1 Corinthians 3:14
If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
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(14) This is the general application to Christian teachers of what has gone before. Those who have built well shall have their reward in their work having survived the trial of the fire; those who have built otherwise shall lose everything—their work, which should have remained as their reward, will perish in the fire—and they themselves will be as men who only make good their escape by rushing through a conflagration, leaving all that was theirs to be destroyed. (See Mark 9:49.)

1 Corinthians 3:14-15. If any maws work abide which he hath built, &c. — If the superstructure which any minister of Christ raises on the true foundation, if the doctrines which he preaches can bear the test by which they shall be tried at that day, as being true, important, and adapted to the state of his hearers; and the converts which he makes by preaching these doctrines, be of the right kind, truly regenerated and holy persons, he shall receive a reward — In proportion to his labours. If any man’s work shall be burned — If the doctrines which any minister preaches cannot bear the test of the great day, as being false or trivial, or not calculated to convert and edify his hearers; or if the converts which he makes by preaching such doctrines be only converts to some particular opinion, or mode of worship, or form of church government, or to a certain sect or party, and not converts to Christ and true Christianity, to the power as well as the form of godliness, to the experience and practice, as well as to the theory of true religion, and therefore cannot stand in that awful judgment, he shall suffer loss — Shall lose his labour and expectation, and the future reward he might have received, if he had built with proper materials; as a man suffers loss who bestows his time and labour on the erection of a fabric of wood, hay, and stubble, which is afterward consumed. But he himself — That preacher himself; shall be saved — Supposing he himself be a true disciple of Christ, built up in faith and holiness on the true foundation; yet so as by fire — As narrowly as a man escapes through the fire, when his house is all in flames about him: or rather, if so be that his own religion, his personal faith and holiness, can bear both the fiery trial which he may be called to pass through on earth, whether of reproach and persecution, or of pain and affliction, or any other trouble, and also the decisive trial of the last day. Let it not be supposed by any that the apostle is here putting a case that never occurs, or can occur: such cases, there is reason to believe, have often occurred, and still do and will occur; in which ministers, who are themselves real partakers of the grace of Christ, and truly pious, yet, through error of judgment, attachment to certain opinions, or a particular party, or under the influence of peculiar prejudices, waste their time, and that of their hearers, in building wood, hay, and stubble, when they should be labouring to raise an edifice of gold, silver, and precious stones; employ themselves in inculcating unessential or unimportant, if not even false doctrines, when they ought to be testifying with sincerity, zeal, and diligence, the genuine gospel of the grace of God. Dr. Macknight, who considers the apostle as speaking in these verses, not of the foundation and superstructure of a system of doctrines, “but of the building or temple of God, consisting of all who profess to believe the gospel,” gives us the following commentary on the passage: “Other foundation of God’s temple, no teacher, if he teaches faithfully, can lay, except what is laid by me, which is Jesus, the Christ, promised in the Scriptures. Now if any teacher build on the foundation, Christ, sincere disciples, represented in this similitude by gold, silver, valuable stones; or if he buildeth hypocrites, represented by wood, hay, stubble, every teacher’s disciples shall be made manifest in their true characters; for the day of persecution, which is coming on them, will make every one’s character plain, because it is of such a nature as to be revealed by the fire of persecution: and so that fire, falling on the temple of God, will try every teacher’s disciples, of what sort they are. If the disciples, which any teacher has introduced into the church, endure persecution for the gospel without apostatizing, such a teacher shall receive the reward promised to them who turn others to righteousness, Daniel 12:3. If the disciples of any teacher shall, in time of persecution, fall away, through the want of proper instruction, he will lose his reward; he himself, however, having in general acted sincerely, shall be saved; yet, with such difficulty, as one is saved who runs through a fire.” But, as by the foundation, which he says he had laid, the apostle undoubtedly meant the doctrine concerning Christ, and salvation through him, it seems more consistent with his design to interpret what refers to the superstructure attempted to be raised by different builders, of doctrines also, and not of persons introduced by them into the Christian Church: and to understand him as cautioning the Corinthians against disfiguring and destroying the beautiful edifice, by inculcating tenets which were heretical, and pernicious to the souls of men, and would not stand the test of the approaching fiery trial. Thus what follows.3:10-15 The apostle was a wise master-builder; but the grace of God made him such. Spiritual pride is abominable; it is using the greatest favours of God, to feed our own vanity, and make idols of ourselves. But let every man take heed; there may be bad building on a good foundation. Nothing must be laid upon it, but what the foundation will bear, and what is of a piece with it. Let us not dare to join a merely human or a carnal life with a Divine faith, the corruption of sin with the profession of Christianity. Christ is a firm, abiding, and immovable Rock of ages, every way able to bear all the weight that God himself or the sinner can lay upon him; neither is there salvation in any other. Leave out the doctrine of his atonement, and there is no foundation for our hopes. But of those who rest on this foundation, there are two sorts. Some hold nothing but the truth as it is in Jesus, and preach nothing else. Others build on the good foundation what will not abide the test, when the day of trail comes. We may be mistaken in ourselves and others; but there is a day coming that will show our actions in the true light, without covering or disguise. Those who spread true and pure religion in all its branches, and whose work will abide in the great day, shall receive a reward. And how great! how much exceeding their deserts! There are others, whose corrupt opinions and doctrines, or vain inventions and usages in the worship of God, shall be made known, disowned, and rejected, in that day. This is plainly meant of a figurative fire, not of a real one; for what real fire can consume religious rites or doctrines? And it is to try every man's works, those of Paul and Apollos, as well as others. Let us consider the tendency of our undertakings, compare them with God's word, and judge ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord.If any man's work abide ... - If it shall appear that he hast taught the true doctrines of Christianity, and inculcated right practices and views of piety, and himself cherished right feelings: if the trial of the great Day, when the real qualities of all objects shall be known, shall show this.

He shall receive a reward - According to the nature of his work. See the note on 1 Corinthians 3:8. This refers, I suppose, to the proper rewards on the Day of Judgment, and not to the honors and the recompense which he may receive in this world. If all that he has taught and done shall be proved to have been genuine and pure, then his reward shall be in proportion.

14. abide—abide the testing fire (Mt 3:11, 12).

which he hath built thereupon—which he built on the foundation.

reward—wages, as a builder, that is, teacher. His converts built on Christ the foundation, through his faithful teaching, shall be his "crown of rejoicing" (2Co 1:14; Php 2:16; 1Th 2:19).

If any preacher keeps the foundation, and the doctrine which he hath built upon the true foundation prove consonant to the will of Christ, God will reward him for his labour: he shall hear the voice saying: Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. If any man's work abide,.... That is, if any minister's doctrine will bear the test of daylight, to be looked into, and abide the fire of the word; as gold, silver, and precious stones will, or such doctrines as are comparable to them, which will shine the brighter for being tried by this fire:

which he hath built thereupon; upon the foundation Christ, in entire consistence with, and proportion to it, and highly becoming it:

he shall receive a reward; either from the churches of Christ here, who shall honour and respect him for his faithful labours in the ministry; or from Christ hereafter, who will say, well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.

If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
1 Corinthians 3:14-15. Manner and result of this δοκιμάσει.

μενεῖ] will remain unharmed; not μένει (Text. recept.) for κατακαήσεται, in 1 Corinthians 3:15, corresponds to it.

μισθὸν λήψ.] namely, for his work at the building (without figure: teacher’s recompense), from God, at whose οἰκοδομή he has laboured. Rückert holds that Paul steps decidedly out of his figure here; for the builder is not paid only after his work has stood the test of fire uninjured. But the building is still being worked at until the Parousia, so that before that event no recompense can be given. The fire of the Parousia seizes upon the building still in process of being completed, and now he alone receives recompense whose work, which has been carried on hitherto, shows itself proof against the fire.

As regards the form κατακαήσεται, shall be burned down (comp 2 Peter 3:10), instead of the Attic κατακαυθήσεται, see Thom. M. p. 511.

ζημιωθήσεται] sc[534] τὸν μισθόν, i.e. frustrabitur praemio. Comp on ζημιοῦσθαί τι, to suffer loss of anything, Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25; Php 3:8. See also Valckenaer, a[536] Herod. vii. 39. The thought is: He will, as a punishment, not receive the recompense which he would otherwise have received as a teacher. We are not to think of deposition from office (Grotius), seeing that it is the time of the Parousia that is spoken of. To take the ζημ., with the Vulgate, et al[537]: without object, so that the sense would be: “he shall have loss from it” (Hofmann), gives too indefinite a conception, and one which would require first of all to have its meaning defined more precisely from the antithesis of μισθ. λήψεται.

αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτω δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός] In order not to be misunderstood, as if by his ζημιωθήσεται he were denying to such teachers share in the future Messianic salvation at all, whereas he is only refusing to assign to them the higher rank of blessedness, blessedness as teachers, Paul adds: Yet he himself shall be saved, but so as through fire. Αὐτός refers to the τὸν μισθόν, which is to be supplied as the object of ζημ.: although he will lose his recompense, yet he himself, etc. Rückert is wrong in thinking that the builder is now regarded as the inhabitant of the house. Paul does not handle his figure in this confused way, but has before his mind the builder as still busied in the house with the work which he has been carrying on: all at once the fire seizes the house; he flees and yet finds safety, but not otherwise than as a man is saved through and from the midst of fire. Such an escape is wont to be coupled with fear and painful injury; hence the idea of this figurative representation is: He himself, however, shall obtain the Messianic σωτηρία,[538] yet still only in such a way that the catastrophe of the Parousia will be fraught with the highest anxiety for him, and will not elapse without sensibly impairing his inheritance of blessing. He shall obtain the σωτηρία, but only a lower grade of it, so that he will belong to those whom Jesus calls “the last” (Matthew 20:16; Mark 10:31). The main point in this interpretation, namely, that σωθήσ. refers to the Messianic σωτηρία, is accepted by most expositors; but several, such as Rosenmüller and Flatt, take the future as indicating the possibility (a view which the very fact of the two preceding futures should have sufficed to preclude), and Grotius[539] has foisted in a problematical sense into the word (equally against the definitely assertive sense of those futures): “In summo erit salutis suae periculo. Etsi eam adipiscetur (quod boni ominis causa sperare mavult apostolus) non fiet id sine gravi moestitia ac dolore.” It is a common mistake to understand ὡς διὰ πυρός in the sense of a proverb (by a hair’s-breadth, see Grotius and Wetstein in loc[540]; Valckenaer, p. 157; and comp Amos 4:11; Zechariah 3:2; Judges 1:23), because the passage, looking back to 1 Corinthians 3:13, really sets before us a conflagration (ὡς, as in John 1:14). It may be added that there is no ground for bringing into the conception the fire of the wrath of God (Hofmann), since, according to the text, it is the selfsame fire which seizes upon the work of the one and of the other, in the one case, however, proving it to be abiding, and in the other consuming it. Bengel illustrates the matter well by the instance of a shipwrecked man: “ut mercator naufragus amissa merce et lucro servatur per undas.” Other commentators, again (Chrysostom, Oecumenius, Theophylact), understand it to mean: He shall be preserved, but so only as one is preserved through the fire of hell, that is to say, eternally tormented therein. So too of late, in substance, Maier. But the interpretation is decidedly erroneous; first, because, according to 1 Corinthians 3:13, πῦρ cannot be allowed to have any reference to the fire of hell; secondly, because ΣΏΖΕΣΘΑΙ, which is the standing expression for being saved with the salvation of the Messiah, can least of all be used to denote anything else in a picture representing the decision of the Parousia.[542] This last consideration tells also against Schott’s explanation (l.c[543] p. 17): “He himself shall indeed not be utterly destroyed on that account; he remains, but it is as one who has passed through flaming fire (seriously injured),” by which is denoted the divine award of punishment which awaits such a teacher at the day of judgment. It may also be urged against the view in question, that the sentence of punishment, since it dooms to the fire, cannot be depicted in the figure as a having passed through the fire.

[534] c. scilicet.

[536] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[537] t al. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[538] For he has after all held to the foundation. The Messianic salvation is the gift of grace to those who believe in Christ as such; while the teacher’s blessedness, as μισθός (which the general σωτηρία in and by itself is not), must be some specially high grade of blessing in the Messiah’s kingdom. Comp. Daniel 12:3; Matthew 19:28.

[539] So before him Theodore of Mopsuestia: ἀλλὰ καὶ ἂν σώζηται διά τινα ἑτέραν αἰτίαν σώζειν αὐτὸν δυναμένην.

[540] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[542] Hence, also, it will not do to refer αὐτός, with Otto, Pastoralbr. p. 144 f., to the θεμέλιος, which will remain safe, but covered over with refuse, ashes, and the like, which he holds to be indicated by ὡς διὰ πυρός.

[543] .c. loco citato or laudato.1 Corinthians 3:14-15. The opp[570] issues of the fiery assay are stated under parl[571] hypotheses: εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργονμενεῖεἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται, “If any one’s work shall abide … shall be burned up”. The double ind[572] with εἰ balances the contrasted suppositions, without signifying likelihood either way: for the opposed vbs., cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13:13; μενεῖ recalls ὑπομενεῖ of Malachi 3:2.—ὃ ἐποικοδόμησεν (wanting augment: usage varies in this vb[573]; Wr[574], p. 83) reminds us that the work examined was built on the one foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10 ff.).—μισθὸν λήμψεται and ζημιωθήσεται are the corresponding apodoses,—μισθὸν being carried over to the second of the parl[575] clauses (Mr[576], Gd[577], Lt[578], Ed[579]): “He will get a reward … will be mulcted (of it)”.—ζημιόω retains in pass[580] its acc[581] of thing, as a vb[582] taking double acc[583]; derived from ζημία (opp[584] of κέρδος: cf. Php 3:7), it signifies to fine, inflict forfeit (in pass[585], suffer forfeit) of what one possessed, or might have possessed. “αὐτὸς δέ—opposed to μισθός: his reward shall be lost, but his person saved” (Lt[586]); αὐτὸς is nearly syn[587] with the ψυχὴ of Matthew 16:25 f., etc. The man built on the foundation, though his work proves culpably defective: σωθήσεται promises him the σωτηρία of Christ’s heavenly kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 1:18, and other parls.). Such a minister saves himself, but not his hearers: the opp[588] result to that of 1 Corinthians 9:27, etc. αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός (δὲ correcting δέ, as in 1 Corinthians 2:6)—“yet so (saved) as through fire,”—like Lot fleeing from Sodom; his salvation is reduced to a minimum: “He rushes out through the flame, leaving behind the ruin of his work … for which, proved to be worthless, he receives no pay” (Bt[589]), getting through “scorched and with the marks of the flame” upon him (Lt[590]); “s’il est sauvé, ce ne peut être qu’en échappant àtravers les flammes, et grâce àla solidité du fondement” (Gd[591]); to change the figure, “ut naufragus mercator, amissa merce et lucro, servatus per undas” (Bg[592]). For the prp[593], in local sense, see Gm[594], and Wr[595], p. 473; διὰ πυρός, proverbial for a hairbreadth escape (see Lt[596] ad loc[597]; Eurip., Andr., 487; Elec., 1182, and LXX parls.). The διὰ has been read instrumentally, “by means of fire,”—sc. the fire of purgatory (see Lt[598]); an idea foreign to this scene. Cm[599], by a dreadful inversion of the meaning, reads the διὰ as ἐν πυρί—“will be preserved in fire!” (σώζω nowhere has this sense of τηρέω): εἰπὼν Σωθήσεται, οὐδὲν ἕτερον ἢ τὴν ἐπίτασιν τῆς τιμωρίας ᾐνίξατο. For other interpretations, see Mr[600]

[570] opposite, opposition.

[571] parallel.

[572] indicative mood.

[573] verb

[574] Winer-Moulton’s Grammar of N.T. Greek (8th ed., 1877).

[575] parallel.

[576] Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).

[577] F. Godet’s Commentaire sur la prem. Ép. aux Corinthiens (Eng. Trans.).

[578] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

[579] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[580] passive voice.

[581] accusative case.

[582] verb

[583] accusative case.

[584] opposite, opposition.

[585] passive voice.

[586] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

[587] synonym, synonymous.

[588] opposite, opposition.

[589] J. A. Beet’s St. Paul’s Epp. to the Corinthians (1882).

[590] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

[591] F. Godet’s Commentaire sur la prem. Ép. aux Corinthiens (Eng. Trans.).

[592] Bengel’s Gnomon Novi Testamenti.


[594] Grimm-Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T.

Winer-Moulton’s Grammar of N.T. Greek (8th ed., 1877).

[596] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

[597] ad locum, on this passage.

[598] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

[599] John Chrysostom’s Homiliœ († 407).

[600] Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).1 Corinthians 3:14. Εἰ τινος, if any man’s) Hence Paul is accustomed to promise glory to himself from the constancy of his brethren [hence also to derive exhortations], 2 Corinthians 1:14; Php 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:19.Verse 14. - If any man's work shall abide. St. Paul is speaking primarily of teachers, though, of course, his words apply by analogy to all believers. He shall receive a reward. One of the teacher's rewards will be his converts (1 Thessalonians 2:19), who will be "his joy and crown of glorying" (Philippians 2:16); another will be "a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:2, 4; Daniel 12:3); yet another will be fresh opportunities for higher labour (Matthew 25:23).
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