The Church is built by God. Scripture describes God as the architect (Isa 28:16, Matt 21:42-44, Rom 10:10-12), Christ as the cornerstone (Ps 118:22-23, Acts 4:11-12, Eph 2:20), believers as the building blocks (1 Pet 2:5-6, Eph 2:22), and the Church itself as God’s temple (2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21-22, Rev 3:12). Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My Church.” Nothing in heaven or on earth can prevent the slow-moving, but inevitable progress of the Church that belongs to Jesus Christ (Dan 2:44, Matt 13:31-32, Rev 11:15). Self-important men are no exception.
In my last post, we began looking at three simple principles to guard against the sin of self-importance. These truths are drawn from 1 Corinthians 3, in which Paul argues against an inflated view of man’s importance within the Church. Last time, we observed the first principle from verses 5-9: men do not bring about church growth. This week, we find our second principle from verses 10-15.
Men Do Not Lay The Church’s One Foundation (3:10-15)
They only build upon it.
“According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)
In the Church Age, all true evangelical ministry simply builds on the gospel foundation laid by the Apostles (Gal 1:8-9, 2 Thess 2:15, Jude 3). If a foundation already exists, but you start laying bricks off to the side somewhere, then no matter what you think you’re building, it’s not part of the house. And if you lay a new foundation a few yards away and start building on that, it’s a different house altogether. Paul’s point is: the true Church is one house with one foundation, Jesus Christ. Pastors are not the architects of the Church. In this analogy, pastors are just construction workers, working off the “apostolic blueprints” of the New Testament.
Their work will be tested by fire.
“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’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. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
Not all pastoral work is of equal quality (and most of us are painfully aware of this). But the Day of the Lord is not like American Idol. The quality of a man’s ministry is not judged by panel or popular vote. The Greek here is mesmerizing and fierce: en puri apokalyptetai. It will be revealed by fire. Peter describes our faith as “gold… tested by fire” (1 Pet 1:7), and Paul steels us through persecution by describing how “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess 1:7). Straw sermons will smolder in the flames of Christ’s holiness. Plywood ministries will collapse in ashes. Paul’s point is: men do not ultimately answer to other men for the quality of their ministry.
If we don’t strive to conduct ourselves in the light of Christ’s return, and the unveiling of all that is hidden (Luke 2:2-5), it’s easy to think of ministry as if it’s peer-reviewed. It is easy to “boast in men.” But as we’ll discuss next week – looking at our third and final principle – men have nothing in themselves to boast of.