My Response to God’s Assembly – 1 Corinthians 3:9-1510 min read
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.
To rightly appreciate what Paul is saying to the Corinthians in this passage, we need to remember the context of it. We can recall from chapter 1 that Paul began by addressing division in the Corinthian assembly. There he asked the profound question “Is Christ divided?” In other words, “How can an assembly that is solely based on the gospel of Jesus Christ ever rightly be divided into sects? Christ is all! His preaching alone is central!” Having that in mind he brings his readers to the uniqueness of the gospel message as being a display of the wisdom of God – wisdom that baffles the natural man and contradicts all the strategies and philosophies of the world. We would appropriately assume that the unconverted man would be confused at these things. But at the beginning of chapter 3 we see the Corinthians themselves living as if still in the flesh. Though they had the mind of Christ to understand the preeminence of the gospel, they still boasted in man and his wisdom; as a result they divided into sects that rallied around human leaders rather than Christ alone. So then, Paul says in essence “Who are these men you exalt but mere servants? I’ve planted the seed; another watered it; and God granted the fruit. Neither the one who planted nor the one who watered deserves the glory: all is of God.” This is where verse 9 comes in: “For we are labourers together with God…” It is from this point that Paul emphasizes the seriousness of working upon the foundation that he laid, which was Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel message. This is where we begin and ask ourselves “What is my response to the assembly? Will I take the truth revealed in Scripture and act on it? Or will I continue to work on the basis of the world’s wisdom?”
Responding in Light of What the Assembly Is (v.9)
Economists say that value is dependent upon two things: scarcity and utility, or how rare something is and how useful something is. We could add sentimental value to these two factors, though this varies from person to person. Applying this to the assembly, we find that it has all three characteristics in the highest degree, which we find in the metaphors “God’s tilled field” and “God’s building.” If we were to look for uniqueness in the assembly, we wouldn’t have to look too far for it; what other group can claim to be God’s dwelling place or even the pillar and ground of truth? If we were to look for utility in the assembly, it surpasses any organization for it proclaims the gospel and teaches believers in the deep things of God. That is work that endures to eternity! But O the personal value God places on the assembly! It is His tilled field in which He desires to see His Word take root. It is His edifice in which He desires to dwell. Surely this must be precious to Him. There is no finite value which can be placed on the assembly: it is the place of God’s intimate pleasure.
So then, how do we respond in light of this? What is fitting for a tilled field? What is fitting for God’s building? For a field, one would expect fruitfulness, right? And for God’s building, one would expect faithfulness of the highest order. In fact, elaborating on this “building,” verses 16 and 17 say this: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” If we are to ever respond to assembly truth and practice so as to glorify God, we must begin with a high view of God and His assembly. Not only that, but an accurate view of God and His assembly: we must own it as a place of truth, a place of fruit, a place of holiness, a place of God’s wisdom. How we live up to these characteristics will define whether or not our portion will be wood, hay, and stubble.
Responding in Light of the Assembly’s Foundation (v. 10-11)
Having called himself a “labourer” with God in the last verse, Paul takes on another aspect of his ministry by seeing himself as the “masterbuilder” or the chief architect of the Corinthian assembly. Why was he justified in calling himself this? Because he laid the foundation of it, which was Christ. And really, this was the only legitimate foundation for the assembly: God recognizes no people who claim to be an assembly yet know nothing of Christ as their foundation. God only recognizes assemblies as legitimate when they are established upon gospel preaching, not established upon a creed, nor a man, nor a system. Just as the Reformers so long ago held high the slogans Solas Cristis and Soli Deo Gloria when it came to salvation, so must it be Christ alone and God’s glory alone that we hold in His own assembly.
With that being said, another issue arises. Yes, we must have established in our minds Who is our foundation, but when we have that established there must be severe accountability attached to such truth. Having Christ as the foundation is not a mere matter of fact! It demands that we build upon it with zeal, with faithfulness, with carefulness. It demands the conclusion that a low view of Christ’s assembly is to have a low view of Himself. We must think long and solemnly through our response to assembly truth, for that response will be what we build on Christ and His gospel. Will we take that lightly?
Two Different Types of Response (v.12)
Briefly, then, we have two different responses outlined. There is only one foundation, but there are two main choices as to what we build upon it: perishable work or imperishable work. Work that has eternal value will take on the characteristic of gold, silver, and costly stones. Thus it will be marked by quality: is the work we do in the assembly superficial? It will be marked by worth: is the work we do in the assembly valuable and done to the glory of God? It will be marked by endurance when it is tested: are we settling for the stuff that “looks good” but has no real substance? It will be marked by refinement and labor: are we willing to do the hard, unpleasant tasks and invest real time into people? Now the perspective flips to wood, hay, and stubble: efforts that have no real quality or substance. Oh, the work might look nice initially – after all, the text doesn’t say that others see what kind of material it is – but in the end, will it last? The kind of work that doesn’t last is the kind that accepts man’s wisdom over God’s wisdom, that subscribes to preference over truth, that has the right appearance but no true motives, that “rides along” for the privileges but not responsibilities of the assembly. Man’s wisdom can look reasonable, preference can look noble, appearance can look genuine, and selfishness can be excused if not disguised; nevertheless, all of it will burn. What will my response be? One of faithful stewardship, or one of flippant and casual commitment? “Be not deceived: God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
The Day When Our Response Will Be Manifested (v. 13-15)
The Day of Christ is a fitting note to conclude on, for it reminds us that our decision either to live for the assembly Biblically or to ignore God’s prescription will one day come to the fore. A day of revelation is coming, not only when Christ will be revealed, but when we will be as well as our works. You see, life beyond the rapture is not a “clean slate” or a “new start.” Yes, we will be perfect and in new bodies, but our eternity will take after what we invested into it. Both our rewards and our responsibilities there and then will be determined by our faithfulness here and now. How is our work and faithfulness measured? By refining fire – fire that tests the reality of what we have invested into God’s things. Interestingly, the fire doesn’t refine our “works” but our “work.” It is a singular work which we present to God made out of a single set of materials. This tells us that commitment to God is not sporadic acts of obedience but a total yielding of one’s life unto His service. In a very practical way, what have you been investing into your life? Nonessentials? Things that “there is nothing wrong with”? Stewards don’t live on the basis of “There’s nothing wrong with it.” They do everything on the basis of “There is everything right with it.” Things that we saw as neutral will burn up. In the long run, things that we counted as legitimate will be our loss. Do we give our lives to sports, TV, video games, hobbies, friends, fun, leisure, and such? If so, do we really think these will last through the refining fire? Do we have such contempt for God’s holiness that we think He will be pleased with carnal pursuits? Or with the assembly, do we invest in things that have no real Scriptural basis? If only we could get a brighter glimpse of God’s glory, perhaps we could more accurately judge these things. But whether they are judged now or later, we can be assured that judgment is coming, not a judgment of wrath but of testing. Are we ready for our heavenly final exam? Yes, we can suffer loss and have ourselves saved through the refining fire without condemnation; but truly heaven is two heavens when we and our rewards are there! Lack of reward isn’t called “loss” for nothing. When God says it, it must be loss of a very high degree.
So then, the principle remains for us: vanity that we build into the assembly now will still be vanity in the future. But real labor invested into it will be enduring reward. God couldn’t have been clearer in what He has prescribed for each assembly in His Word; will we obey and see God’s edifice rise to glorious heights? Or will we trifle with what satisfies us here and now, missing opportunity for eternal reward? May we always remember when any question about the assembly arises in our hearts: “All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”