A Question I Was Asked:

'Could you expound on the meaning of 1Cor. 3:12-15?'

My Reply:

The Scripture:

12 'If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,
13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.
14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.' (1 Corinthians 3:12-15, NIV).

In this Scripture, Paul the Apostle has already described himself as an 'expert builder' (verse 10) in his capacity as an apostle ('master builder' in some translations). This refers to his work of preaching the gospel and disseminating the Christian Faith. Thereafter, however, 'someone else is building on it' (also verse 10), undoubtedly referring to evangelists, pastors and teachers. But Paul warns that such people need to be careful how they build upon this foundation with an ever-timely warning that ONLY Christ can ever be a believer's true foundation (verse 11).

The things which are built upon the bedrock of true Christian conversion are then compared to things like wood, hay and straw (which are obviously low value items which are easily destroyed by fire), and gold, silver and precious, or costly stones (highly expensive, durable items).

In the case of the wood, hay and straw, these are comparatively worthless things which we might build upon our Christian foundation; this has two applications:

1. Unwise or unsound religiosity.

We must not put false or perverted religiosity onto our divinely-granted foundation! It is imperative that we exercise sound spiritual discernment. For example, if a man or woman genuinely come to Christ but then get into 'word-faith' and the prosperity gospel they are placing things on their spiritual foundation which will eventually be burned up because that is just false and perverted religiosity which has no place on a Christly foundation. The same goes for ritualistic and superstitious religiosity within certain denominations. As true Christians they will eventually tend to get free of such confusion as they grow, but their spiritual understanding could be stunted or damaged during this present life because of it.

2. Occupation, hobbies and interests.

Here is the other application. Of course we will all have these things in our lives but they become a problem when they start to take time and prioritizing away from the more vital spiritual things. These things will not further us on the Day of Judgment. Of course, it is fine to have hobbies and interests (in my own case that would include things like my love of music and classic cars), but we must not allow those things to take over our lives - it is the things of the Spirit which are most vital.

On that Great Day (the Day of Judgment), all our various hobbies, interests, pursuits and occupations will get burned up, along with any unwise religious associations. That is, they won't weather the storm of judgment, but holy, pure spiritual character (the gold, silver and precious stones), will stand; they will stand because if such character is found within us, it will be the work of the Holy Spirit thereby confirming our divine election and the entrance of our names into the Lamb's Book of Life, indeed, written within it from the foundation of the world! (Philippians 4:3b; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27).

So the message is: A Christian foundation is a most priceless gift and it is a gift which every Christian has been granted. After coming to Christ we need to be careful regarding what we place on that exquisite foundation.

The gold, silver and costly stones are spiritually-durable things; these things have not come from ourselves but from God yet are still counted in our favour on that Great Day. These things include faith, Christian love and service and particular spiritual gifts.

Verse 15 confirms that these are God's true people since they are certainly saved - that is not in question - for no one can snatch us, or pluck us, out of the Father's hand (John 10:28) - however, the useless things in our present lives don't make it through the fire.
Robin A. Brace, October, 2008.