Better Together – Building on Christ   Sunday 19th February, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

 – Vicar Matt Huckel

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their 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 person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/20170219_message.mp3

Let me begin by sharing with you one of the most interesting and useful architectural tools of the modern age. It has supported thousands, perhaps even of millions of building projects undertaken in all the major western countries of the world. Tall slender constructions would be pretty much impossible without it. I’m talking about…. the humble Lego duplo base plate. (show item) We all should know Lego; the company that made it is 83 years old now and is common to parents and grandparents and even great grand parents. If you haven’t played with it, you might have certainly stepped on it; a duplo brick under the foot is painful!!

Now this base plate with its mathematically arranged studs has supported buildings ranging from Lego pyramids, farm houses, all the way to a tall tower going right up to the ceiling. It has been the solid foundation for all six of my children’s creativity. However, Lego in their ultimate wisdom decided to make the bottom completely flat with no stud compatibility. This means that it can’t be attached above anything else. You can’t for example make a decent roof out of it, and also its friendly green colour also tempts the horticulturally minded to make lovely nature scenes with Lego plants and flowers as well.

It is, for all intents and purposes a real foundation that can’t be placed on top of another one. This is where Paul in our text this morning makes a similar point. Jesus Christ is the foundation, the base plate and Paul says ‘that no one can lay a foundation other than what is already laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (3:11). Now before we go any further, we need to refresh our memories about the context of our text and also discover some extra information about the story of the church at Corinth.

We have already heard about the various factions in Corinth that had arisen with people choosing to side with Apollos, or Cephas (which is Peter) and also Paul himself. In the first part of chapter 3 Paul uses planting imagery: Paul planted the church, Apollos watered it but God had made it grow. Paul now suddenly changes the imagery to building work, laying a foundation of Christ as a chief architect and warning his readers to be careful about how they build upon Christ the foundation. It isn’t long before Paul starts listing very interesting building materials, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw. But then we have this dramatic shift to the threat of fire, the final judgement of God at the last day which will test the quality of every person’s building work. Will it survive, or will it be consumed? In this picture we also get this wonderful Gospel hope that the builder will still be saved even though what he or she has made may not survive.

Now I can imagine anyone in our age who has experienced severe loss through a bushfire would be hearing this text intently. For the people of Corinth their ears are truly tuned in. In 146 BC the Romans burned the beautiful Greek city of Corinth to the ground; acutely famous for its wealth, luxury, and precious metal working. The city was a complete ruin for a hundred years until Julius Caesar re-dedicated the city for re-building. Paul visited Corinth in the early half of the 1st century AD where the re-building process had already started and so the fire of Corinth was still very much in the people’s culture and mindset.  Paul is very clever with his use of imagery that speaks into the people’s context and makes a powerful point. Precious metals and gemstones survive a very hot fire, and it was said that during rebuilding on the scorched earth people had found that gold, silver and copper had melted together creating the famous Corinthian bronze; a material so beautiful it lined the gates of the Jerusalem temple and was said to be more stunning than gold itself. These precious metals and stones had passed from the old Corinth into the new Corinth; everything else, wood hay and straw was completely gone.

Paul loves using opposites and paradoxes in his language to humble those who boast. I think that these Corinthian ringleaders who were causing trouble pictured themselves as the beautiful metal workers, stunning examples of true and pure Christian leadership. But actually their terrible behaviour shows that they are building on Christ the foundation using inferior and consumable materials, wood, hay and straw. They are little like straw men, beautifully dressed scarecrows or even perhaps mutton dressed as lamb. What’s more Paul is saying that they are attacking and undermining the real builders who are using precious and lasting materials to build God’s temple. Paul warns those who cause decay or destroy God’s temple that God will cause them decay. They are digging pits and lighting fires underneath walls so that they collapse; a very common technique in the ancient world.

To counter all this boasting and opinions of their own wisdom Paul simply says: ‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight’ (3:19). You think you are the real wise builders, and everyone else are just novices, but actually what you do is shoddy building work.  In Revelation 3:17 Jesus says something similar to the church of Laodicea:  ‘You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.’ Now you would hope that Paul’s skilfully constructed letter would straighten out these issues but sadly 40 years after Paul wrote his letter, Clement, Bishop of Rome writes a stern but pastoral letter after he finds out they had not changed their ways at all and had kicked out their pastors. Corinth was certainly Paul’s problem child that’s for sure!

It’s amazing that these seemingly impossible, disruptive and disunited bunch are still God’s special temple. As heirs of Christ they are also the building stones of the most Holy of Holies and the Spirit of God dwells in them. We as a church in the 21st century are no different. God is still growing us as his plants and he is building us as his stones. The trouble is we get so tempted to judge each other’s building work. In Corinth, judging each other’s work was rife: too many chiefs who know best and not enough Indians as they say. But Paul’s message to them is the same one to us today. Our building work will be shown for what it is at the last judgement; its true strength, quality and durability will be one day revealed. It is not our job to judge. We are simply called to love each other and each other’s work even though we may not see it clearly for what it truly is. None of us are expert builders, but simply co-workers in Christ, who build structures of gold and silver on the foundation even though on the outside they may look like they’re made of wood, hay or straw. Friends it is so much about appearances and how we see things and so much of the Christian life is about opposites. This is why God is the judge and we are not. For us in our fallen state gold and silver are seen as common building materials and common building materials are seen as gold and silver.

Over the last 2 weeks I have felt God put into my mind this one simple question: ‘Matt, what do you see?’ I have wondered about a small struggling Barossa church with only 20 or so elderly members left, but God quickly reminds me that these are his precious goldsmiths whom he wants to use in re-building his church. My experience of the fragrance of the flowers at the altar one Sunday in Holy Communion brought to my attention that the flower team here, working silently in the background of our busy church life are providing a real ministry to this congregation. I was so deeply moved when I attended a meeting of the visitation team on Thursday. This group of committed men and women provide such a wonderful visitation ministry to people over 70; the joy on their faces as they shared with me the details of their work was a truly humbling experience. I also discovered that the Shalom singers have hearts that really love to sing about Jesus, and that Pastor Adrian has an incredible gift of knowing when to be silent and when to offer wisdom when working with people grappling with difficult issues. These are striking glimpses from God showing me some hidden gems and works of gold as I get to know people.

I can look at all of you from here and you are all a sea of ordinary faces. But individually you are all God’s builders who are building on the foundation or base plate of Jesus and as we get to know each other we will find hidden gems, gold and silver embedded amongst wood, straw and hay in all our building work. Even though some of our work might be consumed and some will last, we will all be saved in spite of it all. The important thing is that we are all so precious to God, and we need to be reminded that the Holy Spirit creates and shows us beauty in the ordinary. But there is nothing so ordinary about God’s Holy temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. That is you, the people of God, his children. Let’s not judge each other but rejoice in each other and all the building work the Holy Spirit equips us to do. May God reveal to each of you a new hidden wonderful surprise in someone you encounter this week.

In Jesus name Amen.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their 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 person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Discussion:

  1. Much of the trouble in the Corinthian church was rivalry, and boasting about key leaders and all of their wisdom. Paul uses opposites in his language such as ‘becoming a fool for Christ in order to become wise’ to tell the church that their human wisdom is nothing compared to the real wisdom of Christ. Can you think of a time when God has humbled you by showing you his power working through you in circumstances when you were the most weak?

  1. We can often be tempted to judge the spiritual building work of others as if we as ‘master builders’ are able to know what work is made with good materials (gold or silver)or inferior ones (wood, hay). Paul is reminding us that only God knows the true quality and construction of everyone’s work and that we should not judge. As you go into this week be open to God revealing to you glimpses of people’s spiritual building work that may be hidden from plain sight. Make note of these and think of ways you can actively encourage the people that God shows you.

#1Corinthians31023 #BuildingonChrist

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