God’s Building – God’s Way
Robert Wurtz II
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians 3:9-13)
The temple motif is common in the writings of Paul and is here again in 1 Cor. 3. It may be good for the reader to take a moment and read the entire 3rd chapter to get a feel for what Paul is talking about here. He is drawing our attention to what we are doing when we are laboring together with God. He first states, ye are God’s building. The fact that the churches of God belong to God exclusively, having been purchased by the very blood of Christ, ought to sober our minds to the task at hand. Later on we are given this solemn warning, If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Cor. 3:17) The Saints within the churches of God both individually and collectively constitute the Temple of God. This is God’s building project and an exceedingly precious one to Him. Again, to add to our sobriety we are warned, If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. So we see then a great contrast between those that are building the temple with gold, silver, precious stones and those that defile the temple. Paul deals here with proper building, improper building and destroying. For this entry I wish to focus on proper and improper building.
A cause of confusion
Over the years I have found myself in controversy about how the churches of God have been being built upon the foundations of past generations of dear Saints. I have lost friends over this subject and have been grossly misunderstood on a number of occasions. But I don’t think we should fear addressing this subject because it is utterly important to the success of the churches of God both now and going forward. Paul tells us plainly, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. So what are the possibilities? Understand that every day we are building into our own lives and spirits (our body the temple) either gold, silver, precious stones or wood, hay, stubble or things that defile the temple. If any person ministers in the churches of God (the corporate temple) they are bringing to the project either gold, silver, precious stones or wood, hay, stubble or things that defile the temple.
Things that defile
Things that defile and destroy the temple are like what we find ‘that woman Jezebel’ doing at the church at Thyatira. Here we read:
Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:20-23)
Here we have a woman in the church at Thyatira pretending to be a prophetess, but is actually seducing the people into committing fornication and partaking of the table of demons- provoking God in the process. (1 Cor. 10:21) This kind of conduct falls in the category of, If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Cor. 3:17)
Hay, wood and stubble
Going in reverse order next we have wood, hay, stubble. These are not destructive things, they just don’t edify. This was always Paul’s question about what a Saint is doing, does it edify? Does it build us up in our most holy faith. Notice it did not say puff us up. Many things bring about a false sense of edification. They are building materials that God has not approved, but is waiting until the judgment to finally deal with it all. Keep in mind that wood in the scripture is symbolic of humanity or humanness. What is the origin of our contribution? Does it originate in the heart of God or in the human ideas of the flesh? It has to be tested. Here we read, Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. Here our Greek word for ‘sort’ is ὁποῖος (hopoios) and it means of what sort or quality, what manner of, that something is. “Every fire tests the quality of the material used in the building. Men today find, alas, that some of the fireproof buildings are not fireproof when the fire actually comes.” (A.T. Robertson) There is an eschatological (final judgment) fire that will test all of our works. This is not a threat for judgment, but to assess our works for rewards sake. There is also the day to day fires that we encounter as a matter of course in life. Many believers today cannot stand the fires of adversity and trial because they have built their life with wood, hay and stubble. Perhaps churches and ministries are failing because when the fire comes they are found to have only been wood, hay and stubble. We simply can’t expect to put a thatch roof on a solid gold building and it not be rejected. We have to bring things that are worthy of the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. Our service to God will be judged on the basis of quality not quantity (what sort not size). Marvin Vincent, one of the great Greek scholars of the 19th century explains it this way,“To this structure different teachers (builders) bring contributions of more or less value, represented by gold, wood, hay, etc.”
What is hay, wood and stubble?
The question then becomes, what are we bringing to the structure? What are we building our own spirits with? Are we building with materials that come from God or from something else? That is to say, are we building our spirits and churches with Bible based- God inspired things or are we moving in something else? Are we building with worldly wisdom or are we truly building with Spiritual means and materials? This is a vital question to ask ourselves.
About 10 years ago I recall traveling to a remote part of Missouri where back in the 1940’s my great uncle on my mother’s side was said to have built a wooden log cabin in a single day and spent the night in it. It was not much bigger than a small shack. He gathered up the trees, cut them and had shelter. I thought it was a pretty impressive feat, but I wouldn’t have wanted to ride out a tornado or forest fire in it. Some 60 years later it hardly recognizable as a building. Why? The elements had destroyed it. This is a slow fire of sorts. If circumstances were different and the builder could have taken the time and built it out of solid gold it would still be standing today. That is not a criticism, but it shows how desperately we need to take heed to how we build upon the foundation of Christ. Hay, wood and stubble can be gathered up off the ground and made into something very flimsy and temporal.
Gold, silver and precious stones
Gold is hard to find and sometimes very difficult to process. Silver is difficult to find and is very hard and costly to process. I once toured a silver mine in Calico, CA. where there are still large deposits of silver, but the cost to process it is more than the silver is worth. Precious stones are from the Greek that means rare and precious. Again, these things have to be mined from the earth through laborious and painstaking processes. Once they are found they have to be cut to shape to bring out their beauty and worth. This is what it is to build our spirits and churches with lasting and edifying materials. We need that which comes from God that is derived by the Spirit in prayer and study. We need builders that are men and women of the Spirit and of the Book.
But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off. (Ezra 3:12-13)
The children of Israel had been carried off to Babylon because of their sin. The temple had been plundered and destroyed. Many years later a band returned at the order of Cyrus the Persian to rebuild the Temple. There were many promises associated with this temple. Yet we have a terrible event captured in Ezra 3:12-13 where the ancient priests and Levites and elders wept, most likely, because of the sad condition of the building as compared to the Temple they recalled from their you that was built by Solomon. The young people didn’t know any better. All they had was their present experience. They never witnessed the real thing. Their sin and compromise had cost them that and now there is this mixed reaction of weeping and rejoicing depending on your age. We have this in Haggai, Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts. (Hag. 2:3, 4) We have here the promise that God is still with them- looking forward to a day when God will build His Temple. It was hard for the ancients to come to terms with what seemed like such substandard building.
If we will mind the words of Paul we will build as God has called us to; with excellence and with His prescribed materials. If we take the attitude of Cain and get mad that God won’t accept just anything we want to bring to the ministry then we are destined for heartache, loss and possibly sin. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.