Foundation Work
Romans 15:20
Yes, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation:

1. The converse is 1 Corinthians 3:10. When Paul was converted he stood high among his own people for knowledge and executive talent. He took the lead in putting down Christianity. One would suppose that such a man, being converted, would have gone to Jerusalem, and put himself at the head of the Christian movement. But instead of this, he secretly went to Arabia, returning thence to Damascus. Then he went to Jerusalem; but he stayed there only a fortnight, and departed into Asia Minor, where he laboured for fourteen years. When he went back to Jerusalem, it was but for a brief stay; and he declares that he, by preference, preached the gospel in places where nobody had been before him. He was not after a settlement or a good salary. Paul's feeling was "I will take foundation-work. Let other men have the building upon that."

2. Now, foundation-work is always the hardest, as the figure, namely, the rearing of a structure here implies. Look at those immense stores that are going up in great cities; in proportion as they go up, they must preliminarily go down; and the consequence is that the laying of foundations is no small business. It is the most awkward, difficult, and unrequiting; when you have worked your best, your work is all hidden out of your sight, and nobody thanks you for it.

3. Now, that a man should like to do that work is scarcely possible. Offer a man a job, and ask him which part he would prefer. "The frescoing" says the man, "so that people, when they come in, should say 'What a genius!' I should like to have my name somewhere up there to show who did it." But if a genius should come and say, "Why, let me dig, and clear away, and lay the foundations, other men may build the superstructure," people would say, "There are thousands who can do that, but there is not one in a thousand who is able to do what you can do." And that is true. But is there no way in which the great mass of men can labour at foundation-work so as to be happy? This has been the problem of ages. I see streaming from Paul's example light upon it. Note —


1. Christian pride.

(1) He never tired of declaring that he was not one whit behind the chiefest of the apostles, not for the sake of praise, but because he would not have his message discredited. His temperament was such as would make him feel himself quite as much as he was. So he says, "I am not behind any man. I am a match for anybody."(2) Then such a man ought to do work that nobody else can do as well as he. He ought to say, "My business is to work where nobody else will work," which is in keeping with the Master's saying, "He that would be chief, let him be a servant." Thousands of men want something to do. Oh! that the spirit of Paul was among young scholars, preachers, operatives. Then they would say, not, Who will show me a good parish?" not, "Who will show me a remunerative, or honourable place?" but "Where is the place that other men do not want to go to? That is the place for me, because I am a man, and a Christian man." Such is the ideal of pride. People preach against pride; but the proper way to deal with it is to set it to work.

2. The feeling he never got over — that he had persecuted the Church. Most persons would have said, "Don't feel so bad about this matter, all you had to do was to turn when you saw your mistake, and quit it." That, however, did not satisfy him. Oh, to have persecuted Jesus! The more he thought of it, the worse he felt; and he, as it were, put upon himself tasks which no other man would take by way of making amends for that wrong. That is the kind of penance which one may well glory in. The humility of his fall was as magnificent as his pride.

3. Heroic, enthusiastic love of Christ. This filled his whole soul. And he felt, "There is nothing that love cannot do." The deeper the love, the more it glorifies in sacrifice. "God commendeth His love toward us," etc. And so Paul said, "Give me the hardest work, for the hardest work will show the greatest love."

4. The feeling that in doing foundation-work he was making a contribution to the happiness of his kind. This he intimates in 1 Corinthians 3:10. Elsewhere he repeatedly speaks of sowing and not reaping, the others may reap where he has sown. He felt that he was making the way easier for somebody else; that he was bearing pain that others might not have pain to bear.


1. That there is to be a consecration of men's pride in work. Every true man should feel, "I bring to my work the worth that is in it, no matter how low it is. I am doing this work." False pride says to a man, "Why are you bothering yourself with these trifles? This is not becoming to you. You are a man that ought to come up higher." If, 1800 years ago you had gone to Jerusalem, who would have been the man the least to be envied there? He who was about to be led out to crucifixion. But go to Jerusalem to-day, and find a place where He put His foot, and a million pilgrims from every nation crowd thither, willing to bow down and kiss that place. Why, what did He give to it? Himself. It was the manliness and divinity of the Man, it was the soul-element which He brought to it, that consecrated the place, and made it a shrine for the eternities. When men consecrate themselves to their labour, that labour is no more ignominious. The trouble with men who labour at disagreeable work is that while the work is mean, the workman is meaner.

2. That there should be a spirit of benevolence connected with one's work. Men who are doing low work are working for their fellow-men. Do you suppose the builder of Eddystone Lighthouse, working through winter and summer to lay the foundations of that magnificent structure, never thought, "how many ships coming home from foreign lands and bringing the husband, the son, the lover, will run safely into harbour by reason of this work that I am now doing? Let men who are working in life think, for their encouragement, how many will probably be blessed by their work. When the cook raises the bread and bakes it, and it comes out of the oven, should she think, "Oh, those dear little hungry children! how happy it will make them all!" or should she think, "Well, now, my mistress cannot say but that I am the smartest cook in the kitchen"?

3. That men, as Christians, should recognise that there is a providence that supervises all human affairs. If they reflect upon what Christ said — "Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's notice" — they will derive a comfort from that source which they can obtain from no other. Take that faith into your disagreeable work, and say, "I am serving my Lord and Christ, and His providence is ordaining my work." "Lord, wilt Thou receive this mixed labour of mine?" Then He will say "Yes; inasmuch as you do the least and the lowest of these duties, I accept them." Then it becomes a question of allegiance — of love. Where there is love, it can transmute everything and make it radiant.

4. That immortality should be taken into account. Reflect "I am working but for a little time here. Ere long I shall be translated, and then the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Dives was seen far down, and the beggar was seen in Abraham's bosom. There will be a redistribution." Why is it that in circumstances of peril a poor ignorant woman, giving her life for others, doing what others would not do, becomes immortal? Grace Darling, who has saved so many lives at the risk of her own — what was it that gave her a name? It was that she heroically performed an unrequited service which was not demanded of her. Now, in this great world of unrewarded service, do you suppose God forgets?

(H. W. Beecher.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:

WEB: yes, making it my aim to preach the Good News, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build on another's foundation.

The Work of Missions
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