1Co 3:12-15 “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.”
In the verses immediately prior to verse twelve, we have been assured that there is only one foundation; Jesus Christ. He is not a foundation established by men but by God. This holy foundation exists for the building of God’s house and everything under consideration here is taking place on this One Foundation.
Paul’s remarks are being directed to “the church of God (1Co 1:2).” While the letter specifically names the church at Corinth, the salutation goes on to include “them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” With this salutation, Paul has included us in his instruction to the church.
As professors in the belief of salvation by grace, we should realize from these verses that our works will be made manifest. Regardless of how loudly we may declare of love for our Lord and His church, it is our works that are going to be seen. Further, it is not just the outward appearance of our works that will be seen, but the real motivation (what sort it is) behind what we do. Neither is this a pronouncement concerning some future day of judgement.
All of this pertains to the actions taken by God’s children every day. It is a great blessing to know that Jesus is the only foundation. It is a great blessing to be called to build upon this foundation. The question is what are we building with? Does our labor have the true substance of love for Him? Are we offering Him our very best, or are we content for it to just appear that we are doing what is expected of us?
Before we get too caught up in the symbolism of gold, silver and precious stones, remember that the widow who cast in all she had gave more than all the rest. She was building with her whole heart; precious and valuable was her labor. Those that appeared to give much were only giving a small token of their abundance; a flimsy labor. It looked good on the surface, but it was of a low sort.
The fire of the Holy Spirit tries every man’s work and exposes how serious we are about building on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Daily, our works are tried before Him, and it is revealed to our hearts what sort of labor we are giving to honor our God. While it may or may not become apparent to all those around us, we are going to know whether or not the fire of God has revealed our labor to be worthy of the foundation or whether it will be burned.
Again, since it is our labor that earns a reward in these verses, we are not dealing with our eternal salvation, but rather our salvation here in time. Eternal heaven is not something that we have earned by our labors; that stands in Christ alone. It is difficult for us to see our work destroyed in the light of God’s truth. It is difficult to be confronted by the Holy Spirit when we have built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ with our leftovers (wood, hay, and stubble), and joyous when we have truly offered our best effort for all the right reasons (gold, silver, precious stones).
The Spirit knows and reveals to us of what sort our work is. If in His fire our works are burned then we know a deep sense of loss (and maybe guilt and shame). Yet we rejoice that, even in the burning up of our half-hearted labor, we find salvation for ourselves by that same fire. The trying of our labor teaches us how to serve Him, what offerings are worthy of Him, and when we are just going through the motions.
May we have thankful hearts for the reward of good labor and for the salvation that is ours when our labors are burned!