In yesterday’s passage Paul was talking about how he and Apollos were co-workers on a single project: The Corinthian church. Paul started it by preaching the Good News, leading people to Christ, doing some basic discipling, and keeping up with their spiritual well-being. Apparently Apollos had come behind him and helped the believers grow in their faith, making sure they understood the basics of the faith, possibly organizing them and helping them appoint leadership, etc. As Paul put it, “[He] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
But now he shifts from farming imagery to building construction. Although the immediate context deals with the situation in Corinthians, I believe that this has applications which we need to consider in our own lives. Here’s how I summarize what he’s teaching here:
· From the moment you received Christ, you began building. Some people receive him as a child, while others wait until their later years. As we’ll see in a moment, all believers go to the same Heaven, but the earlier you believe in Christ, the better, since that’s more time you have to serve him down here.
· There’s only one foundation upon which you can build. Obviously there’s “no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
· You don’t choose which foundation you’re going to build upon, but you do choose which materials you build with. This is an extremely important distinction. You choose whether you build with “gold, silver, costly stones,” or “wood, hay or straw.” What do these different materials represent? Wood, hay and straw are inexpensive and easy to get. Gold, silver, and precious stones are costly and difficult to get. Living for Christ takes some effort. It takes some sacrifice. It means denying yourself daily and following Jesus.
· One day, on the Day of Judgment, all of the structures we’ve built will be tested by fire. What is this fire? Most likely it’s the all-seeing eyes of the Lord Jesus. When the apostle John saw the Lord in the 1st chapter of Revelation, the formerly meek-and-mild Son of God had “eyes [which] were like blazing fire.” I think that one day these eyes will pass over the works that I’ve supposedly done for him and in his name. If I’ve been only pretending to sacrifice for him (like Ananias and Sapphira), then he knows. If I’ve made a show of worshipping and evangelizing and praying, then he knows.
· You’ll be rewarded far beyond your wildest dreams based on what survives the inspection.
Whatever your sacrifices you’ve made for your King, you’ll one day look upon them and say “It was all worth it.” If there are any regrets on this Day, it’ll be us saying “I sure wish I'd given more back then!”
· Again, this is super-important: What’s at stake here is not anyone’s salvation. The absolutely worst-case scenario for anyone at this Judgment is for them to spend 70-80 or more years (supposedly) serving their Lord—baptized as a young child, going to church every Sunday, singing in the choir, giving to charity, etc.—and at the end of it all, with one sweep of the Eyes, it’s all dust and ashes. “But yet [they] will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” Yes, if anyone has received Christ, they’ll get into Heaven. They just won’t enjoy it as much as some others.
I heard a youth pastor submit an illustration which I think explains this last point really well. Imagine a 5-gallon pitcher vs. a 12-ounce pitcher (or if you’re really into the metric system, imagine a milliliter cup vs. a 10 liter bottle). You fill up both containers to the brim. Both are filled up to maximum, but one only holds a little and the other holds a lot more.
You see, we all go to the same Heaven, and we’ll all be filled to the brim with joy and ecstasy. But the more faithful you are and the more you sacrifice for him down here, the more you’ll enjoy it once you get “up there.”
And of course the converse is true. The more I spend my time, energy, and other finite resources in things that don’t have eternal significance, the more I’ll regret it one day. And if I actually put a lot of energy into a “front” so that I look good to others, that’s worse than useless. I’m just setting myself up for a major “loss” when I meet my Savior face to face.
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
--C. T. Studd
Lord Jesus, this is both exciting and sobering. Help me to live for you, to build with the stuff that lasts, so that I can glorify you more and more and more. By your grace.