Knocking the Props Out from Under Boasting
We saw last week that the way Paul tries to overcome the jealousy and strife described in verse 3 is to knock the props out from under the boasting described in verse 4. The root of jealousy and strife is pride that likes to get vicarious praise by boasting in somebody else's bandwagon: "I belong to Paul!" "I belong to Apollos!"
And the way he knocks the props out from under this boasting is to compare his work and the work of Apollos to farm slaves. One planting—that's Paul. The other waters—that's Apollos. But God alone gives the increase. So God should be the one we boast about, not men. Compared to the greatness of God's work, ours is as nothing. "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord!" I hope we are getting the point in these first three chapters of 1 Corinthians!
A New Picture of a Building
Then at the end of last week's text Paul mentioned another picture of his and Apollos' work. This picture gives him another chance to put Christ at the center and warn against any teachings or attitudes that detract from his centrality.
The first picture was of a field of grain with Paul and Apollos planting and watering. The new picture that we haven't talked about yet is of a building with Paul and Apollos laying a foundation and then building the superstructure.
We see it first in verse 10: "For we are fellow workers for God; you are God's field [that's the first picture], God's building [that's the second picture]." In other words Paul shifts from an agricultural picture to an architectural picture. In the one the church is a field where some plant and water; in the other the church is a building where some lay a foundation and some build the structure.
Look down at verse 16 to see this confirmed: "Do you not know that you are God's temple?" So the building Paul has in mind in verse 10 when he says, "You are God's building," is a kind of temple. The church is like a field that grows and bears fruit, and the church is like a temple where the Spirit of God dwells.
How Paul Uses the Temple Building Image
Now what does Paul want to tell us about this temple building? He begins in verse 10: "According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it." This is the same as verse 6: there he said, "I planted and Apollos watered"; here he says, "I laid the foundation and another is building on it." Laying the foundation of the building corresponds to planting the field. And building on the foundation corresponds to watering the field.
Now what is Paul going to do with this picture of the church? He is going to tell us
- what the foundation was,
- and that there are a lot of people trying to build on it,
- and that they better be real careful what sort of materials they build into this temple,
- and why.
The Flourishing Christian Education at Corinth
Notice the end of verse 10: "Let each man take care how he builds upon it." This is not so much a warning to Apollos as it is to all the new teachers that are rising up at Corinth claiming to be good builders on Paul's foundation.
Look at 4:15. Here Paul introduces a third picture of his work in starting the church and the work of those who came later: "For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel."
So Paul is a father to the church and others are guides; he is a foundation layer and others are builders; he is a planter and others are waterers. And the point I want to stress is that now it is not just Apollos in view but "countless guides." In other words the CE program at Corinth has really flourished! There are teachers and counselors galore, giving guidance and teaching in the Christian life.
Paul's Concern and His Warning to Teachers
The next thing to notice is that Paul is real concerned about what they are teaching—what they are building into this temple. So he warns them to be very careful in how they build. Verse 10b: "I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it." There is the warning!
Why Teachers Must Be So Careful
Then he starts to give the reasons why we need to be so careful about the materials we use to build the church. Verse 11 says, "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Do you see the connection between verse 10 (Watch out how you build on the foundation!) and verse 11 (Christ is the only foundation!)?
What that means is that the foundation must control the materials used in the superstructure. Otherwise the connection between verses 10 and 11 makes no sense. Does it make sense to say: Watch out what kind of windows you use because the foundation is Christ! Watch out what kind of roof you build because the foundation is Christ? Watch out what kind of wiring you use because the foundation is Christ! Yes it does make sense if the foundation controls the shape and quality of the building.
The Foundation and How You Build on It
And that is the point: There is only one foundation: Christ. And who he is controls the shape and quality of the church. In other words what Paul is doing with the new image of the church as a building is the same thing he did with the image of the church as a field. He is exalting Christ as absolutely pre-eminent. Not only is he at the bottom of it all holding it up; his influence must be utterly pervasive.
Everywhere you turn in the church, wherever anybody is teaching anything or building anything, we must see the mark of Jesus Christ! Whatever lifts up Christ in his true greatness is gold and silver and precious stone; and whatever detracts from the fullness of his truth is wood, hay, and stubble.
Three Consequences of Shabby Building
So what Paul does now is to warn pastors, Sunday School teachers, counselors, parents, and disciplers of all kinds, that there are three dangerous consequences of building the church with materials that are not in keeping with the greatness of Christ the foundation.
1. Injury to the Church
The first consequence is that the church will be injured.
Verse 12: "Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day [of judgment] will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one had done."
In other words if you build into the church doctrines or attitudes or actions that do not fit with the foundation of Christ, then the fire of judgment at the end of the age (which 1 Peter 4:17 tells us begins with the house of God!) is going to burn up that wood, hay, and stubble, and the church will be the lesser for it.
We should labor to build into the church doctrines and attitudes and behaviors that will come forth from the fire of testing like gold and silver and diamonds to the glory of Christ.
2. The Builder's Loss of Reward
The second consequence of shabby building is that the builder will lose his reward.
Verse 14: "If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire."
In other words it is possible to be a Christian and to be a harmful teacher in the church. Christians can have much doctrine wrong; they can have attitudinal blind spots; and they can impart this wood, hay, and stubble to others in their Christian service only to see it go up in smoke at the last day. Not one of us will escape this chastisement, for none of us is a perfect teacher or parent or counselor.
But O how vigilant it should make us to know our Bible well and to live it well. Like Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:15: "Do your best [study!] to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." There will be shame on that day. And rewards will be lost because of shabby building on the matchless foundation of Christ.
3. Destruction of the Church and Ourselves
The third consequence of shabby building is that it can become so contrary to the foundation that we destroy the very church in which we serve and ourselves with it.
Verse 17: "If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are."
This is a dreadful thing, and it is not hypothetical. It happens all the time in one place or another. For example it happened repeatedly in New England 150 years ago. Churches that were once evangelical with Christ as the foundation got a Unitarian pastor. At first he did not declare himself openly, but began to build a structure which little by little changed the edifice. And within a matter of years you could look down and realize that the structure was now so out of line with Christ that it no longer rested on the foundation.
You see, there are two ways to remove a foundation and destroy a church. One is to attack the foundation directly and break it up. The other is to slowly and subtly reshape the edifice so that its contours don't rest on the foundation anymore.
Paul says, If a teacher does that to a church, he will pay with his eternal life: "If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him."
(Compare Acts 20:26–27, "I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.")
Application to Our Lives
The application of this to us at Bethlehem plain:
Let us be vigilant to keep Christ as the foundation of our church.
Let's make sure that the building blocks of our doctrine follow the beautiful contours of our foundation and not go off and try to make some little porch on the side that has no foundation under it.
Let's take the attitudes of our church and set them down on the lines of the foundation and see where we might be off-base and in need of correction.
And let's bring all our ministries and all our building plans and all the financial goals of these next weeks and lay them like a transparency over the blueprint of our foundation, Jesus Christ (that we have in the Bible); and let's ask: do they fit? Do the lines match up?
Let Christ be the one and only foundation of Bethlehem Baptist Church! Let his influence be utterly pervasive in all we do! And as we S*P*A*N the NINETIES, let the gold and silver and precious stones not be in our sanctuary but in our doctrine and in our lives.