Some time ago, I saw a question which asked, "What on earth are you doing for Heaven's sake?" Now, that question could be taken any number of ways, depending on what the asker was trying to find out…if anything. (We've all seen some like that, haven't we?) For me, it made me think, and it drove me to the text we're using today. I definitely wish more preachers had used this text so as to remind us that our deeds are important, and that this life is the only chance we have to do something for the Lord Jesus Christ. It would have made a difference in my life.

Our text is 1 Corinthians 3:1-19. "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 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. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 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. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are."

The Book of Acts records Paul's visit to Corinth, in chapter 18, after Paul had tried to share the faith in Athens. The results were mixed, as we can read: "some believed, yet others didn't actually persecute Paul, they just said, 'We'll hear you again about what you have to say.'" Sometimes the lack of response hurts worse than physical blows.

In Corinth, as Luke tells us, Paul found a synagogue of the Jews and preached Jesus to them, and, although we don't know the exact number of Jewish believers, Crispus and Sosthenes, both leaders of the synagogue, became believers in Jesus! Luke gives more details about Paul's ministry in Acts, which had taken place perhaps two or three years before.

The Image of a Child, not Growing
One would think this would have been plenty of time for these believers to have grown in the Christian faith, but that apparently wasn't the case. In chapter 1, Paul tells them one of the problems they had, namely, that these Corinthians were divided, some following Paul, others Apollos, still others Cephas or Simon Peter, and some claimed to be following Christ! We don't have all the information, but when believers are divided, it's hard to accomplish much of anything. Certainly it would be difficult to grow.

Let me share a personal example. Babies need milk and can't handle solid food for some time after birth. Their bodies aren't ready for solid stuff for several months. For some time, they need baby food; trust me, we went through a lot of baby food when my children were small! There was one time, though, when we went to a KFC™ restaurant for some good old fried chicken and one of my children made some baby noises, and we assumed he was gesturing for some mashed potatoes. Yep, sure enough, he ate a small helping of the spuds when he was only 4 or 5 months of age. Not solid food, of course, but one such episode didn't hurt him. At least he saved us some chicken!

The point is, as children grow, their appetites grow. As they get older, they come to need more than just milk and soft stuff. They one day become ready for the solid food. It's normal, it's natural, and it's part of growing up for children as they head toward adulthood.

That wasn't the case for many believers in Corinth, as Paul said in the first few verses of this chapter. He said he couldn't speak to them as mature believers, but as babies in Christ. If a child hasn't grown in two or three years, something is wrong. At Corinth, something was definitely wrong. They had not grown in their faith in several years, and that was not good at all.

The Image of Leaders, not Competing
Besides the problem of not growing in the faith, these believers apparently were focusing on the differences between or among the founders or leaders. Paul may not have been the most intriguing or interesting speaker, and he didn't boast of any physical beauty or handsomeness to draw attention to himself. He was clearly one of the most educated men of his time—maybe of all time—yet, there seemed to be some obstacles. Paul later would write to these same Corinthians, of himself, "For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible'" (2 Cor 10:10).

Apollos, though, had a different reputation, so to speak. Acts 18:24 says, "Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures." The physical contrasts are there: Paul was a Jew of Tarsus, but brought up in Jerusalem; Apollos was from Alexandria, in Egypt. Paul was already aware of the problems he faced—physical and otherwise—and would list some of these in the next chapter, but Apollos had no such problems noted. Paul never claimed to be mighty as a speaker and yet Apollos had that kind of recognition.

In spite of that, though, we have no record in Scripture that Paul and Apollos had any conflict in any way. This is always good when leaders agree that the main focus of any ministry needs to be Jesus Himself—never what you or I or anyone else is trying to do if the goal is to make a name or reputation for ourselves.
Paul even asked the Corinthians, "what is Paul? And what is Apollos?" then answered the question, "Servants through whom you believed." That was it. That was all. Servants for Jesus: nothing more, and nothing less.

The Image of a Builder, Working on a Building
After he addressed the previous issues or problems, Paul shifts his focus to the idea of a wise master builder and the structure he's trying to build. Paul had been in many Greek cities such as Athens and Thessalonica, plus many others in that part of the world, and no doubt the buildings themselves must have caught his eye. Think about it—what did you think when you first saw your state capital building or perhaps a baseball or football stadium? Paul didn't have to agree with what went on in any of these buildings, but surely he admired the beauty and longevity of so many. So now he's applying the concept of the master builder to his own situation. I found it interesting that the Greek word for master builder is the word we have as architect, but the meanings between now and then are vastly different. These days, as has been true for many years, an architect is the one who draws up the plans and specifications. Seldom would a  modern architect actually take part in the construction. In Paul's day, however, the architect was more like the general contractor or project superintendent. This person (almost exclusively men in Paul's day) seems to have had the responsibility to translate a set of drawings into a building as the engineer or draftsman designed.

The fact that so many of the buildings standing in Paul's time, when some already had been standing for centuries, are still here today speaks volumes as to the skill of those workmen. What's more, Greece lies on very unstable ground, yet the Parthenon is still there, 2,000 years after Paul visited Athens. Those workmen knew how to build a structure that would last. This is true also of the engineers who knew how to plan a building that would stand for a very long time.

Rewards or Loss? It's up to Me.
Finally, we have a graphic description of the final evaluation of each believer's works or deeds or total package of what he or she has done while living on this earth. It goes without saying that some believers do not have much time to serve the Lord, perhaps due to being converted late in life, or on a deathbed, or some whose lives are ended due to illness, accidents or other situations. The Lord knows every person and wants the best for each one of us. He certainly knows what each person would like to do if given the chance. Paul himself knew this. He wanted to go just about any place except Philippi (see the first few verse of Acts 16) yet that's where the Lord led him to go. So concentrate on what the Lord wants each one of us, which means you, me and every believer; pray for other believers so they can experience God's best, as well.

Paul continues that every believer is preparing a package of works or deeds that the Lord Himself will put to the test at some time in the future. We're not given a list of specific works or deeds in this passage, and I believe this is because the Holy Spirit wanted to remind all of us that being a Christian isn't a Sunday morning-only way of life.

Being a Christian is a 24/7/365 way of life. Everything we do is part of that package, which the Lord will examine when we face Him some day.

Paul goes on to list the various materials every builder could choose to use in the construction of any given building. He said people could build with gold, silver and precious (costly) stones; or wood, hay (grass) and stubble. Certainly it probably would not be feasible to build an entire structure of gold—but think of all the gold mentioned in the Old Testament in the worship of that time. So much was made of gold, including the Ark of the Covenant. So much gold went into the tabernacle and temple that it defies description!

Ditto for silver. A lot of silver went into the buildings. Exodus gives a list of what was made of silver, and it's mind-boggling to fathom. The high priest wore a breastplate with 12 precious stones, each one representing a different tribe of Israel. That was just the Jewish faith. It's anybody's guess how much of the gold, silver, and costly stones went into the idol temples in the cities where Paul had been. The idea is the cost of these materials reflected how durable these materials were. Gold and silver might need purified, but these elements, these materials, never will fade away.

The same can't be said for wood, hay or grass and stubble. Wood eventually rots or decays from exposure to the elements or insects. Hay or grass might have a purpose, as does stubble or cut grass; but they will not and cannot last for an extended period of time. I read about Greek workmen, the builders of these magnificent structures such as the temples to Greek gods and goddesses, and how they lived in huts or shacks made of grass or scraps of lumber. They stayed until the job was done, and then they left, but the structures they built endured for centuries.

In the same way, we as believers have the choice to choose the material we want to represent our works or deeds. We can take the easy way and prepare wood, hay or grass, but what's going to happen? When these works are tried by fire, there won't be much remaining. Paul said that anyone who builds with these lesser quality materials would suffer a loss, and those who build with gold, silver and precious stones would receive a reward.

None of us needs to build with the cheap stuff. None of us has to take the easy way and submit works of grass or wood for that final quality assurance check only to see everything burned up and destroyed. We have the time to get and use the best. We have the promise that when we use the best, it will stand the test. Guaranteed.

There is, has been, and probably will be some lesser quality or grass works in my own portfolio. The Lord is gracious and gives me and every believer a chance to do things correctly. I hope every believer will build with the best materials with the intent to build for eternity. This life is all we have for doing something for the Lord. I hope you will decide to do the best you can for our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God bless.

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