Building Materials: Very Good, Some Very Poor

1 Corinthians 3:10‑15  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Every Christian is building, and in 1 Corinthians 3 he is exhorted to "take heed how he buildeth." The Spirit of God here uses the figure of building to express the testimony of Christianity in this world. We can easily visualize a wall or a four-walled structure in the making—bit is added to bit, as many workmen do their jobs.
The workmen mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3 do not all do good building; some of them evidently build with enthusiasm and zeal, but put very poor materials into the building. We can easily see that this is not the building that the Lord spoke of in Matthew 16, when He said that upon the Rock of Peter's confession -"Christ, the Son of the living God"—He would build His Church. Christ will never place any bad materials in His building, and nothing shall ever destroy what He builds. He is building His Church, and that work is entirely in His hands. It is composed of every true believer in Himself in this age.
Now there is that other building which men build in the world—Christianity as entrusted to the hands of men. There is no other foundation but Jesus Christ (v. 11). To depart from that foundation would be to leave Christianity itself. Each believer is within the scope of Christianity in this world, and each is building something into that testimony. We may not have seriously weighed it before, but we are adding something to that building. Now the scripture before us is "let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon" (v. 10). Why should there be any need for such an exhortation? Verse 12 supplies the answer by listing some of the materials being put into the building; these fall into two classes—"Gold, silver, precious stones," and "wood, hay, stubble."
The standard by which to test the building materials is a divine standard-that which will stand the test of fire. Every bit of material that goes into that building is going to pass through the fire, for we read, "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (v. 13). So then only fireproof materials will be of any account. The Laodiceans were counseled to buy "gold tried in the fire" that they might be rich, and not to trust in what they called riches.
It is a solemn thought that each of us is day by day building something that is going to be tested by fire—God's fire that will consume everything that is not according to His mind and His Word. Such being the case, we may well inquire how we can build things that will withstand the heat of His discerning judgment in that day. We may ask, Just what are "gold, silver, precious stones" with which we should build? and what are the very combustible materials which we should avoid placing in this building of Christianity on earth?
In order to answer this we may notice first that the things that will stand the fire test are—comparatively speaking-very small in bulk. A bale of hay would make a sizeable contribution to any wall. Hay is very good in its place, and some hay is much better and higher priced than other hay, but none of it is suitable fireproof building material. Wood also builds quickly and soon makes an appearance before the eyes of man, but it is no good in this building. Gold, silver, and precious stones make little bulk; but after the fire has passed they will be left—and their builder will receive a reward.
Further, in considering what these figurative materials represent to us in our daily building, we need to remember that this chapter is not dealing with a Christian living for the world—trying to get rich, going after its pleasures, etc.-which is spoken of in other parts of the Word of God. The whole question here is what we are placing into our Christian testimony. Maybe you have not thought of yourself as such a builder, but if you will examine the scripture you will find that you are.
It is apparent then that things which make the greatest bulk and are best seen by men are most likely not to stand the fire test. Christendom is filled with materials being built into it (and by real Christians) which will be burned up. (There are also false doctrines that corrupt that are mentioned as being put in by bad builders, but our subject here is more what we as Christians build.) Men have always admired things that make a big display, and such things are highly accredited in Christendom. If we go back to Genesis we find building spoken of in the 4th, 6th, and 11Th chapters. First, Cain built a city after he killed his righteous brother and then went out from God's presence. His city was popular, for he incorporated into it all that he could to make men who are away from God happy. The cities of today are basically the same; that is, they have everything that man can conceive to please the human heart which is apart from God. This first building mentioned appeared big and grand, but was destroyed in the flood. Second, Noah built an ark on dry ground at God's command, and "became heir of the righteousness that is by faith." His building was not approved but so scorned by his fellow men that not one beside his own family entered it. Third, the whole world banded together to build the tower of Babel, but God wrote confusion on the venture and scattered t h e people. This may give us some idea of what men naturally respect in the way of building in the world; that which is of God is never popular.
Remember the word, "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:1515And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)). This is an important principle, and should make us wary of anything that has popular approval.
Another Old Testament scripture that will throw some light on men's thoughts is found in 1 Samuel 4. Israel had been beaten by the Philistines and instead of owning their sin as the cause, they sent for the Ark of God—that which spoke of Jehovah's presence—in order that it might save them. That sounded good, and all the people thought so, for when it came into the camp they all shouted "until the earth rang again." Surely this was a great work of God, they must have thought if not said. And so today, if men would gather thousands of people together and shout out the truth of Christianity until the earth would ring, it would be praised as a great work of God; but God's work is not done in that manner. Men would have organized a great campaign to introduce Christianity on the continent of Europe, and sent advance agents to prepare the way with great advertising; but God sent Paul and Silas over there with no such human agency to help, and the first thing they did when they landed in Macedonia was to speak to some women at the riverside. Later these faithful servants landed in jail in order that the jailor might be saved. How differently men would have opened such a program! Yet from that lowly beginning the gospel spread all over Europe.
It is very easy for us to have men's thoughts in the things of God, for they abound all around us; but if we are to take heed how we build, how we contribute to the testimony of Christianity in the world, in view of the judgment seat of Christ, we need to dislodge human thoughts and seek divine guidance. This will be found in the Word of God.
If we go back to 1 Samuel, we find that even the uncircumcised Philistines could value and appreciate such a crowd and such a shout; they understood human thoughts and pretensions, and they were terribly afraid. Their fears, however, were groundless; for God was not in that great shout, and He allowed His Ark to be taken by the Philistines. But if the Philistines could value human pretension, they could not understand human weakness which counts on God to work in His way. In the 7th chapter of the same book, Israel came together to mourn, to confess their sin, to put away strange gods, to pour out water as a symbol of their weakness. This the Philistines did not understand and fearlessly went into battle against Israel, to be smitten when God thundered from heaven. And so today, even the unsaved will join in and applaud any great movement that can garner thousands and make the earth ring. Even the prophet Elijah could understand fire, and wind, and earthquake, but not the "still small voice" that does wonders.
Now to go to the last book of the Old Testament, we read that of the small remnant of Israel that returned from Babylonian captivity many had turned to their own ways, and away from God. They were saying, "It is vain to serve God." Is not this heard in the land today? But, fellow Christian, is it really vain to serve God and walk carefully before Him? of course not! However, in such days as Malachi describes, there were some who feared the Lord and thought upon His name; and these came together often to speak about the Lord and His things. It was not all Israel—days were gone when all Israel could be gathered together—or great crowds gathered together to speak of the Lord. It was not anything that man would consider great; it was what was despised according to human judgment. But God approved it, and He hearkened and heard. He stooped, as it were, especially to listen to their conversation; and He had a special record written before Him about this little thing that He greatly valued. Surely in the language of 1 Corinthians it was "gold, silver, precious stones" in His eyes. When conditions were bad they did not say, "It is all over," or, "It is vain to serve God"; nor did they fold their hands in self-complacency, but were actively engaged to encourage one another in a simple and faithful testimony to their Lord. They were in that sense building, but not with the hay of greatness and man's approval.
Then when we come to the book of Revelation (chaps. 2 and 3), we find the ruin of the church on earth described (not what Christ is building, but that committed to men), and we find great boasting at the end and great deeds mentioned; but what especially received the Lord's greatest commendation is, "Thou... hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name" (Rev. 3:88I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8)). And to whom was this spoken? To those who had "little strength." No great deeds! No crowds that could make the earth ring! No approval of men, but rather the contrary. Others might boast of great bales of hay, great efforts to revive the testimony of Christianity. "Wood, hay, stubble" may be built very high and receive acclaim on every hand, but what will stand the test of fire are those things done in simple obedience to the Word of God, and faithfulness to Christ's name. This is the "gold, silver, precious stones" that will stand the test at the judgment seat of Christ.
O fellow Christian, whose approval do we want? Do we want to make a show and impress men, or simply to please God, and leave the results with Him? Far be it from me to speak one word against one being faithful in giving out the gospel to those around us; we should remember the unsaved all around and be ready to speak a word for Christ. It is to our shame that we are not more faithful, but let us not seek popular appeal or that which has human approval. Let us seek to communicate "spiritual things by spiritual means" (as a better translation of 1 Corinthians 3 says). Men may act on the principle that the results justify any means used, but God's Word says, "A man is not crowned except he strive lawfully"; or in other words, "wood, hay, stubble" will be burned up and only "gold, silver, precious stones" survive the fire. The one who built with the latter will receive a reward, or be "crowned," as in the illustration of an athlete (see 2 Tim. 2).
May the Lord grant us each grace to seek more and more to witness for Him in this world, and in everything to do all according to His Word and in devotedness to His name. Then it will not be a matter of seeking to do great things before men, even ostensibly for His sake, but doing all in view of the day which shall soon declare of what "sort" the work was—not how "much." Each of us can seek to encourage others and speak often of Him. If we follow the little remnant from the days of Malachi to the days when the Lord Jesus came (see Luke 2), we find a very aged widow speaking of Him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. And cannot we speak of Him? We should remember that even our presence in the little Bible reading, or prayer meeting, is helping to maintain that little testimony to His name, and will surely receive its reward.