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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Building a Holy Temple (1 Corinthians 3.10-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 12, 2017 - 1 Corinthians 3:10-17

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Breathe on Us (Kari Jobe, Ed Cash)
In the Beauty of Holiness (Robin Mark)
Choir: Santo, Santo, Santo (arr. Parrish)
Great is Thy Faithfulness (AURELIA)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Last week we talked about the heart of being human. Jesus said that what we treasure – what we pursue, protect, and prioritize – indicates what is at the heart of who we are. He used body imagery to help us understand this. He also spoke of the eye, saying that our vision – where we set our eyes – also indicates what is going on in our heart. This week we shift from body imagery to building imagery, but the scripture is talking about very similar issues. Rather than speak of the eye or the heart, Jesus and Paul now talk about foundations, materials, and the building plan.

There is also a shift in vantage point from last week to this one. Last week more asked the question, “Where are you going?” But this week asks the question, “Where have you been and where are you now?” In both cases, the purpose of asking is not to wag my finger and say, “Shame on you,” but to invite self-evaluation and the question, “Am I following and serving Jesus in the way that I want (and the way that he invites)?”

So, let’s consider this building imagery and the question God asks us through it.

Foundation (v.11 and Mt. 7)

This passage in 1 Corinthians 3 begins with verses we talked about several weeks ago. The Apostle Paul is writing to the early church in Corinth, which is dealing with jealousy, strife, and factions within the church (vv.3-4). He writes that they are spiritually immature, still “infants in Christ” who are nursing rather than moving on to solid food. Some say they “belong to Paul” as the founding pastor. Others look to Apollos, a second pastor, and allegiances are divided. Paul hears of this and counters, saying that it all belongs to God – the pastors, the people, and fields, the buildings. (v.9) And that leads to the scripture we heard this morning. After beginning with the body metaphor of infant/grown and milk vs. solid food, Paul moves into building imagery to challenge the Corinthians to grow up in Christ and to build their lives and their church on Him.

So he says very plainly what Jesus taught by parable in Matthew 7. Paul says, “No one can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (v.11) Otherwise, the plain implication is that it will crumble. Jesus told a short parable with the same point. A wise many built a house on rock and a foolish man on sand. When the storms came, the house on sand fell and was destroyed. Jesus said that the ‘rock’ was His words. Those who act on them are like the wise builder who built on rock. Paul agrees – there is no other foundation that will hold up.

What does that mean? Think about what a foundation does. It’s the base of everything built on it. If it’s not solid, if it’s not trustworthy, the whole structure can be put at risk, as in Jesus’ parable. If this is a metaphor for our lives, what does that mean for us? We’ve noted before that the Bible says the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. People of faith get sick, endure literal and figurative storms, and the like. But it’s the foundation that can be different. It’s easy to treat Jesus and faith as a kind of “bonus room” in the house that is our life. But that’s not what’s pictured here. Paul asks: Is Jesus your foundation? If not, what is? That’s what we mean when we ask, “Who is your Lord and Savior?” Savior is saving one and Lord is the one to whom all of life is owed. He does not sit in a corner room on the shelf, but is foundational to all we say and do – all we are.

Materials (vv.12-13)

Paul writes of “building on the foundation” in reference to Apollos and others in the church. But his words are applicable to an individual’s life as well as to the church. Remember the children’s story of the three little pigs? It mattered what materials they used. One built a house of straw; one built a house of wood; and one built a house of brick. Paul’s point is similar when he lists gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw. And it is a point similar to Jesus’ parable of the foundation. Some materials endure better than others. It’s entirely possible to profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and then use shabby materials as you build different aspects of your life. (Or the separate issues of “You have a very nice foundation over there… why did you go spend years out camping in the woods or sleeping with the pigs.” That’s the prodigal story, which we’ll tell another time.)

But in this passage, Jesus may be the foundation, but we may have constructed a ‘house’ of unsubstantial materials. Or we may have some of the house built with better materials but a few walls or rooms that are straw. I remember seeing homes destroyed after the Katrina flooding on the Gulf Shore. In some cases all that was left standing was the foundation and a brick chimney. Plaster and drywall and even wood were rotted out or washed away.

While we believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, God does make clear that it matters how we live our lives. It is entirely possible to build wisely around the foundational fact of our salvation in Christ. And it is entirely possible to build haphazardly and relying on flimsier “materials” like pride, reputation, lies, or worse. And Paul says that such decisions, such “materials” will become evident when tested.

As you grow up, work, perhaps marry or have a family, establish a reputation, relate as a neighbor, function as a citizen, and 100 other ways you live in the world, Paul asks: With what are you building your life? Is it stuff that lasts? Is it of a quality and character that honors Christ?

Building Plan (v.10)

Paul will go on to describe the community in Corinth as a “holy temple” where God’s Spirit dwells. (v.16) And he offers strong warning against any who would tear down the work of building that church. (v.17) In contrast to that intentional tearing down or the result of using poor materials or the result of building on a faulty foundation, let’s look back to Paul’s initial words in v. 10.

There Paul writes, “…each [one] must be careful how he builds on [the foundation].” Whether talking about the local community of faith, as Paul was, or making application into our individual lives, this is good and godly counsel: Be careful how you build.

Start with the foundation: Is it Jesus as Lord and Savior? If not, it’s not too late to re-build.

Consider the materials: Are they good and God-honoring and wise? If not, it’s not too late to renovate.

Let me offer two additional words of encouragement on rebuilding and renovating. In building terms (and even more in life) it probably always feels too late to re-build. But if you count the cost, how can you not? If you have built half a house and find out your foundation is shaky or failing or on a sinkhole, it would be foolish to keep going. You think, “I’ve already put so much time and money and effort in!” But consider the greater cost. It’s not too late to start over with Jesus. And renovations are a pain! I know it. They make a mess before they make things better. But if you’ve got mold, or termite infestation, or a cracking wall, or sagging supports… renovate! It will be worth it in the long run. Pulling up long-established patterns or habits can be painful and messy. But spiritual and real-life renovation is worth it if you replace it with something good and godly.

And have a plan: What does your “holy Temple” look like? What is its purpose? This is your life I’m talking about… Why are you here (on Earth)? What is your purpose? What is your calling? What is your plan? Or let me say that better: God has a plan. Do you know what that is? Why God has you here… what God wants you to do? Where God is calling you? It may be that identifying that plan is what leads to re-building or renovation. It doesn’t make sense to add-on or build up if there is something rotten or weak that needs attention. But take time to ask the question and consider God’s answer.


There is a theological word for following God’s building plans – whether for a community or an individual. That words is “consecration.” It means to set apart as distinctly for and of God. That’s my invitation to you today: God has a plan for you and for us. Will you commit to being a part, to doing the work necessary to be a part even if that means rebuilding or renovating? Because at heart, God’s plan is to include you… in community… with Him. Isn’t that amazing? Even if the walls are moldy and the house is caving in… God’s PLAN and God’s desire is to include you in community with Him. What do you do with that?

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