One of the best-known verses in the New Testament teaches us that it is by grace we are saved through faith, and not of works so none may boast.1 Less emphasized is the fact that Paul also spoke of a man’s works, and how each will be rewarded or not rewarded on the basis of that work.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each person must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’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 one’s work. If anyone’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet only so as through fire.
– 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NASB
In this passage, the apostle Paul calls attention to a principle by which God will evaluate humanity’s works, ostensibly on that day all Christ-followers stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 2
Important to note here is what’s being judged. It is not the quantity, but the quality of the work. If the work “abides” what follows is a reward, but it is not even clear whence or from whom the reward comes, or what constitutes that reward. If the work is burned, there is loss, but the worker will be saved.
Neither does the passage make it clear what the “work” is. Many make the assertion (an assertion with which I agree) that the work is that of making disciples and building well as we do so. But even if that is not the correct identification of the work, the emphasis on quality rather than quantity is impossible to miss. It is not the number of sermons preached, the number of souls won to Jesus (as though we do the winning), the level of funding donated to missions; no, the emphasis is on building well, and building on the right foundation, Jesus Christ.
Token acknowledgement of Christ as the foundation for quality construction is insufficient.
At the risk of offending, I’ll note that I have observed many who state that Jesus must be the foundation before proceeding to build atop everything but Jesus Christ. There are those who build on their own personalities and notoriety. Some build on elaborate theatrical productions with great attention paid to lighting and mood. Still others build atop extensive liturgies and ornate structures. Many build on great musical talent and composition.
Don’t misread me here. I am not saying it is wrong to have great music, or to provide atmosphere, or to observe a liturgical calendar. But if someone says to you that you should check into XYZ church and you ask them, “Why?” . . . if anything other than, “Because they teach Jesus Christ and him crucified” is their response, you should make haste and walk away. If they do not say, “Because Jesus Christ is the foundation for everything they say and do,” you know they are building on sand. You have seen it, and I have seen it.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
– Matthew 7:24-27, NASB
We know the foundation. We know work of the highest quality is called for. Understand, then, for whom we work and let that be your motivation.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
– Colossians 3;23-24, ESV
Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
– Revelation 22:12-13, NASB
1. Ephesians 2:9
2. Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10