Friday, 2 May 2014
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,… 1 Corinthians 3:12
Paul has been speaking of his laying the foundation at Corinth, the foundation which is Jesus Christ. In time, others like Apollos, had or would come to build upon that message he proclaimed. It is to their work that Paul now directs his attention. He begins with “Now if anyone builds on this foundation…” Again, the foundation is Christ Jesus.
In time, teachers will come and present their words and doctrine concerning Christ. Some will be well-trained, some will be not-so-well trained. Some may be opportunists (Philippians 1:15-18), some may be so far out in left-field that they completely botch their presentation of Christ. However, all are building “on this foundation.” This implies that they are true believers and not heretics proclaiming a false gospel. They are building on the foundation of Christ.
With this in mind, Paul gives six possibilities for their proclamation. In successive order he begins with the most precious and enduring and ends with the least. In each there is a quality that will be measured by a trial. This trial will be seen in the verses ahead. How that quality stands up to the trial is what his words are directed to. But until we arrive there, we can discern a few things about what has been presented. As we look at their qualities, think of them as a sermon, a teaching on doctrine, or the work of someone within the church (even the person in the pew who shares the simple gospel):
1) The first two are metals. They are strong and enduring. They will stand up to heat, constant use, time, the elements, quality tests, molding for specific occasions, etc. They serve multi-purposes, are beautiful, and are treasured by those who own them and those who use them. They are more uncommon than any of the following things. It usually takes much effort to obtain them as they are hidden in the ground or in otherwise hard to access places. They must be refined in order to remove impurities and the refining process can continue to improve them until the metal is of the finest quality of all. When they are so refined, they reflect back the beauty of the beholder perfectly.
2) The third, precious stones, are beautiful. They will stand up to heat, they often become more lustrous through constant use (polishing them), or they can be marred and chipped through over-use. They can withstand the elements very well. They cannot be molded, but are fixed in their make up. Depending on what stone, they may be suited to multi-purposes, but not all are. They are treasured by those who possess them and are a delight to the eyes of those who see them. Depending on the type of stone, it may be difficult to find, or it may be easy to remove from an outcropping of such stones and surrounding material. They do not need to be refined as much as they need to be shaped and polished for maximum luster. When they are so polished, they will often radiate the glory of light through them in a dazzling array of colors.
3) The fourth, wood, is more common than the first three, but there are many types of wood and some are rarer than others. Each wood is suitable for different uses. They will not stand up to high heat well, but some can stand up to the elements better than others. They can be cut and formed into an unlimited number of shapes. They can be left course or polished to an immensely high luster. With a protective coating, they can shine like precious stones. Most woods are easy to obtain and work with. They can be plain to the eye, radiantly adorned with knots or grain, or they can be astonishingly beautiful in natural color with even little grain being noticed. Other than the wood itself, much of what it entails when added into a building is of human effort and shaping. In the end, very few woods last for many ages but eventually degrade over time.
4) The last two, hay and straw, are actually used as building materials, but they are temporary and will not stand up to any excessive heat. Instead they will quickly burn up. The elements will degrade them, they can be easily molded into shapes, even twisted in an unnatural way in order to be used. In and of themselves, they don’t really leave anything to stir either the imagination or please the eye, but if twisted and contorted, they can be woven into marvelously beautiful patterns which direct our attention toward them. Such patterns though are only the result of man’s efforts and were not inherently a part of their make up. Other than very limited and often showy, temporary uses, they are not good for building on a solid foundation.
Life application: In evaluating the elements described above, remember that the qualities of them are being used by Paul in a metaphorical way to describe what we as servants of the Lord either add to the foundation or enjoy once they are added to the foundation. Everything we do for the Lord, or enjoy concerning the Lord (such as a particular form of worship or type of sermon) is considered an addition to the foundation. But every addition will be tested for value and endurance. Let us add wisely.
Heavenly Father, You have shown that everything I do for the cause of Christ has a specific value. It may be very precious, semi-precious, common but acceptable, or very common and not so useful. Help me to wisely use the abilities You have given me to be of the highest quality and value so that they will endure the test at my judgment and come through it as something that was pleasing to You. Help me to use this one life to Your glory. Amen.