Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Judgment and Loss

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Co 3:9–17)

Everything I have heard or read on this passage until now looked at this passage as directly applicable to the individual. In other words, every bit of what you or I do in the Kingdom of God will be judged by fire, so we better be doing the best job we can with the best tools and materials we have in order to continue to build God’s house.  If not, we will lose the reward we could have had because the cheap attempts will be burned up. This tactic is familiar in many Christian circles. The idea is to goad the believer into trying harder to be a better Christian through non-stop evangelism and good works. The effects may last anywhere from nightfall to sometime the next day, but eventually, failure is certain. True, the Christian is able to perform these tasks, however, inevitably such browbeating leaves the believer with a nagging uncertainty that enough has been accomplished because the prescribed application is wrong.

Context, Context, Context
Let me ask this question: what is the context of chapter 3? What has been the thrust of the apostle Paul’s opening remarks? There is division in the church (1 Co 1:11). And how does he respond?
  • I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. (1 Co 1:14)
  • And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Co 2:1–2)
  • And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. (1 Co 3:1)
  • Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Co 4:1)
  • For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Co 4:17)
Read the first four chapters, and the common theme becomes clear. Paul is addressing those who are building Christ’s church with apostolic or apostolic-designate authority. Within the immediate context of chapter three, then, the building is being accomplished by one ordained to the task, not the average Christian in Corinth. The master builder is being judged according to how he conducts himself in the duties of his office. The faithful worker uses the precious, enduring materials of Scripture rightly divided as well as sacraments rightly administered, while the unfaithful build with the common and temporary measures brought in for pragmatic or promotional reasons.

What about Me?
Is there a personal application for this section of Paul’s epistle? Yes, but it is secondary in nature. The common (or lay) believer does not have the burden of responsibility that comes with an ecclesial office, but there is a responsibility to walk in a manner that reflects the gospel as Paul mentions in his epistle to Ephesus:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,… [but now] we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1–2, 10)

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1–3)
Because we have been brought from darkness to light, from death to life, we conduct ourselves to one another’s good that all may be lifted up. We show ourselves to unbelievers in a manner that they might see our good works and want an answer for the hope within us.

What of the Judgment?
What do we say of the final judgment for believers? What will that be like? Again we draw from Paul as he wrote in his second epistle to Corinth:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Co 5:9–10)
We will each receive what he or she has done in the body but not in a way that should instill fear or regret if we hold fast. The author of Psalm 99 exhorts all the people to praise the Lord together. We are reminded that Moses, Aaron, and Samuel all called on His name and were heard, yet they were fallible men able to commit grievous sins. Of what does the psalmist remind us?
O Lord our God, You listened to them;
O God, You were very merciful to them,
while avenging all their ways of living. (Ps 99:8 LXX)
God dealt with the sin in a merciful, yet just, manner. There was nothing for these saints of old to fear after death. Neither should we be concerned. Did these men lose a reward? Yes, in a temporal way, but they still rested on His promise to receive the faithful. If we worry that not enough has been done, perhaps our emphasis is in the wrong place. Each believer is called to be a good steward in his or her vocation or station in life. Do what has been given you to do, not be worried about what you cannot do.

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