1Corinthians 3:8-11 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are Gods field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
God rewards those who labor in the spiritual fields in service to Christ our Lord. Every leader should have the same basic vision, one aim, to plant and water seed to receive the harvest which God brings. It is not our responsibility to bring growth to others, merely to do the work God has commanded, planting the Word of God, or watering it.
While all true leaders work in the field, the Lord will reward each for their individual labor. The average church has many laborers – from pastors to Sunday school teachers, even to those who serve supporting roles in meeting the needs of the church such as janitors. We all work in our idividual roles, and each will receive a reward accordingly.
The foundation of our faith and work is Jesus Christ. There can be NO other foundation in true christianity. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Our works are not the foundation – nor our traditions, our doctrines, or any other thing. True Christianity is intended to be different from mere religion. Other religions are typically founded on works they must do or laws they must obey to reach God. Christianity, is based on God reaching out to man through Jesus Christ to show us His love. While certainly works should follow our faith, those works are based on the work God has already done on our behalf.
1Corinthians 3:12-15 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so at through fire.
This passage is firstly directed at those in leadership in the church, whose job it is to plant and water the fields and build upon the foundation of Christ. It also applies to every believer, for part of the purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry as they build up the church (Eph 4:11-12). Scripture exhorts that we will all be judged according to the deeds we have done while on earth at the judgment seat of Christ, and receive rewards accordingly.
Verse 13 says the worth of our works will be revealed by fire. This applies two ways. First is the testings on earth, our trials and tribulations. How we respond under pressure and temptation demonstrates where we have grown in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Life brings many tests to all, believer and unbeliever alike. These give opportunity for us to demonstrate the effectiveness of God’s love and grace in our lives, or else should show us areas which still need more work. When we pass the test, we show spiritual silver, gold, and gems. But if we quickly fail under trial, if the fire of testing usually burns up our potential testimony, then we know that area is still wood, hay, and stubble.
Let’s take, for example, manifested anger. Some people naturally have a short fuse and quickly explode in fury. If God is working in that area and you are learning to crucify the angry nature, you should gradually become more self-controlled by the power of the Spirit of God. As you do not manifest your anger as quickly, you are showing some spiritual fruit, a little silver.
But God is looking for a deeper work, where we not only do not let anger get out, but we do not anger as easily. Peter said blessed are those who endure testing for a season, for when they are proven they will receive a crown of life. As we seek the Lord and learn to kill the anger before it can rise up at all, we begin producing spiritual gold. When that thing which used to make you angry and offended no longer stirs up your carnal nature and self-righteous anger, greater reward will be awaiting you in heaven. The degree which we mature in our respective areas directly relates to the rewards we will receive on that Day.
1Peter 1:6-9 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.
This says testings come because we need them. And it is not our finances, or our health, or our family which is being tested. It is our faith – whether we will trust God. Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith. The testing demonstrates whether we have faith in God in that area of our lives.
When testing comes and we show some improvement in our faith in the area tested, then our faith in that area is genuine. Fire not only proves whether it is gold, but also serves to purify it. Gold is purified by melting it then scooping out the dross which floats to the top. When you begin to show some gold, then testings should show us where we are still short so we can confess to God and He can cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9). God will continue to allow testings to come our way, keep applying fire so He can keep revealing and removing the dross.
We may start out with spiritual growth of, say, 5 karat gold, an occasional true victory here and there. At this point it has some value, but not very much compared to what it could become with further refining. So as God turns up the heat, we should see the dross, the routes sin can still take hold of us. Then we continue to go to God, learn to take every thought captive in obedience TO Him (2Cor 10:5), He cleanses us. If we keep doing this, eventually our faith in that area will be pure, 24 karat gold, of great value in God’s Kingdom. The reward we receive will be greater.
The second way this testing in 1Corinthians 3:13 applies is at the judgment seat of Christ. On this Day it is too late to build in more gold and gems, or to refine the spiritual gold. Once we die or are caught up in the rapture we must face the judgment seat of Christ. Our works on earth will be tested as by fire. Our rewards will be determined by what remains, whether gold or jewels or a pile of ashes.
Those works which were not done as a result of our faith in Christ will burn up. The GOOD NEWS is that even if very little remains we will still be saved, will inherit eternal life, for salvation is a gift not a reward. In John 15 Jesus warns those who bear no spiritual fruit will be cast out, but as long as there is at least a little fruit Jesus will keep working on them and they will not be cast out.
But do not think the loss of rewards is something to be ho-hum about, for they are of great eternal value. Scripture says that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even entered into the thoughts and imaginations of man all of the things God has prepared for those who love Him. But what things we receive depends on how we build our lives in Christ.
Moreover, the suffering of loss will not be a pleasant experience. Paul compares it to being burned up by fire (the works, not us). Imagine the sorrow and embarrassment as we stand before the Lord and realize what great rewards awaited us had we been faithful to grow in Christ as we ought. The Word does not merely say that we will not receive the reward, but that we will LOSE IT, that we will suffer loss.
Rewards await every believer in heaven. But we earn them with our very lives, by putting to death the wicked deeds of that sin nature which we all possess and by choosing to obey God. As we bring forth the fruits of righteousness and faith we will manifest Christ in our daily lives, mature our born-again spirit man, and produce spiritual life on earth. In so doing we lay up treasures in heaven.
Reflection: Do we show evidence of genuine spiritual fruit, of spiritual gold? Are we seeking God in every circumstance so He can purify us?
The obvious question is: “How do we build gold and gems into our lives, and what are they, that we might receive the rewards promised to those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)?” In the next lesson we will see what God considers gold. Following that, we will then see some of the things Scripture tells us of the rewards which await the faithful.