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I Cor. 3:11-15

11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 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.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Our context here, is our “labouring together with God”, in laying the foundation of Jesus in men’s lives. How one plants, and another waters that which is planted. Paul, the wise masterbuilder, has laid the foundation upon which others may build. That foundation is Jesus as the Messiah. But Paul admonishes, that we should be careful, HOW we build upon that foundation. The how we build is the WHAT we build.

Paul lists six (6) different materials which one could use to build upon that One Foundation. He names gold, silver, and precious stones. This would be one class of material. Then he names wood, hay and stubble. This is another class. The crux of the matter here, is how do these materials react or withstand FIRE. Because every man’s works, that is, the structure of his life, which he has built over the foundation, will be put through the testing of God’s Fire.

Gold, silver and precious stones are only refined and made purer by fire, but not destroyed. Wood, hay and stubble, when put into the fire, would be quickly and completely consumed. They would vanish in a flash. Wood, hay and stubble are readily available and are very superficial, that is, they lay upon the surface. Gold, silver and precious stones must be sought out and excavated. Wood, hay and stubble represent that which is temporal, while gold, silver, and precious stones represent that which is eternal.

However, the main issue here is how these material react to fire. So Paul admonishes that a man must be careful how and with what he builds upon that One Foundation of Jesus.

That our works will indeed be put through the fire of God’s testing, is evident. The fire of God’s testing will reveal ‘what sort’ or quality our works are. Whether they are temporal and consumed or eternal and refined. Yet even if a man’s works are totally consumed, yet he himself shall be saved. Why? Because it is the foundation that is important here. If a man has the true foundation of Jesus in his life, he shall be saved. How tragic it would be to have the works of your life consumed by fire, because you did not build with the proper materials. But how wonderful it is, that God sees that there is at least the proper foundation. This passage is very clear, that although our works may be tested and found lacking in durability, it is the foundation of Jesus that counts in eternity.

In connection with this, there is a passage in Ezekiel, that should be viewed in the same light. Ezekiel, chapter 33, deals with the issue of a righteous man doing iniquity and being judged for it. In this passage, the word ‘righteousness’ is the Hebrew, tse-de-kah, which according to normal Jewish useage, refers to acts of charity or justice, such as giving to the poor. If the righteous man does wickedly, he cannot rely on the merit of his past acts of charity, to save him.

What this passage does, is eliminate the idea, that on the judgment day, the good and evil acts of a man will be weighed in the balance. If his good works out weigh his evil ones, then he receives reward. But if his evil deeds (acts of injustice) out weigh his good deeds, then he is judged accordingly. Again, here, as in I Cor., chap. 3, the topic is the judgment of works.