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Message # 11 | 1 Corinthians 3:9c-13 | February 21, 2016


Do you believe that what we do in church and as a church has any eternal value? Do you think the work you’ve done within the church will amount to anything in eternity? I would sure imagine you’re all thinking, “Well, I would hope so!” In our passage today, we are sobered by the fact that it is very possible that the work of the church (the building up of the church) can be either laid on the wrong foundation or can be done with perishable materials and amount to nothing of eternal value.

Connect with surrounding context: Paul moves into his second analogy regarding the church. The first analogy used a field. God owns the field and Paul had planted and Apollos had watered, but God was responsible for all the growth. He now moves into a different analogy that communicates a very similar concept. This time . . . the church is represented by a building . . . It’s God’s building, it’s God’s temple. We are the workers building up the structure. Paul laid down the foundation and others are building on top of that foundation. We are all exhorted to take great care in how we build on that foundation.

Laying the foundation of the building corresponds to planting the field. And building on the foundation corresponds to watering the field.

Purpose Statement: Build up God’s Church with great care. [“Let each one take care how he builds upon it.”]

Fallen Condition Focus: We have a tendency to build up our own kingdoms with little thought to the people within the church. We have a tendency to serve within the church with little thought of building up others but instead filling some obligation or desiring to be seen by others . . .

Message Outline

Build On the Right Foundation (3:9c-11)

The right foundation is Christ and His work.

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

1 Corinthians 1:23 (ESV) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

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

1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (ESV) 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

There has been some debate as to whether or not the foundation is Christ himself or the work of Christ. Simply put, for our purposes . . . it’s both. Let’s not separate Christ from his work.

Christ and His work of redemption is the foundation for everything we hold dear:

The foundation for our salvation is in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

The foundation for our abundant life is in Christ.

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The foundation for our peace and joy is in Christ.

John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

The foundation for our strength in the midst of difficulty is in Christ.

Christ is the foundation for our ongoing perseverance and eternal security.

John 10:28 (NAU) . . . they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand

Christ is the foundation for effective and meaningful prayer.

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

Christ’s work allowed for the Spirit’s work of . . . conviction of sin, illumination of the truth of God’s Word, baptism into the body of Christ, our ongoing sanctification (John 16:8)[1]

Our future glorification is founded in the work of Christ.

Romans 8:30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Christ’s resurrection is the foundation for our future heavenly home.

John 14:3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

Eternal life is founded in Christ.

I John 2:24-25 24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

People often attempt to build on something or someone other than Christ.

The context seems to indicate that the believers in Corinth had attempted to lay the foundation of their church life on other people . . . Paul, Apollos, Peter . . . Maybe this is an early example of people misunderstanding or misapplying the passage about Peter and the rock upon which the church is built.

Matthew 16:18 (ESV) 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.

Rock may refer back to Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah. Upon this truth, the church would be built.

Rock may refer to Christ himself. There are other passages where the Messiah is considered to be a rock.

Isaiah 28:16 (ESV) 16 therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

1 Peter 2:8 (ESV) 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Rock may refer to Peter. This appears to be the most natural understanding for the passage. Christ turned to Simon and said, “you are Petros and upon this petra I will build my church.” It is clearly a play on words with petra referring back to petros (Peter).

This interpretation, though, brings with it the most complications. The primary reason we avoid the most natural interpretation is due to the abuse of the Catholic church. This is the main passage in which they find support for the line of the popes beginning with Peter and with him the ability to forgive sins.

We can avoid the errors of the catholic church and still consider Peter to be a rock upon which the Church was built. Doing so does not take away from Christ’s preeminence and as well corresponds to the fact that all the apostles were considered the foundation of the church.

Ephesians 2:19–20 (ESV) 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,

People as well can attempt to build a church on different doctrinal truths – in conflict with Christ. We can establish as a foundation for our church on doctrines that are in direct conflict with Christ and the Gospel, or we can make secondary doctrines of more importance than Christ and the Gospel. Either way, we will find a foundation that is unsteady and will not last.

No other foundation will be effective.

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

Barrett: “Paul does not mean that it would be impossible to construct a community on a different basis, only that such a community will not be the church.”[2]

If anyone attempts to lay a foundation other than Christ and His gospel work, he will craft something that will not last and will not provide those within the rich blessings that accompany Christ.

Matthew 7:24–27 (ESV) 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. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Build With Imperishable Materials (3:12-13)

1 Corinthians 3:12–13 (ESV) 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.

First, note the different materials.

The materials are gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw. These are symbolic for the works done within and for the church as well as the motives for doing that work. Some have offered very creative meanings for the 6 different materials mentioned. In so doing have offered very little to the understanding of this passage. The 6 different materials symbolize two different classes, those which are valuable and will be found to be imperishable when tested by fire . . . and those that are invaluable and will be destroyed when tested by fire. [3]

Prior: “Will the work of Christians in Corinth prove to be what God has done by his Spirit, or what men have erected in their own resources, for their own benefit and glory?”[4]

Thiselton: “elements of self-interest or building for applause or self-gain can turn even the Christian’s building “upon Christ” into hay or straw. Such building would not be Christ-like” . . . “On the other hand, what was offered in the strength of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Christ will have effects that eternally abide within the very existence and praise of the redeemed community and the life of God at the last day.”[5]

When considering your work within and for the church consider . . . (1) Teaching that has no basis in the gospel or no thought towards Christlikeness, (2) Motives that are characterized by self-interests or personal applause, obligation, etc., (3) Ministries that are temporal focused with no eternal value (ie. social concerns devoid of Gospel work).

Second, be aware of the future testing.

“For the Day” most likely refers to the Day of the Lord in which Christ kingdom will be permanently established. He will physically reign forever. He will divide the sheep from the goats . . . and at this point he will judge our (believers) works.

The purpose in this fiery test is not to punish us . . . the unbeliever will endure that fiery test . . . or to destroy us . . . or to even refine us . . . believers endure that refining fire during this life time . . . but that’s not what this is referring to. This test of fire is going to test the value and durability of our earthly works. [6] Even more specifically, in the context of 1 Corinthians, this test is going to be for the way leaders led the church of God.

Christ, while speaking to his disciples in the Olivet Discourse, informs them of this day . . .

Matthew 25:31–41 (ESV) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

[1] John 16:8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;

[2] C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 87.

[3] Morris, Leon (2008-05-16). TNTC 1 Corinthians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 65). Inter-Varsity Press. Kindle Edition. [“Paul lists several materials which may be used for building, and ingenuity has sometimes been exercised in trying to find edifying meanings for them all. Such labour is probably in vain, for Paul seems concerned simply with two classes, the valuable, typified by gold, silver, costly stones, and the worthless, the wood, hay or straw.”]

[4] Prior, David (2014-04-03). The Message of 1 Corinthians (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (Kindle Locations 896-898). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. [He goes on to say, “It is easy to cover up the materials of which a building is made, so that it looks sturdy as well as impressive. The Day will disclose it.”]

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 312–314.

[6] David E Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003), 118. [“Its purpose in this context is not to punish (Jude 7; Rev. 18:8; 19:20; 21:8; and many texts in the OT), or to destroy (Matt. 3:10; 13:40, 42, 50; Heb. 10:27), or to refine (Zech. 13:9; 1 Pet. 1:7), but to disclose the quality of the work of Christians.”]

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