Written by Paul J. Bucknell on June, 11, 2019
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 Facing the Fiery Tests with Study Questions
Is there a judgment for believers? Will Christian leaders face a different examination from other believers? What is God’s purpose for this fiery judgment? 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 fills us with much insight into these questions and more. May these words all the more stir us up to prepare for this coming examination of our lives.
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NASB)
The Foundation of All
Paul is providing a deeper look into the way God works with believers so that the believers will take His Word more seriously and stop playing petty sin games with others (e.g., comparing oneself with another —1 Cor 3:1-3).
The Apostle Paul first clarifies his own calling as an apostle, where he “laid a foundation” (1 Cor 3:10). This can be seen in the many churches he began among the Gentiles. The apostles together laid a foundation built around the key cornerstone of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 28:16). This foundation includes all the basic biblical teachings that teach and preserve the Gospel work of Christ. Paul goes so far as to assert that he and the other apostles’ teaching should fully concur with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (3:11) or it will be burned up. “For no man can lay a foundation…” (3:11) includes Paul, Apollos, and other leaders. So Paul, as one apostle, built on and around the person and work of Jesus Christ like the other apostles so that so that the foundation can be said to be laid, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph 2:20).
The Examination for All Believers
The apostles’ work is done; the foundation is laid and now people build upon it like the workers and believers there in Corinth.
Paul does not primarily think of the apostles here, but “any man” (12) and so relates this coming fiery judgment for believers to how our actions and attitudes—not just as preachers but all believers—will be judged according to their faithfulness. It is right and proper, indeed Paul’s point, that we consciously build on that foundation of Christ Jesus. This judgment will test how our work matches with the foundation of Jesus Christ. John lays three tests in 1 John which help us see how believers will be judged accordingly.
1) Obedient to God’s commands (Heart test)
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6).
2) Embrace the truth (Doctrinal test)
“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).
3) Love for Others (Relational test)
“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Our life’s work, then, is summarized as that worthy activity done built upon Christ’s foundation. Some might think this is only true with Christian workers, but are we not all running the race? Yes, each of us, in all our life circumstances have opportunities to not only do work of the kingdom like showing love to another but also through one’s faith and trust in Him. Job’s faithful trust in the Lord, even though paralyzed by his pain and anguish, remains as a work that passes the fire.
The Fiery Test
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. (1 Cor 3:12-13).
As we look closely at verses 12-13, Paul willingly uses a picture from an expensive home noting that different objects laid strewn about. He likens our works to these objects. Paul uses this picture to show that some things we do, likened to the objects, are of more value than others. God will remember this in His scheme of rewarding His people. Other works, however, are compared to what is normal and common in this world such as hay and straw. Only those things that last through the fire, such as metal objects, will bring reward upon Christ’s coming.
The fire clearly serves as that which helps us rightly imagine the coming judgment against believers. We should dismiss any ideas likening this judgment here with the judgment of unbelievers. This is evident from verse 15 which says, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” The “any man” certainly describes a believer here. Unbelievers face their own judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). This judgment is only for believers who alone can build upon Christ’s foundation. If their work lacks any worth through foolish living, they are still saved.
But before finishing, let us think once again upon the believers’ works. We can think of this in a simplistic method. Have we accomplished the good works what God has made and designed us for (Eph 2:10)? The test of the fire will certainly take into consideration our motives, giftings, sacrifices, God’s purposes, our situations, etc. For example, one might preach to be noticed (Phil 1:17) while another cares not for man’s applause. The later’s motive to please God will be preserved. Both preached the Gospel, and let us assume people came to know the Lord, but with a sullied motive, the glory was taken from the Lord. Jesus said that those who get glory on earth will not get it in heaven (Mat 6:6,18).
“Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:9-10 NASB)
Again, I think this opportunity to build upon Christ’s foundation is true for all believers, and that our lives, conversation, and acts will all go through the fires and be tested again the foundation. Yes, Paul starts in verse 10 by speaking about him being a master builder, but God is not only interested in the rewards for the apostles but for all believers (e.g., 1 Cor 12); all believers receive spiritual gifts and therefore are responsible to build. All have the gift of love (1 Cor 13) and can love. Do we live and give as the Spirit leads us? Are we selfishly motivated or sacrificial like Christ? This is the real test: Are we like Christ in what we do? This, on the one hand, lifts our hopes high that Christ can fill us and empower our works, but on the other hand, calls us to pay close attention not only what we do but how and why we do things. May the rich glory of God be our ultimate purpose for serving God and others.
The foundation is already laid, yet our work is daily tested. These daily opportunities become the very means to glorify the Lord during our earthly lives. But the fiery test is coming, stripping away all the excuses and pretension. What we say, think, and do will be measured against what Jesus, the Foundation, would say, think, and do.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 Study Questions
Paul J. Bucknell
- Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. What stands out to you the most? Why?
- What confidence does Paul have (10-11)?
- Do you think Paul believes that his works will be examined by the fire? How do you know?
- Describe the picture Paul draws for us in your own words.
- What does the fire stand for?
- How can we be sure that this picture describes the believers’ judgment rather than the judgment for unbelievers?
- Do you think that this picture describes a judgment for both Christian leaders and believers? Why?
- Describe what and how we will be tested? Do you think it will only include acts like preaching or incidents like hidden acts of love? On what basis do you give your answer?
- Have you ever given serious thought how much of your lives will endure into the next world and receive rewards?
- Do you think the Lord wants to reward you? Why?