Ministry That Lasts
But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will be clearly shown [for what it is]; for the day [of judgment] will disclose it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality and character and worth of each person’s work. If any person’s work which he has built [on this foundation, that is, any outcome of his effort] remains [and survives this test], he will receive a reward.
1 Corinthians 3:12-14
A day is coming, Paul tells us, when each believer will stand before Christ to get a report card of our actions on earth. This isn’t t the judgement of unbelievers at the great white throne. Instead, this one is designated to reward believers for every action we take to honor God. Christ is our firm foundation. The question is, What are we building on it?
All our attitudes and actions, since the day each of us trusted in Christ, will pass through a fire to be tested. Some of our deeds are like gold, silver, and precious stones, which will pass through the fire unscathed. But some are like wood, hay, and straw, which are incinerated by the fire.
The startling insight is that what you and I do today will pass through Christ’s fire on that day. We have the opportunity to make a really good day or a really bad one. The choices we make now will make a difference then.
The promise of rewards (and the threat of ashes in our hands) motivates us to take a long, hard look through the eyes of Christ at the choices we made yesterday. Did we take an extra minute to listen to someone? Did we speak an affirming word? Did we put the accurate number on the expense report? Did we avoid exaggerating when we gave the report? And did we do the right thing because we’re convinced that God’s “Well Done” is more important than any accolades and possessions we can ever achieve?
What choices will we make today?
Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.
Corrie Ten Boom
Have you ever thought about what your life’s accomplishments will be when you complete your journey? Will it be that you just went to work, bought a house, maybe raised a family, or in some way just existed? Will your life be one of trying to get through the work week and only looking forward to the weekends? Will your career be the most important thing that you do? When all is said and done will you have done something that has made a difference in someone, the community, or the world?
Many of us go through life never thinking about any of this. We are too busy trying to survive, balance work-life, and get done all the things that are expected of us. Even Christians can have a limited view of life for they too are living in the same world with most of the same stresses.
But I want us to pause today and consider that moment when we stand before Christ. We won’t be standing there waiting to give an answer for our sins or to be judged for them. Christ has already taken them upon Himself and was judged on our behalf. We will, however, have to answer to Him for what we have done with this life that He purchased with His own blood. Somehow we easily forget that Christians are not the owners of themselves for scripture says:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, whom you have [received as a gift] from God, and that you are not your own [property]? You were bought with a price [you were actually purchased with the precious blood of Jesus and made His own]. So then, honor and glorify God with your body.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
So on that day Christ will ask us what we did with what belonged to Him. What will your answer be? On that day what we did with our careers won’t matter, what house we lived in won’t matter, what hobbies we had won’t matter, what our standing in the community won’t matter, or any of the other measurements the world uses to measure a successful life. Only what we have done for Christ and His kingdom will matter. Paul says that our works will be tried by fire. Even good deeds will be measured in the light of eternity and how they affected the spreading of the Gospel.
I’m not suggesting that we all quit our jobs or that we only spend our time with church activities. As a matter of fact a lot of the activities of the modern church won’t pass through the fire and survive. They may in some way satisfy the desires of its members, but quite often are useless in bringing to pass the mission of the church- the harvest.
Some of us falsely believe that only a select few will be asked to give an account of their life here on earth. Some think that if they live a good life, go to church and listen to sermons, volunteer for a few programs or projects, and such that they will be ok. I want to ask us a question. To whom was Jesus speaking when He gave the Great Commission? Was it just the disciples that day? Was it just those wha have heard the call to positional ministry(apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers)? Or did He give the Commission to every Christ-follower? If so then when we stand before Christ, He will want to know if we used our lives to tell the story of Christ and His redemption to the whole world.
I don’t mean to belabor the point but I want to impress upon us the implications that Paul in this passage is giving us. You will note that he uses the word “anyone.” “Anyone” who builds their life on the foundation(Christ)- those who are saved, born again- will be in that number who stand before Christ to give account for what they built on the foundation. The descriptive words Paul uses provides a powerful contrast to what is built. The obvious difference in value between gold, silver, and precious stones versus wood, hay, and straw is remarkable. I think what Paul is saying is that there is a cost, a giving up, a sacrifice if we are to build with gold, silver, and precious stones. Jesus taught us to prioritize the kingdom of God as first in our lives.
“But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.”
Gold, silver, and precious stones are treasures and costly to obtain, therefore are valued. Paul is telling us that Christ, the Foundation, is worthy of us building with valuable things upon Him. That begs the question then, doesn’t it? What makes what we do valuable? Do we decide that or has it already been decided by God? I think the obvious answer is that God has decided already what is valuable to Him- the soul of man. It was Jesus who taught us to consider the value of our souls when He asked “What would you give up in exchange for your soul?” Only the soul of man will go into eternity. Everything else will be left behind.
The second group of words that Paul uses-wood, hay, straw- define those least valuable things, especially compared to the gold, silver, and precious stones. I believe these are those things that we give to God at little or no cost. Convenient service, token commitment, or activities that benefit us personally but do nothing to expand the kingdom of God.
At the risk of upsetting some of my friends, may I say that all the time, energy, and resources we spend on buildings will be useless in eternity. All the effort we give to social needs won’t pass the fire test. And when we spend our lives chasing everything except Christ, we give Him wood, hay, and straw. Jesus isn’t going to ask us how big our building was, how large our budget was, or how many activities we had going on. He’s going to ask whether our buildings, our budgets, and our activities were used to prepare someone for eternity, whether they were used to influence someone to receive Christ, and whether seeking the lost sheep and bringing them home was the most important thing we engaged in.
I’ve given these words of Paul a lot of thought personally. I don’t think God is going to ask me how many devotions I’ve written or how many classes I’ve taught or even how many sermons I’ve preached. I think He’s going to ask me about eternal matters such as how many people have I introduced to Jesus or how many strays have I searched for until I found them, and how many of those who had almost given up have I encouraged to keep the faith.
Much of what we spend our lives trying to accomplish will be left behind like ashes from the wood, hay, and straw. I hope everyone of us will have some gold, silver, and precious stones to lay upon the foundation the day we stand before Christ.
Dr. John Thompson