Divine Blueprint For Spiritual Construction – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Big Dig

Most of you are familiar with The Big Dig tunnel project in the Boston area. Faulty materials and construction practices led to a concrete ceiling panel braking loose, falling and killing someone. That sparked a huge investigation and comprehensive testing that revealed many shortcomings.

The Central Artery project, even as it opened the skyline downtown and provided a smoother commute for many motorists, was already infamous for delays, overruns and possibly criminal defects in design and construction. But it moved from embarrassment to fatal civic liability July 10, when a ceiling panel in the Ted Williams Tunnel gave way and crushed Milena Del Valle to death. Her husband escaped, and his lawsuit may set an all-time high for award or settlement. Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he’ll seek criminal charges against designers and contractors of the Big Dig in the case

Remember in the last paragraph Paul had introduced the two analogies for Christian workers: that of a farmer and that of a builder. Here he extends the construction analogy. Church ministry in this text is compared to a large building project. The spiritual leaders are charged with taking care how they build so that they will produce quality results which will last and pass the fiery test. Future rewards are promised to those who stay true to the foundation of Jesus Christ and the apostolic model of ministry.



4 Requirements:

  1. Humble Reliance on the Grace of God: "According to the grace of God which was given to me"
  • Different gifts; different callings; different opportunities
  • Individualized grace
  • Faithfulness is required for all (4:2)
  • Aggressiveness in trusting Christ for His enablement rather than burying our talents (cf. parable of the talents)
  • No room for pride or boasting in human accomplishments
  • No running away from ministry or bailing because God’s grace is sufficient
  1. Skillful Labor in Accordance with God’s Wisdom: "like a wise master builder"

Distinction between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the world continues to flow through this epistle to the Corinthians. Expediency is not the standard. God’s ways are not our ways. The type of leadership model derived from the business community will not cut it.

Word from which we get "architect" – but here used in an expanded sense as the one who faithfully carries out the master blueprint plans as a good general contractor.

Stedman: Paul calls himself here "the wise master builder," and the word for master builder, architectron is the word from which we get our word "architect." But he really uses this word in a different sense than we use the word "architect" today. To us an architect is the man who thinks up the building. He conceptualizes it; he designs it; he sees it in his mind’s eye; he plans it, and programs it, and draws the designs for it. In that sense, of course, God is the architect of the church. The Lord Jesus said, "I will build my church," {Matt 16:18}. He has conceived it; he has designed it; he has planned its structure; he has programmed its activities, and he continues to do so, so he is really the architect in that sense today.

  1. Careful Construction in Accordance with the Apostolic Pattern: "I laid a foundation and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it."
  • Rom. 15:20 – Paul called to do pioneering work; the apostle of the Gentiles
  • No selfish ambition
  • Spirit of teamwork rather than competition
  • There is a biblical pattern to follow; the apostles followed that pattern

Be careful in the sense of:

  • communicating the whole counsel of God accurately and faithfully (2 Tim. 2:2)
  • following the biblical ministry model
  • not relying on the marketing techniques of the world
  • keeping the focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ

Goins: The second half of verse 10 reminds us that a foundation is supposed to support something. In the case of the church, it’s a spiritual building. Paul is concerned that those who continue the work that he started work as faithfully and effectively as he did. They’ve got to draw on God’s gracious resources and reflect God’s spiritual wisdom. Paul is referring particularly to evangelists and pastors and teachers in the church, but the principle applies to every single believer. All of us to some extent represent the gospel by what we do. Our life and our witness with each other must be grounded in the Lord Jesus and in his word.

  1. Zero Deviation From the Supreme Standard = the Church’s One Foundation = Jesus Christ Her Lord: "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
    1. 1 Pet. 2:6; Eph. 2:20
    2. Concept of a plumb line

Lenski: When Paul writes that he "laid a foundation" in Corinth he means only that he began the work in that place. Laying a foundation in this sense is in contrast with the erecting of the superstructure. . . A vaster thing is meant by the one and only foundation that Paul says is "lying", a present tense, lying permanently and forever. Paul says nothing about him who laid this foundation or how it was laid.. . They shall also note what this foundation, is, namely "Jesus Christ."


  1. (:12) Two Contrasting Types of Building Materials: "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw"
    1. High Quality – permanent, valuable, uncommon
      1. gold
      2. silver
      3. precious stones
    2. Low Quality – temporary, useless, very common, highly combustible
      1. wood
      2. hay
      3. straw

The problem will not be with the foundation – that is solid;
Look at the effort and cost involved in doing things the right way;
You can’t be cutting corners in the ministry;
These kinds of materials refer to the various doctrines, the modeling of those doctrines via a life of holiness, and the ministry motives and methods employed

Goins: Paul speaks of human wisdom, the spirit of the world, and words or speculations. The wisdom of the world is a common-sense view of life. It’s the constantly changing opinions and traditions and philosophies and social theories that our race manufactures.

  1. (:13) Testing By Fire Will Reveal the Quality of the Work: "each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work."

Speaking of judgment day for believers – not to determine their eternal destiny – but the nature of their rewards. This is commonly referred to as the bema seat judgment.

Goins: When the glorified Jesus appeared to the apostle John on the island of Patmos, John described him in the Revelation as having eyes that were like a flame of fire, having a burning intensity, evaluating. Our loving Lord Jesus, who is passionately committed to the life and health of the church, will examine our building activity and materials and sort out the bad and the good, what is of the Spirit and what is of the flesh, what is built on God’s revealed eternal word and what is built on the current human philosophies swirling around us.


2 Categories when it comes to Rewards:

  1. Spiritual Leaders Who Qualify For Future Rewards: "If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward."
  2. Spiritual Leaders Whose Efforts at Ministry Were Wasted Because They Failed to Follow the Divine Blueprint: "If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."

MacArthur: No matter how worthless, no believer will forfeit salvation.

Grosheide: The teachers who build badly may be believers. They build on the good foundation without having the intention of destroying the work of God, and although they are guilty by reason of the lack of permanency of their work, their state before God may be secure. Here again Paul assumes that there are teachers at Corinth who lead the church in the wrong direction.


  1. What is involved in Jesus Christ being the foundation of the church?
  2. How do we know right now whether we are building with gold, silver and precious stones? Is it right to be concerned with the level of future rewards we will receive?
  3. How does this passage speak to the tendency of believers to evaluate right now the quality of the ministry work of others?
  4. What type of "loss" will the believer suffer who has built with wood, hay, and straw? Will there be emotional disappointment as well? Will these believers be happy in heaven?


Stedman: Re His person, his life, his doctrines, his teachings, his resurrection, his ascension, his return by means of the Holy Spirit to make himself universally available among us, his coming return in person from heaven — all that is included as part of the foundation. The teachings concerning Jesus were given to us by the apostles, but they focus on the person of the Lord. Every church that departs from teaching about Christ and his work, his person and his resurrection, begins to slide away from the foundation and soon becomes tottery and wobbly. It becomes filled with many forms of weakness and failure and finally collapses and crumbles into nothing. Every individual who is not built upon that foundation will find his life crumbling and failing ultimately. So our Lord is to remain always present as the foundation of the church, the God and Lord of the universal church, the head of the local body manifesting his presence, his power and his guidance throughout that body and the Master and Savior of every individual heart which has come to know him. That is the foundation.

That foundation, of course, basically consists of the Scriptures. They are the foundation of the church. They were given to us by the apostles and as such they constitute the unshakeable foundation. That is why every church, either local or universal, or any individual who does not base his life upon the Scriptures soon begins to waver and wobble; they find inconsistencies and weaknesses. Today we hear the words "Jesus" and "Christ" used in many ways that are not reflected in the Scriptures, but the only foundation that God ever recognizes is the apostolic Christ, the one given to us, the Jesus who is reflected in the Scriptures. "No other foundation can any one lay," Paul says. That is the foundation, and this is why we must keep Jesus central in all things. . .

Are our lives going to be lived on the basis of gold, silver and precious stones, growing out of that revelation of God by the Spirit, or are they going to reflect the empty, vain philosophies and speculations of the world around so that we live only for pleasure, fame and power instead of being an instrument of the living God?

Martha Snell Nicholson has put it in this little poem with which I close:

When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ
And He shows me His plan for me,
The plan of my life as it might have been
Had He had His way, and I see

How I blocked Him here, and I checked Him there,
And I would not yield my will
Will there be grief in my Saviour’s eyes,
Grief, though He loves me still?

He would have me rich, and I stand there poor,
Stripped of all but His grace,
While memory runs like a hunted thing
Down the paths I cannot retrace.

Then my desolate heart will well-nigh break
With the tears that I cannot shed;
I shall cover my face with my empty hands,
I shall bow my uncrowned head…

Lord of the years that are left to me,
I give them to Thy hand;
Take me and break me, mould me to
The pattern Thou hast planned!

Piper: What that means is that the foundation must control the materials used in the superstructure. Otherwise the connection between verses 10 and 11 makes no sense. Does it make sense to say: Watch out what kind of windows you use because the foundation is Christ! Watch out what kind of roof you build because the foundation is Christ? Watch out what kind of wiring you use because the foundation is Christ! Yes it does make sense if the foundation controls the shape and quality of the building.

Hoke: But those who are faithful in their work in the Kingdom shall receive a reward. There will be a prize for the faithful in Jesus. The Bible speaks of definite rewards, or "crowns" which await us. There is the "Crown of Life" for those who love Jesus and endure temptation (James 1:12). There is the "Crown Incorruptable" for those who discipline their lives in the race (1 Cor. 9:25). There is the "Crown of Rejoicing" for those who are soul winners (1 Thess. 2:19). There is the "Crown of Righteousness" for those who love His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8). And there is the "Crown of Glory" for those who faithfully shepherd God’s flock (1 Peter 5:4).

What does it mean to receive a "crown"? Does this mean we’ll receive a literal crown to go on our heads? If these crowns are a symbol of something, what would that be?

Well, a crown is given to those who rule. To have a crown is itself symbolic of the reality of authority and rule. Kings have a crown. Queens have a crown. They’re given this crown at their coronation, when they’re installed officially in office.

Now that’s very interesting, because the Bible has much to say about ruling and reigning with Christ. In Revelation there’s a promise of rule to those who overcome. Jesus says to those who have been faithful in little that they shall be made ruler over much. Perhaps here these crowns refer to various kinds of rule available in the age to come.


  1. Testing time.
    1. Final exams are soon approaching in school.
    2. God’s final exam is also approaching.
      1. He will assess our lives in detail.
      2. He looks at us as if we are building contractors.
  2. Building from the ground up. 3:9
    1. Church is in view, more than individuals.
      1. Each of us is making our contribution to God’s house.
      2. What one of you does, reflects on all of us.
    2. Jesus is only foundation. 3:11
      1. If foundation is weak, building won’t stand.
        1. King Store and massive basement walls.
        2. Jesus is a firm foundation.
      2. Jesus is required – not just one answer among many.
        1. Only name for salvation. Acts 4:12
        2. No one gets to Father except through Jesus. John 14:6
  3. "Be careful how you build…" The structure is up to us.
    1. The Christian life is open-ended potential.
      1. Are we content to rest in our salvation?
        1. Or do we intend to build ourselves up?
        2. Most Christians exhibit little growth.
      2. New office buildings at Roxbury Mall.
        1. Look good on outside, but an empty shell.
    2. Different building materials.
      1. Gold, silver, precious stones alludes to materials of

        Solomon’s Temple.

      2. Wood, hay and straw are easily consumed.
        1. (3 pigs and Big Bad Wolf)
      3. What we do for God lasts, rest does not. Perishes.
  4. How to build with quality in the Christian life.
    1. Know your God.
      1. Bible is our blueprints.
        1. Nightmare in college – I realize I have final exam in

          a class I never attended, and didn’t read material.

        2. Do we read God’s material?
        3. Disciplined Bible study is surest way to grow as a


      2. Prayer keeps us in God’s power.
        1. Most people talk about prayer, more than they pray.
        2. If prayer seems remote, challenge God to reveal what

          he can do.

    2. Watch your inner life.
      1. Mexico City earthquake – buildings looked the same, but

        substandard building practices and materials caused

        some to collapse.

        [Building demolition: only a few supports need to be knocked out.]

      2. Moral impurity causes many Christians to fall.
        1. Sin that is not checked only grows worse.
        2. After a while, you will feel no pangs of guilt but the damage will still be there.
      3. Challenge yourself to do what Jesus would do in everyday circumstances.

Boyer: What do these six kinds of building material represent? Certainly the context makes the primary application to people. They represent persons being built into the church. This is not to be understood, however, as a mere adding of another brick to the wall by getting another convert to Christ. Remember, these people are "living stones." They themselves grow, so that the temple grows and is edified as its people grow. Thus, the minister’s work is twofold: He builds (1) by getting new people into the building, and (2) by getting those in the building to increase in stature and maturity. And since both of these tasks are accomplished by a ministry of teaching, there is some truth to the interpretation often encountered in the commentaries that the works here refer to the doctrines of the church leaders. Doctrine, however, is involved only secondarily, as it affects persons.

Lenski: Paul considers three classes of builders:

1) those who are truly wise (v.10)
2) those who are unwise and introduce wrong material although they do not leave the foundation;
3) those who are fools and destroy God’s temple (vv. 16-17)

The eventual fate of these three classes Paul also indicates.


Here are Four considerations of choice concerning combustible Christianity.

  1. There is only one choice concerning life’s FOUNDATION (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).
    1. The foundation for life’s work is Jesus Christ. We see this in the parable of the wise man who built his house upon a rock (Matt. 7:24-27). Jesus Himself said that no one could come to the Father but by Him (John 14:6). We are told that there is no other name for salvation (Acts 4:12).
    2. Now, in all or any of these manifestations the matter of first importance is the foundation. A church, or a building, is no good if the foundation is no good, and in this case the apostle is very clear to make sure that we understand who that foundation is. He does not leave it to debate; we do not have to argue about it; it is stated as plainly as it can be. (God’s Builders by Ray C. Stedman, June 4, 1978)
  2. A believer chooses the CHARACTER of his life structure (1 Corinthians 3:12-13).
    1. The Christian is warned to "take heed" how he builds. Most of life’s choices may be reduced to the issue of whom one is going to please: himself or the Lord. A major temptation is to yield to the urges of self.
    2. Materials of life structure are temporal or eternal.
      1. Worldly things are temporal (1 John 2:15-17).
      2. Fleshly things are temporal (Galatians 6:8).
      3. Devilish things are temporal (Matthew 25:41).
    3. The structure of our lives will be tested by the examination of Christ (2 Corinthians 5: 10). The examination of Christ is compared to a fire that reveals the nature of materials thrown into it. If one’s life is built with wood, hay, or stubble, these are temporal materials that cannot endure the presence of God’s consuming glory. The eternal materials, on the other hand, are compared to the qualities of gold, silver, and precious stones. These are the elements in a life structure that are consistent and compatible with God’s glory. They will withstand the examination of Christ.
    4. There is a sense in which every one of us who is possessed of the Spirit of God builds upon this foundation. We all touch one another; we build into other’s lives; we affect everyone by the way we live and the way we think, the apostle called our attention to that. How are you building on the foundation? What materials are you using? Is it the wood, the hay and the stubble of human wisdom, the love of status, the seeking for ambition and prestige by which the world is characterized? Is this what you are building for and with? Or is it with the truth revealed in that secret and hidden mystery of God, truth about yourself, about humanity, and about history? Is that what you are building on? Is that what you are building with? That is the question. (Ray C. Stedman in How to Destroy a Church, June 11, 1978.)
  3. There is no choice in what will OUTLAST one’s life (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).
    1. Did you ever watch a winning team at the end of a game? Do you notice what they do? Why, they go crazy! Grown men jump on each other’s backs; they pound one another, and hug one another, and even kiss one another. They jump up and down like little kids in a candy store. Why? They are filled with joy because the efforts they put forth produced results; it was satisfying to them. That was their reward.

      Did you ever watch the losing team? They slink off; there is no jumping around and slapping one another on the back. No. Sadness and gloom prevail; they are ashamed because all their efforts were to no avail. It was all wasted effort.

      Now, all of us shall have some of both in our lives. There is nobody who is a Christian who will not have some degree of gold, silver and precious stones because God guarantees it by having come into our lives as Christians. But there can also be a lot of wood, hay and stubble too, built upon the philosophy of the flesh instead of the Spirit. John says, "Let us so live that we shall not be ashamed before him at his coming," {cf, 1Jn 2:28}.

      What is your life going to count for? (God’s Builders by Ray C. Stedman, June 4, 1978)

    2. Every one of us here is investing his life in something. You cannot live without making an investment. What is it in? Will it be permanent? Will it abide? Will it stand the test? In the great day when all the universe sees things the way they are, will you be filled with joy that your life was invested in what stood the test and contributed to the glory of the Lord himself? Or will you be ashamed that you wasted all these years making an impression on men and teaching and influencing others to do so, and it was all burned up in the fire — saved, but as though you had to run through the flames and lost everything besides? (God’s Builders by Ray C. Stedman, June 4, 1978)
  4. The local church has been chosen by God as His building (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16-17).
    1. The local church is the place of God’s dwelling, or, His Temple. The second person references in verses 16 and 17 are plural, and indicate that the Holy Spirit not only indwells believers individually, but also chooses to live among them corporately. Whenever we gather, He is there.
    2. [Because the nature of God is holy, His building, by design, is also meant to be holy.] Well, how do you damage the church? How do you corrupt the congregation? I think the answer is clear from the context — we have been looking at this all along. Corruption takes place when someone introduces the wisdom of the world into the life style and the practice of a congregation. If someone individually chooses to begin to live according to the wisdom and the practice of the world, he begins to corrupt and damage the church. He is building with shoddy material, with wood, hay and stubble which will not stand the test of the fire and therefore he is marring the building of the church. When someone seeks to make the church impressive and powerful by the methods and the standards of the world, he is fulfilling this very thing — corrupting and damaging the church. So whoever suggests a compromise with the spirit of the age is fulfilling this dangerous thing, especially when he does so at the expense of the teachings of our Lord himself. (Ray C. Stedman in How to Destroy a Church, June 11, 1978.)
    3. God is protective of His building (that is, you).

Dr. Ronald Schultz: Does Your House Come Up to Code?