The city I grew up in was full of old Victorian Mills. These were impressive buildings but they were also very vulnerable. Every night, one of them would go up in flames. They were highly flammable so it wouldn’t take long for the fire to take hold. By the morning there would be little left of a once impressive structure.
How do you know that your faith is built to last? How do you know that you will keep going through the tests and trials of life? How do you know that you really will be raised with Christ to new life and have assurance of eternal salvation?Well, the Bible gives us a lot of advice about this but one part of it (and this is only one part) is about being part of a healthy local church where we are looking out for each other – particularly for our spiritual welfare.
We are here in the middle of this big question “What kind of Church are we meant to be?” The big picture context is that we are still dealing with the problem of pride and rivalry. People in Corinth were finding their status in their own gifting and their confidence in belonging to the right groups coalescing around different leaders – Paul, Apollos and Peter. We’re now approaching the conclusion of this particular argument.
So far, Paul has argued that this arrogance and rivalry was foolish because
They were saved through and in Christ by the preaching of the Gospel
- That they were not saved because of their own status or ability. Rather, God chose people who were nobodies
- That they were saved through the work of the Holy Spirit not be the ability of human beings to win them over with persuasive arguments
- That God grows His church. Leaders cannot engineer growth. Leaders, preachers, elders, pastors, missionaries, even the apostles were only servants.
And so we have seen that we should be
- A gifted church – because everything we need to love, enjoy and serve God is found in Christ and the Gospel. We don’t need any extra add-ons
- A humble church – knowing that our status and identity come from knowing Christ not from our own abilities or popularity.
- A Spirit Filled Church – where we depend solely on God to work
- A Growing Church – where we allow God to work in our lives to teach us to be like Christ and to love God more and more.
And now we see that we should be
- A Fire proof church – where people find true assurance, safety and security in the Gospel
- Making sure that the church is founded and grounded in the Gospel (v10-12)
Paul has described himself and Apollos as like farmers, planting and watering. He switches the metaphor now. He is like a “master builder.” Out of interest, the Greek word used here is where we get our word “Architect” from.
We’ve ordered a new shed for our back garden. The shed company say that they will come and put the new shed up for me, providing there’s a suitable base in place. The shed needs a foundation.
The job of this chief or expert builder was to make sure that the right foundation was in place. Others have come in to continue the work. But the right foundation had to be in place first.
There is only one foundation that a church can have and that is Christ. The point is that other people have become leaders and teachers in the church but they can’t change the foundation. They can’t offer something else. They can’t build the church on their personality or a particular theory or special church growth techniques. If the church is not founded on Christ, then it isn’t a church. It’s a different structure all together.
For us as a church, this means that we always have to check what we are doing with our different ministries. It’s easy to have a successful ministry. You can quickly get a crowd along to a concert, arts day, afterschool club, coffee shop, Toddlers Group. Some of those things we could run every day of the week and fill our building with people. But that won’t make a lasting difference to anyone’s life. So we say that each of our groups must have the Gospel at its heart. There must be opportunities to talk to people about Jesus, share testimony, pray.
Why? Well very simply because one day, the person won’t have the benefit of a Toddlers Group for social company, one day they won’t be able to get a foodbank voucher. They will need something more to get them through the reality of life -and through death. They need a saviour.
This should flow into our individual lives. What’s the most precious thing you can give your kids? It’s the Gospel? How do we really love our neighbours? It’s when we tell them about Jesus? How will each of us face the different trials that come our way. How will we one day be able to face the reality of death? It’s only if we have that relationship with Jesus.
- We must ensure that the church is built up and established in God’s Word (v 12-15)
It’s not just about the foundation. What do those people go on to build? You see other people had taken on the leadership and teaching of the church in Corinth. The Corinthian leaders were using the wrong materials. In Corinth it was all about the powerful rhetoric and clever arguments (human wisdom). Perhaps those things kept drawing in a crowd. I get the feeling that The 9:30 Service in Corinth Chapel was a really exciting place to be. It would have looked successful but was it genuine and would it really last?
So Paul gives a whole list of possible materials ranging from wood through to precious stones that you can build with. How do you know if you’ve used the right materials? Well, Paul says have a look at what happens when a fire comes. What’s left standing afterwards? It’s just over 30 years ago this month that a crowd packed into a football stadium for the last game of the season. Someone must have dropped a cigarette, it fell between the gaps in the floor and ignited rubbish that had gathered underneath. Within minutes the whole structure was ablaze because it was just a wooden stand. 56 people lost their lives and many more were injured.
Fire here refers to testing and judgement. Now to some extent we get clues in this life. What happens when there is persecution? How do people respond to difficult times in their own lives? How does a church work through problems and disagreements? These will give us clues now as to the health of the church.
But actually the real test is going to be on judgement day when Christ comes again. He will know whether the people in our congregation genuinely put their trust in him. He will know whether what we did was really for him.
Some people (and remember Paul is primarily talking about pastors, elders, missionaries here) will discover that their work did not last. They themselves trusted Jesus and so they are saved – but they have only survived with nothing to show for their efforts.
This is such a serious thing. That fire at the football ground did not just destroy a structure. It wrecked and destroyed lives. If we are careless with our responsibility to God’s Word and God’s people it is horrifically destructive not just for this life but into eternity.
However, in v 14 we have the promise that others will see that their work has survived or remained. Paul says that they will be rewarded. What is this reward? Well through the New Testament we discover that the apostles found their joy and reward in seeing believers rooted and established in Christ. So the elder’s reward will be in seeing those he taught present in God’s Kingdom. It will be about sharing in the joy together.
What does that mean for us as a church? Well using the right materials means very simply that we teach God’s Word. This is not just about intellectual head knowledge. It’s about making disciples. It’s about modelling how to know, love, obey and live out God’s Word. It also means that we not only start with the Gospel as the foundation but we build with the Gospel too. We need God’s grace for the whole of life.
I believe that an important part of this is about helping each other to be accountable to one another, to encourage and support each other. A very good way of playing your part in this is by getting involved in a home group or day time small group. There you’ll learn to pray for each other, discover what God’s Word is saying together and encourage each other each week to live out what we learn.
- All of us must learn to love and cherish the church (v 16-17)
Why does this all matter? Well it’s because the building being constructed is not any old building. It’s God’s house, his Temple. So it is a precious and important building. Note two things here.
In the past, people have talked about church buildings as “The House of God.” But actually it is the people who are the Church not the building. The Holy Spirit dwells in us.
- Although each individual believer is filled with the Holy Spirit and has a personal relationship with Christ, Paul is talking about the whole church together as being the Temple, the place where God’s presence is known.
There’s a strong warning here. Destroy the House of God and you too will be destroyed. This is more than just the careless, sloppy building that is tested by fire. This suggests at least a recklessness to God’s people and at worst a wilful intention to abuse, harm and undermine.
Let me suggest a couple of things here.
First, you will destroy a local church if you undermine the foundation. So preachers, teachers, Sunday Club leaders must be careful to keep teaching God’s Word faithfully. We all have a responsibility to give space for this to happen.
Second, you can cause a lot of destruction by arson. In other words, just as some people deliberately set fire to physical buildings, you can do this spiritually with the church. If you are constantly stirring up trouble, gossiping, bad mouthing, complaining etc then it will cause pain and havoc. It’s not our responsibility to set fires – God will test his church and refine it in his time!
So, we have two responsibilities. First of all, to guard the church against false teaching. This means we don’t take risks with who teaches the Bible in our gatherings, Home Groups, Sunday Clubs etc. Training, checking, discernment and testing comes before they teach not after. But we all have a responsibility to listen carefully, check and discern to make sure our preachers stay on track.
Secondly, we have to guard against destructive behaviour. How do we do that? Well I think it comes when we see Christ’s church as he sees it. Yes, he sees us as we are now, weak, messy, imperfect, a work in progress. But he also sees the end product -a beautiful bride without blemish. Christ loves his bride the church. Do we love the church? Do we love the whole church around the world? Do we rejoice when we hear about the church growing in China and Indonesia or church plants in London and Birmingham? Are we sad and concerned when we hear about persecution in Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan? Do we pray?
And the best way to start loving is with the ones you can see. Do you love your local church, pray for it, give thanks? That doesn’t mean it is perfect or we ignore faults and problems but our heart motive should be love.
Those who act to destroy God’s church will be destroyed. In other words, they will face judgement day and be banished from God’s loving presence for eternity. They will have shown that they do not belong to Christ and so they will face Hell.
4. Treasure and Enjoy all that we have in Christ (v18-23)
Paul is now bringing this part of the argument we’ve been looking at these past few weeks. So he returns to those big themes again.
- Wisdom and foolishness – a warning against pride (v18-20)
Do you have true wisdom from God? Or are you relying on human wisdom. By the way, the problem with human wisdom is not that the bible is against us thinking, reasoning, asking questions, arguing things through logically. The issue is heart motives. Human wisdom means that we want to be in control, to make the decisions and it means that we do it for our own selfish gain.
So notice the two quotes:
Job 5:13 “He traps the wise in their own cleverness so their cunning schemes are thwarted.”
Psalm 94:11 “The Lord knows people’s thoughts; he knows they are worthless!”
The point is that God knows people’s hearts and motives. He knows when we are using our skills, gifts, cleverness for our own selfish ends, to gain attention, to make money, to be popular and even to cause harm and hurt to others.
It does not matter how clever you are. If you use your cleverness for bad purposes, then you will come undone. You may look wise but in fact you are foolish because you are acting against God. One day you will be held to account whether here and now in this life or when Christ comes in judgement.
2. The secret of joy
So, don’t depend on other humans for your safety, salvation and security. Don’t boast about how well you are connected to a particular leader, which church, congregation or small group you belong to, how many of a particular author’s books you’ve read, which Christian CDs you listen to and concerts you attend. Those things and those people don’t save you (v 22-23)
Instead these last few verses remind us that we have so much, everything we need – in Christ. This is wonderful, liberating, joy bringing.
In Christ we have salvation -we have the hope of the resurrection, we have forgiveness
In Christ we have each other we are part of a family, built up together in Him.
Some buildings go up very quickly. They are three in a flash but they are not built to last. Sometimes you watch the building site and the work seems painfully slow. Progress isn’t always visible. There’s nothing flash but the builder is patiently at work.
God is patiently at work in our lives as we are together, part of his church.
Are you playing your part in making sure that together we are grounded in Christ and built up in his word? Are you seeking to love and the church? Do you find joy and delight in Christ?
How can we encourage each other in these things?