“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” (I Cor. 3:12,13).
The poet, Friedrich Von Logau, said, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small.” William Wadsworth Longfellow elaborated and said, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small. Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness He grinds all.” (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, by Charles R. Swindoll, W Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, Page 323.) The judgments of God are like a fire sweeping across the floor of a pine forest—all consuming. Nothing will escape His eternal presence in the Day of Judgment. Although there have been many injustices in the household of God through the centuries, God has not forgotten. “He stands waiting, with exactness He grinds all.”
Paul begins, “Now if any man,” that is, any pastor, teacher, or evangelist, “build upon this foundation.” While these words are primarily meant for those who hold positions of leadership within the Church, they also apply to every member of the Body of Christ. Consequently, all should take heed to the apostle’s admonition.
BUILDING ACCORDING TO GOD’S PLAN
Gold and Wood
Gold, silver, and precious stones represent our good works and faithful service. On the other hand, the wood, hay, and stubble represent those things that are done in the flesh, which are temporary in nature. Since Paul uses the metaphor of the temple in this context, we are given a hint as to the significance of these particular building materials. Paul assumes, of course, that we already understand what these materials symbolized in the Old Testament. Surely we can never do justice to this subject due to the endless line of thought that each of these images convey. So with God’s help, we offer the following for your consideration.
In the Old Testament gold symbolized deity. The furniture in both the tabernacle and the temple was overlaid with pure gold. When the priest entered the Holy Place, directly before him stood the golden altar of incense, where incense was burned, which portrayed the prayers of the saints ascending to God. This was an act of worship. On his right hand was the golden table of showbread, and on his left stood the golden candlestick with six branches (Ex. 25:23,24,31,32; 30:1,3).
Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people; but not without blood. When he stepped behind the veil he stood in the very presence of God. As he sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat—located on top of the Ark of the Covenant—it should be noted that both were overlaid with gold. So then, gold is closely associated with the presence and worship of God (Ex. 25:10,11,17-19).
Today, our worship of God rests upon the revelation given to us by the Apostle Paul. Herein are the commands of Christ that we are responsible to obey. In so doing we are using gold in our construction. But what does God expect of us in regard to worship? Worship is simply service—it means to serve, pay homage. However you cannot serve God, or acceptably pay homage to Him, unless you have a knowledge of His will.
The primary focus of our worship must be the proclamation of the Word of God, with special emphasis laid upon rightly dividing the Word of truth (II Tim. 2:15 cf. II Tim. 4:2). Of course, singing, prayer, giving, and testimonials should complement the preaching of the Word, but never infringe upon it in any way. In the administration of Grace, it is Paul who shows us how to worship. Hence, we must acknowledge his apostleship and message to build that which is lasting upon the foundation, which is Christ Jesus. This impacts every area of our worship.
For example, unlike Israel, we worship the God of all grace who’s doing something new and different among the Gentiles. Unlike Israel, who had limited access to the throne of God, we have full access. Unlike Israel, who sought the forgiveness of her sins through atonement, we are forgiven on the basis of Christ’s precious blood.
An outward expression of worshipping God is our giving. Under the law, God required His people to give ten percent of their earnings. This was known as the law of the tithe. Furthermore, the law was clear that their offerings and special donations were to be given in addition to the tithe. Today, we are to give from our heart as God has prospered us, which differs from person to person (I Cor. 16:1,2).
Everything connected to the tabernacle/temple spoke in some way of the person and work of Christ. As we know, the acacia wood used in the construction of the furniture in the temple was all overlaid with fine gold. The combination of wood, which symbolized humanity, and gold was significant because both typified Christ—He was wholly God and wholly human in one person (Ex. 25:10,11 cf. Isa. 53:2).
Wood, then, is closely associated with the flesh. As one of the building materials, it represents those things pleasing to self, and that which is done for appearance sake. Once again, worship is in view since wood and gold correspond to one another. But here we have a refusal on the part of the worshipper to fully acknowledge Paul’s gospel, for one reason or another. Many count the cost, and the cost is simply too high to stand in the defense and confirmation of Paul’s message. They prefer to merely blend in with the mainstream of Christendom, where the music is plentiful and the experience gratifying. These “feel good ministries” thrive on emotionalism, but offer little in the way of substance from the Word of God.
The motto of the Church today is, “Let me entertain you!” Shame on us! Surely we’ve lost our way, and sadly, the uniqueness of our message in the process. When a new family asks a pastor, “What does this church have to offer us?” it is obvious the Church has drifted far from its original purpose. The proper request should be, “Pastor, what can my family do to help further the cause of Christ?”
We have a life-changing message that’s being smothered by compromise. The world is drunk with entertainment. It’s quietly searching for answers to the eternal questions: Where did I come from? What is my purpose in life? Where will I spend my eternal destiny? Think of it, we have the answers to these questions, and more! But the new philosophy of ministry has loftier goals. It says the Church must be more progressive to meet the needs of the community. So while Christian leaders are busy planning the next church extravaganza to outdo the assembly down the street, lost souls are going to a Christless eternity.
Why do we insist upon grieving the heart of God!? We need to rededicate our pulpits and services to the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery. If we follow Paul’s pattern, the Word of God will stir the hearts of the saints to do the work of the ministry. This is true worship in action! Remember and remember well, we must all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Silver and Hay
Silver was another precious metal that was prominent throughout the tabernacle. All the sockets that supported this structure were made of silver. Inasmuch as these sockets were made from the redemption money given by the children of Israel to ransom their souls unto the Lord, it is clear silver speaks of redemption (Ex. 25:1-3; 30:11-16; 36:24; 38:27). It points to the redemptive work of Christ and the need to be saved.
With redemption now a reality, we are to tell a lost and dying world that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their sins unto them. So it is important that we are following the correct commission. Although many sincere believers are operating under the Great Commission, they are sincerely wrong. This commission, with its baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and signs, miracles and wonders, was given to Israel under the old economy. Today, we are to proclaim the commission of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18-21).
So then, as we make known the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, we must again turn to Paul’s epistles in order to present the correct terms of salvation, which are: Christ died for your sins, was buried and rose again (I Cor. 15:1-4). The Bema Seat will declare if we had a burden for lost souls and faithfully shared the gospel of salvation with those around us. It will also be made manifest if we cared enough to follow-up with those we had the privilege of leading to Christ. In short, were we faithful to see that they became rooted and grounded in the truth of the unsearchable riches of Christ?
Hay is a temporal commodity. Since it stands opposite of silver, it represents those who have no interest whatsoever in the salvation of others. Here’s a Christian who doesn’t have a burden for lost souls. He’s too busy for such things, or the fear of men has silenced him. He knows he should be witnessing for Christ and plans to get around to it someday, but the years pass like the flower of the field and his life ends misspent.
All too often the excuse is, “I’m not an evangelist, I leave such things to those who are more qualified!” This may be true, but every believer is responsible to do the work of the evangelist (II Tim. 4:5). You see, we have access to people and places the evangelist can only long for. Stop and think, when was the last time you prayed for the Lord to give you boldness to witness to someone? When was the last time you were concerned about a loved one near to you that is in danger of eternal damnation? When was the last time you shared with someone the truth that God loves them and Christ died for their sins? Remember, the clock’s ticking, not only for them, but for you as well!
Precious Stones and Stubble
Precious stones also bear a connection to the Old Testament temple. The High Priest was required to wear a breastplate when he ministered in the things of the Lord, which contained twelve precious stones (Ex. 28:15-29). Each stone represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They symbolized the glory of God. The breastplate was a constant reminder that the Lord’s people were to be close to the heart of the High Priest as he faithfully ministered on their behalf, and also executed judgment. As a result, God was glorified among them.
When we come to Christ, we are saved by grace through faith alone apart from works. However, after we are saved by the grace of God, we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. According to Paul’s gospel, we are the ministers of God today, and we are to glorify Him through good works. These include raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, volunteering our time at the Rescue Mission, given to hospitality, small acts of kindness, etc. It has been said, “Nobody is going to care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of consecration. “To give my life for Christ appears glorious,” he said. “To pour myself out for others…to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom—I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—`Here’s my life, Lord, I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there in little acts of love in service for others. Usually, giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”
Our motives and the intent of the heart also have a great bearing on our service for Christ. Allow me to illustrate: Pick one thing you really enjoy doing in life—fishing, traveling, skiing, attending craft shows, etc. Once the date is set, you’re probably like a sweet ant in a sugar bowl. The anticipation is more fun than a barrel of monkeys, and when the day finally arrives, you savor every moment. Now, do we approach the things of the Lord with the same enthusiasm, or do we serve Him out of necessity? If the members of the Body of Christ put half the effort into the Lord’s work that a diehard Green Bay Packer football fan puts into a game at Lambeau Field, we’d make a lasting imprint on the world.
Stubble has little redeeming value. It’s like the chaff that the wind sweeps away from the threshing floor. This is the believer who sows to the flesh. The pleasures and possessions of this world have crowded out any interest in serving the Lord. Like Demas, he has turned his back on the Lord’s work, having loved this world. The loss this believer is going to suffer is immeasurable.
“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. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:13-15).
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest.” God is going to bring forth every man’s work for a complete and thorough review. The apostle here is speaking of the body of a man’s work that he produced over the course of his Christian life. We often say concerning someone who devoted his entire life to a particular cause, “this was his life’s work.” In other words, it was the sum total of all he accomplished. The same will be true of the believer, for “the day shall declare it.” What day? The day of Christ when we must all appear before the Bema Seat.
“And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Fire is a symbol of the Word of God. Prior to the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah became very discouraged with the things of the Lord. So he packed his bags one day and essentially said to himself, “That’s it, I’ve had it with this stiff necked people, I quit!” “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer. 20:9).
With our marching orders for the Body of Christ found in Paul’s epistles, we are going to be judged by the Word of God in light of his revelation. As our works are brought under the scrutiny of God’s Word, there are going to be two searching questions at that day: First, did we acknowledge Paul’s apostleship and message to the Gentiles? Second, were we obedient to the commands of Christ taught in his writings? Of course, the Lord will judge the members of His Body on the basis of their faithfulness to the light they had in regard to the revelation of the Mystery. The Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword, will distinguish what s-o-r-t of work it is. It is not a matter of the volume of work done, but what type—the issue is quality, not quantity.
Only those things that were done for Christ in relation to His heavenly ministry will be able to endure the intense scrutiny of the Word of God.