April 2, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, LeadPastor
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
Today The Church at Perry Creek celebrates its Charter Sunday, establishing its foundation in the work of Christ and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul encourages us, as members and believers, to build well on this foundation.
1. We are all building something (I Cor.3:10).
It is no longer just about us, but what God is calling us to do, to bring to others the pure word of God, “the good news” (Romans 10:14-15). As our church is taking shape, God is giving us the opportunity to build with Him: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalms 127:1).
2. We all have our jobs (I Cor. 3:10-15).
- The job of leadership: laying the foundation of the church correctly as “expert builder[s]” (I Cor. 2:1-5). It is a mindset and lifestyle of following God’s glory, wisdom and power, while recognizing our broken dependence on Jesus, and being sure the church stays on this path.
- The job of members: putting right materials into the building (choosing what we personally will bring to the building of the church). It is leaving behind personalities, politics, and cultural biases in order to build into this church the things that really matter, e.g.: love and forgiveness through the Gospel; joyful generosity and even sacrifice; compassion for the surrounding community.
3. We will all face a test (I Cor. 3:12-15).
Only things done in obedience to Christ will ultimately remain and multiply into an eternal reward. The ability to faithful labor comes from our new identity as “God’s temple, building” (I Cor. 3:9,16), but even if we fall short in our efforts, God offers grace to save us (I Cor. 3:15) as we continue to turn to Him.
It is our joy and delight to build things of eternal value into this new church, The Church of Perry Creek.
- What would a church where “the Lord builds the house” look like to you?
- What would it mean for our leadership to act as wise builders?
- What right building materials could we bring to the church which will stand the test of fire?
- Some accuse churches of being filled with hypocrites and many other faults. Should we Christians all then live in fear of the test of fire?
- Have you found your place within the building of our church? How is it similar or different than a role your have played in church membership before?
- What might we have to leave behind in order to build the church well?
I come from a long line of builders. My father was a builder. All my uncles were builders. My Grandfather was a builder of note. Brick masonry is our family trade. I guess you could say it’s in my blood. I’ve noticed something about building: you have to be careful how you build. My Grandfather was a well-known contractor. He built some of the schools and big buildings in downtown Wichita. He built part of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He also built a doghouse so big he couldn’t get it out of his workshop! My uncle worked on some impressive stone and brick buildings. He had mad skills! There was one time when he and another bricklayer were working on a one room building that they were building from the outside. Toward the end of the day when the room was almost finished, an inspector climbed up on the scaffold. He asked them “Are you the guys that built this room?” They wanted to stand by their work, so they said “We sure did.” “What’s it going to be used for?” They told him what it was for in detail, including how faithfully they had followed code, how well they had tied the wall together, etc. He listened thoughtfully. Finally, he said “How are people going to get in there?” They had left the door out! You have to be careful how you build.
Today is a day when we celebrate what God is building here at Perry Creek! It’s a commencement of sorts – an inauguration, as we celebrate God’s calling – and what he’s done so far – and prepare for what he’s going to do. It’s a day when we celebrate the foundation and prepare to build. So I thought today it would be good to look at a passage that talks about how we should build the church. This passage in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 tells us a lot about how to build the church. It’s kind of a stern passage, because many of the people in the Church at Corinth – the church it was written to – were not going about building the church in the right way, so it was corrective to them. But for us, this passage serves as a good reminder – and a caution – and an encouragement – for The Church at Perry Creek to build well.
So let’s read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. We’ll have a shorter time in the word today, but a time when we will see three important reminders – three truths about our work in the church – and how to build well. Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, says this:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15
So three truths from this passage, and the first one is this:
We’re all building something
In verse 9, Paul calls this thing that he is describing in this passage “God’s Building.” This passage is all about building. It talks about the foundation for this building, and the materials that go into it, and the workmanship. It’s all about building. In the middle of verse 10, Paul makes a very important statement. He says “Each one should be careful how he builds.” The implication of those words “each one” is that it’s not just the Pastor – not just the leaders – that are building the church. It’s each one of us. Each one of you:
- It’s you, Josh, when you play the drums.
- It’s you, Frank and Carly, when you lead your Small Group.
- It’s you, Terry, when you call our people to prayer.
- It’s you, Chantal & Bob, when you offer your pool for baptism.
- It’s you, Connie K, when you hold our babies.
- It’s you, Jim Higgins, when you do whatever you do (loving Jesus!)
We’re all building something! We’re building a church right here in Perry Creek! We’re building something. It’s no longer just about us and our individual spirituality. It’s about what God has called us to build.
In Romans 10, Paul makes an interesting statement. He says “For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Then he asks a question: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Listen – that’s what we’re here to do! We are here to bring the good news to friends that live in our own neighborhoods and to our friends in North College Park and to our friends from River Bend Elementary. I was here Thursday night. I guarantee you that some of the families that attend here have never heard that God sent his Son to die for them. We’re here to bring the gospel with our precious Muslim friends. That’s why God is building this. We’re building something.
One of the really neat things about working construction is that you get to see the building take shape. When it first starts, they are just leveling the dirt, and no one has a clue what’s going on. Then they lay the foundation, and it’s still very mysterious. Then they frame it and the walls start to go up and people can see “Oh – it’s going to be a school – there’s the gym – there’s the front entrance.” You get a sense of pride knowing that you were there from the beginning. It was hard work, but when no one else could see it you helped pour the foundation and lay the footings. You got to help it take shape.
That’s you guys. Little by little – you’ve helped this take shape. Marc, think of your first emails to me, saying “I think God wants me to help you do something – could Perry Creek be the place?” Think of that prayer meeting at Joel and Allison’s where we asked God to light a fire in my heart, and the storm shook the porch, and Obbie levitated. OK, it wasn’t that dramatic but close! Think of the informational meeting – and our first service – and core training – and the move here – and our outreach. It’s starting to take shape! People in the community are starting to say “Oh, you’re from that Church!” The PTA is saying “We are so glad we have a church like you to partner with!” It’s happening! It’s taking shape. We’re building!
Well actually, God is building. Psalm 127, our founding verse, says “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” It’s God’s building. He has to do this. He’s the one who gives the increase. It doesn’t belong to us. He has given us the chance to build with him. Each one of us. So, we’re all building.
We all have our jobs
There are other passages that talk about our gifting and list some of the many roles that God may call us to play in the church, but here in 1 Corinthians 3, as Paul continues his metaphor of the church as a building, he talks about our jobs in just two basic categories:
- The leaderships’ job.
- The membership’s job.
He talks about the leaderships job first, and their job is this: The leadership’s job is to lay the foundation correctly:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11
Jesus Christ is the foundation – the only foundation – for the Church at Perry Creek. He is God’s one and only Son. He is our only hope for salvation. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the star of the show here at Church at Perry Creek. He’s the foundation. Paul is reminding us that his job at Corinth – and my job at Perry Creek – and our lead team’s job – and when we have elders, our elders job – is to make sure that it stays that way. That it’s all about Jesus.
Paul points this out in a way that I have to say, as a leader, was kind of intimidating to me. Look at what he says in verse 10 again: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder” – “expert builder.” The King James Version says “wise master-builder.” The Greek says “sofos arcitektwn” – “wise architect.” That sounds very impressive! When I read that, I wonder if Paul is saying he knew exactly what he was doing and never questioned himself, and that while he planted the church at Corinth – he had some serious swagger: “Wise Master-builder.” That’s kind of intimidating to me, because as we’ve planted this church I don’t often feel that way! Most of the time, it’s like I’m just bumbling along!
Let me give you an example from this week. For the last several weeks, I have been trying desperately to get our Church Constitution done. I’m like – we absolutely have to have that for Charter Sunday, so I’ve been reviewing several source documents and meeting with Open Door, because they are re-writing theirs and meeting Beau and Joel to pound out the details and having the team look at it. I’ve been pushing hard to hit this deadline. Then last weekend, I asked Kim Ledford to look at it. Kim was a judge, so I figured she could double-check the legal side of it, and we could get it out. Of course, she saw a few “issues” with it. She had this one little note: “For a constitution, ratification is very important.” It slowly dawned on me “How can we ratify a constitution if we don’t have any members?” I hot-footed it over to Pillar, and asked, and Dwayne said “No, all you need for Sunday is your statement of faith and your covenant. You do the constitution later.” Covenant – members – constitution – by-laws – leadership.
After investing hours in the constitution!
Now, I give you that little illustration just to make two points.
- The first is that this is why I didn’t send out a constitution. We will review it more carefully, send it out to you and give you time to look at it – and then approve it as a church.
- The second is: In moments like that, I don’t feel like a “wise master builder.” It’s really more like Tim the Tool Man. “Wise master builder” – not so much!
Here’s the thing: I was looking at it this week, and that’s not actually what Paul is talking about here. It’s not about swagger and confidence. In fact, the word “wise” here doesn’t relate to having all the answers. It relates to following God’s wisdom rather than the world’s wisdom. As for swagger, listen to how Paul describes himself as he planted the church at Corinth:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. – Corinthians 2:1-5.
What Paul brought to Corinth was not confident swagger – not some charismatic leadership that had all the answers. What Paul brought was a broken dependence on Jesus Christ. That said “I am desperate for his mercy and grace in my daily life, and as I lead this church – and Jesus – not me, not my cleverness, not my gifting, not my relationality, not my experience – Jesus is the foundation of this church. There can be no other. I will not abide it.
That is the job of your leaders. That is what it means to be a wise master builder. We all have a job. The leadership’s job is to lay the foundation correctly. Paul also gives us the job of the membership: The membership’s job is to put the right materials into the building.
Once the leaders have made Jesus Christ the foundation – and are working to see that he remains the foundation – there’s still work to do. This work is for every one of us, members and leaders alike. We have to choose what to put into this church. Look at what Paul says:
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. – 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
That’s a pretty sobering passage. Now, we want to be clear here about what Paul is saying in this passage. I think there’s a natural tendency to want to plug this straight into our individual lives and think maybe that gold, silver, and precious stones are like good works and that wood, hay, and stubble are like sins or bad works. I know that’s the way I saw this passage for a long time. So I thought “OK, Paul is saying that I should do good works. But even if I sin, I won’t lose my salvation. I’ll just lose my reward.”
I suppose it could kind of get back to that in a way, but that’s not exactly what Paul is talking about here. Think about the context. This passage is about the building of the church. We said earlier it’s not just about our individual lives any more. It’s bigger than that. It’s not just about whether we avoided sins or just about whether we feel close to God. It’s about building the church. Today we covenant to do that. We’re responsible to do that. That’s what Paul is talking about.
So what he’s saying is that we have to choose – each and every one of us – what we are really going to be about in this church. What are we going to bring to it? What are we going to encourage? We each have to choose what we are going to build into this church, because you can build a lot of things into a church:
- You can build your preferences into it – put all your efforts into getting it just the way you want it.
- You can build a following into a church. Make it about loyalty to yourself. I’ve seen it happen. People build small groups or Bible studies or ministries that become their little kingdom.
- You can build division into a church. Any one of us – from the members in the pew to the leaders – can become a hub of dissatisfaction. We can be like Absalom at the city gate, attracting the disgruntled.
- You can build into a church things that aren’t wrong, but sidetrack us.
- You can bring politics – or personalities – or cultural bias – or sin into a church and build those things into it. We can do that.
Or we can build into the church things that are eternal. Things that really matter:
- You can build into this church lives that are changed by the living gospel of Jesus Christ.
- You can build into it love and forgiveness for one another. A tenderness that says “You are my brother or sister in Christ, and I love you because of the love I have received from God!”
- You can build into it gospel generosity – radical, joyful generosity – that says eternity is so much more important than just the stuff that God has blessed me with.
- You can build into it compassion for a community that needs to know about the love of Jesus.
Listen, we choose, what we build into this church. Our leaders choose the foundation. All of us choose the materials we put into it, because we are all building, and we all have a job. There’s one more thing that Paul wants to tell us, and this is the reason that Paul has encouraged us to be careful how we build. The third truth of this passage is that:
We will all face a test
We’re all building, we all have a job, and all of us will have our work tested. Look at what Paul says:
his work (what each person has built into the church) will be shown for what it is, because the Day (meaning the Day of the Lord – the Day that Jesus returns) will bring it to light. The Day will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames – 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
What Paul is saying, is just this: A Day is coming not when we earn our salvation, but when our works – the things you and I have chosen to build into this church – will be tested.
Our work will be examined, and the test is not a scale that weighs good against bad. It is a fire that burns away the things that were not of eternal significance. On that Day there will be a great reversal – really for all of us. The physical things we have acquired, and really many of the things that seemed so important to us – many of the things we invested in – will just evaporate. But the things that were done for Christ in obedience to him – the lives that were changed by the gospel – the love that we shared with one another – the gospel generosity we lived out – the compassion we had for those around us – those things will not only remain, but they will multiply into an eternal reward – a prize so great that Paul says elsewhere that it will make the sufferings of this world not even worth mentioning.
When Kelley and I lived in Africa, we had some friends – Jane and Jonathan. Jonathan was an elder in our church. They were commercial farmers, and they had built up an amazing estate. They had a happy workforce. They had built schools and a health clinic on their farm. They built a church and hired a Shona Pastor for their workers. Their house was incredible. It was an expression of who they were – built with natural Zimbabwean materials like teak, and granite, with a big thatched roof. It was built into a hillside, so it didn’t break up the landscape. Their house had a stream flowing through the middle of it. They named the farm “muti wehupenyu” which means Tree of Life. It was a beautiful place.
Then about four years into the political unrest, Jonathan and Jane were in the process of leaving the country – they were on a trip abroad – when a Government official made a provocative speech – and someone lit that thatch roof and burned their house to the ground – completely to the ground. There was no fire department – no insurance – it was consumed. They came back into the country, and Jane was talking to Kelley and having a good cry. And she said “Kelley, what was this all for? It seems like there is nothing left of everything we built here. It’s all gone.”
It wasn’t all gone. One thing in that house – and one thing only survived that fire – there was a cabinet next to the fireplace. In that cabinet was this – a page from our church bulletin. Jonathan and Jane had given their house to our church to meet in. That’s why the bulletin was there in the cabinet. We were the only English speaking church in the district, but because of the work they had done to lay the foundation of the church – and because we had a place to meet in – eventually every farm in that district was reached for Jesus Christ.
All the lives that were touched through their generosity – all the people they had shared the gospel with – all the people Jonathan had shepherded as an elder – all the things they had done in Jesus name – those remain. Although they suffered a stunning loss here on earth, in eternity they will receive a stunning reward for all eternal things they built into that church.
Church – we have a solid foundation in Jesus Christ. It has been my joy and delight to see you build into this church things that are of eternal value. Today let us use this passage as a reminder to continue building this church on the eternal:
- We’re all building
- We all have our jobs
- We will all face a test