As A Wise Master Builder
1 Corinthians 3:10-17
One can only begin to imagine the spectacle when, during the reign of Solomon,
the son of David, the carpenters, craftsmen, stonecutters and other workmen
assembled their tools and materials at Jerusalem and began to build the temple.
There were 70,000 men whose jobs it was to carry loads back and forth, 80,000 to
quarry stone in the mountains, and 3600 supervisors. Upon the completion of the
massive temple site, of which the temple proper was only a small part, there was
a dedication of the temple. All things had been constructed according to the
pattern that had been given to David and passed on to Solomon from the Lord. The
Scriptures say that a cloud filled the temple, for "the glory of the LORD filled
the house of God." (2 Chronicles 5:14).
That ancient temple is long gone, destroyed by the Babylonians. A new one was built upon the return from exile under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra, and then added to by Herod years later. It, too, was destroyed, this time by the Romans.
But the people of God have not gotten out of the temple building business. Neither have the enemies of God gotten out of the temple destroying business.
"According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other that the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." (1 Corinthians 3:10-17).
"According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder..." (1 Corinthians 3:10a).
First, we are all to be "wise master builders" as far as the temple is concerned. By God's grace, each one of us have been given heaven's blessings. Our past sins are remembered no more. Our present failings are provided for as well, when dealt with according to God's plan, which is to repent of them, and confess them to Him through Christ. As we walk by faith, our salvation in Christ is secure.
How did it all happen? Not by accident, neither by any plan originating in the mind of any man, but rather, this grace is according to God's eternal purpose. It is His plan (Ephesians 3:7-11).
The first thing we need to do to be "wise" master builders is to build according to God's plan, not ours. Let the same be said of each one of us as it was said of the temple builders of Nehemiah's day; "'Let us arise and build!' So they put their hands to the good work." (Nehemiah 2:18b).
"I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other that the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:10b-11)
Paul initially laid the foundation of this new, different kind of temple when he first took the gospel to Corinth. It had never been taught before in that city, so Paul was beginning a new work. But Paul's ministry had taken him elsewhere, to other communities, and others had continued building upon what Paul had begun. But no matter who is the builder, there is still only one foundation to the Lord's temple; that is, Jesus.
Of course, when we speak of Christ as the foundation, we include the words of Paul and the rest of the apostles because this is what Jesus intended when He chose them as apostles. He sent His Spirit to guide them in revealing all truth. One cannot separate the words of the apostles from the foundation of Christ, which is precisely the error of many today who think they can (John 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) "...but you are fellow citizens with the saints...having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple of the Lord..." (Ephesians 2:19b-21).
Reward or Loss?
"Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
As we seek to bring the lost to Christ, and members are added to the body (or better yet, going with the temple parallel, stones are added to the building), we are all aware that sometimes converts do not stay, and sometimes they do.
The quality of the convert will ultimately be tested and proven, one way or the other. The test might be in the form of persecution or hardship, or it might be in temptation. The failure might be due to moral sin, fear or just simple neglect or apathy. But everybody has their test. It is the nature of the world in which we live that faith will be tested.
If someone I have brought to Christ is tested and prove themselves faithful, I receive a reward. Some suggest that this means "an extra star in my crown" but it could merely refer to joy and peace that is reaped in my spirit over the faithfulness of someone I have influenced (1 Thessalonians 2:19,20; 3 John 4).
However, if someone I have brought to Christ falls away when "the fire" strikes, then I suffer loss. It causes grief, but if I have been a faithful worker, though I suffer loss, I am still saved, but only if I remain faithful through my own fiery test (Hebrews 11:35-39).
The Temple of God
"Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." (1 Corinthians 3:16,17).
The Bible talks of the individual Christian being a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19,20) but here it is the local church that is said to be God's temple. Outsiders may seek to destroy the temple, or local church, by persecution, but even members can destroy the temple of God by false teaching, immorality, selfishness, gossip, factionalism or even apathy and neglect. Paul's point here is not so much about outsiders wreaking havoc on the Lord's people as it is about the destruction coming from within.
God will judge us according to our labors with reference to the local church, His temple. We must build the local church the way God wants it built. If we neglect this great duty toward that which is "holy", then instead of "wise master builders" we will only be foolish men building our houses upon the sand (Matthew 7:24-27).
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 5.2; February 1998