Do you love the church? Paul argues that we should love the church because it is God's temple and everything else is going to burn.
1. Build on Christ the true foundation
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.
Paul introduces himself as the 'master, expert builder', he re-states his credentials – I'm an experienced church-planter, this is my 'profession; I'm good at this, you should listen to what I'm saying. Seems strange given that just a few verses earlier he said that he and other men are nothing. Now, Paul seems to change tack, reminding the Corinthians who the boss is, reminding them that it was him who started this church in the first place.
How can this be? The first part of v10 is the key; By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, Paul is an expert builder, he is qualified for the job, he is worth listening to but he has only become an expert builder by God's grace. Paul is not arrogant about his abilities but he is confident in the gifts God has graciously given him.
This is part of how leadership works biblically; we acknowledge ability, submit to leaders without fear that this will lead to arrogance because truly Godly leaders know that any gifting or ability they might have comes from God and their status isn't dependent on them.
So Paul has laid for the Corinthians a solid foundation which others are now building on. But Paul warns each should be careful how he builds; they need to watch carefully what kind of church are they building, on what foundation? Verse 11:
11 For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Paul says keep building on Jesus. Well that's obvious isn't it, almost goes without saying. Almost, but Paul does say it because the Corinthians are failing to do exactly this. They're attempting to build on the ability of men, of status, of reputation. Paul will later say they are in danger of being deceived by their wealth, their intellect and reputation, forgetting that; no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
It's impossible to build a church on anything other than Jesus; he is the foundation, the foundation that has already been laid. A church built on anything else, won't just be shaky, it won't just function less well, it won't be a church at all. A social club yes, an outpost of a particular denomination or tradition yes, but a church – no.
This is basic but it's essential. If you turn up to a play football whether it's at Wembley stadium or down the park but forget to bring a ball, you won't be playing.
That's true of HTG if we build on anything other than Jesus then we may be many things but we won't be a church. Paul isn't limiting this advice, just saying to church leaders; make sure your church is built on Jesus, don't allow mission drift to creep in. Verse 12 begins; 'If any man builds', this is for all of us;
2. Build something that will last
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.
Paul says to every one of us; make sure you build your life on this foundation; Jesus. Then pour all your hope and effort into building on it, sculpt your whole life around this because everything else is going to burn. Our work, the lives we have built will be tested; the quality of our work will be revealed.
Paul talks in terms of building materials. If you're a homeowner you'll be able to relate to this, the quality of materials that your house is built with is of critical importance. Years of hard use and the elements make it very clear if your house has been built with high quality materials or not, there's no escaping it, for better or for worse the quality of a building is always revealed. One day someone will pull up the carpet, look behind the wardrobe and find out what that smell was.
Now in Paul's day the building trade was much more advanced than ours. Builders had contracts that linked to the quality of their work, money was held back, if the building didn't perform well they would get paid less. If only we could go back to those days – Persimmon would probably be bankrupt though.
Paul says this is true of our lives; our work will be shown for what it is. Whether we have built with everything we have, with gold, silver and costly stones or whether like a house built to cost we have only given the minimum – all will be revealed. Paul says 'the Day will bring it to light', in other words when Jesus returns we will each give an account of our lives.
Maybe you've got to the end of the month, wondered where all the money went and so sat down at the kitchen table with your bank statement, a highlighter and gone through each item one-by-one. It's an enlightening, if sometimes uncomfortable experience – did we really spend that much on takeaways/coffee/lunch/clothes (insert as applicable)
Paul says that at Christ's return one giant bank statement will come through the door revealing exactly what we spent our lives on. We'll go through it line by line, item by item. The obvious question is what's going to be on your statement? What will you have spent your life on? It will all be there in black and white, this was your treasure, your hearts desire.
Paul says there are consequences to what appears on that statement, read with me verses 14 and 15;
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.
Fire will test the quality of our work, if it stands up, if it is built on Jesus, built to last on things eternal then we will receive a reward.
Some of you should hear this as wonderful news; the truth will out. Sacrifices made for the sake of God's kingdom will be rewarded generously. The person who stays late to finish cleaning the kitchen, who comes back on a Sunday afternoon to be trained in child protection, who uses their home to serve others, who for goes a promotion so they can serve in the church God has called them to, who gives generously – they will receive their reward. Oh how it will be worth it, when Jesus returns and says welcome good and faithful servant.
For some of you this is sobering news; the truth will out. The lazy, the proud, the seeker of comfort over servant hood will suffer loss. Those things that have been built on another foundation will be burned up, they will be consumed, they will disappear and it will hurt.
Now let's be clear Paul is not talking about losing our Salvation here. He is very clear; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Paul is talking to Christians here, people whose Salvation is certain because it rests not on what they do but on what Jesus did.
Nevertheless, our actions have consequences. For those who build their lives on earthly principles rather than eternal principles the day of judgement will be like a man stumbling out of his burning house. He will survive, but his possessions; the things that he loves and values will perish and so he will suffer loss.
The question is; what do you love? Do you love your life? Jesus said if you love your life, you will lose it, you'll suffer loss. But if you give your life, if you expend your life for Jesus you will not regret it. Everything is seen, every secret act of compassion, every sacrifice laid at Jesus feet will be rewarded.
Application = review your bank statement. Literally – it will good for managing your finances and for assessing what your heart loves; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. First step then review your spiritual bank statement…
So then what we build and spend our lives on matters. It matters because Jesus is the only foundation upon which we can build anything lasting. It matters because our work will be tested, shown for what it is and we will be rewarded.
3. Build the place where God dwells
Paul continues in v16, reasoning that God loves the Corinthians, messed up as their church is they are still his chosen people whom he loves and prizes highly;
16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
Paul continues with this building imagery he's been playing with over the last few verses. He's described himself as the expert builder and talked about the Corinthians building their lives with varying qualities of materials. Now he goes back to the picture he used back in v9, we builders but we are also God's building. And not just any building; Paul says we are God's temple.
What does Paul mean? Well in the Old Testament the Temple building was of great significance, it was the place where God's presence dwelt. We caught a glimpse of that importance in our OT reading where David delights in just being able to give some of his treasure toward the building of God's temple which his son; Solomon would build. Now Paul says; don't you know, God's Spirit has come and dwells in each one of you, we no longer go to a temple to be near God's presence, rather he is present in us. We are God's temple and therefore of great value and worth. Paul says that God's temple ie the church is sacred; it is set apart, it is holy.
God loves the church; it is his temple the place where he lives. He is here, by his Spirit, he is here this morning. This place is sacred not because it's a special building – it's not but because his people gathered are special – they are the bride of Christ being made ready for that great wedding feast when we will be both with Jesus and like him.
The church is of great worth to God, he gave his only Son up to death for her. So for those who damage the church there are terrible consequences;
17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
Paul is quite blunt; those who destroy the church; God's temple will themselves be destroyed. We must take this very seriously; it is a terrible thing to lead others away from Christ the true foundation. Very obviously this applies to church leaders who don't stick to the Gospel and false teachers who lead people away from the truth. It applies more broadly I think though; when our cruel words tear others down or when we speak badly of our brothers and sisters in Christ whether here or in other places are we not too attacking God's temple. I don't mean to say we never correct or rebuke, certainly not but that must always be done with the aim of building up, of repairing rather than tearing down. Ask yourself; soberly, are your words, your efforts aimed at building God's temple or building your own reputation?
4. Don't deceive yourself, build on what is real
Let's read on…
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a fool so that he may become wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: He catches the wise in their craftiness;
20 and again, The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.
Danger, warning you may be deceiving yourself Paul says. The Corinthians are a young, successful group operating in an urban trading city – they look good on the surface. Yet Paul says they are in danger of deceiving, fooling themselves by believing their own hype. Paul says if you think you are wise in the eyes of this world then you are in danger. You are in danger of sacrificing your life to sex or money or fame or reputation or family or comfort or any number of idols which are no gods at all who will not satisfy and who will swallow you up and drag you to the grave.
Stop playing on the train tracks Paul says, get out at any cost become a fool in the eyes of this world so that you may become truly wise. The wisdom of this world is dying, curling up in the heat of God's coming judgement; it's worthless and spent; foolish and futile in the eyes of God.
Make the swap Paul says, choose real wisdom, choose real life. In v21 he begs them to stop boasting in men when they could be boasting in Christ;
21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours,
22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future— all are yours,
23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Why are you boasting in men? It's nonsensical; you have everything in Christ already. You're worrying about how to furnish a bedsit when you've just inherited a mansion. The Puritans often said that many Christian's greatest sin was what they called 'living beneath your privileges' by which they meant we often fail to grasp the riches we've already been given; we don't act as if we've really been totally forgiven, really been cleansed of all our shame, adopted into God's family and been given a new nature. We're like princes choosing to keep working in a burger bar.
This is exactly what the Corinthians are doing arguing about their relative status' when Jesus has already made them children of the living God. Paul says you already have everything at your disposal; enjoy Paul, Apollos and Cephas and the gifts God has given them but don't limit yourselves by fighting over them when God has given you everything good for your enjoyment; in the world or life or death or the present or the future— all are yours
And most of all, chiefly, v23; 'you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.'
Jesus is yours; he's here this morning; present with his people, his sacred temple. He's begging you to spend your life on his church, his bride – fight for her, pray for her, work for her as God's fellow-worker and you will receive your reward.