I enjoy watching some of the shows on HGTV, especially the ones where they go in and renovate homes. Sometimes they’ll discover things which leads the host to wonder what the original builders were thinking, or how the home ever passed inspection. They might point out problems in the roof where the weight load is too great for the support beams, and I recall one home where the roof was not even secured to what little support it had! Others home issues show cracks in the foundation, which if not fixed could potentially lead to collapse. It makes me appreciate those who have the skill of designing and building a safe, long-lasting home, as well as those who can repair the ones which are not.
It seems a lot of builders want to take short-cuts. Perhaps they don’t really have the skills they claim to have, but often times it seems they are trying to cut corners in order to save money by using inferior materials and increase their profits. Many problems are temporarily hid because they are behind the drywall or up in the attic where they can remain unnoticed. That is, until there is a problem. And then the repairs can be costly, or even lead a place to be condemned.
Every now and then you hear of asbestos being discovered and having to be removed under very tight guidelines. The “Chinese Drywall” scandal is another example of unsafe products being used making people sick. These are a couple examples where the right building materials, and the right builder, make all the difference.
Scripture makes occasional use of building metaphors. Paul refers to himself as a “wise, master builder” in 1 Cor. 3:10 He devotes a few verses in 1 Cor. 3 to talk about materials that a builder might choose to use as he continues to build upon the foundation. He names gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw (1 Cor. 3:12). It’s easy to figure out what you’d want your home made out of, and what wouldn’t last very long in a fire! Jesus also talks about the importance of the right foundation in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 7:24-27). It is so well known that a Sunday School song was made complete with motions about the ‘wise man’ and the ‘foolish man’ and what happens when the rains come down and the floods come up. I always liked the part where the house on the sand went SPLAT!
The firm foundation upon which the Church and our faith is built is, of course, the truth of Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins, and resurrection from the grave (see 1 Cor. 15:3-5). This is the good news of our salvation. I don’t think many Christians would argue against Christ being the cornerstone. Peter certainly identifies Jesus as “a precious corner stone” (see 1 Peter 2:6, 7). Sound biblical preaching continues building on that firm foundation as revealed in God’s Word.
There are homes that may have a good foundation, but the other materials that the builder choose are something less than the best! They might not be strong enough, they might have defects, they might be hazardous, or lead to the collapse of the structure in a number of different ways. Or perhaps his skills as a builder are lacking and he doesn’t know how to proceed, or how to use whatever building materials he selects. The wise builder will choose the best materials which will lead to a successful, long-lasting structure.
J. W. McGarvey in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 3 notes, “In Corinth Paul had preached Christ as the foundation of the church and of each individual Christian, and this foundation admitted no mixture of philosophy and no perversion which would produce sects (Gal. 1:9) (First Epistle to the Corinthians, 64). So how important is the doctrinal position of the builder to the growth and success of the Church? Mare says, “As an expert builder… one who knew God’s plan for the building of his church (Eph. 3:7-10), [Paul] had laid the doctrinal foundation of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ He goes on to note that future builders “must be careful how he builds” (EBC vol. 10, 207).
Have you ever come across the remnants of a home or other building that is long gone, but the foundation is still there? There may be some stones, or concrete blocks in the ground, but the roof, walls, and the rest of the structure are long gone. You wonder if a tornado came through and obliterated it. Perhaps a fire razed everything it could except for the stones. Maybe just the passing of many years deteriorated what was once a good structure, and now only the foundation remains. It sort of makes you wonder what the place used to look like, or perhaps you became curious about what the builder used that didn’t seem to last too long.
Church leaders must be ever diligent to make sure that the ones who are building on the foundation of Christ know what they’re doing! They must also make sure that the materials which are used to build on that foundation are the best ones possible, and can withstand the pressures which will no doubt come. I’m aware of one minister who in his desire to see the church grow decided it would be a good thing to bring in another staff member from the denominational world. The candidate for the position has expressed a belief in tongue speaking [ecstatic prayer language], some elements of Calvinism, a faith-only approach, and is currently working under a female Methodist pastor. What could possibly go wrong with that hire? Disagreements could most certainly arise between this person and the leadership, and perhaps even worse, divide the congregation wondering who is right, or if it really even makes any difference at all? Confusion and in-fighting could certainly derail plans for future growth.
McGarvey’s comments quoted above seem very timely here. There should be no mixture of philosophy, or admittance of doctrinal error which would produce divisions. The goal of congregational unity could be quickly lost, the “building” destroyed, leaving only the unchanging and everlasting foundation behind. This should lead us to carefully examine whether we’re building with gold or straw! What’s going to last and best complement the foundation?
As soon as you put the title of “minister” on someone, or put them up in front of the congregation, or pay them to be there in that ministerial capacity, you are declaring that person to be one who is worthy of being heard and followed. But what if they aren’t? The congregation, trusting in the spiritual wisdom of their leaders, will assume that this guy is “ok.” In John 10 Jesus spoke of the shepherd knowing the sheep by name (vs. 3) and other the things the “Good” Shepherd does for His sheep. But it also mentioned the strangers (vs. 5), thieves and robbers (vss. 8-10), and the hirelings (vs. 12). Leaders must be perpetually on guard for the flock, to protect them from the wolves that are no doubt still out there (Acts 20:29, 30).
Every Biblical leader must have the goal of seeing the church grow. That’s not really the argument here. The question is “how” is growth to be achieved. Another way of approaching it would be “do the ends justify the means”? Actually, would the means necessarily even get you to the end (goal) of growth? As the little poem I learned long ago, and still frequently quote says, “Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, principles never do.”
Paul’s teaching about the builder, and the building materials in 1 Cor. 3:10-15 offer much helpful instruction about the foundation upon which builders (church leaders) must continue to build. It illustrates the kinds of materials one can use on that foundation. What would you rather live in, a house made of gold or a little straw hut? But the passage concludes with the inspection that comes at judgment. The quality of that building is going to be evaluated and tested (judged). The truth of Jesus is not going to change. The foundation is everlasting. But what about the local place where this present generation of builders labor? Will the building be strong and enduring, or will it collapse because it was built with the straw of false doctrine, and a desire to have numbers over a spiritually solid congregation?
Church builders should faithfully labor, with the sincere goal that their work will remain (1 Cor. 3:14). Their aim is that they will leave something for the next generation to continue building upon when their time comes to step up to leadership. And Paul says that there will even be a reward for such a wise builder! BONUS!
Many years ago I heard someone tell of the funeral message he heard for a faithful preacher who had gone to be with Jesus. It was said of him that he was constantly “sending lumber to heaven.” I assume he meant that he had a faithful ministry which produced results that have an eternal significance for many. How sad it would be to look back and to say I have nothing to show for my ministry, there’s nothing really left of it. Paul spoke of this builder as well when he said “If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). It appears he is saved, but with nothing to show for his service. That is indeed a very sad assessment.
We had some new windows put in our house recently. Part of the price we paid was for the inspection. The contractor even said we couldn’t take the stickers off the window until the inspector signed off on it. The job was completed and the inspector came and looked around. He signed off on the paperwork and I suppose that means we have good windows, properly installed, and ones that will hold up well through the years.
Let us endeavor to be wise in our building choices while serving the Lord. The “plan” is laid out in Scripture. We know what and Who the Foundation is. Build smartly with the best possible materials at our disposal. Our inspection day is coming as well. Let’s endeavor to hear that what we did was “well done.”
C’mon, Murphy. Let’s go outside!