PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 3:10-15; The Church’s One Foundation

05/26 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 The Church’s One FoundationAudio available at:

1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

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.

1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, 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. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Paul is dealing with the root problem of quarreling and division in the church in Corinth. Much of this seemed to stem from a misunderstanding of the role of Christian ministry. Some had too high a view of Christian ministry, framing their favorite as superstar and pitting one against another. Others wanted to dispense with leaders all together and felt they had attained a spirituality where they had no need for anyone to minister to them.

Christian ministry is neither status nor stardom but service. But that service is not superfluous. It is not just any service, but service to the King of kings and Lord of lords. God alone gives the growth, and he gives it by means of the ministers he has given to his church.

Among ministers there must not be competition but instead cooperation. In his agricultural metaphor of planting and watering, there is interdependence among servants of Christ. None of us can do it singlehandedly, and for maximum fruitfulness, we must work as a team. Reward for Christian ministry is not evaluated by the plants in the field, but by the Master of the field. And he evaluates reward not on fruitfulness, but on faithfulness. Ultimately, all ministry is totally dependent on God who alone is able to give growth. We are nothing; God is everything. It is all about God. In verse 9, he emphasizes the priority of God by starting three phrases with ‘God’. God’s fellow-workers are we; God’s field, God’s building are you. And here he shifts from an agricultural metaphor (a field) to a construction metaphor (a building) because he wants to talk about foundations and quality of workmanship, and rewards or losses for proper or improper construction.

Ministry by the Grace of God

Paul starts this discussion of construction and foundation and workmanship and his own unique role in it all by tying it back to God’s grace. ‘According to the grace of God given to me’. Paul is about to say some things that could be perceived as arrogant and full of himself, but that is the furthest thing from his heart. Paul played a unique and foundational role in the church and in the history of Christianity, but rather than make him proud, it made him profoundly humble. ‘According to the grace of God given to me’. He introduced himself in this letter as ‘Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.’ In 2 Corinthians he will say ‘having this ministry by the mercy of God’. Here in chapter 3 he says that Paul is a servant through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each. Paul knew that there was nothing in himself to be proud of. He says in chapter 15

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.

Unworthy. He had done nothing to deserve this role. In fact, he had done everything to disqualify himself from this role. He was a persecutor of God’s church. Acts describes him as ‘breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’ (9:1). He obtained authorization from the high priest to pursue and arrest any followers of Jesus he could find, men or women. But by God’s grace, when he deserved the opposite, freely as a gift, Jesus met him where he was, brought him to repentance, forgave him everything, and appointed him apostle. ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ Paul said

1 Timothy 1:15 …Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Grace is favor and kindness shown to someone who doesn’t deserve it, doesn’t want it, isn’t asking for it. Paul never forgot, never lost sight of the fact that ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’. All Christian ministry (if it is truly Christian) is by the grace of God. Not one servant of Christ, not one minister has earned the right to be called a minister. If I am anything at all, it is ‘according to the grace of God given to me’. All I have is a gift, not earned, not deserved, but freely given. It is a treasure, and so I must treasure it. We must never cease to be amazed in wonder at the fact that God calls sinners, sinners like me, sinners like you, into the high calling of service to the living God by sheer unmerited grace.

Skilled Master Builder

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation,

Paul compares his apostolic ministry to the role of a skilled master builder, a wise ἀρχιτέκτων. Only this kind of architect is not the one in the tenth floor office behind a drafting table or CAD screen pumping out reams of detailed engineering drawings but never even visiting the job site. He is the chief craftsman on the job, the master builder overseeing that the whole project is carried out with precision and skill according to plan. He personally, hands on, laid the foundation. The foundation is the first and most essential part of the building project. If the foundation is sound and well laid, the building can be strong and stable. If the foundation is faulty, the structure will sink or crack or fall over. The foundation is all-important in constructing a lasting building. The foundation defines the shape of the building. Many ancient cathedrals were built in the shape of a cross. Once that cross-shaped foundation has been laid, the building must take on that cross shape. It cannot be rectangular or square or round. The foundation sets the limit for the size and shape of the structure that will be placed upon it. To change the shape of the building, you must add to or take away from the foundation.

The Church’s One Foundation

Paul, as a skilled, or literally ‘wise’ master builder laid the foundation. That word ‘wise’ connects us back to his discussion on wisdom in chapters 1 and 2. The Corinthians made a big deal about wisdom, and Paul makes it very clear that God’s wisdom is not the same as man’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is perceived by unbelieving people as foolishness, and what seems to be wise in human understanding, God will destroy and turn upside down and bring to nothing. Paul pointed to the secret and hidden wisdom that he taught, wisdom taught by the Spirit of God, the same wisdom with which he laid the foundation of the church.

Jesus contrasted a wise man who built his house on the rock and a foolish man who built his house on the sand. When the storm came, the wise man’s house withstood because it had been founded on the rock. The foolish man’s house fell, and great was the fall of it. Jesus said:

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Paul claims to be a wise master builder. What is that wisdom? How did he lay the foundation for the church of Corinth as a wise master builder? What is the foundation of every true church? He doesn’t leave us guessing. In verse 11, he says

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the foundation of his church. When Jesus questioned his disciples about his own identity,

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The Holy Spirit revealed wisdom, the rock on which the church is built is Jesus Christ. The identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, according to prophecy both God’s anointed forever King and suffering servant who would substitute himself for his people.

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

The person of Christ as the only Son of the living God, and the work of Christ, what he came to do form the solid rock on which his church is built.

How did Paul, the wise master builder, lay this solid foundation in the church at Corinth? He says

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

He preached the gospel, the good news, the cross of Christ, where the wages of our sin met the justice of a holy God in the person of our substitute, Jesus.

Paul pointed the Ephesian church to this same solid rock.

Ephesians 2:19 …you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

With this Peter agrees.

1 Peter 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

Jesus is the foundation and we are built on him. We as members of the household of God, we as living stones being built up as a spiritual house, are joined together on the one foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

There are many churches, even churches that claim to be Christian, those that bear the name of Christ, that are not built on the foundation of Christ. Imagine a foreman coming up to the job site, and he is impressed with how much progress his workers have made while he has been gone. The building is growing tall. But as he enters the site, he is horrified at what he sees. ‘You morons! The foundation is over there!’ They have been stacking up bricks on the sand. The structure looks impressive, but it is not even on the foundation! All the labor is wasted. We cannot abandon the foundation! We are not at liberty to add to it or take away from it! We cannot add a wing over here to suit our fancy. We cannot dig down and rip out part of the foundation that we aren’t particularly fond of. If we deviate from the foundation of the gospel, the cross, the truth about Jesus, the structure we build might be impressive and draw attention, but it is not the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Take Care How You Build

This is not the problem Paul addressed in the church in Corinth. He believes that they are indeed building on the only solid foundation. Otherwise he would not call them ‘saints’ and ‘the church of God’. For them it is not an issue of what they are building on but how they are building on it.

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.

This is not a warning not to build. The whole point of a foundation is to be the foundation for the structure. Have you ever seen an abandoned foundation? The work was started, the foundation laid, but nothing was ever built on it? That is not what a foundation is for. Paul as a skilled master builder laid the foundation with the intent that it would be built on. The problem is not that someone else is building on Paul’s foundation. Paul is not telling them to stop all work until he returns. But he is saying to pay careful attention to how you build. There can be a deep strong solid foundation, and a lazy, sloppy, half-hearted work crew that builds second rate work on a good foundation.

An Unseen Foundation

An interesting thing about most buildings is that you often can’t see the foundation. You see the structure built on the foundation, but the foundation is hidden under ground. Our foundation is not buried in the ground, but risen and seated at the right hand of his Father on high, but he remains unseen. But everyone can see the people who claim to be build on him. When you look at a building and see major cracks, stones separating and falling out, you can draw some conclusions about the building. Probably the foundation is bad. But it could be that the foundation is good but the builders failed to build well, and their work is falling apart. When the world looks at those who claim to be followers of Jesus and sees fractures and splits and divisions and separations, the assumption is that the foundation is faulty and flawed. When that happens, we are lying about Jesus! We are dishonoring Jesus!

Paul warns the church in Corinth, ‘let each one take care how he builds upon it’. In chapters 12-14 where he addresses the issue of spiritual gifts, he says

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

And he says that the purpose of the gifts is to build up the church, the body of Christ. Every believer has been gifted by God for the common good, for the building up of the body of Christ (cf. Eph.4:12). Each one is responsible for building up the body of Christ. You are building! Building is not optional for the Christian. Even if you don’t show up, you are building. The question is not if you are building, but how you are building.

1 Corinthians 3:10 …Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, 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. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

You and I are building. The question is what is the quality of our work, what kind of materials are we using? Remember, you are not building a thatched roof hut for your mother-in-law; wood, hay and stubble might be appropriate for that. We are building a temple for the King of kings, a dwelling place for the most high God. You don’t build a mud hut on a foundation of the most costly stone. Not only the shape of the building but also the quality and value of the building must match the foundation. There are two kinds of materials; combustible and non-combustible, and they will be made known on the day of judgment by fire. We build with gold, silver, and precious stones when our lives and our conversations and our attitudes are shaped by the gospel. We build with wood, hay and straw when our attitudes, actions and interactions are out of sync with the cross. What kind of advice do you give? On what do you base your decisions? Why do you do what you do? What do you do with your money? What kind of character does your interaction with others foster?

In these verses, Paul is not asking the question if you are saved or not. He is assuming that you are being saved because you have a relationship with Jesus. The issue is will you receive rewards or suffer loss. Remember Paul’s confidence in the Corinthians expressed in the opening of the letter.

1 Corinthians 1:7 …as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But there is a real possibility that we who have trusted in Christ, we who have had our sins forgiven at the cross, we who are being sustained guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, that on that day it will be revealed that we have wasted our life. What a tragedy to find that everything we spent our time on and invested our life in does not hold up under the scrutiny of Jesus. We may spend the remainder of our life heaping rubbish on the precious foundation of Jesus Christ, and thankfully all the rubbish will be incinerated, but we will have nothing to show. How shameful to have this ministry given to us by the grace of God, to have gifts and the infinite resources of gospel wisdom and strength supplied to us by the Holy Spirit and to do nothing with them that is of any eternal significance.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

May 26, 2013 - Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , ,

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