. . . But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.1 Corinthians 3:10-15
The second meaning is tied up in the sense of building on a foundation. Not only is the notion of “all working to one end” important; all contributing their part to the whole. But Paul has switched to the building illustration because it lends itself well to the notion of building on a foundation or building on a principle. Yes other workers help the end result but other workers must also build to the same specs or the building will be a hotch-potch of intentions and plans. All must be built to the same plan or the same specs. Clearly Paul is talking figuratively about Christ being the foundation. In fact in Eph 2:20 Paul says “the foundation is the apostles and the prophets but the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself.” The foundation we are to build on is clear – that which has gone before. Our base must be biblical – built on the prophets and the apostles. But anything which is not consistent with Christ – his teaching and his substitutionary death is in error. i.e. The doctrine of Christ crucified is the only foundation on which a soul can rest its hopes of salvation.
Can you imagine anyone building a building, a house with gold, silver, precious stones mixed with wood hay and stubble? Well logic says wood will be involved even with gold and silver and precious stones. That is normal. But adding to that hay and stubble? That is crazy. Imagine a house of elegance and beauty built with wood and precious metals having a thatched roof of grass or hay. No one in their right mind would do that. The standard with which you start a building or a work is the standard with which you want to finish. Otherwise the effort is wasted. Imagine the resale value of something built with the mixture of the materials. Stupidity. Likewise regarding spiritual things.
But Paul is clearly talking less about the building materials as such and more about the quality of enduring the testing. In that regard he combines wood with hay and stubble. Not because you wouldn’t use wood on a building but because wood is consumed by fire. Gold and silver are not destroyed by fire, but are purified from the dross. Wood, hay, stubble, are consumed. The power of fire to try or test the nature of metals, or other objects, is often referred to in the Scripture. Compare Isa 4:4; Isa 24:15; Mal 3:2; 1Peter 1:7. The fire mentioned here is to try the man’s work, not to purify his soul; purgatory is not meant even if such a place as purgatory could be proved to exist. We will discuss this notion at the appropriate time in Paul’s writing. We’ll save it for a future gem.
“the builder will suffer great loss” – all his time and labour will be found to be uselessly employed and spent
Some refer the loss to the work, not to the man; and understand the passage that if any man’s work be burned he shall have nothing left but the measure of truth and uprightness which it may have contained.
Others think if he has sincerely and conscientiously believed what he preached, and yet preached what was wrong, not through malice or opposition to the Gospel, but through mere ignorance, he shall be saved; God in his mercy will pass by his errors; and he shall not suffer punishment because he was mistaken. Yet, as in most erroneous teachings there is generally a portion of wilful and obstinate ignorance. The salvation of such erroneous teachers is very rare; and as is expressed here such salvation will be as though by fire, i.e. a hair’s breadth deliverance; like a brand plucked out of the fire.
You take time to think about it and apply it to your life. Think deeply about what you are building on the foundation that has already been laid.
If your roots [foundations] are forgotten then your fruits will be rotten.Sidney Mohede
God makes His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God, deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.Jim Elliot
God takes us into deep waters, not to drown us but to cleanse us.
(I couldn’t resist adding this one today; not wanting to put out the fire – Ian)Jussar Badudu