Text: 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 November 13, 2011
1) A modern day church in danger: From January 1994 to March 1998, our church was given the blessing and generosity of an American church here in Memphis to allow us used part of their church facility while we searched for a permanent home of our own. That church had a large and beautiful sanctuary that could sit over 1,000, a beautiful chapel, and a 3-story building of fellowship hall, classrooms, office space and other facilities. That church had dwindled from their glorious heights to about 150 people in the late 1990s. Today, they can only afford to call a bi-vocational pastor, trying to keep the doors open as a church.
2) An ancient time church in danger: In his third missionary trip to further the gospel ministry, Paul arrived Corinth from Athens and stayed there for 18 months working with a dedicated couple Aquila and Priscilla to evangelize and build a great church in that strategic and prosperous city. (Acts 18:1-11) That church “was blessed by the grace of God, enriched in every way in all the speaking and knowledge. They were also well endowed with many spiritual gifts.” (1 Cor. 1:4-7) Although they were blessed to have some topnotch preacher, teacher and leaders, that church was at the brink of disintegration because of their internal strife and division. In his first letter to this problematic church, Paul presented to them a formula that will guarantee the lasting witnessing of that once great church.
THE PREPARATION FOR A CHURCH: (1 Corinthians 3:10)
1) It all starts by God’s grace: “By the grace of God has given me.” (3:10a) Planning to start a church is never the same as planning to start a business. Starting a business is mostly for personal goal and benefit, but starting a church is solely for the benefit of the souls of the unsaved. Planning for a business takes human resources and efforts, but planning the start of a church needs direction and resources from God. Human ability may start an organization, but only by the grace of God who gives us vision, guidance, supplies and protection, a church is built. The grace of God gives us the spiritual insight, the ability and the humility to seek and follow God every step of the way.
2) It takes knowledge and skill: “I lay a foundation as an expert builder.” (3:10b) Expert or master builder comes from a Greek word, archtekton, we have architect, someone with knowledge and skill to build a building. Certainly this is about spiritual skill and knowledge Paul was given by the grace of God to build a church at Corinth. This is not about worldly knowledge but spiritual insight and principles God gave to him. Today, all those who serve as leaders is God’s church should heave that same fervency in pursuing the knowledge of God from the Bible. Human knowledge will never be able to build a church to God’s specification to achieve His goal or to bring Him glory. Too often, we see people start churches for human or personal reason that will never glorify God.
3) It also takes many helpers: “And someone else is building on it.” (3:10c) It is a common wisdom that no single person can build a church for God and His people. Even in the very early times when God allowed King Solomon to build the first temple, He gave Solomon wisdom and great insight to enlist helpers for the project. (1 Kings 4:29-5:18) We need to pay attention to this important point: It takes more than one man to build God’s church. We need others to work together to build God’s church. Working together in building God’s church is historically a difficult problem. The Lord prayed for the unity of his disciples. History proven that many of the failures of church building were rooted from problems of all God’s people working together.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF A CHURCH: (3:10d-12)
1) Each one has a fair share: “Each one should be careful how he builds.” (3:10d) This is not just about “fair share” in the right of a believer in God’s church, it is also about fair share of his responsibility. Even with all the gifts God has given to Paul, he said he needed others to do the work with him. In his real life, he had many helpers in doing God’s work. He wants to caution all of us “be careful” in what we do in our share. This is not just about the way, but also about the attitude of doing God’s work. Too often and too many believers just “don’t care” that much about their share of responsibilities in working for the Lord in His church. The Greek form of builds in present indicative active means “a continuing process” without stop. How often do you serve, work for God’s church in this way?
2) All will build on one foundation: “For no one can lay another foundation other than the one already laid which is Jesus Christ.” (3:11) This is by far the most important condition when we build God’s church: Build on Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died for the church, he built the church on the foundation He is the Son of the Living God. (Matt 16:16) Building on Christ means faithfully believing, teaching and obeying the words of Jesus Christ. Today, too many religious organizations called churches do not truly believe, practice or obey the words of Christ in the Bible. We need to be careful on this one foundation we build God’s church.
3) All needs to build with sacrifices: “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver and precious stones, wood, hay or straw.” (3:12) Everyone who treasure his home will invest his best material in its building with ultimate sacrifice to make the home strong and beautiful. Building a home with wood, hay or straw will be easy and without little sacrifice of fortune. We see many Christians hold similar attitude to God’s church when it comes to his personal sacrifice: his most or his least. How often Christians care about the beauty of their own homes much more than about the house of the Lord. The fact this condition is listed here is to give us a test on how much we truly love God.
THE INSPECTION OF A CHURCH: (3:13-15)
1) All works must be inspected: “His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (3:13) Too often and too many Christians wish that their work for the Lord or lack of it will never be tested or revealed but they will. God cannot be mocked or cheated by anyone. What we do or not do for God will be tested and reveled in the Day of Judgment. This is not meant to scare anyone but rather to give all of us a warning. The certainty of test and reveal calls us to face the reality and hope to alert us to catch up or change our attitude in building God church while we still have time.
2) All good work will be rewarded: “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.” (3:14) God is never naive on what we do or not do in building his church, faithful or unfaithful on his trust, sacrificial or selfish in giving and serving Him and His church. Sometimes, the faithful can grow weary in doing good and serving long. But here God promises us that if we are doing our fair share faithfully, we will receive his reward. Who knows what kind of rewards God has in store for the faithful? Jesus gave us a peep into the reward God will give to the faithful in Matt 25:21, “His master replied: Well done. Good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s joy.”
3) All cosmetic work will be burnt: “If what he has built is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flame.” (3:15) Christians who do cosmetic service to the Lord, keeping the best for themselves but give to God what is leftover, all of what he has built will be burned to ashes, nothing will be left for him. The question is not if he is saved, but it is about what he has left. He will be saved, but bare to the bone life someone escapes from fire, naked and shameful. In the Bible, fire is God’s judgment on evil and ungodly. No one may keep anything he has saved from giving to the Lord. It is wise to check on your account with God what is there.
THE DEDICATION OF A CHURCH: (3:16-17)
1) Dedicate the church to God: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (3:16) Almost all churches and Christians believe and claim that they belong to Jesus Christ. Some even uses His name as the name of their churches and organizations. But real churches that belong to God will recognize God as the supreme authority of their church and do things that honor God. Many problems of today’s churches rooted from men want to be the owner of God’s church. They want to control the church, want all others even God to follow their way.
2) Keeping the church for God: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” (3:17a) No one can destroy any church that belongs to God. God will protect His own house. But if anyone is willfully destroying, deconsecrating or mutilating the sacred church of God, God promised to destroy that man. God cannot be mocked, despised or disregarded.
3) Giving of ourselves to God: “For God’s temple is sacred and you are that temple.” (3:17b) The real temple of God is never a building but his people, the believers. To keep the temple holy, we must first be holy. To consecrate a church to God, we must be first consecrated. Only a consecrated people may honor God with a consecrated church.
1) What shall we do in God’s church: Not everything that called church is a real church. Only those planned, built, approved and dedicated to God are true churches of God. It is much more on the people in the churches than church building or organization. Let us heed God’s principles set in the Bible to start and grow His church.
2) What shall we do to our life: We are the temples of God and He will live in us if we are consecrated and worthy for His use. From the way we live to the way we serve, we need to do what God wants us to do so His church will last for long, long time.