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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Building Stuff (1 Corinthians 3.10-15)

May 4, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell

Today we are going to talk about foundations and what we build on top of them. In Paul’s case, he was addressing the life of the church in the Greek city of Corinth, where different pastors had worked to build a local church. More broadly, his teaching applies to each of us as we build a life, family, career, and church.


First, let’s talk about foundations. Foundations are important. The wrong foundation puts the entire structure at risk. You may remember Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7 about the wise man who built his house upon a rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.

Before we ever get to family, career, church, and life, we must ask what the foundation of our life is. What is at the very core – the bedrock – of our lives? Is it God? Is it ourselves? Is it our appetites? Is it a worshipful and loving obedience to our Savior? It is, perhaps, the ultimate introspective question with the ultimate outward impact. What drives you? What anchors you? What is the foundation?

The Bible makes clear in a number of places that the only secure foundation is Jesus Christ. That simply means that faith in Jesus Christ – belief in and dependency on that amazing story of obedience, sacrifice, and grace – is the only secure foundation for life. Paul says that any other foundation is no foundation at all, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (v. 11) Anything else is, at best, a na├»ve child pretending she can fly with a towel-cape and flapping arms. We can pretend we have another foundation, but the only real and true foundation is Jesus Christ. At worst, we build a house on a foundation doomed to destruction – a house of cards… a house of sand.

Here’s the deal, as simply as I know how to say it: the Bible teaches that the one essential thing we need is a personal knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is through hearing, believing, and trusting the news of God sending Jesus in love to save us that we are rescued from ultimate death and destruction. There is more that God desires for us to build on that foundation, but without Jesus Christ as our foundation, we are lost!

That must be clear before we go any further. Without faith in and love of Jesus Christ at the very heart of who we are, nothing else we do will ultimately matter… nothing.

What We Build

The real meat of this passage is not about the foundation, however, but about what we build on top of it. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, in the context of his having “planted” the church and Apollos serving it subsequently as pastor. He is specifically challenging the church members to be thoughtful and careful about how they build up the church in Corinth. While many decisions might be possible, not all are wise.

Paul extends his analogy to speak of the materials used to “build on” the foundation. He describes gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw. He says that each one contributes to this work in some way. It’s easy to put this into literal context as we drive by and see the beautiful stonework that you have helped put up in the front of our church. This is literally building something beautiful that will last.

But Paul is getting at more than that. He is getting at the things that really build up a local church body. This includes financial support, but more importantly, the spiritual and practical decisions behind the financial picture. Are we building a monument to the founding pastor or the current pastor? That was one of the pressing questions for the church in Corinth. Are we building an icon of Presbyterianism in this city where Presbyterians have done so much?

Or are we physically, materially, and spiritually, a witness to God’s Word and work among the people of this neighborhood? That’s the vision the officers and I believe God has laid before us. Is that what you are building here? Is that the precious jewel God would set into the Jesus-foundation here on Rea Road?

Is the extent of your building showing up and signing the pad each week? Those get thrown away after a while… is there anything lasting about what you and I and we are building in this place?

That’s the first and obvious question this text raises for us as Christians.

What Else We Build

There is more being asked of us here than that, however. Good Shepherd is not the only thing you and I are building (or not building) on the foundation of Jesus Christ. There is also marriage, family, career, and a life-witness. Each of these areas bears scrutiny.

Take marriage first. Paul would always ask first, “Is Jesus Christ the foundation?” Do you and your spouse trust in and love Jesus Christ personally? If not, there is no other more important issue to address. But then, after that question, what are you building on that foundation? Are you, brick by brick, building a marriage that embodies and demonstrates Christ-like love, mutual forbearance, forgiveness, and grace? Do you show your spouse a fraction of the patience, attentiveness, love, and grace that Christ has shown you? Is this news to you about marriage? I hope not. But if you want more to think about, spend some time in the end of Ephesians 5. Or are you building, brick by brick, a wall between you and your spouse? Has marriage become a convenience (or an inconvenience!)? Have you stopped building into your husband or wife, or turned your energies and attentions elsewhere. If you are single, you are not off the hook. These are exactly the questions you should be asking, and the model for marriage that you should be preparing for as you date. Paul raises all these questions in this text, challenging each of us in this crucial building area of marriage.

Consider family. Many of the same things this text teaches about marriage apply to raising children. First, is Jesus the foundation? And then what are you building? Are you teaching your children how to fit into a family or does your life revolve around catering to their needs. [If it’s not clear, the first one is the biblical model!] Do we spend our time with pressing but short-lived conversations about fashion, videogames, what’s for dinner, and school gossip, or are we working hard to find ways to teach our children the story of Jesus Christ, model grace and accountability, and train them in godliness?

Or consider career. It is easy to elevate career as the purpose of our lives. We may even think of it as “our life’s work.” But this text speaks to this as well. Again, we must ask if Jesus Christ is the foundation of our life, even in the area of work. If you’ve heard me teach on the Creation story, you know that work is a form of worship or serving God. From the beginning, God designed work that He might be at the foundation of it. What do we build on top of that foundation of work as service to God? Success? Getting ahead? Making money? Building a reputation? Getting out of the house? There is a lot of straw and hay that we can come up with. What are the jewels? It is possible to work hard in a secular field and honor God’s name. Could it be that is the bottom-line purpose of work?

Let’s look at the consequences of the choices we make about building stuff.

You Get What You Pay For

In essence, scripture teaches us the old lesson that you get what you pay for. All this stuff we build – marriage, family, career, church – can be built cheaply or with great effort and attention to detail. You can slide by for a time in each area, but you’ll get what you pay for. If you build into these areas with “hay and straw” it’s not going to last. That’s what Paul tells us in vv. 13-15. Your works will be tested by time and God’s judgment. God has revealed what is good and right and godly as well as what is insubstantial, cheap, and untrustworthy. Just getting by, the hay and straw, will fail; you will lose in the end, because it won’t last.

Conversely, if you build the stuff of life out of the stuff of God – with quality, intention, wisdom, effort, and grace – God says the work will remain and you will be rewarded. It is not clear whether the reward is a heavenly reward or that of seeing what you have built last, to God’s glory. I do know that the Ephesians passage describes building on the foundation of Christ as a “holy temple… a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” That sounds pretty rewarding to me!

All in all, this text presses the simple question: “How are you spending your life?” The rewards of good choices are straightforward and the cost of going our own way is equally as clear.

Finally, to clarify something, Paul says that even the person who builds poorly will not lose salvation if the foundation of his or her life is Jesus Christ. But that salvation will be one of trial by fire, with everything stripped away. That’s God’s mercy at work, but it’s hardly His desire for any of us. Rather, God’s purpose and desire are that we do something with the treasure we have been given, that we build lives – marriages, families, careers, and faith – that is rewarding because it is blessed; it is “jewels” built on the foundation of Christ.

God encourages us to go build stuff – but the right stuff at the right price and with the right materials. Amen.

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