1 Corinthians 3:12-15
Now if any man build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;…
In the vivid imagination of the apostle two workmen are building side by side. One builds a palace, the other a hovel. The materials which one uses are gold and silver for decoration; and for solidity costly stones — not diamonds, emeralds, &c., but valuable building material, such as marbles, granites, and alabaster. The other employs timber, dry reeds, straw. Suddenly there plays around both buildings the fire of the Lord coming to judgment. The marbles gleam the whiter, and the gold and the silver flash the more resplendently; but the straw hovel goes up in a flare! The one man gets wages for work that lasts, the other man gets no pay for what perishes. He is dragged through the smoke, saved by a hair's breath, but sees all his toil lying there in white ashes at his feet. It is a grim picture. Note —
I. THE TWO BUILDERS AND THEIR WORK.
1. The wood, &c., are clearly not heresies, for the builder who uses them is on the foundation, and had they been so Paul would have found sharper words of condemnation. They are misplaced learning; speculation; preaching one's self; talking about temporary, trivial things; dealing with the externals of Christianity, and with its morals apart from that one motive of love to a dying Saviour which makes morality a reality. All that kind of teaching, however it may be admired, and thought to be "eloquent," "original," and "on a level with the growing culture of the age," and so on, is flimsy stuff to build upon the foundation of a crucified Saviour. There is no solidity in such work. It will not stand the stress of a gale of wind while it is being built, nor keep out the weather; and it will blaze at last like a thatched roof when "that day" puts a match to it. The solid teaching is the proclamation of Christ and His great salvation. On that rock-fact we calmly repose. In that great truth are wrapped up, as the plant in the seed, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. So let all teachers take the warning that well-meaning men, building on the foundation, may, if they do not take care, be building with rubbish instead of with the indestructible truths of God's Word; and see to it that they do not carry chaff in their seed-baskets, but only the pure seed of the Word of God.
2. But the principle may be extended to the whole Christian life. The life of a Christian man is a building, suggesting slow and continuous progress and a homogeneous result. It is possible for two men, both of them being Christians, to be building two very different structures in their lives. Many a true follower of Christ may pile much upon the foundation which is unworthy of it. As you may see in the wretched huts in which wandering Arabs house amongst the ruins of some historical city, that half a man's house shall be of fluted marble and the other half shall be of crumbling clay, so, alas! many Christian men and women are building their lives. With what are you building? and what are you building? A palace, a temple, a shop, a place of sinful amusement, a prison — which? We build inconsistently, and in our own persons combine these two builders. Look, then, for yourselves into your building, and see how much, and what, of it is likely to last, and how much of it is sure to be burned up when the fire comes.
II. THE TWOFOLD EFFECTS OF THE ONE FIRE. The day is the day when Christ shall come. And the fire is but the symbol that always attends the Divine appearance.
1. When Christ comes to judge, light comes with Him, and the light pours in upon the actions of men and reveals them for what they are. The builders have been working, as you see builders sometimes nowadays night-work, with some more or less sufficient illumination. The day dawns, and the building stands out disclosed in all its beauty or deformity. Its true proportions are manifest at last. And how many surprises there will be. Many a man who thought that he was building gold, &c., will find out that he was pleasing himself, and not preaching his Master; that he was talking about trivial, transitory things, and not about eternal truths that nourish and save men's souls. "Lord! Lord! have we not prophesied in Thy name? And He shall say unto them, I never knew you"! Many an humble and timid builder who did not know what he was doing will see that he has built gold, &c., according to that blessed word, "Lord! when saw we Thee... in prison and visited Thee? And He shall answer," &c. One of the most precious diamonds in Europe, that blazes now in a king's crown, lay on a stall in a piazza at Rome for months, labelled, "Rock crystal, price one franc." And many of the most noble deeds that ever were done on earth have been passed unrecognised by the crowd that beheld them, and forgotten except by Him.
2. Not only is there this revealing process suggested, but the one class of service, teaching, life, is glorified by the fire, and the other is burned up. The gold, &c., are glorified because revealed, and heightened in beauty by being brought into contact with Christ Himself, as a fair jewel is fairer for its setting, and flashes in the sunshine. And, on the other side, how much of all our lives will be crushed into nonentity, made as if it had never been at all, by the simple revelation of Christ! The selfish, God-forgetting deeds, the lust, the greed, will all vanish and go up in foul-smelling smoke. And what is left will be all holy desires, self-sacrificing service, devout aspirations, and pure Christlike character.
III. THE TWOFOLD EFFECTS ON THE BUILDERS.
1. The one gets the consequences of his services. We do not need to shrink from admitting the idea of a reward. Christ perpetually speaks to us about heaven as being, in a very deep sense, a reward; not because men deserve heaven, but because the heaven which they get only by His merits and through faith in Him, is given in the measure of their capacity, which depends on their character, and is largely determined by their habitual conduct.
2. The inconsistent Christian's inconsistencies shall be burned up. Thank God for that! What better could happen to them or for him? Instead of the hovels he may build a palace. The fire of London finished the plague, and statelier streets took the place of the fetid alleys. But still that imperfect Christian "shall suffer loss" — the loss of what he might have gained. He shall lose remembrances which are true wealth, tie shall lose, in that he will stand further from the Lord, and possess, because he can contain, less of His glory. His crown is far less resplendent than the others, His seat at Christ's table in the kingdom is far lower. His heaven is narrower and less radiant. These two are like two vessels, one of which comes into harbour with a rich freight and flying colours, and is welcomed with tumult of acclaim. The other strikes on the bar. "Some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, all come safe to land." But ship and cargo, and profit of the venture, are all lost. "He shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;