Monday, October 5, 2009

A Building Set Apart

Each Christian life is a building; a work in progress. Someday we will see the finished product built on Jesus Christ, the foundation. According to the Bible we enter the kingdom of God by faith in the completed work of Christ, apart from personal effort (Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5). When we finally stand before Him, there will be a day of testing--and until reading the passage in 1 Corinthians again today, I have misunderstood this whole concept! You may read this entry and wonder at my ignorance. But perhaps you, like me, have had the same understanding. Or, I may simply be wrong. Please comment as you are led.

Consider this passage:
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NASB)

I have always interpreted this passage as how I build/invest my own life based on the foundation of Jesus Christ. I thought of the tested materials as the result of my doing, my works--that the gold, silver, and precious stones were those things I accomplished through faith and dependence on God by His Spirit; that the layers in my life were the result of my actions and choices.

But another thought has taken shape, one that requires more thought and research:  what if Paul is continuing the thought of others buiding into our lives? Earlier in the passage, Paul refers to himself as a builder in the lives of others (1 Corinthians 3:9-10).  Could this be a continuation of holding all who build accountable to One greater than one's self? I have been privileged to grow under the influence of pastors who laid precious stones upon the foundation of Jesus Christ--Landis Epp, Roy Kooshian, Dan Wetzel, John Sauser, Tim Waldron.  Each one has invested in my life, each one has opened the Word of God and spoken truth. And on that day when my life is tested by fire, the quality of their work will be revealed and each of them will receive a fitting reward (v. 13-14). So the building, the influence, the teaching invested in others is what will be tested, not my own efforts or outcome.  In the American church, we are so "me" oriented, we forget the "we."  If that were the case, how would it change my life? 

It make me more aware of the words I speak into the lives of others—are they truly God-honoring and intended for edification (Ephesians 4:29)? If they are self-motivated or self-glorifying, they will be revealed by fire as wood, hay, or straw. If the words I speak into the lives of others build them up according to their needs and glorify God, they will be revealed by fire as gold, silver, and precious stones.

If this interpretation is true (and it appears to be, given the context), then each of us has the opportunity to build on the lives of others, and our work will be tested as well. As I speak truth and love to others, I am building on the foundation of Christ in their lives. Those words and actions will not be built on my life, but on theirs--and it is by their life that I will lose or receive my reward. Oh, what weight that places on my words and actions. How that takes the focus off of me, myself, and places it on God and others!

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, bu only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29).