Monday, 15 September 2008

Take Heed How You Build – Choosing The Right Materials

1Cor 3.10-15. The final test of all that we have done in life is with fire. Fire burns all that is combustible and leaves only that which cannot be destroyed by fire. Paul reminds us that a ‘Day’ is coming when the test of fire will be applied to our work. There are two possible outcomes. One is to receive a reward for the way we have built, the other is to suffer loss – yet still be saved. Clearly there is an expectation from the Lord for how we will respond to the grace of God in our lives. From the book of Corinthians we see the possibility of living the Christian life from two very different sources.

One source is the ‘flesh’. Living life from a human viewpoint where our decisions are dictated by our natural senses, good reasoning and emotional reactions like fear, insecurity jealousy, hatred and personal preferences; all that we can process with our mind and heart but without submitting to the Spirit. The various translations of the NT call this type of Christian, ‘worldly’, ‘carnal’, ‘fleshly’ or ‘merely human’, 1Cor 3.1-3. This person walks out their Christian life by ‘sight’ rather than 'faith', 2Cor 5.7.

In contrast to this way of living Paul encourages the Corinthians to be spiritual. This is possible because we have received “the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us”, 1Cor 2.12 TNIV. Through the Spirit we gain a different perspective on life. All of the information available to the fleshly Christian is available to the spiritual Christian with one difference. The spiritual Christian takes all this information and filters everything through the Spirit.

The Spirit of God gives us revelation; insight that is not learned through natural perception, 1Cor 2.9-10. The Spirit opens our hearts to truth so that we have new frames of reference for making decisions. He creates within us, over time, a Christian world view. This is a new way of looking at the whole of life and it radically affects the choices we make and the way we build relationships. It is always possible to slip into the ‘old way’ of viewing things because we are immersed in a culture where so many people live this way. But as the people of God we are meant to be different.

The amazing thing is that it’s possible to operate in dynamic spiritual gifts and still live and relate in a way that is ‘merely human’. This was the problem at Corinth. The test of our spirituality is not how accurate are the prophecies we give but do we demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit that produces unity, harmony and loving unselfish relationships. Division, competition quarrels and jealousy are a sure sign that at best we are still immature and at worst living for ourselves, fleshly, carnal and like mere human beings.

In order to help the Church at Corinth Paul uses a powerful metaphor to explain how to build in a way that passes the fire test. Whilst salvation is not at stake, provided the foundation is right, our rewards are. Remember, ‘God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him’, Heb 11.6. There is the possibility of living in way where we lose out. “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully”, 2John 8.

Precious metals like Gold and silver are able to endure fire – no matter how hot it gets. In fact this was the way the smiths of old used to purify these metals. As they were heated in a furnace and melted, all the impurities within would come to the surface and could be skimmed off, Zech 13.9; Ps 66.10; Isa 48.10. The fire caused a separation. Equally precious stones are ‘fire proof’. In fact many of the precious gems are created through the process of intense heat.

Paul contrasts these materials to wood, hay and stubble. Interestingly they are all great building materials. The only problem with them is they cannot endure fire. And here is where we can be easily deceived. We would not choose materials that did not impress us. Paul says we must go beyond that. We must remember the test. Trees in scripture are often used as a metaphor for humanity. We are told that the man who walks in God’s counsel is ‘like a tree planted by the streams’, Ps 1.3; the blind man healed by Jesus saw men ‘as trees walking’, Mk 8.24 and Zechariah saw two Olive trees representing two people, Zech 4.11. Wood comes from trees that have been cut down. They have no life any longer. It thus becomes a picture of what is ‘merely human’.

Hay on the other hand speaks of that which is transitory about our humanity. Jesus speaks of the grass (hay in the Greek) which is, ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, Matt 6.30. Isaiah declares, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower.....the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord endures forever”, Is 40.6-8. Hay represents the transient nature of human glory and achievement. It doesn’t last.

Gold however was consistently and extensively used in the construction of the tabernacle. Here are a few examples: the Ark was covered in Gold, Ex 25.11; the lampstand was made of solid gold, Ex 25.31 and the curtains were held together with ‘clasps of gold’, Ex 26.6. Apart from its value, the gold was a picture of the glory of God. Glory carries several meanings. Sometimes we mean beauty, like when we say a bride looked glorious. This was what Jesus meant when He spoke of Solomon in all his glory not comparing to the beauty of creation, Matt 6.29. In Ex 28.2 the garments of Aaron were, “for glory and for beauty”. Sometimes it means praise and honour as in Ps 50.23 and John 8.54. At other times it refers to the brilliance or shining through of God’s nature like the time Jesus was transfigured on the Mountain, Matt 17.2. Finally it referred to the weight of God’s presence – His Shekinah glory.

The challenge for us is make sure that we are building in a way that brings glory to God, 1Cor 10.31. In Corinth the Christians were so used to asserting their rights and freedom they had forgotten their responsibilities. This even affected practical issues like what to eat. Much of the meat sold in first century Corinth had been offered up to an idol. How were the Christians to deal with this? Paul takes three chapters to explain his argument, (1Cor 8-10). But the issue at the end of the day was whose interest are you promoting? Self interest or the good of others? Who gets the attention and praise from the way we live?

Straw or stubble was the building material of Egypt, Ex 5.12. It speaks of that which is worldly. It has no weight to it, unlike gold and silver that are ‘heavy metals’. Thus Israel was warned that because of their disobedience God would scatter them ‘like stubble’, Jeremiah 13.24.

Silver however was used to buy and sell. Coins were commonly made of silver. Thus silver became a type of redemption – which means to buy back. Joseph was sold for 20 silver coins, Gen 37.28; and Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, Matt 26.15. In Ex 30.15 we read of the atonement money that every Israelite over 20 had to pay when a census was taken. This silver coin was a half shekel and rich and poor alike had to pay it. All men had equal value to God!

This means that we must make sure that our actions have redemptive value. Equally we must not show prefernce. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, James and John wanted to call down fire from Heaven. Elijah had, after all, set a Biblical precedent! But Jesus was quick to remind them that their way of thinking was not redemptive. The son of Man had come to save men’s lives, not destroy them, Luke 9.56. How sad when we use scripture to justify ungodly actions and attitudes. I wonder if they would have had the same attitude towards an Israelite town?

Paul had to challenge the Corinthians to act redemptively, even when applying church discipline. They had gone to one extreme; doing nothing! Their response was not appropriate for those who were now alive to the Spirit. Without repentance – a change of thinking, there can be no real fellowship. The offending brother had to be removed. This was like cleaning the house of leaven (yeast) outlined in Ex 12.15. Leaven was a type of sin and that which eventually corrupts. There are two ways to get rid of it. Either the person gets rid of the sin or the church gets rid of the person! If there is repentance God promises to cleanse us, 1John 1.9. If it comes down to removing the person we must be ready to receive them back if they repent. The exclusion is designed to humble them, not punish them. This was the successful outcome in Corinth as we read the second letter, 2Cor 2.6-8

This is a redemptive way of dealing with problems. To ignore sin or punish offenders are not redemptive acts. Jesus was always looking how to win people. He even refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery, John 8. But He was not afraid to challenge her to, ‘sin no more’, John 8.11. This is building with silver. We buy people back through a redemptive attitude and lifestyle.

Precious stones are found recorded in a number of places in the Bible. They are part of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.18-20. None is more telling than when they are found on the breastplate that was strapped to the chest of the High Priest. Here were four rows of precious stones, each representing the 12 tribes of Israel, Ex 28.15-30. He had to wear it every time he entered the Holy place. They spoke of God’s covenant love for His people, for they were over his heart. The High Priest would intercede on behalf of the people. So the precious stones were a type of the value we place in people and the intercession we make on their behalf.

It is a simple fact worth remembering. The only things we take with us into eternity are the people that we have helped come to faith or mature in Christ. God’s inheritance is in people, because this is the only thing in creation made in His image. When we act redemptively for the good of others and the glory of God, we are building with gold, silver and precious stones.

Try to allow the Spirit of God to show where your building materials may need to change. A test is coming. Better to see what we build burn now through the trials of faith while there is still time to respond and change, than to wait for that day when we meet the Lord. You are building a life that will be examined. Choose your building materials carefully. Take heed how you build that life and ministry and you can face the future with confidence. God wants you to pass the test!