“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” (1 Corinthians 3:10).
In our opening verse, the Apostle Paul begins a discussion about the important responsibility we have of building spiritually the elements of a Christian character during our earthly walk. Subsequently, he uses metaphors to describe the various building materials we might use and how their varying degrees of strength and permanence will stand up to potentially destructive elements.
Before examining this in more detail, let us briefly consider some other important passages of Paul’s first letter to the brethren at Corinth, where he identifies aspects of our relationship with God that must exist to successfully build our character into the likeness of Jesus, our exemplar and pattern.
Wisdom of God — Centered in Christ
To properly engage in building spiritually, we must first realize that the wisdom needed is not found among the worldly wise but comes only from God. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Paul provides a number of statements along this line. He says, “It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (Verses 19, 20).
Paul continues, telling us that God’s wisdom has been made manifest to us through the life and example of his son, Christ Jesus. “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (verses 23, 24).
The fact that God’s wisdom is considered foolishness by the world means that those who accept his calling are likewise viewed mostly as unwise and foolish in the eyes of mankind. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (verses 26, 27).
The Holy Spirit Necessary
The influence of God’s holy Spirit is essential for success in building spiritually. The apostle speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. First, he says that the wisdom which comes from God is a “mystery,” hidden from the world in general (verses 6, 7). Then Paul identifies the holy Spirit as the mechanism by which we are able to understand the mysteries of God. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (verses 9,10).
Paul further states that we have received the holy Spirit so that “we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (verses 12). He concludes by pointing out that the wisdom which we receive through the power and influence of God’s holy Spirit enables us to know, understand, and develop within ourselves, the “mind of Christ” (verse 16).
We must be called, or invited, by God in order to participate in this spiritual building project. “As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. … Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God” (1 Corinthians 7:17, 23, 24).
These verses, as well as the surrounding context, clearly show that our calling to be part of God’s spiritual temple has nothing to do with our earthly station or position. Paul says, we have been “bought with a price,” the ransom price provided by the willing sacrifice of Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5, 6). Therefore, we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). We have been called by God, and by accepting His invitation and giving ourselves fully to Him in consecration, we belong to Him and no one else.
Do All in Humility — to the Glory of God
Another matter to keep in mind as we build spiritually is the vital importance of humility. There is no room for pride as we seek to be part of God’s building. Paul says, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Later in this chapter he adds, “give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (verses 32, 33).
Proper humility helps keep the focus off self as we endeavor to build spiritually. We labor together as God’s people to construct His building. Pride or selfishness will cause us to build according to our liking and preference and will soon draw us away from God’s design and purpose. Thus, Paul says, “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (verse 31).
The Foundation Laid
Returning to 1 Corinthians 3, let us examine in more detail the building process in which we are engaged. In verses 10 and 11, the apostle identifies a critical element of any building — its foundation. Without a strong and properly laid foundation, no building can stand the stress of wind, storms, and other elements which will, sooner or later, test its strength.
Paul says, “I have laid the foundation,” but is quick to clarify that the foundation he has laid “is Jesus Christ,” and none other. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter correctly identified the Master as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded by telling Peter that upon this “rock,” or foundation truth, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16-18, Luke 6:48).
Jesus is the solid foundation of all our efforts to build spiritually. First, it is only through his redemptive sacrifice that we have a standing before God, and are thus privileged to be in such an honored position. Second, in Christ and his ministry we see the ultimate example of how to build spiritually, and the proper materials to be used. Apostles Peter, Paul, and John all speak concerning our need to follow, to the greatest extent possible, the perfect example of Jesus (1Peter 2:21; Ephesians 5:2, Philippians 2:5, 1John 2:6).
Paul identifies many materials that might be used when erecting this building. He states that “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble,” could all be considered (1 Corinthians 3:12). However, in contemplating such a list, we see that certain of these — gold, silver, and precious stones — are of great value, will not burn, and will stand permanently when properly used to build upon a well-laid foundation. Other materials — wood, hay, stubble — are of much less value, and can easily be damaged or even destroyed completely even if they are affixed to a strong foundation.
What is represented by the building materials Paul identified? They refer to the qualities of character that identify us in the sight of God. Taking them in reverse order, wood, hay, and stubble well represent the inclinations and tendencies which are present in our fallen flesh. These include such character traits as idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, lying, strife, hatred, and envy. Gold, silver, and precious stones, on the other hand, signify the character qualities of love, gentleness, peace, goodness, mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, and forgiveness (Galatians 5:19-23, Colossians 3:5-9, 12-14). To build our character in the likeness of Christ, we must develop the characteristics represented by the gold, silver and precious stones.
Our spiritual building work, Paul says, will be tested. It is “made manifest” to God in the light of His divine standards. In testing us, the Heavenly Father will allow the “fire” of trials to come upon us (1 Corinthians 3:13). If we have built improperly upon the foundation of Christ or with the wrong materials, the superstructure of our Christian life will not abide. Instead, it will be burned and we will suffer the loss of the promise of immortality (verse 15). If, however, we build with gold, silver, and precious stones, our spiritual building will withstand, and even be strengthened by the fiery trials that will come to us. “If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward” (verse 14).
The Temple of God
Extending his lesson, Paul says, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy [in the second death]; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17). Here, the apostle reminds us that the spiritual building in which we are presently engaged in constructing is the “temple of God.” We are this temple now from a developmental standpoint, as we engage in its erection upon the solid foundation of Christ. However, the fullness of our establishment as part of God’s temple is yet future, when all the individual members of this symbolic heavenly building have faithfully completed their earthly pilgrimage (Revelation 2:10).
To this class is given the promise, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God … and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God” (Revelation 3:12). The hope of being part of the temple of God — his dwelling place — is truly astounding and more than we can comprehend. However, as these verses suggest, there is another great prospect related to this. It is the future work of God’s symbolic holy city, the “new Jerusalem,” and its temple, which will “come down out of heaven.”
This greater prospect will be the blessing of all mankind in God’s kingdom, as later prophesied by John with these beautiful words: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God’” (Revelation 21:2, 3).