(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

Paul continues to address the problem of disunity in the church at Corinth. In doing this he has already likened the church to a field and now he changes the picture and compares the church to a building. Paul uses the construction of a building as an illustration of the unity of purpose of Christian labourers and the diversity of Christian work. He also introduces a new truth, namely, that the quality of Christian service will be tested and revealed on the Day of Judgment. This is not a subject that most believers like to dwell on!!

(B) The church's one foundation.

Paul's statement: For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (1Cor3v11), inspired the great hymn by Samuel J. Stone:

            The church's one foundation
            is Jesus Christ her Lord;
            She is His new creation
            By water and the word;
            From heaven he came and sought her
            To be His holy bride,
            With his own blood he bought her,
            And for her life he died.

Jesus is as fundamental to the church as the foundation is to a building. It is upon him we rest. It is in him we are grounded. Our every endeavour should be in harmony with his mind and will. It is Jesus who binds us together because he is:

(a) Our common interest. Every Christian's total dependence upon Jesus is summed up by Charles Wesley:

            And can it be that I should gain
            An interest in the Saviour's blood?
            Died He for me, who caused His pain?
            For me, who Him to death pursued?
            Amazing love! How can it be
            That Thou, my God,
            Should'st die for me!

No Christian is any better than any other Christian. Each of us relies for salvation, not in his own merit, but in the redeeming work of Jesus.

(b) At the centre of our worship. There is only one man's name in our hymnbooks whose praises we sing. There have been some valiant Christians through the years - Peter, Paul, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Livingstone, William Booth - but we do not sing their praises. We do not sing a word in praise of them. Our hymnbooks are full of expressions of admiration, love and devotion for Jesus.

            Immortal honours rest on Jesus' head;
            My God, my portion and my living bread;
            In Him I live, upon him cast my care;
            He saves from death, destruction and despair.

We could not, we would not, substitute any other name for Jesus in William Gadsby's wonderful hymn. There is absolutely no-one else who saves from death, destruction and despair. As Peter testified to the Sanhedrin: "Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Acts4v12.

(c) Is the inspiration of our Christian service. Paul wrote in Romans12v11: Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. We sing, although I am not so sure our experience always matches the sentiments the hymn expresses:

            My gracious Lord, I own Thy right
            To every service I can pay;
            And call it my supreme delight
            To hear Thy dictates and obey.

Paul's advice to the slaves at Colossae is one of the greatest challenges in the Bible made on behalf of the Master: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Col3v23.

Now what should be true for the church is not true for all local churches. Churches can be:

(1) Debating societies. The church at Corinth was in danger of becoming a place where interesting ideas were discussed.

(2) Social clubs. There are lots of liberal churches where people meet together for companionship and mutual support.

(3) Welfare organisations. Some churches specialise in charitable work. If this is the raison d'etre of a Christian cause it is failing in its main task of seeking and saving the lost.

(4) Expressions of Englishness. There are small congregations in rural Anglican churches whose main motivation in meeting together is to keep the old English traditions alive.

(5) Places of entertainment. One of the reasons the cathedrals of England are well attended is the quality of the music. There is something very uplifting listening to a fine choir in a magnificent building. At the other end of the spectrum there are charismatic churches with a band and singing group to draw in young folk. One of the essential characteristics of a church is that its members love one another. People who attend cathedral services because they enjoy the anonymity of worshipping with a substantial congregation in a large building are not in sympathy with Jesus. You cannot love other Christians if you are not involved with them. Attending church is not like going to a concert in the Albert Hall - or for that matter a late night rave.

(C) There are many different ways Christians can contribute to the church.

Paul likens Christian service to taking part in constructing a building - a temple, cathedral or, indeed, an ordinary house.

First of all the foundation must be laid. If there is something wrong with the footings the house will be a disaster. Paul wrote: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder. v10. Paul was a pioneer missionary. He it was who established the church at Corinth. The apostle had no misgivings about the foundation he laid. He preached Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1Cor2v2.

There remain church planters like Paul but, all sorts of other workers are needed to finish a house:

(1) Bricklayers who put up the walls and roofers who put on the roof. The walls and roof exist for protection. The church needs scholars, preachers and teachers to instruct the faithful in the truth and to protect them from error and bad conduct. The church is indebted to the many through the years who have followed Paul's advice to Timothy: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2Tim2v15. These words have special resonance for me as it is the text my father gave me at my baptism.

(2) Electricians who ensure the building has energy, light and warmth. The fellowship of saints suffers when deprived of men and women of energy, drive and initiative. Enthusiastic Christians, people who get things done cheerfully and expectantly, are a boon to the church - especially when it is cold and dark outside.

(3) Plasterers and painters give a house it's pleasing, attractive appearance. Loving, winsome, gentle, gracious souls make the church a welcoming, happy place.

(4) Plumbers ensure that clean water is piped into a house and dirty water and sewerage are piped out. Their contribution to health and hygiene is incalculable. The health of a church depends considerably upon those with pastoral gifts. A strong and vibrant fellowship will contain Christians who care, listen, comfort, counsel and advise.

(5) Interior decorators who specialise in colour schemes, pictures, ornaments, furniture and soft furnishings provide comfort and pleasure. They make a house a home. A whole lot of people contribute to the pleasure of attending church - composers, hymn writers, architects, musicians, songsters, flower arrangers and local characters.

There are a huge variety of ways we can contribute to the well being of the church. Whatever we do should be done in the name of, and for the sake of, Jesus - who loved us and gave himself for us.

(D) Our contributions are not of equal value.

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw 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. v12and13.

It is a solemn and generally unregarded truth that the quality of our Christian work will be subjected in the last Day to fire - the most stringent and revealing of tests. The reason so few medieval buildings survive in English cities is because they were built of wood, straw and hay and have been destroyed by fire. Brushwood was used in wattle and daub walls and straw for thatch. English churches, mostly stone built, have stood the tests of time.

(1) What work will pass God's test?

It is work that:

    (a) Shows a commitment to the truth - particularly the truth about Jesus Christ. Christians like William Booth, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Corrie ten Boon and C.S.Lewis consistently told men and women the truth about the Saviour.

    (b) Is done for the glory of God. We can do almost anything for God's glory. Think of what David, the man after God's own heart, did for God's glory - fought Goliath, composed and sang sweet songs of praise, danced before the ark, poured out the water from the well of Bethlehem brought to him by three of his mighty men of valour, collected together materials to build the temple and spared his enemy king Saul because he was the Lord's anointed.

    Whatever we do for God's glory it should be done to the very best of our ability. The ancient Israelites offered the firstfruits, the very best, of their harvest to the Lord.

    (c) Exhibits sacrificial love for Christ and our neighbour. When the Japanese, Toyohiko Kagawa, became a Christian he wanted to be like Jesus and so although suffering from tuberculosis he went to live in a small hut in a Tokyo slum. Cecil Nothcott in, 'Famous Life Decisions', describes what happened: On his first night he was asked to share his bed with a man suffering from contagious itch. That was a test of his faith. Would he go back on his point of no return? No. He welcomed his bed-fellow. Then a beggar asked for his shirt and got it. Next day he was back for Kagawa's coat and trousers and got them too. Kagawa was left standing in a ragged old kimono. The slum dwellers of Tokyo laughed at him but they came to respect him. He stood in the driving rain to preach, coughing all the time. 'God is love,' he shouted. 'God is love. Where love is, there is God.' He often fell down exhausted, and rough men of the slums carried him gently back to his hut.

    It is doubtful whether many of us are capable of Kagawa's sacrificial service. I know Christians who wont do hospital visiting in case they catch winter vomiting sickness! I doubt very much whether I would share a bed with someone with a contagious itch! However we are all capable of low-level sacrificial service. We can visit the elderly and listen to the same old stories over and over again, take the infirm shopping and walk very slowly round the supermarket, invite a lonely and not very likeable Christian to a meal, perform menial chores like cleaning and cutting grass around the church, give more than we can afford to good causes and take a Sunday school class.

    Jesus makes it abundantly clear that selfless service is what pleases God: "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mt20v27and28.

(2) What work will fail God's test?

It is work that is done:

    (a) To display our own accomplishments. It is not easy to resist the temptation to write, lecture, teach or preach to show off our own brilliance. Pastors who measure their success by the growth in church attendance will find that they have been building with straw. It must be very difficult for a very talented musician or singer not to revel in the compliments of others. I knew a very gifted organist so taken up with his contribution to worship that he played so loudly that the singing was drowned out.

    (b) For our own glory. It is possible to work hard in the church, to participate in all it's activities, to help others - all for our own benefit. Underlying our every effort is the desire to be popular, to acquire a good reputation, to be respected and honoured. One of the hardest of Jesus' teachings to implement is found in Matthew6v1to4: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen of them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

    But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

    Jesus said the same sort of thing about prayer and fasting.

    (c) Without love. Loveless service includes:

      (I) Work done out of a sense of duty. I can remember overhearing a group of girls that had been in my form for three years and who were about to leave discussing if they should give me a present. One of them said, "Well I suppose we had better give him something." The girl presented me with some of her father's cast off ties! It was a bedraggled collection!! I have never forgotten it!!!

      Does that sum up our attitude to God? "Well I suppose I had better give him something." If so - we are building with straw.

      (II) Work done to save face. When I entertain visitors, especial lady visitors, I always clean my house. We can be a bit like that regarding the church. The church building and cemetery are well maintained because we don't want to make a bad impression on visitors.

      (III) Anything done to make a mark. If a new pastor comes to a church and wants to put his stamp upon it, he is building with straw. A little regarded preacher who posts a website on the Internet in the hope of gaining recognition is working with hay. An aging, rich Christian who contributes a lot of money to a building project in the expectation of leaving a permanent memorial is contributing brushwood.

It will pay us to heed Paul's words of warning: But each one should be careful how he builds. v10. We are not building for time alone but for eternity.

(E) Our actions have consequences beyond the grave.

(1) Some men and women are eager to destroy God's temple. The church has enemies inside and out. Paul described the fate of the vandals within and wreckers without: If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. v17.

(2) A Christian whose work is insubstantial and worthless will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. v15. Trashy service will result in loss of honour.

(3) There will be rewards for believers whose work survives God's test - .... if what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. v14.

There is an honours system here on earth. Not everyone who deserves to be honoured is! But there is another honours system - one for the redeemed in glory. God will make no mistakes! Some Christians will be more highly decorated than others. Those who receive a badge of honour from the Lord Jesus Christ will be able to wear it for all eternity.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net