No Other Foundation
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
If you recall in my last message I said that the purpose of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was to address the many issues which had begun to plague them and thus bring order out of chaos. In this chapter we see Paul begin to address one problem in particular which had manifested itself in the church of Corinth. The particular issue we see in this chapter is divisions within the church.
It’s interesting that we see here that some people were saying (and even identifying themselves) that they were of Paul and others were of Apollos and yet we know that believers were first called Christians in Antioch and indeed we also know that it is after Christ that the whole family of God in heaven and earth is named (Ephesians 3:15). Rather than spending a ridiculous amount of time dealing with the politics we see Paul once again unify the church according to the truth of the gospel.
Sadly, the church of Corinth had given in to their fleshly natures; Paul though he wished he could speak to them as spiritual; says he could not as they were as carnal. The term carnal Christian is a controversial one (cf. Romans 8:5-7). What I believe Paul is saying here is that despite being believers, they were behaving like unbelievers and that is a terrible indictment to a people he hoped would seek to become Christ-like.
Throughout the chapter, the Holy Spirit uses the picture or imagery of construction in order to convey his message: we see builders, we see the Foundation, we see the building, we see the building materials and by implication we see the Building Inspector; all of which when applied spiritually conveys the lesson that the Lord wants to teach us about our lives here on earth and in the world to come.
As believers the thought of wasting the new life that God has given us should not be a pleasant one. We are expected to redeem the time and bear fruit for him; there is certainly enough scripture which points to this fact. And so then, how do we build our lives?
We Build With God
“For we are labourers together with God” v9
If we are expected to bear fruit then we can be certain that without the Lord and in particular his grace, we can do nothing. Paul highlights this here: “For we are labourers together with God”
He is (himself) conscious that he has been called to a higher purpose.
[Turn to Philippians 3:12-14]
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul was ever cautious with regard to labouring in vain and it is therefore no surprise that he emphasizes the fact that we must be labourers with God and not independent from him. Paul’s labours in the work of the Lord had to begin with a tearing down of the things which were established prior to his conversion; and which he now counted as loss.
The very thought of being labourers together with God, isn’t something to be taken lightly and certainly for Paul it was considered an extreme privilege. Notice that he refers to it as a high calling and therefore it was something that he diligently pursued. At the time he wrote Philippians, he never considered that the work was done but was determined to completely fulfil the plan which God had for his life. Eventually he would say that he had finished his course, having poured out his life (literally); fighting the good fight.
Yes he laboured together with God!!
On the other hand we see in Psalm 127
A Song of degrees for Solomon. Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. (Psalms 127:1)
The result of working independently from God is seen in this psalm; it is futile, empty and worthless. Jesus spells it out clearly for us when he says: apart from me ye can do NOTHING. Conversely, if we labour together with God we have his promise (God does not lie) that our lives will bear fruit.
There are people in this world that might derive a sense of pride working for a company such as “Grocon”. And there are movies such as “The Blues Brothers” which mock the work of the Lord by using lines like: “I’m on a mission from God”. Yet the scripture says of believers that by virtue of our faith in Jesus we too are labourers together with God and something we shouldn’t be complacent about. This is not an automatic process however; it must be a deliberate and prayerful one as we commit our ways to him daily.
We have an example given to us in Genesis 11 with regard to the Tower of Babel and I think it is an important one. In seeking to build something pleasing to God; thus reaching unto God and possibly getting his attention in a praise-worthy manner, they actually achieved the opposite effect. We see that the Lord’s response was to confound the languages and thwart the efforts of those building what God regarded as an abomination.
There was nothing praise worthy at all about the Tower of Babel; it was founded on man’s pride and perceived ability to achieve something great. As outside observers we may well say that there efforts were foolish; supposing that they could reach God in this way. If there is anything that we ought to learn it is this: the only way to God is through Jesus; this takes humility and not pride or self-sufficiency. If there is anything we ought to learn from this; it is that the only way to please God is through the example given to us by the Lord Jesus which is humility and submission.
We are built by God
“Ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” v9
By virtue of our physical creation we belong to God. There is no escaping this; regardless of evolutionary theory. Our Maker has automatic ownership; just as the maker of any created thing, so does God have ownership of us. Whether or not we acknowledge this is irrelevant. The real question we need to ask is not “Who am I” but “Who’s am I”.
And now by virtue of the second birth they (the church of Corinth) are new creatures in Christ. For a time their lives were held hostage by the enemy of their souls; Satan who is a liar and a thief. Their lives had been built on his foundation and not the Lord. They now have, because of God’s grace, been given the opportunity to re-build their lives on a solid foundation.
In Ephesians, Paul reiterates this rebuilding of lives by God when he says:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:10)
As born again believers it is nigh impossible for them to ignore the fact that God had done something amazing in their lives; yet in appealing to their hearts he does remind them of this fact.
In order to submit to His Lordship, Paul must remind them that they are indeed the Lord’s and possibly invoke a degree of holy fear.
With regard to the building to which Paul refers, scripture gives us these illustrations: Firstly of the tabernacle (under Moses) and then Solomon’s temple and finally the millennial temple (Ezekiel). With each of these, the Lord provides a pattern or directions for their construction. Similarly, believers being the temple of the Holy Spirit also have a pattern to conform to; that (of course) is the image of Christ.
Not only individually are they God’s building but also corporately as we see in
To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Being part of that spiritual house there is a sense of believers belonging to one another. Whilst this suggests accountability (this is certainly true), we must remember that we are motivated by our love for the Lord, our love one toward another and also God’s love toward us.
As much as we are exhorted to live for him; this might suggest that we are forced to submit. Not so: The Lord leads, he doesn’t push or drag us. In submitting to the Lord we are also able to rest in him. Remember, the clay doesn’t struggle to get out of the hand of the potter; it is passive throughout; yet at the end of the process we have a perfectly formed vessel. (We are built by God)
Nevertheless we do well to remember that our lives are not our own but that we have been bought with a price; that price being the blood of our Lord. For this reason we should continually submit our lives to him and continue to cooperate with the work that the Lord desires to do in our lives.
Because of God’s mercy toward us, we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice in order to undergo that transformation process. It is then that we will truly know the will of God and thus our lives will bear fruit.
We Build Through God
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. v10
If anyone had cause to boast it was the apostle Paul; yet he declares “There is no good thing in me” with the important exception of the indwelling of God’s Spirit. It is only because of this working of the Holy Spirit that Paul could even hope to do something worthwhile for God.
As I read before, Paul says in Ephesians:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
Looking at this verse in its entirety we see: It is only because of the work of Christ in us that God enables us to do the work of Christ by us; and thus it is through him.
Just as he tells them that they labour with God, similarly we are told by Paul that he has built through God (according to his grace). Although these two concepts seem the same it is important to distinguish them because this identifies the method by which he built (according to his grace).
If believers were motivated by anything other than grace, the continued work of God could not have been founded on the doctrine of Christ. Paul took great pain to reinforce this fact: that (believers) were no longer under the law but under grace through the ministration of the Holy Spirit.
[Turn to Galatians 3:1-4]
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. Galatians 3:1-4
This is foolishness indeed and there are so many pitfalls with regard to falling into this error. In terms of our message we immediately see that a wrong motivation equals a wrong foundation. He makes the distinction in regard to sanctification; that it is through the grace of God.
They are not as Paul puts it being made perfect by the flesh. For this reason Paul (by the grace of God) was meticulous to keep the doctrines pure and the word of God uncorrupted.
I think it is safe to say that in our natural fleshly state we are not qualified to do anything worthwhile for God and therefore Paul highlights the importance of God’s grace.
Notice that Paul says “According to the grace of God”; this must be seen as a comfort to us as believers because the Lord does not expect us to do something that he isn’t prepared to empower us to do. We were powerless to save ourselves and thus we should continue to rely on his power to be sufficient in our weakness.
Looking back at our text in Corinthians 3 verse 10; it comes with the warning [it is a warning to all] to “take heed how he buildeth”; we do have a building code. This is also a comfort because if we heed his warning we are likely to be led by him toward the things which he has ordained us to do and by the means in which we ought to do them [by his grace].
If this is true then we should be deliberately seeking God’s grace to transform our lives; completely relying on it. Our work for the Lord (and it might take many forms depending on our gifts) should be carried out not as the fulfilling of some religious duty but joyfully and out of love for him.
We Build on God
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ v11.
Here Paul brings to our attention the most critical point of this passage for two reasons and highlights the fact that Jesus is the foundation. Firstly I say critical because without this foundation everything else is irrelevant (x2). If you don’t know Christ as Saviour then you need to pay special attention. Secondly as the church rushes headlong into apostasy we see the foundation shift from God to man. We only need look at the church of Laodicea; the name itself means lead by the people or the laity.
As believers, we know the unique position the Person of Christ holds in regard to our salvation. He is without a doubt the author and finisher of our faith. This being the case it is imperative that if a foundation be laid, we ought to know who Jesus is and who he is not. Make no mistake there is no other foundation on which we can build and which is approved of God.
Discrepancy regarding the person of Jesus shouldn’t be a strange concept for us, since we are told in scripture of the possibility of being presented with “another Jesus” and “another gospel”.
We also know that Jesus is a stumbling block to the Jew, to the Muslim, to the New Ager and for that matter everyone who does not know him as their Lord and Saviour.
(The preaching of the cross is foolishness…)
Therefore throughout his word, the Lord makes particular emphasis in regard to Christ and rightly so:
It is the Word who is Christ and who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to secure our salvation (John 1:1).
It is the person of Christ in whose name we believe on for salvation (Acts 4:12, Philippians 2:9)
It is the gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation (Romans1:16)
These three truths are as inseparable as the union which exists within the Godhead.
I cannot over-emphasize this fact. When Jesus says “I am”; seven times no less in the gospel of John he is echoing the voice of the burning bush in Exodus; the Lord speaking to Moses saying “I am that I am”. Therefore Jesus is who he is (the same yesterday, today and forever) and by virtue of his word which has been preserved and revealed to us we can know him personally. Therefore we do well to take to heart the words of that ancient Celtic hymn “Be Thou my vision” which states quite plainly “nought be all else to me save that Thou art”.
Another Jesus will not suffice. If we are deceived into trusting in a Jesus who is separate from his word; one that is taken completely out of context with the whole of scripture; then we run the risk of jeopardizing our faith.
There are many foundations on which a person can build his or her life; these might include: education, career, financial success, the approval of others etc. etc. All of these foundations; as meritorious as they might seem are self-centred foundations and are entirely dependent on the ability and strength of the builder (yourself) in some cases and in other cases they are dependent on the strength of the person or object upon which we have built (others).
[Turn to Luke 6:47-49]
Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and *digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
Luke 6:47-48 [keep your finger there as we will be looking at vv 21-23 shortly]
Jesus tells us to build on the rock which is the Lord himself (and in particular his word); in doing so we will not only withstand the storms of life but it is this foundation that is suitable for the house that he desires to build. It is strong and able to withstand the weight of all that we might build. The Lord plainly says that those who build not on him as their foundation are building with no foundation at all. It is no wonder that Paul emphatically states the same; that there is NO other foundation.
It makes perfect sense that we ought to be able to trust that foundation. Learning to trust and obey the Lord is such a critical part of our lives as Christians; yet the temptation would be to exclude him from certain areas of our lives. The worst-case scenario is that we become “Sunday only” Christians. We are commanded to acknowledge him in all (not just some) our ways and yet the inconceivable is that he is barely acknowledged at all.
We ought also to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In regard to our Lord, (as I said) these three things [the Person, the word and the gospel of Christ] cannot be separated or distorted. Therefore it is in Satan’s best interest to do so; that is to distort them. He seeks to tarnish or change the image of Christ and also to prevent that image being formed in us. He loves nothing better than to see Christ’s glory being diminished and his light being dimmed in the life of believers; predominantly through sin but also through idolatry or the worship of another Jesus or the focus on another gospel or the reading of a corrupt word of God.
In Psalms we read:
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalms 11:3)
Satan seeks to destroy these foundations which because of their intrinsic connection are really one foundation. Being aware of this, the simple remedy is to commit ourselves to the reading, study and application of God’s perfect word.
If then, we know that Satan wants to knock us off or tempt us to leave our foundation; to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
[Turn to Matthew 7:21-23]
This passage has to contain the 4 most frightening words in the entire bible. Incredibly in this section of the bible from Matthew 7:15-27 we see the false teacher, the false fruit, the false foundation and the false converts.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
The tragedy here is that these people will be convinced that they had the right foundation (Christ) and that they had indeed built on that foundation with gold, silver and precious gems.
You can fill in the blanks yourself here where the Lord says prophesy, caste out Devils and done many wonderful works. You could easily fill in the blanks with e.g. fed the poor, gave money to charity or went to church and fasted three times a week. All our righteousnesses are filthy rags; only the righteousness of Christ matters.
Ironically they had built their house upside-down; they attempted to build the house first and then place the foundation on top claiming that their deeds were done in Christ’s name. We know what would happen in this instance; if you were to drop a foundation on top of your house. It would collapse and be crushed. And this is exactly what Jesus says: fall on the rock lest the rock fall on you and grind you to powder.
How wrong can you be and with irreversible consequences!! This truly emphasizes the importance of examining yourself to see if you are indeed in the faith. The difference between hearing the words well done good and faithful servant and depart from me, I never knew you is immeasurable.
Our Work is tested by God
Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
Our work for the Lord will be tested: it will be tested for quality, it will be tested for purity, and it will be tested for durability.
The quality of our work should match the quality of the foundation on which it is built. If we were to pour a massive slab to a depth required to build a two storey mansion, would we built a cubby house or a tin shack on it? It would look ridiculous wouldn’t it?
Similarly the matchless worth of our Lord Jesus Christ should compel us to build according to the quality of the foundation which is Christ.
Nothing is hidden from God and there will come a day when all our deeds will be revealed by God; as Paul says “the day shall declare it”; what day is this but judgement day. And so not only will our works be revealed but also judged. This has to be a sobering thought for many reasons because not only is our work for the Lord tested or graded but more particularly the motives in which we do so. Given that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, it is very possible to do good deeds for the praise of men.
[Turn to Matthew 6:1-2]
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Knowing the deceitfulness of our heart and its motives it is better to examine and be examined progressively rather than wait until it is too late. We cannot praise God enough for his word because of all of the things it is to us; it judges and examines our hearts.
[Turn to Hebrews 4:12-13]
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
These two verses are quite compelling because even though it might be possible to live our lives as though God can’t see us, if we are constantly in his word then we remain aware of his presence; and our hearts and minds will be regularly focussed on him.
God’s word is definitely able to keep us humble because we are (for one thing) reminded of the holiness of God; our hearts so easily forget who God is.
The danger for us as believers is when we focus on ourselves and others and not on God and his perspective. When it comes to motive, the question we need to ask is this: Are we seeking to please God or man? This decides the purity of our work.
And so it is that fire reveals the true nature of our work and it is those things which aren’t consumed by the fire for which we are rewarded; gold, silver and precious stones. Wood, hay and stubble quite obviously are those things which do not abide.
This is the durability of our work; these are the things we do for the Lord which are of eternal value. Do they really matter to God? We could go back and look at the Tower of Babel again; if we built a mega-church with thousands of people attending each week would it really matter to God if the word of God wasn’t being preached faithfully. I think not.
We have a bible filled with things that matter to God; we just have to read it.
We are rewarded by God
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. vv 14-15
Having been tested by fire to see if our works have substance, we are rewarded for the work which survives the testing process (gold, silver and precious stones).
There is work that abides and it is this work which we are rewarded for.
Even the simplest thing if done with the right motive, carries a reward.
For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. (Mark 9:41)
With this in mind we must be aware that even the smallest things can have eternal consequences. We don’t have to invent opportunities to bless people but we do have to be attentive to them.
Jesus does however exhort us to be profitable servants (and not *like the unprofitable servant) and so it stands to reason that if we are to be rewarded then we ought to be of valuable service to him; salvation though it is a gift we cannot expect to be rewarded for laziness. [* I make the distinction LIKE the unprofitable servant because in the parable of the talents he is clearly unsaved]
There are some which would use the principle of service and reward to manipulate their congregation to serve God and in the end their motives would not be pure. God loves a cheerful giver.
But to be honest we don’t work for reward’s sake; nevertheless, the greatest loss will be standing before the Lord empty handed; especially knowing that we were saved for a purpose. And this is what motivates us.
[Turn to Revelation 4:9-11]
And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
Paul rounds off the chapter with a lesson on wisdom, which underpins all that went before; after all we are told that wisdom and understanding is more precious than silver or gold. Therefore if we seek and apply the wisdom of God as gained from his word, the principles which we have seen will be manifest in our lives.
In many respects Paul has given us a blue-print in regards to the church and the work that we are to undertake (preaches the gospel and make disciples of all men). This is particularly important as we see ourselves living deeper into days of apostasy; a falling away from the word of God and the truth of the gospel message.
If I have done any justice to the scripture today then I pray that you would be compelled to live for Christ every day. It all starts and finishes with him. Allow God to check your foundation and any structure that you have been building on it (metaphorically speaking).
But if you have been challenged by this message, there are two possibilities:
The first possibility is that you have no foundation or it has become apparent that the foundation that you do have is the wrong one; in which case you really need to seek the Lord and turn to him as that foundation. The process of turning to God is called repentance and the reason we should be compelled to repent is the realization of sin which has separated us from God.
It is not an easy thing to step off the familiar ground which we are standing on; and the uncertainty of stepping into the unknown can be quite daunting.
There is a story in the bible about a group of people who, after listening to Jesus speak, turned away because of the difficulty of accepting his words as being true. Jesus asks his disciples if they would leave also. His disciples however remained with him; Peter responding thus:
“…Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life”. (John 6:68)
Jesus truly has the words of eternal life.
The second possibility is that you have realized that your building is being built from the wrong materials. It will take a brave yet humble person to admit this but it is worth it and best done before it is too late. As I said before the greatest loss will be standing before the Lord empty-handed.
At the end of our building process; being built by God and building with through and on him it will be such an awesome thing to profess (and I finish with these words):
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.