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Most of you are familiar with The Big Dig tunnel project in the Boston area. Faulty materials and construction practices led to a concrete ceiling panel braking loose, falling and killing someone. That sparked a huge investigation and comprehensive testing that revealed many shortcomings.

The Central Artery project, even as it opened the skyline downtown and provided a smoother commute for many motorists, was already infamous for delays, overruns and possibly criminal defects in design and construction. But it moved from embarrassment to fatal civic liability July 10, when a ceiling panel in the Ted Williams Tunnel gave way and crushed Milena Del Valle to death. Her husband escaped, and his lawsuit may set an all-time high for award or settlement. Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he’ll seek criminal charges against designers and contractors of the Big Dig in the case,

Remember in the last paragraph Paul had introduced the two analogies for Christian workers: that of a farmer and that of a builder. Here he extends the construction analogy. Church ministry in this text is compared to a large building project. The spiritual leaders are charged with taking care how they build so that they will produce quality results which will last and pass the fiery test. Future rewards are promised to those who stay true to the foundation of Jesus Christ and the apostolic model of ministry.


A. Humble Reliance on the Grace of God

“According to the grace of God which was given to me”

– Different gifts; different callings; different opportunities

– Individualized grace

– Faithfulness is required for all (4:2)

– Aggressiveness in trusting Christ for His enablement rather than burying our talents (cf. parable of the talents)

– No room for pride or boasting in human accomplishments

– No running away from ministry or bailing because God’s grace is sufficient

B. Skillful Labor in Accordance with God’s Wisdom

“like a wise master builder”

Distinction between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the world continues to flow through this epistle to the Corinthians. Expediency is not the standard. God’s ways are not our ways. The type of leadership model derived from the business community will not cut it.

Word from which we get “architect” – but here used in an expanded sense as the one who faithfully carries out the master blueprint plans as a good general contractor.

Stedman: Paul calls himself here “the wise master builder,” and the word for master builder, architectron is the word from which we get our word “architect.” But he really uses this word in a different sense than we use the word “architect” today. To us an architect is the man who thinks up the building. He conceptualizes it; he designs it; he sees it in his mind’s eye; he plans it, and programs it, and draws the designs for it. In that sense, of course, God is the architect of the church. The Lord Jesus said, “I will build my church,” {Matt 16:18}. He has conceived it; he has designed it; he has planned its structure; he has programmed its activities, and he continues to do so, so he is really the architect in that sense today.

C. Careful Construction in Accordance with the Apostolic Pattern

“I laid a foundation and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.”

– Rom. 15:20 – Paul called to do pioneering work; the apostle of the Gentiles

– No selfish ambition

– Spirit of teamwork rather than competition

– There is a biblical pattern to follow; the apostles followed that pattern

Be careful in the sense of:

– communicating the whole counsel of God accurately and faithfully (2 Tim. 2:2)

– following the biblical ministry model – not relying on the marketing techniques of the world

– keeping the focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ

Goins: The second half of verse 10 reminds us that a foundation is supposed to support something. In the case of the church, it’s a spiritual building. Paul is concerned that those who continue the work that he started work as faithfully and effectively as he did. They’ve got to draw on God’s gracious resources and reflect God’s spiritual wisdom. Paul is referring particularly to evangelists and pastors and teachers in the church, but the principle applies to every single believer. All of us to some extent represent the gospel by what we do. Our life and our witness with each other must be grounded in the Lord Jesus and in his word.

D. Zero Deviation From the Supreme Standard = the Church’s One Foundation = Jesus Christ Her Lord

“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

1 Pet. 2:6; Eph. 2:20

Concept of a plumb line

Lenski: When Paul writes that he “laid a foundation” in Corinth he means only that he began the work in that place. Laying a foundation in this sense is in contrast with the erecting of the superstructure. . . A vaster thing is meant by the one and only foundation that Paul says is “lying”, a present tense, lying permanently and forever. Paul says nothing about him who laid this foundation or how it was laid.. . They shall also note what this foundation, is, namely “Jesus Christ.”


A. (:12) Two Contrasting Types of Building Materials

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw”

Presented from most costly to least costly; key is ability to endure fire

1. High Quality – permanent, valuable, uncommon

a. gold

b. silver

c. precious stones

2. Low Quality – temporary, useless, very common, highly combustible

a. wood

b. hay

c. straw

The problem will not be with the foundation – that is solid;

Look at the effort and cost involved in doing things the right way;

You can’t be cutting corners in the ministry;

These kinds of materials refer to the various doctrines, the modeling of those doctrines via a life of holiness, and the ministry motives and methods employed

Leake: the continuous teaching; not mixing in worldly philosophy and methodology; the foundation being built upon is the doctrine about the person of Christ

Goins: Paul speaks of human wisdom, the spirit of the world, and words or speculations. The wisdom of the world is a common-sense view of life. It’s the constantly changing opinions and traditions and philosophies and social theories that our race manufactures.

B. (:13) Testing By Fire Will Reveal the Quality of the Work

“each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”

Speaking of judgment day for believers – not to determine their eternal destiny – but the nature of their rewards. This is commonly referred to as the bema seat judgment.

Goins: When the glorified Jesus appeared to the apostle John on the island of Patmos, John described him in the Revelation as having eyes that were like a flame of fire, having a burning intensity, evaluating. Our loving Lord Jesus, who is passionately committed to the life and health of the church, will examine our building activity and materials and sort out the bad and the good, what is of the Spirit and what is of the flesh, what is built on God’s revealed eternal word and what is built on the current human philosophies swirling around us.


2 Categories when it comes to Rewards:

A. Spiritual Leaders Who Qualify For Future Rewards

“If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.”

B. Spiritual Leaders Whose Efforts at Ministry Were Wasted Because They Failed to Follow the Divine Blueprint

“If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

MacArthur: No matter how worthless, no believer will forfeit salvation.

Grosheide: The teachers who build badly may be believers. They build on the good foundation without having the intention of destroying the work of God, and although they are guilty by reason of the lack of permanency of their work, their state before God may be secure. Here again Paul assumes that there are teachers at Corinth who lead the church in the wrong direction.

Leake: Misuse of passage – not talking about a carnal Christian who produces zero fruit his whole life; not speaking of purgatory; no second chance to start over and build it right