We’re building a house for my mother just now–well, we’re supervising anyway. Every part of the house is important, but without a good foundation, nothing else matters. You have to start with a good foundation or you’ve got nothing but a big pile of garbage. Of course, the rest of the house is also important to the foundation. If the foundation isn’t covered fairly quickly (preferably by a house), the wind and weather start to break it up until it’s ruined.
In 1 Corinthians 3:5-17, Paul talks about foundations and building materials–an analogy that’s just as relevant to us today as it was to the Corinthians. He starts out, though, with gardening.
Paul is again trying to emphasize to the Corinthians that there is nothing special about himself or Apollos (or any of the other church leaders). Paul planted, Apollos watered. Paul originally brought the seed of God’s word to the Corinthians, and Apollos watered that seed with his care, teaching, prayer, leadership, etc. God, however, made the seed grow. Without the life force in the word (seed), there could be no growth. Certainly the works of Paul and Apollos were important. God had given them this work to do, and without it, the life force in the seed could not have been planted or nurtured in the Corinthian church.
As a side note, Paul does not say, “We did this, as God commanded, but we don’t want the reward.” He simply acknowledges that he and Apollos will receive a reward for their work. It is okay to look forward to the reward our Father promises us for our faithfulness to Him (though He makes it possible for us to be faithful). He is so gracious as to reward us. When someone, particularly someone far greater than us, wants to give us a reward, we don’t wave it off and say, “I did it because it was right, not for a reward.” We humbly bow our heads and say, “Thank you”.
God allows us to be His co-workers. We give our children things to do–not because we can’t do the same things better (well, at least non-techie things), but because we want to involve them and teach them. As they get more mature, their involvement becomes more and more helpful. They can contribute things we may not be able to do. Of course, we don’t get to that point with God, as He is infinitely capable, but we can get to the point that we are able to be His co-workers. And what is the work? To build up His field, His building, His church.
Paul laid the foundation, planted the seed, started the work of the church in Corinth. Vital work, and work that must be done first. Adding a foundation after the walls are built is nearly impossible. Of course, without proper protection, foundations already built can crumble. I wonder how many churches in the world today have lost their foundations? How many churches are not founded on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but on good works such as promoting social justice or electing the right politicians or creating a social framework for community? None of these are bad things. They’re just not the main thing. They’re not foundational. They can’t hold the church up.
Once the foundation is laid, many others may build on it. We’re all expected to build the church on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Paul exhorts us to be careful how we build. Is it possible to spend a life working in and for the church only to see it all go up in smoke like so much wood, hay, and stubble? Even if we’re doing good things, we must constantly ask ourselves whether the things we’re doing are what God has given us to do. If God has directed me to minister to the homeless, what am I doing organizing a church-wide cookie exchange instead? I won’t lose my salvation as a result, but my works (along with my reward) will go up in smoke on “the Day” (the day of judgement of the saints) and I will escape as though running from a burning building.
I have a friend whose house burned down. She and her husband saved their lives and their children and dogs. Everything else was lost. They were shivering out in the cold in their pj’s. This is not what God wants for us. He wants us to enjoy the reward He wants to give us. Let’s be careful to build with gold, silver, and costly stones (tasks He has given us to do) rather than wood, hay, and stubble (tasks we have chosen for ourselves).
God truly lives in His people. We Christians have heard this for so long and in such a casual way that it doesn’t register anymore. We are God’s sanctuary or temple. God’s spirit lives in us. That is a big deal. He lives in each of us who belong to Him, and He lives in us corporately as the church. We must consider ourselves to be holy, set apart for God.
Think about that next time you choose movies to watch or books to read. Think about it when you’re tempted to say hurtful words to a loved one or look at things hurtful to your spirit. God takes this seriously. Paul says God will ruin us if we ruin His sanctuary–whether ourselves individually or the church as a whole. The word ruin can also translate; deprave, defile, corrupt, or destroy. Don’t do things that defile you. You are God’s temple. Don’t do or say things that corrupt the pure Word of God to His church. God will not overlook it. He takes this building project seriously. He’s building your life and your future with Him, and He intends for it to be built right. He loves you.