Evidently, the Corinthians had an ear for great preachers. They even formed fiercely competing mini-denominations around Paul, Apollos, or Peter, forgetting that “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:7). Sadly, both our people and their pastors are still prone to comparisons and competition. Therefore, Scripture reminds us of what matters most in us as spiritual leaders.
No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:11)
It’s a stern warning. We all know of clergy who wave a Jesus flag but who’ve never built anything enduring upon him. In her strange, scathing novel, Wise Blood, Eudora Welty included a con man who renamed himself Onnie Jay Holy and who started a ministry called the “Holy Church of Christ without Christ,” appointing an absurd, half-mad prophet who became apish, tormented, and blind. Art imitating life without a foundation.
How privileged we are who have built our God-given ministries on the foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Every promise of God is yes in him. Every broad highway and shaded path of Scripture meets in him. Every prodigal is welcomed home through his grace. All our hopes for our church, all our efforts and prayers, depend on him, for without him we can do nothing. Everything Paul or Apollos or Peter taught, as well as all the good and true teachers who followed after them, stand sure-footed on the granite Christ. Thus, Paul says to us all,
So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Cor. 3:21-23)
Furthermore, upon Jesus’ sure foundation, Paul tells us as leaders, “each one should build with care” (v. 10). Pastoral stonemasons have the choice to “build on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, [or] wood, hay or straw.” The outcome of our choice may not be obvious now but “the Day will bring it to light,” and then there will be no doubt about it.
We spend our pastoral days trying to build our congregations with sermons, meetings, discipling, counseling, organizing, pursuing new people and lost sheep. But it’s what’s behind the drywall of all those things which will face the fire. It may be easier now to strive for size over depth or busyness over holiness but on that great morning imagine the cinders!
It’s not ours to choose the kinds of people God entrusts to our section of his living temple, whether Bible-hungry Bereans or contentious Corinthians, but we do determine the materials we use. Scripture tells us how to build with golden mortar:
Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. … Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift … Be diligent … Persevere …. (1 Tim. 4:12-16)
Paul promises, “If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3:14).
Through the alchemy of God, our carefully guarded “life and doctrine” are transformed into gold, silver, and precious stones, binding our people to Christ and each other. Imagine seeing the people you built into “coming down out of heaven from God,” shining “with the glory of God, and its brilliance like that of a very precious jewel.” What a reward!
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.