by Mike Ratliff
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NASB)
A very important person in my Christian walk died this week. My dear brother in the Lord Ken Silva died on Sunday, September 28th. God used Ken in a huge way in directing my paths in 2004-2005 into how to do the right research into the Purpose Driven paradigm that was about to consume the local church where I served as a deacon and Bible teacher. It was through that research I also was drawn into several online debates on the old Slice of Laodicea website that was being run by Ingrid Schlueter with the help of Jim Bublitz and Ken. The debates were fierce and I learned a great deal about the “emergent church” along with those “christian liberals” in it as they accused us of being the Pharisees and much worse. Along with this I was also studying C.H. Spurgeon, Martin Luther, A.W. Pink, R.C. Sproul, and many others while making many new friends in the Reformation Theology online community. It was from that experience that I learned about Christian discernment and how important it is and how God demands that all of us exercise it for the health and well-being of the Body of Christ.
It was from this that this discernment ministry grew. Of course, in the beginning I focused mostly on the Purpose Driven paradigm and Rick Warren, but over time I also looked at past so-called Christian leaders such as Charles Finney. I remember the first time I wrote about Finney I had one fellow who had been my friend and posting comments for some time get very angry with me for saying that Charles Finney was a heretic. Our relationship went down hill from there.
Let us, honestly, compare 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 with the life and ministries of Warren and Finney and others that we have called out as heretics or false prophets. Are these two men examples of those who built upon the foundation of Christ with wood, hay, and stubble, and would, in the end, see all their works be consumed in the fire of judgment, suffering eternal loss, but themselves being saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) or something else? To get our answer we must put this passage into context. The immediate context of vv10-15 would be 1 Corinthians 3:1-23 in which Paul addressed the issues and the cause of divisions in the Corinthian church. However, we must remember, that this must also be put into the larger context of Paul’s entire message of this Epistle. A good break down of 1 Corinthians would place chapter 3 right in the middle of a section that runs from 1:10 through 4:21 in which Paul specifically addressed Disunity in the Church. In fact, chapter 3 would be contained in the subsection of that breakdown that would probably best be titled something like “The Need for Unity.”
Therefore, with that in mind, we will focus in this post on 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 alone which focuses specifically on divisions in the Church. Within this, we will attempt to answer our question about vv10-15 and any questionable “Christian leader.” Carefully read the first four verses from 1 Corinthians 3 at the top of this post. Read it carefully. Notice that there are problems in this church that have to do with a decided lack of spiritual maturity. How do we know that? There is jealousy and strife in the local body. This is a marker of people being controlled by their flesh rather than by the Spirit of God. How do truly spiritual people behave?
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “ Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “ But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him A drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21 NASB)
Notice that the focus is not “self.” In any case, this is the opposite of what was running rampant in the Corinthian church and that is why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Carnality produces the attitude of envy, a severe form of selfishness, which produces the reaction of strife and subsequent divisions. Also, the fact that they were acting as “mere men” was Paul’s way of saying they were being acting as unsaved men. In any case, Paul answers his own rhetorical question from 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 with more rhetorical questions followed by a humble yet accurate description of his and Apollos’ true role in the Corinthian’s salvation and spiritual growth.
5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NASB)
It is the Lord alone who can give the faith to the spiritually ignorant as we have seen in our Bible studies on this blog over and over again clearly taught in Scripture. People do not “decide” via their own abilities to be saved. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9). Salvation is God’s work of grace to whom He chooses to give it. In vv8, 9 we see that all human instruments God uses to produce salvation life are equally considered and rewarded for their willingness to be used by God. However, all the glory goes to Him, who alone saves. Paul, Apollos, Peter, and all ministers are equal workers in the field, but the spiritual life from that field is entirely by God’s grace and power. Now we come to the moving from the analogy from the field to the building. Here is vv10-15 from the Greek text and the NASB.
10 Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ. 11 θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον, ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός. 12 εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον χρυσόν, ἄργυρον, λίθους τιμίους, ξύλα, χόρτον, καλάμην, 13 ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον φανερὸν γενήσεται, ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει, ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται· καὶ ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν ἐστιν τὸ πῦρ [αὐτὸ] δοκιμάσει. 14 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον μενεῖ ὃ ἐποικοδόμησεν, μισθὸν λήμψεται· 15 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται, ζημιωθήσεται, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NA28)
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 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. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 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 3:10-15 NASB)
In v10 the NASB translates σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων as “wise master builder.” Paul is describing God working through him to design and build spiritual foundations (cf. Romans 15:20). The word σοφὸς or sophos describes a wise and skillful expert. The word ἀρχιτέκτων or architektōn is the root for the English word “architect.” However, an ἀρχιτέκτων contains the idea of a builder, as well as designer. Paul was used by God to establish the groundwork for churches in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. Timothy and Apollos (among others of course) built the churches up from his foundations. That God used him in that way was all of grace and Paul knew it (cf. v7; 15:20; Romans 15:18; Ephesians 3:7, 8; Colossians 1:29). What or who is the foundation of the Church? It is none other than ᾿Ιησοῦς Χριστός, that is, Jesus Christ. It isn’t man’s puny efforts. It isn’t gospel contextualizaton. It isn’t global dominionism. It isn’t Rick Warren. It isn’t the Purpose Driven paradigm. It isn’t the Seeker Sensitive non-gospel. It isn’t the purpose driven non-gospel, nor is the merging of any of them. No, it is Jesus Christ alone. Paul says that no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. That is why all these religious empires men have built will all simply be burned up in the end.
Read vv12-13 together. The building is done by evangelists and pastors and all believers who are called to build the church through faithful ministry. The gold, silver, precious stones represent faithful, dedicated spiritual service to build the church. On the other hand, the wood, hay, and straw refer to shallow activity with no eternal value. These do not refer to evil activities, but religious works in the church. What is “the day?” This refers to the time of the judgment seat of Christ so we know that those who will be judged there are ALL believers. No non-believers will be there. The works done, the good works and the shallow works will be revealed by fire on “the day” at this judgment. According to 2 Corinthians 5:10, the wood, hay, and straw are “worthless” things that do not stand the test of judgment fire. On the other hand, the works that do survive the test of fire are those which have been accomplished in God’s power and for His glory. These will survive. This is not a judgment for sin because Christ has paid the price on the Cross for all the sins of the elect (Romans 8:1). Therefore, no believer will ever be judged for sin. This judgment is only to determine eternal reward.
Now we come to v15. No matter how much is worthless, no believer will forfeit salvation. No non-believer will participate in this judgment. Theirs will be at the Great White Throne Judgment and that will be totally different. Will wolves and apostates and false prophets be at the judgment seat being saved but only as through fire? No, because these men are teaching what is evil. They pervert God’s Word. They are not building upon the Foundation of Christ, but are attempting to build on a totally different foundation. They exclude the Jesus Christ of the Bible and try to create one of their own for their own purposes. Therefore, these will not be at this judgment, but, instead, will be amongst the goats on our Lord’s left who actually thought they should be amongst the sheep on His right. They will hear Him say, “depart from Me for I never knew you.” We believe this because of the foundation upon which they are building. It isn’t the foundation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must all examine ourselves and our ministries. Are we truly building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ alone and not another of our own making? What about our works? If we are working in our ministries in the flesh then all of that is wood, hay and straw. No, the only eternal works that go with us into eternity are the gold, silver, and precious stones which are works done in God’s power for His glory alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!