“But on the judgment day, the fire will reveal what kind of work
each builder has done—if the worker’s work has any value. If
the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But
if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great
loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone
barely escaping through a wall of flames.”
(I Corinthians 3:13-15)
Food For Thought… When I was a little kid, we sang a little song in Sunday School that now, upon reflection, was pretty sobering. If I had truly understood it’s message at the time, it would have scared the willies out of me. It went something like this:
“Oh be careful little hands what you do.
Oh be careful little hands what you do.
There’s a Father up above, looking down from heaven with love,
So be careful little hands what you do.”
The song had several verses: “Oh be careful little feet where you go… Eyes what you see… Ears what you here…” and so on. It was cute and catchy in a way that made it unforgettable, but it also contained a not-so-subtle threat that served as the song’s underpinning: Be very careful—God is watching you! And if you mess up…
Obviously, that was back in the days when parents didn’t think a whole lot about damaging little Johnny’s self-esteem. At least they didn’t in my home, and my church. They didn’t mind talking about things like offending God and its consequences, judgment and hell, and all kinds of other things that would make most church people squirm today.
However, squirming is sometimes good for us. And Paul is taking us through a “squirm session” in this section of I Corinthians. He has been addressing some of the divisions that have developed in the church at Corinth. The people have been choosing up sides as to who their favorite preacher was. Some said, “Oh, I got saved under Peter’s ministry.” Others said, “Well, I have grown the most under Apollos’ fine expository preaching.” Still others shot back, “Yes, but I have been spiritually grounded in Paul’s deep theology.” Then the really spiritual people would top them all: “Oh yah, we follow Christ!”
It’s not all that different today, is it? I hear people say, “Oh, I get so blessed by Joel Osteen. He’s so positive and I like that smile.” And then others says, “Well, I like John MacArthur. He teaches verse-by-verse, you know! That’s the only way to study the Word!” And there are those who say, “Dude, Rick Warren’s the man! He’s so funny and easy to follow. That purpose driven stuff is really cool.”
Paul delivers a needful blow to this preacher-by-popularity mentality when he reminds the Corinthian believers that they have missed the fundamental point: The church has but one leader, Jesus Christ. We are not under Paul’s or Peter’s or Rick’s or Joel’s lordship, we are under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle then reminds them that the church is like a seed, and the seed is from God, and no matter who waters that seed, God is the one who makes it grow. Switching analogies, Paul then talks about the church being built on the foundation, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. And anyone who builds on it—whether Paul, or Apollos or Peter…or for that matter Brother Jones or Sister Bertha, or you or me—needs to remember that we are building on a foundation that is Jesus Christ. So let us be careful then how we build.
Now he’s the clincher: One day each of us will stand before God to give an account as to how we added to that foundation. And by the way, we all add to the foundation. No matter who you are or what you do, if you are a Christian, you are a part of building the church, either adding to it and beautifying it, or taking away from it and diminishing its value. And on that final day, our works—what we have done with Christ’s church—will pass through the fire. Then the truth about our work will be exposed for what it is: Eternally valuable or immediately flammable.
So Paul’s warning is very important:
“Oh be careful little hands how you build!
There’s a Father up above looking down from heaven with love,
So be careful little hands how you build.”
Notice what Paul goes on to say in verses 16-17: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
We often hear that our physical body is the temple of God, and to be sure that is true. We need to pay more strict attention to that. But we also need to be aware that the church we belong to is the temple of God, and it is the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit. And if the Spirit of God dwells in our church, we, both worshippers and workers, laity and leaders—all of us—need to be very aware of what we’re doing with that temple.
Paul’s advice: Don’t trash the temple—either by wrongful attitudes or by inappropriate actions. There’s a Father up above looking down from heaven with love, so be very, very careful what you do. Love the church, serve the church, build the church—and do it all in a way that brings glory to the Lord of the church and pleases the Spirit of the church, and honors the God of the church.
Prayer… Lord, thank you for the reminder of how precious the church, your bride, is to you. Forgive any attitude that I’ve had that lessens the value you place upon my community of faith. I pray that you would give me a new energy and zeal to love, serve and build your church in a way that glorifies and pleases you. And on that final day, I pray that the work I’ve done will pass through the fire as eternally valuable.
One More Thing… “The apostles were made evangelists to us by the Lord Christ; Jesus Christ was sent by God. Thus, Christ is from God, and the apostles from Christ…The Church is built on them as a foundation.” —Clement of Alexandria