Monday, 8 September 2008

Take heed how you Build – Establishing the right Foundation

1Cor 3.5-15 teaches us that what we do in life, our choices over time, are like the construction of a building. Something emerges for all to see. Yet crucially Paul says that this building will face a test. The test will reveal both the foundation and source of the building materials used. There are times in life when we face testing. Most of us know what it means to take driving lessons and then face that fateful day when our knowledge and skill is tested. The outcome is fairly predictable if we don’t prepare – failure. To know a test is coming and not prepare is foolish at best and may even betray an arrogant self confidence.

Paul says, “...the Day will declare it!”, 1Cor 3.13. That day is the judgement we will face when we stand before Jesus and give an account for our life. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done whether good or bad”, 2Cor 5.9-10.

The coming ‘Day’ will disclose the true nature of how we lived. In the light of this event Paul says he lives with an ‘aim’ – a goal no less. That goal is to be “well pleasing to Him”. Let’s explore in more detail the process involved in achieving this goal of pleasing the Lord.

The first step is to ensure that our lives are built on the right foundation. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”, 1Cor 3.11. Scripture calls Jesus the Cornerstone, 1Pet 2.6-7. This was the first stone that was laid when a building was erected. It set the direction and level for every other stone. If this was not placed correctly, every other stone would be affected. God Himself has ensured that this stone has been set in place. It was His work. Our work is in choosing how we align with this Cornerstone.

This alignment comes by a faith relationship to Jesus. Some think that the only issue is the need for faith. But faith is always in someone or something. In other words, it is the object of faith that is crucial. We all exercise faith every day! The real issue is, “what are we placing our faith in?” Some place their faith is political ideologies, capitalism and free trade verses communism. But both these systems can end up oppressing people. Some place their faith in political leaders, but history shows us how weak these can be. Few politicians have a reputation that exceeds that of a second hand car sales man. Stereotyping this may, be but it reflects a current reality. It is who we place our faith in that is vital. Trusting in Jesus Christ is like laying a foundation to a building. It is the beginning, without which nothing counts.

Paul also shows us that the foundation includes apostles and prophets, Eph 2.19-22. They too fit alongside the Cornerstone of Jesus. We see this prophesied by Jesus Himself when speaking to Peter, Matt 16.18, “And I say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”. The Greek helps us understand the force of Jesus words. Peter or Petros in the Greek is the original ‘rocky’ or piece of rock, a detached stone. This is not the foundation. On this Rock – Petra, a massive rock, I will build my church. Jesus is of course referring to Himself! But Peter has seen this by revelation and he too will be connected to the foundation. This is why he of all the NT writers could speak of all believers as being ‘living stones’, 1Pet 2.5. We are all pieces of rock being connected to the greater rock – Jesus. Like any building we need to be placed and built together. The foundational ministries of apostles and prophets help us to do this.

The ministry of these apostles and prophets can be seen both in history and contemporary culture. The historical apostles and prophets hold a unique place in a number of ways.

1. They were the main writers of the Bible and we now have the accepted cannon, the 66 books of the Bible. All teaching and prophetic utterance today should be evaluated and measured against the revelation contained in scripture.

2. They carried a level of authority that is not equalled by the modern equivalent of these ministries. We can see the uniqueness of the 12 apostles for instance by the fact that their names are written into the foundation of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.14. They are called the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

In contemporary culture they are the pioneers who help to bring new churches to birth and lead major movements. They are the ascension gifts of Jesus, Eph 4.11, appointed after the resurrection. The key issue is not so much the authority they carry but the ‘grace’ that is on their lives. Paul emphasised this in 1Cor 3.10, “According to the grace of God given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation...”

Many definitions have been offered for the grace of God but one that I like is, ‘Grace is God’s empowering presence’. In other words, when we are operating according to our gifting and calling there is a grace, an empowering presence, that flows and enables us to both enjoy and succeed in what we do, 1Thess 4.24, “He who calls you is faithful who also will do it.” This is why Paul places so much emphasis on God’s activity in this chapter, 1Cor 3.6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” He repeats this phrase in verse 7. The issue is not the ministers who plant and water, but God who creates and brings forth life.

In the context of this book Paul is correcting an attitude that had developed in Corinth. The believers there were placing leaders and ministries like Paul on competitive pedestals. Even Jesus was up there, 1Cor 1.12! The problem with successful ministry is that, without humility, we can begin to think that the success is down to us. We can begin to believe our own press. Paul is clear. God gives the increase and our ministries are a testament to His grace working in us. Consider his words later in the same book, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace f God which was with me”, 1Cor 15.10.

Let me put his ideas together and paraphrase Paul to highlight the paradox. I worked harder than any other apostle. None of them did as much as me. But it wasn’t really me. I was empowered by the grace of God to do these things. I allowed His empowering presence to flow through me. Ultimately I was just fulfilling my calling and so all the glory must go to God. Look at how much He accomplished – through me. Look at how much I accomplished – through Him.

Notice Paul’s emphasis. It was me, but it wasn’t me! I like the tension in this. On the one hand we need to know that we have a part to play. I planted, Apollos watered. They had to do something. Without them nothing would happen! Unless we respond and take up the call on our life nothing happens. Those called to preach, need to preach. Those called to lead, need to lead, Rom 10.14-15; 12.6-8. On the other hand our labour, in and of itself, can’t produce anything. It is God who gives the increase. He is the source of life – in all things, creation, ministry, relationships. All things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, Rom 11.36.

Paul captures this concept of partnership by a beautiful Greek phrase, sun-ergos, translated workers together, or co-labourers. (See also Philemon 1.1, 24; Phil 2:25, 4:3). It implies that we are partners with others and God. It isn’t about competition but co-operation. This all becomes possible when we place Jesus as the Cornerstone in our life and allow ourselves to be ‘fitted’ into His temple.

I pray that we will continue to have a revelation of the supremacy of Jesus and that He will be the foundation on which everything we do is built upon; whether it is friendship, marriage, ministry or business. This is the first step of guaranteeing something that will last into eternity. Next time we will look at how to choose the right building materials to ensure a structure that won't collapse and burn up!