenience over sacrifice
- We strive to keep up with the world rather than live apart from it.
- We repeat sound bites rather than examining issues for ourselves (this happens even in terms of our Bible Study . . . we parrot others rather than reading for ourselves)
- We send a check rather than get involved
All these things are wood, hay, and straw.
Warren Wiersbe writes,
It comes as a shock to some church members that you cannot manage a local church the same way you run a business. This does not mean we should not follow good business principles, but the operation is totally different. There is a wisdom of this world that works for the world, but it will not work for the church.
The world depends on promotion, prestige, and the influence of money and important people. The church depends on prayer, the power of the Spirit, humility, sacrifice, and service. The church that imitates the world may seem to succeed in time, but it will turn to ashes in eternity.
Notice several things. First, God is the inspector. We look at each other’s lives and all we see is what is on the surface. We don’t’ see the heart. We don’t’ see the attitude of the one who serves; we don’t see the acts done in secret. God does. The “Day” that Paul talks about is the Day when God will sit on his throne and reveal what is true and what is false.
Second, God will reward those who have built with quality. It is worth noting that you can use inferior materials and receive rewards in this life. You can cheat and get away with it in this world. You can cut corners and still win the big contracts. You can use people and deceive people and still get elected to high places. But that will not go on forever! The Bible teaches that such works will be destroyed.
As a contrast, those who build well not receive many material rewards in this life. However they will be rewarded by the Lord. They will be rewarded in Heaven but they will also be blessed in this world. Those who seek Him with diligence, those who pursue what is excellent, will know an intimacy with God that words cannot describe. They will find a peace in the turmoil of life that confounds the world. They will experience a sense of purpose that exceeds that of the most skilled visionary. They will have the satisfaction of knowing they are a part of something that is bigger than their life and their dreams. They will enjoy a wonder in life that will lead them to cherish life and appreciate that which the world cannot see.
Third, notice that our building materials do not determine our salvation, but our reward. Paul said that “If it (what we have done) is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” In other words, we are saved and made right with God because of the work of Christ. We are rewarded based on what we do IN Christ. We do not work hard to gain salvation . . . we work diligently BECAUSE of our salvation.
We Must Have the Right Attitude 16-23
Paul states that we must build on the right foundation, we should build with materials of the highest quality, and finally he seems to suggest that we need to build with the right attitude.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
Paul spoke stern words to the church. He pointed out that the church is God’s temple here on earth. God considers His church to be sacred. Consequently, our building should be characterized by a spirit of cooperation rather than division. When we allow pettiness and division to destroy the church, we are destroying God’s temple and God takes it personally. We are in essence vandalizing God’s church. Paul challenged the people of Corinth to be done with their foolish divisions. We should view each other as brothers rather than as combatants.
But there is more:
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”
Paul urged us to abandon the wisdom of the world and instead adopt an attitude of humility. He encourages us to be teachable rather than thinking we have things all figured out. He says we must be willing to become a fool (in the eyes of the world) if that is what is necessary to follow the Lord. We must be humble enough to trust God’s counsel and directives rather than that of the world.
Think about how many people get in trouble in life because they refuse to listen. There is the student who concludes “this is stupid” instead of trying to listen to the explanation of the teacher. There is the athlete who refuses to follow the instruction of the coach. There is the employee who refuses to do things the way the supervisor has requested. There is the child who refuses to listen to the counsel of a parent. There are the people who refuse to take the advice of their Doctor. In each case the problem is arrogance. We think we know better than the expert. If we want to pass God’s inspection we need to humbly obey the Lord rather than trust the wisdom of men.
Paul concluded saying,
So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Simply put, Paul is saying, when you fight and squabble (using the wisdom of the world) you are not pursuing some noble cause (like you think you are); you are really limiting what God has for you. Paul repeated the phrase, “all are yours”. He wanted us to understand that the inheritance we have in Christ is so much greater than the petty things we are arguing about.
Paul wanted the Corinthians (and us) to see that they were acting like a millionaire who argues about a 5 cent price change on a can of peanuts! God has given us a rich inheritance and it is just silly to divide over such petty things.
I think there are two applications we need to draw. First, there is an application for us as a church body. When all is said and done, everything we do should bring us back to Christ. At every board meeting we should be asking, “Are we proceeding on Biblical principles or are we following the principles of the world?” “Are we pursuing God’s agenda, or our own agenda?” “Are we making disciples or are we simply gathering a crowd?” Are we arguing about stupid things? We need to do regular inspections of our foundation and our building materials.
Second, there is a personal application. We need to ask: On what foundation am I building my life? Am I anchored to the person and work of Christ or am I building my life on the sands of public opinion, material wealth, temporary pleasures, or the titles that will be easily removed from the door? I’m not asking you for the right answer . . . I’m interested in the TRUE answer. Are you really building your life on the Lord Jesus Christ or are you only saying that you do so?
If you aren’t sure about your foundation – take action! Don’t put it off. Things will never be right in your life until the foundation is right. Perhaps you need to stop today, and confess your rebellion in an attitude of repentance. You need to want to change. Come to Jesus. Run to the cross. Claim His promise of forgiveness and new life. Lay the failures of your past at the foot of the cross. Put your confidence in Him.
We also should ask, “What is the quality of what I am building on this foundation?” Is our life characterized by excuses, shortcuts, nice sounding words and compromises with the way of the world? Are we trying to follow the Lord with as little inconvenience as possible? If so, we need to make some changes in our lives. We need to start focusing on quality rather than quantity. We need to pursue what will last rather than what will tarnish, rust, and be forgotten. We need to pursue a godly legacy.
Good students learn quickly that the best way to prepare for a test is not to cram the night before, but to prepare throughout the semester. The student who studies all semester doesn’t have to worry about cramming at the last minute. They don’t have to worry about trying to remember facts long enough to get through the test. They don’t simple get grades – they get an education.
Paul encourages us to see the big picture. He challenges us to build carefully, faithfully, and diligently. He counsels us to start now rather than putting our relationship with God off to a later day. If we will do this, we will not just pass God’s inspection; we will also experience life in all its rich fullness. We will know His strength in the hard times. And someday we will stand before Him and hear Him say, “Good job!” And those two words may be the greatest reward of them all.