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A Future Day of Rewards

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 3:10–23

All Christians are builders—we are building on the church’s foundation in Jesus Christ. The question is this: What kind of builders are we? Are we building with ministry and works that have permanent value for the church?


Who is the most important person in your church? The pastor? The music minister? Volunteers in children’s ministries? Maybe the founding pastor? Is it someone I refer to as the tribal leader—the unofficial leader of the church who might not have an official office but has been around longer than anybody else?

Well, all those answers have one thing in common: they are all wrong! The one who matters most is the only one who can produce spiritual life—the Lord.

As we set sail today back into 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is going to give these believers a better perspective on how we should see our leaders and even ourselves as cooperating instead of competing. Paul illustrated this first by taking us to a farm; now, he takes us to a construction site here in verse 9, where the church is referred to as “God’s building.”

Paul describes the foundation of the building in verse 10:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.

Paul describes himself here as a “master builder.” The Greek word is architektōn, which gives us our word architect. The church is God’s building, but Paul is an architect, measuring out the footings for the foundation. He explains in verse 11 that the foundation he laid is none other than Jesus Christ.

The building process has continued now some 2,000 years. But we are not laying the foundation anymore—the apostles did that by teaching the truth of Christ. However, we just might be putting the last few shingles on the roof as the church nears completion.

At the end of verse 10, Paul warns, “Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” He is including the church leaders here, but his use of the phrase “let each one take care” implies a wider application. Every believer has a gift—a tool—to use in building up the church; we had better be careful how we build.

Next, Paul moves on to talk about the construction materials:

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest. (verses 12-13)

Paul refers to two types of building materials here. First, there are permanent and costly materials, like gold, silver, and precious stones. They symbolize ministry that has eternal value. These building materials will survive a future test—more on that in a moment.

Second are materials that are cheap and temporary, such as wood, hay, and straw. They symbolize ministry that does not have much eternal value at all.

The church can be like that today. It can use the latest methods and make a lot of motion without making any progress. The church might look impressive but remain immature—like this divided church in Corinth. This shallow, temporary material is not going to survive the tests of time and eternity.

I remember a pastor and his wife visiting us from their home country of France, where their homes are typically made of stone and cement block. We were driving past a construction site where some homes were being built, and they gasped in surprise. In broken English, the pastor’s wife said, “They are building houses out of sticks.” We had to laugh and admit that we build most of our homes out of wood—and many do not last beyond eighty or ninety years.

The trouble is that a house made of wood can burn down. Paul says that a test of one’s building quality is going to take place in the future:

Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (verse 13)

You might read this and assume he is talking about the final judgment at the great white throne described in Revelation 20. But that judgment is only for the unsaved throughout human history. They will appear at that great white throne judgment to be condemned to eternal punishment. But Paul is referring here to the judgment of Christians, after the rapture, when our works for Christ will be evaluated. Paul calls it the “judgment seat of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:10.

Our eternal destiny is not in question. The judgment seat—bēma in Greek—is not about our salvation but our service. The judgment seat is where our good works are rewarded.

These good works are not getting you into heaven; faith in Christ alone gets you into heaven. But good works will reveal how you lived before you went to heaven. And God is going to reward every act of service: from preaching sermons to teaching piano; from working in the mechanic shop with diligence to selling an honest product with integrity; from changing diapers to doing dishes as you served your family.

Faithful living and service for God’s glory will be revealed at the bēma, the judge’s seat where athletes once stood in Paul’s day to receive their reward for running the race. And Paul adds more in verses 14-15:

If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Notice that the outcome of this judgment is not salvation or damnation but reward or loss. Our service that sought to glorify God is permanent, like gold, silver, and precious stones; it will survive this figurative fire of God’s holy inspection. But worthless, selfish works bring “loss.”

Those who suffer “loss” are not losing their salvation; they are losing out on a full reward. They were saved, but they never served as they should have.

Now understand that everyone who stands before the Lord at this judgment seat will be thrilled to make it home. We will all be rejoicing, as I have often said, like graduates at a graduation ceremony. Every one of the graduates is happy, but some will wear ribbons of honor and be commended for their diligent work.

Paul then delivers another warning:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (verses 16-17)

The “you” is plural. He is speaking to believers, who together form a local church, which he calls here the “temple,” or dwelling place, of the Holy Spirit. Now the Bible says that we are, individually, temples of the Holy Spirit. But here that picture is used to describe the church in Corinth.

The Corinthians are in danger of destroying—doing grave harm—to the church with their argumentative and divisive spirit.

So, here’s the warning for them and us: If you really want to ruin your church with your divisiveness, remember that God will destroy you. This is a reference to divine discipline in this life—you will bring ruin to your own life because of your hinderance to the local church.

Paul then makes his final application in verses 18 to 23. First, he gives a reminder to the leaders in the church not to think too highly of themselves. Just because you have special authority in the church does not mean you are more special to Christ than anybody else.

Then there is a reminder in verse 21 for church members not to set their attention on their leaders, to boast in them rather than in Christ alone, the Chief Shepherd of the church whom we will one day see.

And by the way, one day when we stand at that judgment seat and are rewarded for service, it is obvious that we are going to recognize that whatever good we did, He actually did through us. And that is why the Bible describes us casting our crowns, our rewards, at His feet (Revelation 4:10). They really belong to Him.

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