Building On the Churchs One Foundation Part One
Topic: Church Life Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:1–3:9
Building on the Church’s One Foundation Part One
Pastor Allen Snapp 2/15/15
Please turn with me to 1 Cor. 3. We are working our way through the book of 1 Cor in a series called Letter to a Really Messed Up Church and by way of reminder in chapter one we saw that the church was being fractured by pride that was hitting the church in two ways: 1) a boasting about and prideful identification with different Christian leaders. Some said they followed Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and still others Jesus.
Another way pride was messing the church up was that they were giving in to the pressure to be “wise” as the Greek culture defined wisdom. Wisdom was kind of the “political correctness” of their day and the Greeks were not only enamored with the pursuit of wisdom and philosophy, they were pretty good at it. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are to this day the three big names in philosophy and they had already had a tremendous influence on Greek thinking. The very word philosophy comes from two Greek words, philo which means love and sophia which means wisdom. So there was a lot of cultural pressure on the church to look wise and in their effort to rebrand themselves as wise and sophisticated they are in danger of distorting the gospel.
1 Cor. 3:1-9
Paul has narrowed the leaders that the Corinthians were fighting over down to two: himself and Apollos, no doubt because it was Paul and Apollos who had become the flashpoint for all the infighting and division. Paul had planted the church and Apollos had come to Corinth shortly after Paul left, and so both men had tremendous influence on the church’s development and factions were forming over – and fighting over - who was of Paul and who was of Apollos.
This might seem a little hard for us to relate to today, but I have heard of churches that have experienced serious division while in the process of identifying a new senior pastor to take the place of an outgoing pastor. One group prefers one candidate, another group feels strongly about another candidate and suddenly – viola! – a division is born, with people on both sides not only lobbying for their man but strongly, sometimes viciously, opposing the other candidate.
The solution to this, for the Corinthian church and for the church today is to get its eyes back on God. This kind of squabbling and jealousy and boasting can only happen in a church that puts its eyes on man and loses sight of God. Churches devolve quickly from eternal purpose to petty infighting when it gets caught up with the politics, preferences, and personal agendas of church life and not only does it becomes a miserable place to be, but it loses sight of what God has ordained it to be. For the remainder of this chapter Paul is going to be lifting the Corinthian believer’s eyes upward to see God and to remember: this all belongs to God, not man. This is all the work of God, not man. This is all about God, not man. And he begins to take their focus off of man and put it back on God by asking and answering this question: What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.
What are these leaders that you are boasting and puffed up over? They are diakonoi – literally, table-waiters. God didn’t call them to be served and waited on by you, He called them to serve and wait on you. Being a table waiter was not a prestigious title then or now. These leaders aren’t unimportant by any means– it was through their service that the Corinthians came to believe in Christ and they are to be respected and appreciated for their labor - but they aren’t superstars, they are servants. And they don’t come as competitors but as workers to whom God has given different assignments. It’s not about who’s “better” than who; they have different gifts and assignments but they are one in purpose. Paul planted the church, Apollos watered the seeds, but – here’s the important thing - it was God who was working through both of their ministries, to bring the spiritual growth.
Paul then shifts from an agricultural metaphor to an architectural metaphor in vv. 10-15
I. The foundation of the church is Christ (vv. 10-15)
While Paul was with them for nearly two years, he was laying a foundation for the church. The foundation is the most important part of any building because if the foundation is faulty, it doesn’t matter how beautiful or impressive the building is, it’s only a matter of time before that building is coming down. Paul carefully and skillfully – like a master builder – laid the foundation in Corinth and that foundation is Christ.
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Vs. 11
The church only has one foundation and that is Jesus Christ. There is no other foundation that a church can be built on and still be a church. There are a lot of important things that go into the building of a healthy church, and there is a lot of room for differences from church to church. Over the last few weeks we have stressed the importance and beauty of diversity in the body of Christ. Churches look different from each other and that’s not a bad thing; that is to be celebrated. As Joel and Delores plant a new church in Corning, it’s going to look different than Grace Community. For one thing, Joel has a great southern accent – I can’t compete with that! The church will look different and to me that’s good and healthy. But one thing cannot and will not look different: our foundation. The foundation of any true church is built on Christ. Everything it does, everything it believes, everything it teaches, everything it promotes, is built solidly on Christ.
Christ as our one foundation means we need to build Christ deep and strong into the fabric of the church. You can’t just lay a tarp on the ground, build a house on it, and call it a foundation. Not every group that names Jesus is the true church. People can name Jesus’ name but not build on Christ. It is possible to shift-shape Jesus into something attractive and appealing, but has little resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus the personal coach, helping us to live a blessed and successful life. Jesus the financial consultant, enabling us to be wealthy. Jesus the angry, who supports us in our self-righteous anger against the world. Jesus the chilled who doesn’t ask anything of us, just accepts us as we are (with no real expectation of changing us). And the list can go on. Building on Christ is much more than just using the name of Jesus. It means building on the truth of who Jesus is and what he came to do.
Sorta Jesus isn’t Jesus
Esurance has a series of commercials featuring famous people in unusual roles. In one commercial two boys are waiting for their mothers to come pick them up after school and Lindsay Lohan drives up recklessly, running over the “drive carefully” sign near the back of a school bus and screeching to a stop with her car halfway up the curb. The one boy says to the other, “your mom sure is a terrible driver” as Lohan rolls down her window and says, “get in”. The other boy says, “that’s not my mom.” Lohan explains, “hey, I’m sorta your mom. We’re both 25 to 35 years old. We’re both women on the go. And we’ve both clocked a lot of miles. Believe me.” When the boy hesitates, she says, “whatever, I’m outta here.” And she goes driving crazily down the street. The tag line is Sorta you isn’t you. It’s a funny commercial campaign but it carries a great deal of truth.
Sorta Jesus isn’t Jesus. A sorta Jesus that falls within the general range of Jesus’ demographics by pulling out this thing he said or that thing he did isn’t Jesus. But God has given the church two important ways for the church to know that it’s building its foundation on the true Jesus Christ.
a. The historical Jesus revealed in the gospels
The church is built on the proclamation of the historical Christ as revealed in the gospels: his virgin birth, his sinlessness and perfect obedience to God, his teachings, his miracles, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, and his Lordship over all and his name as the exclusive and only way for a person to be saved from eternal separation from God. The foundation of the church is never less than the confident proclamation of the historical Jesus revealed in the gospels. As we read and reread and study and meditate on the gospels and get to know Jesus as he is revealed in them, we avoid just pulling out this general demographic or that general demographic and ending up with a sorta Jesus.
b. The living Jesus made real to us by the Holy Spirit
But it is more than the proclamation of the historic Jesus revealed in the gospels. A congregation can profess to believe that body of truth and yet be spiritually dead. The second vital way God has given the church is the presence and power of the Spirit to fill our minds and hearts and souls with the living presence and beauty and glory of Christ.
Paul says in chapter 2:4, speaking of when he laid the foundation in Corinth, my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
The Holy Spirit brings the living Christ to us in power. He takes these truths and makes them real and precious and beautiful to our souls so that they aren’t just dusty facts that we recite; they are living truths that come alive to our souls! And by the Holy Spirit Christ is made alive to us. He is the living Savior living in our hearts. There is an old hymn that says of Christ, And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own. If you sang that about Aristotle, they’d lock you up. But Jesus isn’t a dead teacher – he’s the living Savior and the Holy Spirit brings him to us in power and life.
These two tests help the church to be confident that we are building on the one true foundation. We proclaim the historical Jesus revealed in the gospels and we experience the Spirit’s work in our hearts making Christ real and beautiful and precious to us.
II. Every believer needs to be careful how we build on that foundation
The next point Paul makes has to do with how we build on that foundation. He says, Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 1 Corinthians 3:10 ESV
Last week at our family meeting, Mike presented a list of the building projects that we want to take on this
year and as he closed the meeting he assured everyone that there was no pressure, just ask the Lord what He would have each one do. But then he said this: even if you can’t do much, please participate because it is such a joy when everyone pitches in and is a part of the building process. We would rather have everyone contribute a little than one person come along and fund the whole thing because participation is so healthy and such a vital part of our functioning together as a body. (That’s not to discourage anyone from funding the whole project…we’ll find other ways for everyone to participate!!)
But that’s just the work of building up the physical building that we meet in, which is a wonderful tool of the church, but it isn’t the church. In the building up of the church, God calls every believer to be a part of the work - participation is not optional. Paul writes in Eph 4 that when each part is working properly, the body builds itself up in love and he adds in 1 Cor. chapter 12 that to every believer is given a spiritual gift by the Spirit for the common good – which means the building up of the church.
So God has called and gifted every believer to join the work of building up the church – but Paul warns us to be careful how we build. There is a way to build that is gold, silver, or precious stones, and there is a way to build that is wood, hay, and straw. And there is coming a day when the quality of our work will be tested by fire and revealed for what it is. It is called the Day of the Lord in the OT, and Paul calls it the Day of Christ. It is the day of Judgment, but for the believer, we are assured that we will not be judged for our sin because Christ was already judged on the cross for our sin.
But we will be judged for our work and specifically what materials we used. If what we contributed is gold, silver, or precious stones – in other words, of eternal worth, then we will receive a reward. If it burns up like wood, hay, and stubble, then we will suffer loss, though we will be saved but only as through fire – it’s a saying that is equivalent to our saying by the skin of our teeth. For those trusting in Christ, salvation isn’t at stake, but there are very real stakes. Some will receive reward from the hand of God and some will suffer loss as they enter eternity empty handed. I think we sometimes underestimate how much this will mean – we think, hey, I’ll just be happy to be saved.
But to arrive at that Day and have it revealed that in God’s glorious enterprise of saving souls and building His church – the only true and lasting purpose of the ages, the only thing on earth that had lasting value – to have it revealed that we contributed to that kingdom work, or our lives contributed nothing, will mean a lot more in joy or sorrow than we can imagine.
Two weeks ago NBC news anchor Brian Williams was caught in an exaggeration and now his reputation and the work of a lifetime hangs in jeopardy. He’s alive, he’s not in any physical danger. But don’t tell me that the damage to a lifetime of work and his legacy doesn’t weigh heavily on his heart, don’t tell me that it doesn’t mean much to him.
We stand firm and secure on the foundation of Christ. Our salvation is in him and only in him. Nothing you or I can ever do can add to our salvation. But, having been saved, God calls us all to participate in the building up of his church – no exceptions! And to build with materials that will endure through the fire, will carry their worth into eternity. But what materials have eternal value and what don’t?
The materials that have eternal quality are those materials that build in the spirit of Christ and for the glory of Christ. It’s not about how successful we are, not about how big or important the work God calls us to do seems to us or others. It’s about doing what God has called us to do with humility and grace. Working to promote Christ and his glory, not our own glory or agenda. It’s about growing in loving others and serving them in the name of our Lord.
A humble youth group leader
Let me close with a brief story about an unsung hero in my life. When I was a teenager and newly saved, we had a youth group leader named Tom Terry. Tom was, I’d guess, in his mid-twenties and had a young family, but he faithfully led the youth group for many years. He wasn’t flamboyant, he didn’t do crazy things to attract youth to our meetings. Most of the time we met in his house and there were probably in general maybe 10-15 of us.
But graciously and gently, with a love and caring heart, he pointed us to the Lord Jesus. He would drive to my school on Mondays to meet me for lunch and we’d just talk about what God was doing in our lives. He cared, and he nurtured my walk with Jesus. Not a superstar, but a quiet servant. And I believe the material he worked with in the youth’s lives was Jesus material and will have lasting worth.
Maybe you think you don’t have much to offer. That’s not true. In the Lord’s hands, He can use it to contribute to His building in a way that will stand the test of eternity and the test of fire. But if you don’t contribute it, if you don’t use your gifts, if you sit on the bleachers and watch everyone else, well, God can’t use what you don’t give Him.
Let’s recommit ourselves to do our part and build up the church. And together let’s work to build, not for our glory but for Christ’s glory. Together let’s work not for our agenda, but for Christ’s agenda. Together let’s work, not to promote ourselves, but to promote Christ. Looking forward to the promised reward, the greatest of which will be to hear Him say, “well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”