1 COR 3:11-15
ETERNAL SECURITY & ETERNAL REWARDS
A) THE WORKS OF CHURCH BUILDERS-LEADERS ARE IN VIEW BUT THIS IS APPLIED TO ANY AND ALL BELIEVERS
The first ten verses of this chapter have the works of church leaders in view and these will be judged as to its value at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Further details of vv. 1-10
On the other hand, this is applicable to all believers; for all believers are part of the church and are building their own spiritual lives within the church. Notice the phrase 'if any man builds on this foundation' in verse 12. Consider that since all believers are to build on the foundation of their own salvation, and since the phrase in verse 12 begins with the general viewpoint: 'If any man'; then any and all believers are in view, not just church leaders from this point on.
[Erwin W. Lutzer, "Your Eternal Reward,Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ", Moody Press, Chicago, 1998, pp. 60-61]:
"Perhaps the most vivid picture of the judgment seat of Christ is Paul's metaphor given to the church at Corinth. He pictures a building with a strong foundation, capable of holding the weight of the walls and roof, but these materials must be tested. What kinds of substances were used in the building? Can this structure withstand the test of time? Only when the building is set aflame is the answer made clear. And yes, some builders will suffer loss.
Unfortunately, this passage has often been interpreted as a reference to carnal Christians who supposedly believed on Christ but lived lives of open fleshly rebellion. And yet, when they die, we are told they will be in heaven, 'saved as by fire.' But Paul did not write this to give carnal Christians at least a bit of comfort. His point, I believe, lies in another direction.
He begins by saying that he cannot speak to the believers at Corinth as to spiritual men, but as to 'men of flesh, as to babes in Christ' (1 Corinthians 3:1). But keep in mind that these believers were learning how to exercise their gifts, they were supporting the church and interested in spiritual growth. They were not modern carnal Christians who made a commitment to Christ in their youth, then wasted their lives in wanton sin. Their carnality revealed itself in the immaturity of putting their favorite man on a pedestal; some followed one leader, others another (vv. 3-4).
To address these petty jealousies, Paul uses two metaphors. The first is agricultural: 'I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth' (v. 6). The praise is given to God's part in the work, namely, the miracle of life, the marvel of growth. Rewards are never far from Paul's mind, so he adds, 'Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor' (v. 8).
Then, second, he presents an architectural metaphor. 'According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise builder, I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it, But let each man be careful how he builds upon it' (v. 10). He is speaking about the leaders who build churches; he is giving both warning and encouragement to those who have responsibility within the congregation.
Now we come to the crucial verses:
12 'If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 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. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.'
Paul's point is that some leaders are trying to build the church with poor materials; they gather a congregation quickly, but there is nothing transforming about their ministry. They might work hard, but because their energy is misdirected, they will have nothing that lasts in glory.
Others are trying to build with precious stones; they have a ministry based on the Word of God, prayer and the Spirit. They value character, which D. L. Moody defined as 'what a man is in the dark.' They know that they will be judged, not just for what they did but for who they are. As veteran missionary to India Amy Carmichael used to say, 'The work will never go deeper that we have gone ourselves.' These shall receive a reward.'
The person who is 'saved so as by fire' is indeed a Christian, but his leadership has been flawed. He has relied too heavily upon himself, his techniques, and his training. He did not approach the work with a spirit of dependence and faith; he did not do the work with Spirit-directed faithfulness. He will be 'saved so as by fire.'
Though Paul's point is intended for the leaders of the church, it can be applied to all of us. We are all building our lives, day by day; each of us will be tested, and each life will reveal a mixture of precious stones and stubble.
Imagine for a moment that all of our deeds were turned into either precious metals or trash, and then torched. The kind of life we lived would become evident by the size of the fire. The question would be: What was left when the flames died out? The more carnality and selfishness, the more 'wood, hay, straw' and the less 'gold, silver, precious stones.' This metaphor helps all of us come to terms with the thoroughness of God's judgment."
B) OTHER PASSAGES IN SCRIPTURE REFER TO REWARDS FOR THE WORKS OF THE BELIEVER
There are a number of statements in God's Word which refer to what a faithful believer will receive when he gets to heaven:
1) [MT 6:19-20]:
(v. 19) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal;
(v. 20) but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.."
And God's Word is the instruction manual on how to qualify for and what steps to take in order to "lay up ...treasures in heaven":
2) [Mt 4:4]:
'''Jesus answered, "It is written, 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " '''
(cp. Pr 3:1-35; 2 Ti 2:15; Eph 4:11-13):
The concepts of eternal security for the believer and eternal rewards for the faithful Christian are clearly taught in the following passage in 1 Corinthians:
II) [1 Cor 3:11]:
(v. 11) "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
A) JESUS CHRIST IS THE SOLE FOUNDATION OF ONES ETERNAL LIFE WHICH IS BUILT BY GOD ALONE AT THE MOMENT OF FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE
"foundation....which is Jesus Christ" =
The foundation wwhich is Jesus Christ is the complete salvation unto eternal life of an individual which is exclusively and solely through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
1) [Acts 4:12]:
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
2) [Jn 14:6]:
"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' "
3) [Eph 2:8-9]:
(v. 8) "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--
(v. 9) not by works, so that no one can boast."
III) [1 Cor 3:12]:
"Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, [bearing fruit as a believer who abides in Christ or builds with] wood, hay, straw [bearing worthless human centered activity - unfruitful behavior reflecting a life which is not abiding in Christ]
A) ONCE ONE IS SAVED, THEN A BELIEVER CAN BUILD UPON THE FOUNDATION OF HIS SALVATION WITH PRECIOUS OR WORTHLESS MATERIALS
Now once one is saved one then begins to build upon this foundation. One may build with eternally valuable gold, silver and precious stones, i.e., divine good works; or with valueless and destructible wood, hay and straw, i.e., human centered works, (or perhaps no works at all - just a sinful lifestyle). The building that a believer's lifestyle is forming upon the foundation of salvation in Christ is representative of the reward that a believer receives when he gets to heaven]
IV) [1 Cor 3:13]:
"His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day [of the Judgment Seat of Christ, (ref. 2 Cor 5:10)] will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test [not the man himself - his nature relative to eternal life but] the quality of each man's work.
A) 'THE DAY' IS A TERM WHICH SIGNIFIES THE DAY OF THE LORD BEGINNING WITH OUR LORD'S PREPARATIONS TO RETURN IN JUDGMENT OF THE WORLD INCLUDING THE JUDGMENT OF THE WORKS OF BELIEVERS
"the Day" = a technical term which signifies the day when our Lord will begin preparations to and then return in judgment and rule the earth from Jerusalem, (ref. Isaiah - details of the "Day" described throughout the entire book. 2 Thes 2:1-2 and I Thes 4:13-18 point to the rapture which is the beginning of the "Day" of the Lord when He brings believers dead and alive up to him in heaven in preparation to return to the earth for His millennial rule.
The term 'the Day' in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 has in view the specific part of the Day of the Lord, which is when He judges the works of believers.
1) [Compare 2 Cor 5:10]:
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
B) 'FIRE WILL TEST THE QUALITY OF EACH MAN'S WORK' =REFERS TO JUDGMENT NOT ETERNAL DAMNATION
"Fire will test the quality of each man's work" =
This is not referring to the judgment fire of unbelievers to eternal damnation, (ref. Rev 20:11-15), but a different and earlier judgment fire which will judge the works of believers relative to receiving rewards in heaven and not the believer himself relative to eternal life. It is the unacceptable works that a believer does which are referred to as being "burned up" and not the believer himself. For the believer without acceptable works truly does end up being saved in spite of an unfaithful life because he has already been judged for that at the cross as a result of his faith alone in Christ alone foundation built for him by God Himself, (v. 11).
Notice that the fire here is put to the works of the man - the value of what that man did while he was physically alive on earth; and NOT to the man himself.
V) [1 Cor 3:14]:
(v. 14) If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, [after being subject to the fire] he shall receive a reward.
A) 'ANY MAN'S WORK' = REFERS TO THE WORK OF THOSE WHO HAVE BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF CHRIST, I.E., ANY BELIEVER'S WORK
"any man's" =
'any believer's', since the context is limited to the population of those who are building on the foundation of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, (v. 11).
Notice that although the subject of the passage began with a specific focus on church leaders building up the church, verse 14 is a general statement which includes all believers.
B) 'IT' = REFERS TO THE FOUNDATION OF ETERNAL LIFE - JESUS CHRIST AND HIM ALONE
"If any man's work which he has built upon it" =
"It" here refers to the "foundation" of eternal life which is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, (v.11).
C) REWARDS ARE IN VIEW FOR DOING WORKS WHICH SURVIVE THE TEST, I.E., FAITHFUL ONES
"he shall receive a reward" =
Notice that it is a reward that the believer receives for doing the divine good work that God had appointed him to do.
1) [Compare Eph 2:10]:
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
If the believer's work survives the fire test, (gold, silver and precious stones are typically refined by fire and not destroyed), then a reward will be forthcoming. The believer's divine good works did not provide for him eternal life - that foundation had already been built by his faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, (v. 11). So what the man built on that foundation of eternal life with his divine good works, ("gold, silver, precious stones"), was a reward when he got to heaven in addition to eternal life.
VI) [1 Cor 3:15]:
(v. 15) "If any man's work is burned up, [wood, hay, straw] he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved [unto eternal life], yet so as [one who barely escapes with his life] through fire [saving nothing of his belongings except himself - he goes to heaven the poorest of paupers for the rest of eternity."
And the reverse is also true:
If a believer does not abide in Christ, producing works which are not divine good, they will be consumed in the fire, suffering the loss of eternal rewards.
Notice that if the believer's works were burned up - i.e., if the works did not survive the test of fire, then that believer will actually suffer loss - suffer in heaven for the loss of what he could have received but did not because he wasted his time on earth. But that believer, the Scripture says, will still remain saved unto eternal life, barely entering onto heaven's shores as one escaping to safety from a burning house - without bringing anything out of the burning house but himself.
Thus the representation of the fruitless believer's life relative to the quality of his life in heaven is burned up, leaving nothing of value for him with which to receive rewards and build his life in eternity in heaven. His life in heaven will be limited for all eternity!
VII) CORROBORATING PASSAGES ON REWARDS AND THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST
A) [2 Cor 5:10]:
"For we [believers, v. 5] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or worthless."
"recompensed" = given what is due him, i.e., rewarded/disciplined for his deeds whether good deeds or worthless/evil]
"worthless" = "kakon" = "evil". Notice that here again it is the believer's works which are judged and not his salvation. He is either rewarded or disciplined for what he has done with his earthly life. Verses 1-9 in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 indicate the believer's absolute confidence in his eternal destiny in heaven no matter what, especially verse 8:
B) [2 Cor 5:8]:
"we [believers] are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."
This verse is saying that we believers prefer to be absent from the body which is to be present with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven - a statement of the sure hope of the believer of his eternal destiny in heaven no matter what, (cp. 1 Jn 5:13). So the primary responsibility of the Christian is to work as unto the Lord which is toward his inheritance in heaven:
C) [Col 3:23-25 NAS]:
(v. 23) "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men;
(v. 24) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ Whom you serve.
(v. 25) For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality." And our Lord will bring those rewards with Him when He comes again:
D) [Rev 22:12 NAS]:
" 'Behold, I am coming quickly! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done."
FOR MORE STUDIES ON REWARDS/CONSEQUENCES OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: