Diana and I have owned three homes over our 40+ years. The first was a rancher in Texas that was a starter home in every way. But we hit the market just at the right time, and the gain in value made it possible for us to do one of the most bold and crazy things I’ve ever done. 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 others merely built upon it. 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 …
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 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.
Also looking back many years, I will admit that there are elements of the traditional church ministry that were a part of my childhood and early pastoral years that I enjoyed and now grieve as a loss – believing we’ve sadly moved away from at least a few things that were good and healthy.
But there is one tradition that I am very, very glad to be beyond. That is the obligatory singing of the Doxology at the end of the service which gave walking time for the pastor to make his way to the central door at the rear of the auditorium for the hand-shaking of congregants as they exited.
In my New Jersey church, I had a cranky and eccentric elderly man who EVERY week sat on the center aisle about two rows from the back. As I walked past him to take my position at the door, he would reach into his pocket and pull out a wintergreen lifesaver for me. It often also contained pocket lint.
Rather than having the focus upon me or the sermon, I attempted to make the event more about asking the passing congregants about things in their lives, etc. Yet at the same time I had to keep the line moving and not irritate those who wanted to get out, but who also felt an obligation to LIE/say something to the pastor about his wonderful sermon.
Many of you will remember one of my famous professors from Dallas Seminary – Howie Hendricks – who was well-known around the country from Christian radio, Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, etc. He called this weekly ritual at the back door of a church “the ceremony of the worm.” We might also recall a worm allusion from the famous hymn that speaks of Christ’s death as “for such a worm as I.”
The fact of the matter is that being rooted in Scriptural truth and the fruit that comes from it is about the message itself and not the deliverer of the message – no matter how gifted he is. The power is in the message, not the worm delivering it. To pedestalize (I just made up that word) preachers is sort of like being sent a million dollars from your grandfather on the other side of the country, but thinking little about thanking or honoring him while throwing a party for the mailman simply because he delivered the check!
But the Corinthians were doing this when they made a big deal about different public, upfront personalities around them. In these final words of chapter 3, Paul basically says, “Stop thinking you are so smart, quit being groupies, stop having a ceremony for the particular worm you like, and focus on God as the source.”
1 Cor. 3:18 – Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”[from Job 5:13]; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”[from Ps. 94:11] 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
It really is all about God and his Word. The power is in the truth, quickened by the work of the Holy Spirit, merely delivered through the mouths of worms who only know anything or have any ability because God first gave it to them. So don’t be rooted in the ministry of people (especially preachers), but be rooted in the Word of God, trusting also that he will use you as an effective worm to help others.
So remember, at the end of the day, not only is our situation I’m a mess, you’re a mess, it is also I’m a worm; you’re a worm!