A Call to Build

We all know the importance of having the right building materials.  I mean, we have it ingrained in our very nature ever since we first heard “The Three Little Pigs” when we were kids.  We also know that it is essential for a structure to be built upon the right foundation.

Yet when it comes to our local churches, we seem to forget all of this knowledge.  I’m not talking about the physical structures we meet in, but in the church, the Body of Christ, the individual members that make up a congregation.

According to Paul, the members of a local church and their leaders are all engaged in “building” that assembly.  He does not take this task lightly, and neither should we.

In his journeys, he had brought the message of the gospel to the Corinthians, and he compares this to laying the right foundation.  He says that “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).   If we are not building the church on Jesus, or only partly on Him, it will fall. 

I remember one house I was installing cabinets in, and they had some serious foundation trouble.  You see, as they were digging down to lay the foundation, they hit bedrock.  The only problem was, it wasn’t under the whole house.  As a result, the house was partly on a rock and partly on clay soil.  The house began to settle, and screws began popping through the drywall like crazy, things began shifting, and a lot of headache ensued…all because the foundation was not right.

So we have to remember that we are building upon Christ alone.  But what exactly do we mean by “building” the church?  This means to personally grow in Christ, to encourage other believers, to take a stand as a congregation for truth, and to live more and more for God’s glory (I have drawn these from 1 Corinthians 1-3).  There are other aspects of this construction, but you get the point.  It is spiritual growth as a collective body, which is only the result of individuals being fully yielded to the Lord.

And here is where Paul’s main point comes in.  He says that, whether we know it or not, we are all helping to build the church we are in.  We can be building with valuable materials, or ones that have no lasting worth.  The materials he lists are first “gold, silver, precious stones,” but then “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:12).

This grouping is very significant, and in many ways.  To begin with, let’s look at the enduring nature of these things.  The first group are elements that endure for a long time, they are solid, they will remain.  The other group, however, ends up rotting and decomposing as time goes on.  Wood takes a lot longer than hay or straw, but the end result is still the same. 

Here is another element of their distinction: the “precious stones” group is unharmed by fire, but the other materials rapidly disintegrate into ashes.  Actually, fire has a purifying effect on the first group.  Not only does the fire not harm or weaken them, it removes impurities, making them more valuable.  Interesting, especially considering what Paul is going to say about fire in just a moment.

The third thing is their appearance.  I have seen some beautiful wood carvings (my former shop teacher was a master at them), but I don’t think there is anyone who says that a pile of straw has more beauty than a sparkling diamond in a gold setting.  The beauty of gold, silver, and precious stones far surpasses the drab vegetation of the second group.

So here we have these two groups of building materials that we choose from.  When we compare them side by side like this, the choice seems pretty clear which ones we ought to choose.  And in case we were still wondering, Paul warns us about the coming judgement that we will face, not for salvation, but for rewards in the coming Kingdom.  He says that those with lasting work “will receive a reward,” but those whose “work is burned up…will suffer loss” (1 Corinthians 3:14, 15).    Paul assures us that he is not talking about a judgement for salvation, for he acknowledges that even the one whose work is destroyed by the test of fire “will be saved,” but that is it (1 Corinthians 3:15).

These are some pretty sobering truths to contemplate, and when we consider them, we see just how important it is for us to choose the right building materials as we help grow our churches.  But how do we choose the right ones?  Let’s begin with talking about a major one we ought to avoid, one that is dealt with extensively in the text.

Context is key in Bible study, and the major topic of the first three chapters of this book (almost every single verse) is about divisions within a local church.  The problem was that there were some who were holding fast to the traditional system, refusing to do anything new.  There were others focused solely on whatever new, charismatic leader came across the Christian scene.   There were also a group who held rigidly to legalism.  And then of course, you had the self-righteous group who claimed that they followed Christ alone, looking down on all the more “immature” who followed human leaders.  The result? Extreme divisiveness and quarreling that stunted the growth of the entire church (1 Corinthians 1:11, 12; 3:1-4).   In fact, Paul goes so far to say that they were acting like unbelievers (1 Corinthians 2:6, 14, 15; 3:1).  Ouch!

Now Paul was not advocating an ecumenical movement where we just “love” everybody and don’t talk about any differences.  Rather, he was saying that these believers had gotten their eyes off of Christ, fixated upon human leaders, and disintegrated into cliques.  That still happens today, and just like then, we are building with wood, hay, and straw when we do so.

So that’s what not to do—how about the positive of this?  As the letter of 1 Corinthians goes on, Paul gives several instructions, but here’s a good, concise one:

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

1 Corinthians 16:13, 14

That really sums up a lot of what we should be about. We do need to be on guard against sins and false doctrine.  Not with a Nazi-type attitude, but because we have a pure love for the truth.  And because we love that truth, we need to stand firm in it, not wavering in what we believe.  Our faith is settled, and we should act like we believe that to be true.  This all takes courage, but God will give us the strength we need through the Spirit.

And what ties this all together is love.  Not the fluffy, over look sin, pat-on-the-back kind of love.  But a sincere, selfless, devoted kind of love that Christ Himself exemplified.  This demonstrates to the world that we do indeed belong to Him, and it is the “perfect bond of unity” (John 13:34, 35; John 15:12, 13; Colossians 3:14).  This is the antidote to division, this Christ-like love that we ought to demonstrate, and it is the “precious stones” we use to help build up the church.

Of course, there are many other things that are good building materials, but this binding love is a huge part of it.  We can get so distracted by secondary things, things that pull us away from our primary focus and break up our unity.  We cannot afford to let that happen.  We are given a task, a holy task, and we must seek to fulfill it by rejecting divisiveness and building up the Church in true, selfless, and sacrificial love.

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