“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15, AV)
Growing up, I remember my mother reading the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” It was an old fable, dating to the 1800’s that taught a lesson about work ethic, wisdom, etc. There are many lessons to be drawn from the story. But one that I remember is that the material you use to build something can make a big difference.
The story goes that there were three pigs who went out from their home to begin their own lives. They had to build houses. One was very lazy and built his house from straw. Another was a bit less lazy and built his house from sticks. The third little pig was quite energetic and decided to build his house out of bricks. He labored hard all day to build a sturdy house.
Then one day a wolf passed by looking for a good meal. He came to the straw house and blew the house down. Yet, before he could chomp down on his meal the little pig ran to the one whose house was built with sticks. The wolf went to that house and the routine was repeated. The wolf blew that house down as well. Both the pigs escaped the wolf and ran to the little pig who built the brick house. At the brick house the pigs hid out inside and the wolf tried to blow the brick house down but could not. The story goes on, but in this we see two things. In building a house one must use the best materials and doing so takes energy.
In this passage, Paul has been speaking about the church as a building. In the metaphor, he indicated that one must build on the correct foundation, which is Jesus, with the correct materials. The materials would have to be able to survive the judgment of fire. He indicated that there were precious materials of gold, silver and precious stones. He also indicated that there were lesser materials that could not withstand the fire like wood, hay, and stubble. There are several ways to view the meaning of these materials in the metaphor.
The gold, silver, and precious stones, can refer to the preaching and teaching of correct doctrine, whereas the wood, hay, and stubble refer to teaching false doctrine. The material can also refer to the workers motives, the gold, silver, and precious stones referring to proper motives such as glorifying God, the love of God and others, etcetera while the lesser materials refer to improper motives such as selfish ambition, personal glorification, etc. They can also refer to the endurance of the believer’s work the good work endures and the bad does not. The is similar to another reference to those that are truly born again and those who are merely professing Christ. All these views have value.
Yet, the main point is what the builder uses to build on the foundation and the reward or lack thereof depending on the materials used. Thus, it seems that the emphasis must be that the wise believer will build using his or her gifts and talents for the glory of God, holding to and proclaiming sound doctrine, to reach people with the truth of the gospel and edify believers in the church.
The passage implores all believers to build on the foundation of Christ with energy and the correct materials. Let us all consider these materials and work diligently while it is our time.