The energy that is resident in the young adult stage of life – that time when you have a young family and are setting out on your own to get established – is really an amazing thing as you look back on it some years later. I am doing that now with my older boys who are all in the throes of wrestling with housing arrangements with varied homes and construction or renovation projects. It is exhausting to me to just look at.
But when I was in my late 20s, I was in that stage of life and did one of the more bold and crazy things I have ever taken on. My father-in-law and I built a 2500-square-foot two-story colonial home in New Jersey in a field very close to the elementary school I attended two decades earlier. When I say that “we built” it, I mean that in the most literal sense. Other than the poured foundation, the drywall, and sanding the hardwood floors, we did every last bit of it between us (frankly he did much more, since he was the one who knew what he was doing!). My own father was totally skeptical that this would work out; he thought we were crazy to attempt this. I now find myself looking back on that and understanding his point of view more clearly.
As we were nearing the end of the construction, I can very clearly recall several occasions of doing some finishing work inside the house while violent storms were raging outside. And I remember wondering to myself, “Is this place really going to withstand this? Did we build it appropriately and strong enough? I know we used a lot of nails!” (Actually, with 2×6 exterior walls, the place was a fortress!)
The proof of the quality of any construction project comes when storms arrive or time passes. Does it stand? What remains on the other side?
Paul picks up this analogy when talking to the Corinthians about the labors that Apollos and he and others were doing in the process of building the church of Jesus Christ. Just as in my NJ house, someone else did the foundation and we just built upon it, and Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church that others over time build upon through their labors. The quality of that construction may vary according to the diligence and care of the laborers and the composition of the materials. But a day comes when it will be revealed – a day that Paul pictures as one with fire, speaking of the Day of Judgment. There will be reward for excellence, while nothing but the smell of the fire on the clothing of those who escaped alone with nothing to show in terms of reward.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3 …
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their 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 person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
There are both sobering and comforting components in this communication. The business of the church is serious stuff, as it is the outworking of God’s plan of the ages. Those who are a part of it are a part of the big thing that God is doing in the world. And those who serve in teaching and communication of truth on all levels have a responsibility of doing it with accuracy in accord with God’s revelation.
A problem that existed even in the early years of the church was that of false teachers. Paul would reference this later as the preaching of “a different gospel.” (See the early verses of 2 Corinthians 11.)
On the other hand, there is great comfort in knowing that God sees and remembers our labors for him in the church of Christ. Though we may be forgotten and our efforts at advancing the truth of the gospel and the mission of the church may be lost to human memory, God does not forget nor fail to reward that service. The church universal is going to be successful. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. This is the winning team, and in teaching the Scriptures as we have opportunity on whatever level in the home or church, we are advancing God’s kingdom. We are growing our roots; we are watering the roots of others, and by the Spirit’s work we are a part of the fruit that never fades away.