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The text for our consideration this morning is the first part of our Epistle text from 1st Corinthians. We’ll reread it as we go.
Paul planted a new congregation in the city of Corinth. In the verses before the ones we read today, he compared the congregation to a field that both he and Apollos have worked together to plant. “Paul planted” – he was the preacher. He sowed the seed which is the Word of God. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1Cor.2:2).
Jesus once told a parable about a sower who sowed seed, and the seed fell on all kinds of soil, some not very conducive to growing a good crop. But in Corinth, there was a man named Apollos. And “Apollos watered.” He worked the soil. He nurtured the people, answered their questions, explained the mysteries, encouraged them to receive the Word with an open and receptive hearts and to persevere in the face of trials and troubles and temptations.
Every congregation needs lots of “Apollos’.” “Encourage one another.” “Build one another up in this most holy faith.”
There’s a rumor going around that religion is supposed to be a ‘private’ matter. That we should ‘keep it personal.’ ‘Just me and my Jesus.’ ‘Faith is an INDIVIDUAL thing.’ No! The Christian religion is a COMMUNAL thing, as in THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but ENCOUAGING ONE ANOTHER, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Then Paul shifts the analogy from “You are God’s field,” to “you are God’s building.” Just as the effectiveness of the seed sown in a field depends on the quality of the soil, so the stability of a building depends on the foundation it is built upon.
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it.”
The word is “architecktos”. Paul the theologian compares himself to an architect. He’s seen the blueprint, he knows what the building is going to look like when it’s completed.
Paul’s particular specialty is in laying foundations. He’s laid several of them – in Galatia, Ephesus, Colossia, Macedonia and here in Corinth. He didn’t much like building on foundations that others had already laid. He would lay the foundation, and then turn things over to others to build on it.
Jesus once told a parable about the importance of laying a good foundation. “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:47-49).
The Word of Jesus is the foundation that supports the building, come what may. A person builds on that foundation by ‘hearing’ His Word AND ‘doing’ what His Word says. If His Word says, “REPENT” then repent; if He says, “BELIEVE,” then believe; if He says “I FORGIVE YOU ALL OF YOUR SINS” then fly like a bird and SIN NO MORE.
“Hearing” without ‘doing’ is like studying the blue prints and talking about the house you’re going to build and how wonderful it will be, but never actually driving a nail into a stud.
“Doing” without “hearing” the Word of Christ, is like building without ever looking at the plans. It may turn out to be a great looking building and envy of the whole neighborhood, but it’s not the building that Jesus had in mind at all. Just as those folks who built the Tower of Babel.
Maybe Paul had this parable in mind as he wrote to the Corinthians. “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Well, actually you can. Lots of other foundations than Jesus Christ have been laid. And lots of folks build on them trusting that it will support them. But they will all collapse and crumble and everyone who has built their life on any other foundation that Jesus Christ… well, “the ruin of that house was great.”
“No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Not in the Christian Church you can’t. The foundation is laid through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, died and buried – to atone for the sin of the whole world, completely and fully.
The one, true God who lives on high, came down, and took on our humanity, and humbled Himself, and became a servant, a criminal, a sinner, and the punishment that sinners deserve fell on Him – so that it wouldn’t fall on you.
And on the 3rd Day, God showed the world just what a sure and certain foundation His Son, Jesus Christ is. Neither streams nor earthquakes, “nor tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword, nor THE GATES OF HELL WILL PREVAIL AGAINST IT.
This is the foundation that the one, holy Christian Church is built on. “How firm a foundation” it is. Jesus Christ is able to support everyone who is built on Him. To build your life, in all of its parts and pieces on Him who died for you and was raised for you, is to live in security. “I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.” (LSB #728:2)
And so, “Let each one take care how he builds on it.” Paul is aiming directly at those pastors who will follow him. They will build on the foundation that he has laid with their preaching and teaching. “Let each one take care how he builds on it.”
Paul is right to be concerned. There will be BUILDERS who insist that the foundation of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for our salvation is TOO MUCH to believe. They will try to build on the foundation by denying that Jesus was really the Son of God. And that His resurrection from the dead was not a literal resurrection but only a spiritual one. And those things called ‘miracles’ were not really miracles at all. There’s a perfectly rational explanation to account for each one of them.
And there will be those BUILDERS who insist that the foundation of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for our salvation is TOO LITTLE to believe. There must be more to it than that. There must be something that we have to do, that we have to add. Surely we can’t be entirely passive in our salvation. Surely, we need to preach more than just Christ crucified and raised. That can’t be enough.
In our own day, there is a glut of careless building on the foundation that Paul laid. Builders use worldly wisdom, pop psychology, business techniques, marketing strategies, political action committees, you name it.
And even though Paul’s words here are aimed directly at the preachers and teachers of the church, undoubtedly they also apply to everyone member of the holy, Christian Church. How are you building on the foundation that was laid for you in your baptism where you were taken into the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ and where you rose with Him to newness of life? Are you hearing His Word and doing it? Or are you building based on a set of plans that you have drawn up on your own?
Paul issues a solemn warning to all pastors and every Christian. “If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw – each one’s work will become manifest, (revealed for what it really is), for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
Paul lists six different kinds of building materials, three of which you would never find at Home Depot. The important thing to notice is that “gold, silver and precious stones” don’t burn. They are IMPERISHABLE. “Wood, hay or straw” are flammable and when they burn there’s nothing left over but ash that blows away in the wind.
The ‘fire’ that Paul is talking about is not the FIRE OF HELL but the FIRE OF JESUS CHRIST. “The Day” is the day that Jesus comes again, in all His glory and with fire. On THAT DAY, everything will come into His glory, His fire. And everyone will see what was true and what was false, what was praiseworthy and what was shameful, what was holy and what was unholy. What is lasting and was a total waste. For what is perishable will be consumed and only what is imperishable will remain.
The Old Testament prophet Malachi points all the way past the incarnation of Jesus to His 2nd coming when he writes, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire.” (Mal.3:2). All of the false gods that we built on the holy foundation – consumed. All of the superstitions and prejudices you built your life around – nothing but ashes. And every last nickel and dollar that you thought would make you secure – burned up in the fire. Until all that is left is Jesus and His IMPERISHALBE Church.
It may be that what was built on the foundation, we may have thought was wonderful, marvelous and everyone else thought the same. The disciples of Jesus were so impressed with the Temple in Jerusalem. “Look Master, what wonderful stones, what wonderful buildings. And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2) The fire will reveal it for what it truly is. Even the grandest and most glorious superstructures and will be reduced to ashes in an instant.
It may also be that that which was built on the foundation, that didn’t look like much, that no one even noticed, that cost a great deal, even sacrifice and suffering and the mocking of others who said, ‘that’s foolish,’ the fire will reveal it for what it truly is. And even the lowest and poorest will be revealed for the gold and silver and precious gems that they are.
“If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
This is not a question of losing your salvation. THIS IS NOT PUNISHMENT! It can’t be. The punishment that we deserve was carried out in full by Christ on the Cross and when He said, ‘It is finished,’ there was no more punishment left!
Everyone who builds on the foundation of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness and grace is saved, not by his works, but by the works of Jesus Christ. But some will come through the fire and hear the congratulations of God, “well done, good and faithful servant.” And some will come through the fire as though they were in a car wreck in which their car was totaled, yet they somehow walked away unharmed.
But in either case, we shall be purified. We shall be holy.
Paul began by saying, “You are God’s building.” Now the architect lifts the veil on the building that we are. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
What a glorious and sacred building God has built on the foundation of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Temple of God is the building where God is present in all of His glory and splendor and with all of His light and love and joy and peace. YOU ARE THE TEMPLE OF GOD.
Notice carefully, Paul says, “you ARE God’s temple” not, “you will be God’s temple,” or “if you play your cards right, you might be God’s temple.” No, you ARE the Temple of God.
There is no reason to live in fear of the refining fire that we must all pass through. We already know that He has purified us, and we have been purged of all of our sin and God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, lives in us.
We are God’s Temple. “Let each one take care how he builds.”