The Testing Fire
May 22nd, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
THE TESTING FIRE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
5-22-55 7:30 p.m.
Now, we gotta get to this Word or it’ll be like it is this morning: just as I get started, why, it’d be time to go to bed. So you turn in your Bible now, you turn to the third chapter of 1 Corinthians. And we left off this morning at the ninth verse – that’s right, Marion, the ninth verse. Got his little girl there with him. She wants to look at the Book. The ninth, we left off at the ninth verse this morning. Now, tonight, we begin at the tenth verse, and I am preaching through the fifteenth. 1 Corinthians, the third chapter, and this is the passage, ten through fifteen:
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon.
For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, costly stones . . .
[1 Corinthians 3:10-12]
Let’s read it "costly stones." The Greek word is timios. When you translate it "precious stones," to us "precious" means a jewel like a diamond or a ruby or an emerald. He refers here to polished marble, porphyry, alabaster.
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble,
Every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the Day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereon, he shall receive a reward.
If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; though he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.
[1 Corinthians 3:12-15]
Now, that’s the passage. It is built upon a very definite background there in the city of Corinth to which city and church Paul addressed the letter. Corinth arose out of the ruins of a great conflagration, a destruction of the city that was willful. It was phoenix-like. It arose out of ashes. In 146 BC, Mummius [Lucius Mummius], the great Roman general and legionnaire, conquered the Greco part of the Roman Empire. And, of course, one of the great cities of the Greek world was Corinth, and when Mummius overran Corinth, he destroyed the city and set fire to it. A hundred years to the day thereafter, in 46 BC, the city was rebuilt by Julius Caesar.
Now, in the rebuilding of the city, it presented to the sight. When Paul walked down the streets, it presented a most heterogeneous array of structures. Here would be a tremendous marble foundation – the site of one of the great Greek temples. As substantial as the bedrock upon which the marble itself was placed, there would be a marble foundation, and on top of it, a new settler had raised up the most squalid and ugly sort of a structure: a little old house – little old bumpy thing made out of reeds and grass and mud and thatch. And right over here would be a beautiful wall of one of those ancient and glorious temples with an arch, with a doorway, in which gold and silver was curiously and wondrously inwrought. Then the other wall would be made out of mud and propped up with a pole and a hole stopped up with straw. Now that was the kind of a thing Paul saw as he walked among the buildings of the new city of Corinth: some of those great structures, part of them destroyed, part of them there, and then rebuilt in all of that ugly sort of way.
Now, that is the background when he says that he has laid a great foundation but on that foundation they have built the superstructure sometimes with gold and silver and costly stones – polished marble – sometimes with wood and hay and stubble [1 Corinthians 3:10-12], and it represented a very unsightly sort of a building.
Now, there are two applications of this thing here that Paul is talking about. Some of your commentators will say Paul is talking about the building of the church, the temple of God: the stones that are in the house of the Lord which is you, and you, and you. And then others will say, "No, he’s talking about an individual life built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ." So I just decided I’d preach about both of them – preach about both of them – ’cause both of them are there in the text.
So, we’ll take the first one as though Paul meant that on the foundation he had laid in Corinth, Jesus Christ, they were building on that foundation of the Lord Jesus the church there in Corinth, and it was a heterogeneous kind of a church. On the inside of that church, they were building all kinds of sorry, sorry structures: sorry rooms, sorry partitions, sorry roofs – just sorry building. Now, he can refer to false doctrines that can be entered into a church, but mostly he’s talking about the stones that comprise it, and those stones are the people that are in it.
And what Paul is saying about the church there is true of any church anywhere, and is certainly true of us. The church sometimes has in it stones making a part of it the building up of the house of the Lord on the foundation of Christ. It has wonderful material: gold, silver, polished marble. Well, that represents the fine people that come into the church. They’re noble. They’re splendid. They’re just as Christian and consecrated as they can be. But there are also in that church members of that church – there are people who represent wood, hay, and stubble. They are about as sorry and worthless and good for nothing as anybody you could ever find in anybody’s town or in anybody’s organization. You have both of them in the church in the house of God.
Now, that’s the reason that some people when they look at the church – some people will look at you. You’re the church. This isn’t the church. You’re the church. Some people will look at you, and they’ll say, "Oh, but the church is magnificent. It is as beautiful as a dream. It is as substantial as the stars. The church has great character. It has nobility of purpose. The church is a benediction to the name of God and a glory to Jesus Christ. Oh, thank God for the church!" Now, that’s what some of them say when they look at some of you.
Then other people, looking at the sorry, worthless, two-bit, skinless, no-count members of our church, they look at our church and they say, "What a sorry edifice is the house of God. What a sorry thing is the church of Jesus Christ. Why, look at that man! He’d skin you out of your eye teeth. Why, look at that guy over there. He’d sell the dirt off of his mother’s grave for ten cents a bucketful. Look at that fellow over there. He’d lie and cheat and steal. Look at that fellow over there: just as mean and bad and ill-tempered as anybody I ever saw in my life."
Well, their idea of the church is you, and that’s what Paul said here in one of the applications of this text. On the foundation of Jesus Christ there are stones in the building that are precious and marvelous, and there’s material in the building that is as sorry and worthless as the marsh reeds and the grass of the field [1 Corinthians 3:11-15].
Well, that’s one thing about the church, and you look at it. You look at this church. You look at this church, and every church is that way. Some of the people are a glory and some of them are a disservice, and a dishonor, and a disgrace, and a dis-everything else to everything that Jesus stands for and loves and knows.
Now, we don’t want to be that way. We don’t want to be that way. We don’t want to be a reproach to the name of Christ and a sorry member of the church. On this foundation of Jesus Christ, let’s build here a house of God. And, you, you be a precious stone. You be a bar of gold. You be a basket of silver. You be a jewel in the diadem of the Lord Jesus.
Why not? Why does anybody want to be sorry and good for nothing? Why? Why does anybody want to cast reproach and aspersion upon the cause of Jesus? Why? Why would anybody want to say, "I’m a Christian and I belong to the church," and then go out and do things and act in ways that when people look at you, they say, "I surely am glad I’m not a Christian. I’m glad I don’t belong to that church." No, let’s do it honorably, and gloriously, and nobly. That’s the church.
Now, let’s apply it to ourselves and individual lives, and when we do that, the foundation becomes our personal trust in Jesus Christ and the superstructure becomes our individual lives. All right, let’s start with that foundation. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 3:11]. Now, we have nothing to do with the foundation. It’s laid for us. We don’t have anything to do with beginnings. They’re all the gift of God. We don’t have anything to do with foundations.
We don’t have anything to do with this earth. We are plowmen, not creators [Genesis 1:1-2:25]. We can tear it up. We can rip it open. We can pierce it. We can divide it. We can shovel it around. We can rearrange it. We can spade it up, but no man makes the earth. The foundation is laid by other hands: by the great Creator.
Same way about the sun. No man lights the sun. It’s already there. We use it for a little while, then we pass away, but it’ll still be shining up there in the sky. No man lays the foundation of his own reason. Where’d your reason come from? Did you buy it in a bazaar somewhere? Did you go shopping for it? No, sir. No, sir. It’s a gift of God.
So these great, great things are here before we came. The foundation is laid in Jesus Christ, and that was here before we were born into the earth. Now, on that foundation which a man can accept or reject, but he doesn’t create it and he doesn’t make it and he doesn’t lay it; the foundation is laid in Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 3:11] – now on that foundation, a man can build his life, and he can put in his life two different kinds of material [1 Corinthians 3:12]. He can put into that life wonderful substances: gold, silver, precious stones – costly, costly stones – or he can put into that life wood, hay, and stubble.
Now, this is my impression. My impression is that people place on the inside of their lives everything: a heterogeneous mass – a heaping up. Almost all of us do that. Some of the things we put in our lives are just so fine and good, and some of the things in our lives are so unworthy and ignoble. And the same man is doing it in his own life, the same life.
For example, when you go over there to Jerusalem – and some of you’ll be going this summer – when you go over there to Jerusalem, you’ll look at the great foundation of Solomon’s Temple. And when you look at it, there’ll be five or six courses of the most glorious stone-laying you’ll ever see in this earth: tremendous stones. Oh, they’re big, and they are beautifully laid and wonderfully laid – about six courses of them. Then on top of those courses will be the most sorry-looking heap of rubbish that you ever saw.
Well, that’s the way we are in our lives. One day we’ll be so godly and so holy. We’ll have marvelous Christian aspirations and holy commitments and godly wishes and consecrated thoughts. One day we’ll be so good, and the next day we’ll be as mean as the devil! The same fellow will. You will. You will.
"Well, Preacher, you don’t know me. I’m never mean. I never lose my temper. I never think a bad thought. I never say a bad word. I always do the godly and the holy." Yeah, and you’re the biggest liar I know of! [1 John 1:8] That’s what you are. That’s what you are. That’s exactly what you are.
You’re going to find, on the inside of your life, you’re going to find both of them [Romans 7:14-25]. You’re going to find both of them. One day, your wife’ll say you are the sweetest thing that ever came along; she could just eat you up – and the next day, she’s going to say, "You’re the meanest louse. I wished I’d a-done it!" That’s what she’s going to say. That’s what she’s going to say. That’s you. Just you. That’s you. That’s the folks. That’s the people.
And we’re so much that way – so much that way. You can take most any godly man, take most any wonderful man, and oh, he’s just so fine, and he’s just so good, and he’s just so pure silver, and he’s just like a gem. But you look at his feet. His feet are made out of clay, every last one of them, every one of them [Psalm 19:12].
You take a preacher. He’s just so great and so marvelous and so wonderful, but when you really get to know him, you’ll find he has colossal weaknesses just like anybody else. I don’t guess Edgar Young Mullins has any kinfolks around here except that preacher over there. I’m not going to say it.
Let’s talk about a man that I’m not going to name. I know a great preacher. I know a great preacher – one of the greatest preachers in the world. He’s a marvelous man. He’s a wonderful man, a glorious man, but you can do anything in the world with him by complimenting him. He is amenable. He has heard so many compliments and people have so carried him around on a silver platter and they have said so many glorious things about him that you can do anything in the world with him if you’ll just compliment him and pat him on the back and pour molasses over him and soothing syrup and just keep it gummy and sticky and gooey – do anything in the world with him.
Isn’t that a sight? Isn’t that amazing? But that’s people for you. That’s folks for you. We put on the inside of our lives some of the most marvelous things, some of the most glorious things. And then, at the same time, we clutter up our lives with some of the most ignoble and sorry and good-for-nothing actions and thoughts: getting mad; be censorious and little and critical; say things we ought not to say that are unbecoming of a Christian, unbecoming of a man of God. We just do that. We just do that, and that’s typical of all of us.
I think of Jacob. Jacob lay down one night, and he dreamed a dream and he saw the angels of God ascending and descending on Jacob’s ladder [Genesis 28:10-22]. Why, it’s just like heaven. And he got up from that bed, and he got up from that dream, and he got up from that slumber, and the next day, he was out doing his best to out-scheme shifty Laban, his father-in-law [Genesis 29:1-31:55]. That’s Jacob.
Or Simon Peter: one day he was a saying to the Lord, "Lord, all these others may deny Thee. All these others may renounce Thee. Fowler may. Dean Willis may. Billy will. They’ll all deny You, Lord, but I won’t! Man, you can count on me, Lord. I’ll just stick by the stuff" [Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29; Luke 22:33; John 13:37].
And the next day, one of these little ol’ flips of a girl came by and looked at Simon Peter and said, "You’re one of His disciples!" [Matthew 26:69; Luke 22:56]
He said, "One of His disciples? I never heard of Him. Who is it you’re talking about?" [Matthew 26:70; Luke 22:57]
And another fellow came by and said, "Yes. You are one of His disciples."
"No, I’m not. I don’t even know what you said."
And then a little ol’ girl came by, another one, and said, "You talk like Him. You have the accent of a Galilean. You’re one of His disciples" [Matthew 26:71, 73].
He said, "I talk like Him, you say? You say I talk like Him? Well, then look at this," and He let out a blue streak and cussed like a sailor [Matthew 26:74]. "You think that talks like the Lord Jesus?" said Simon Peter. "I don’t know anything about Him."
And it wasn’t but a few hours before that Simon Peter said, "All these others – even Bill Morrell here – all these others, they’ll all deny the Lord. But I won’t do it. I won’t do it."
That’s human nature. That’s us. That’s folks. That’s people building on the foundation of Jesus Christ wonderful things, glorious things, and, at the same time, building on that foundation shoddy stuff made out of marsh grass, made out of reeds, made out of rubble, made out of stuff [1 Corinthians 3:12-13].
All right, what’s going to happen? That’s my sermon: what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen? All right, here’s what’s going to happen. Every man’s work shall be made manifest [1 Corinthians 3:13]. God’s going to look at it – going to drop a plumb line back down by the side of it. God’s going to look at it, "for the day shall declare it" [1 Corinthians 3:13] talking about the great judgment day of the Lord. For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:10]: "For the day shall declare it, and it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is" [1 Corinthians 3:13].
Now, again, a background: the Corinthians knew what he was talking about. The people who lived in Chicago in about 1872, they knew what Paul was talking about. Any man who’s ever seen a town burn will know what Paul was talking about. That great fire started by those Roman legions in 146 BC, that fire burned, and it consumed, and it spread through the city like – it spread through the city like lightning as it leaped from place to place and house to house.
Now, as the fire progressed and as it burned furiously, why, those great temples made out of solid marble when the fire was over, they were still there – charred and burned – but they were still there. And all of those squalid hovels and all of those little old houses made out of grass and out of mud – when the fire had done, there was nothing there but just the dirt itself. Everything else had gone up in the flames.
Now, you listen to this. There is an irreversible judgment in fire beyond which there’s no appeal or no recourse. You can’t extenuate. You can’t excuse. The fire burns, and it burns whatever it kindles on. It just burns. Ah, but Lord Jesus, this house was built by royal hands. To this house, You must be gracious. No, sir, the fire burns, and it burns impersonally. It just burns no matter whose hands or no matter who. It’s no respecter of persons: my life and your life.
"But, Lord, I was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas." That won’t make a bit of difference in the Day of Judgment. How have I done? What has been my spirit, and my attitude, and my love, and my consecration? What’s been good in my life, God will bless; and what’s been bad, and vicious, and ungodly, and evil in my life, the fire will consume. We all stand that awful and terrible judgment of the Lord.
"All right, Preacher, now that thing that all of us are waiting for you to get at and come to. What about that fellow that trusted in the Lord, and he didn’t do good? He didn’t do right; and he built on that foundation of Jesus Christ, he built a house that in that awful day of the fiery judgment of God, his house will burn down. Won’t be anything left. Now, what about him, Preacher?"
Well, I don’t enter into the judgments of the Lord. I just read the Book. I’m just a voice. I’m just an echo. That’s all. "If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire" [1 Corinthians 3:14-15]. That is, he’ll be like a man that ran out of the house naked and lost everything that he had. He lost his house. He lost the labor of his life. He lost the toil of the day. He lost everything. He is barely saved. He is hardly saved. He is scarcely saved. He’ll hardly recognize himself, he’ll be so poor and so robbed and so naked: "saved as by fire" [1 Corinthians 3:15].
Ah, Lord, to come to the end of the way to the great judgment day of Almighty God and see everything you’ve ever done. All the fruit and labor and effort of your life, you see it turn to dust and ashes before your eyes: gone, gone, forever gone – a charred, heapless mess, gone, dust, dust, rubbish, rubble, ashes all around, everything gone, everything gone.
"Preacher, can a man be saved like that?" Yes, sir. According to the Word of God – which is all I preach. It’s all I know to tell you. Just according to the Book, there are people that’ll be in heaven just like a man would walk down this street naked and ashamed [1 Corinthians 3:15]. And I don’t like it.
Lord, when I get to glory – O God, that I might have somewhat to lay at the feet of Jesus. Lord, Lord, when I walk down the golden street and appear before the great throne, that I might have somewhat, somewhat to offer. O God, don’t let me live and my life be so full of sin and iniquity, be so unworthy and so ungodly, be so ignoble, be so ignominious and contemptible, be so bad and wretched and miserable – Lord, don’t let me live so that when I come to the end of the way and enter into the gates of glory, I’m empty-handed: nothing, just barely saved, saved as by fire [1 Corinthians 3:13].
But, Lord, let it be to me as it’s written in the Book: "If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereon, he shall receive a reward" [1 Corinthians 3:14]. Lord, Lord, when I get to glory, that I might have the gladness of heart and the glorious experience of somebody coming up and taking me by the hand and saying, "Preacher, do you remember? Do you remember? You sought me out and prayed for me and won me to Christ, and here I am. And had it not been for you, I’d a never made it." Oh, glory, glory, glory.
And as I walk to the throne of grace, and the Lord looks in the Book and He reads the Book of Life and my name, and He reads the book of the works, and He sees what I’ve done, may the Lord have cause to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant [Matthew 25:14-30]; pastored that church down there; preached My gospel to those people down there; tried to comfort their hearts down there; tried to be an exponent of the message of Jesus down there. Welcome, welcome, thou blessed of My Father. Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
That’s the way to do. That’s the way to build. That’s the way to live. Now, I’m not preaching to you. I’m preaching to me.
O God, help me to be a better Christian. Lord, help my tongue to say blessed things, good things, helpful things, encouraging things. Help my tongue to name the name of Jesus. Help me toward my family and toward the circle of my home, and help me among the people with whom I work. Help me when I go to a deacon’s meeting. Help me, Lord, to say words that will encourage those men. Help me to say words that will be a blessing as they try to undergird this great ministry. Help me, Lord, to be an example of what a preacher ought to be so that people will always have cause to say, "Our pastor is a godly man. He’s a man of the Spirit. He’s a man of consecration and prayer." When they think of me, they want to be better folks.
Lord, help me to be that way: building things in our lives that when they’re tried by the fire at the great revealing judgment day of Almighty God, they’ll stand forever and ever and ever – our reward in the world that is to come [1 Peter 1:13]. And oh, may God help us to be wonderful children of the great King – more like Him every day! Well, let’s pray to that end.
Our Lord, I’m the last fellow in the world that ought to stand up in a sacred place like this and castigate other people for their sins when I am such a sinner myself. But, Lord, there’s grace and mercy in the heart of God. Oh that I might do better, that I might be exemplary in all of my ways: that I might be patient, and kind, and considerate; that I might be filled with the milk of God’s love for humanity; that I might always have the heart and the Spirit of the lowly Jesus; that I might be like my Master whose Name I try to name, whose gospel I try to preach, whose cause I try to hold up in the earth.
And, Lord, where I haven’t done it good, haven’t said it right, and have ever fallen into temper and misjudgment, said hurtful or cutting things; where I’ve ever misled the people; and where I haven’t been altogether as God would want me – Lord, forgive. Make me a better man that I might be a better preacher. And, our Lord, may there be in the heart of our church a wonderful longing to be more like the Master. May there be in the souls of our people a hungering and a thirsting after righteousness. O God, that we might put away the things that so easily beset us [Hebrews 12:1]: habits, and thoughts, and ways, and sins that bring reproach upon Thy name and Thy church. Instead, Lord, may we build into our lives and upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. May we build those precious things that stand forever. Though the fire shall melt the gold, it’s still as precious. Though the fire shall make molten of the silver, it is still as valuable as ever.
O Lord that we might build into our souls the things that God will honor and bless and reward in the great and final day of Jesus. O God, make our church a reflection of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Give us His will, His Spirit, His wisdom, His love, His compassion, His outstretched arms, His praying lips, His loving eyes, His glorious sympathies, His compassion of heaven. O Lord, to be more like Jesus; Lord, I want to be a Christian in my soul and in my heart. Lord, I want to be more like Jesus in my soul and in my heart. Lord, I want to be more like Thee: be more loving, be more kind, be more like Jesus. And may our people grow in those Christian virtues which are ever the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, brotherly kindness, temperance [Galatians 5:22-23]. God, give us these things, and we’ll thank Thee for Thy favor and Thy goodness, for Thy drawing nigh as we draw nigh to Thee [James 4:8], for Thy help to overcome to live the victorious and the triumphant life [Romans 8:37], in the precious name of our Savior, amen.
Now while we sing our song, somebody you, give your heart and faith to the Lord Jesus. You come. You come.
rebuilding of Corinth
The marble foundations, with reeds, grass, mud structures
the foundation was built the superstructure – sometimes with gold, silver and
costly stones; sometimes with wood, hay and stubble
II. The building of the church
the foundation Paul had laid, they were building all sorts of heterogeneous
is talking about the stones that comprise it – the people
of good material – fine, noble, consecrated people
hay and stubble – sorry, worthless members
reaction of different people who look at us
Some see the good, others see the worthless
Their idea of the church is you
III. Building upon the foundation of faith
in Christ a superstructure, a life
foundation is laid for us(1 Corinthians 3:11)
have nothing to do with beginnings
The earth – no man makes the earth he tills
The sun – no man lights the sun
Reason – no man lays the foundation of his own reason
that foundation a man can build his life
1. Some things are find
and good, some unworthy and ignoble
2. Jerusalem – the
temple foundation and the heap on top of it
3. Typical of all of us
IV. The fiery test(1 Corinthians 3:14-15)
Corinthians knew what a trial by fire meant
judgment in fire – no respecter of persons
the work burns, he shallsuffer lost, but he himself saved
any work abides, he shall receive a reward