There are so many lessons from the early church that we can learn from and apply to ministry today. Nothing is new under the sun as far as the ways of man, the ways of the devil, and then of course most importantly, God was, is and always will be the same. Knowing that is helpful, because we are guaranteed to at some point be tripped up by or at least faced with the same pitfalls the original church, and even the Apostles faced. So it is vital to look at the mistakes of the past in order to prevent them from repeating in the future. It is also important to remember, that although culture and civilization have evolved, the Gospel is still the same today as it was 2000 years ago and we need to always stay true to it if we want God’s anointing and blessing on our ministries, and to be able to affect peoples’ lives and effectively build into the Kingdom of God.
Here I want to discuss the foundation of ministry which is presented 1 Corinthians 3:9-17. The Apostle Paul, “the expert builder”, is addressing the church in Corinth regarding its deviation away from its original foundation Paul had laid when he first established the church there. He emphasizes that no other foundation but the one of Jesus, the finished work of the Cross, can be laid down, and that what is built atop this foundation must also be in alignment with the finished work.
As ministers (be it parents, Sunday school teachers, missionaries or mega church pastors), we must be careful what materials we build with because a day of trial and testing, or fire as Paul puts it, will come and it will reveal if a person’s ministry is sound and lined up with the Gospel of Grace. And those that are not, will burn up. We should be glad the fire comes, so that we can continually grow in our walks with God and get rid of any wrong believing that hinders us and the people we minister to. Hebrews 12:6 says “For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” Be willing to be corrected and as Paul says in verse 18, that we should become fools so that we can be wise.
The Building Materials
In verse 12, Paul lists the building materials that are used in ministry. He begins with materials that can withstand fire. One being costly stones, which is referring to the gems on the breastplate that Aaron, the High Priest wore over his heart. (Exo 28:15-21, 29). Aaron was a type of Jesus in the Old testament, and today Jesus is our High Priest. These stones in the Old Testament represent the tribes of Israel and today represent God’s people as well (Isa 54:11-12), because that is where He keeps us, positioned close to His heart. Seeing God’s people the way God sees them, as valuable, precious stones affects the way the builder builds. How does God see us? When He looks at us He sees His son Jesus, and that’s how we need to see God’s people as well. This minister will build his ministry with silver (redemption in Christ) and gold (God’s divine righteousness). When fire is applied to these materials, they maintain their value and never change – gold will still be gold, silver will still be silver. These are an absolute, without a doubt, MUST when building into God’s Kingdom and His people.
On the contrary, Paul also lists combustible materials. Wood being one which represents man as corruptible flesh (Psa 1:3, Jer 5:15). When a minister builds a ministry while viewing God’s people as wood, they are most likely to chase after sin in the church. And this translates to building with hay and straw, which are man’s dead works, self-effort and selfish motivations – these building materials will burn up in the fire. Jesus is also called the Cornerstone. If you build with any cornerstone other than Jesus, the building will eventually fall.
Building Upon the Finished Work of Christ
So what does this sound foundation and building look like in real life? First we must look at the Cross and see what was actually finished there, because that is what God’s final say is about every aspect of our lives. All our sin, sickness, disease, and curses were all judged in Jesus’s body AND in exchange for Him taking the judgement for those things, we, by faith in Christ alone, freely receive God’s righteousness, justification and forgiveness, acceptance, protection, prosperity, provision, health, healing, long life, favor, wisdom, adoption with a spirit of sonship, a royal priesthood, all the promises of God, and the ability and freedom to approach our Father with boldness. As Christ is, we as believers are too (1 John 4:17). This is the ministry of silver, gold and costly stones – establishing people in their identity in Christ and God’s righteousness.
These ministries are Christ focused and Jesus takes center stage. He is magnified as the main topic, and not just the bookends of a sermon. They teach that receiving from God is not based on what man does, but on what Jesus did, and fortifies his flock in their identity in Christ and the gift of righteousness. They see God’s people as righteous and forgiven and accepted and that’s how they treat the flock, and the flock will see themselves in this way. These ministries multiply.
You will see their flock experiencing healing, miracles and victories and are on fire for God. And their perception of God is “He is always with me, He will never leave or forsake me”. They can stake their lives on His promises and His character. They grow spiritually by leaps and bounds because they operate in God’s supernatural Grace, being changed from the inside out. They experience a victorious and peaceful life (no matter the circumstances) and wholeness in every area – a Grace filled life, securely without vacillating, walking in the promises of God, expecting to be blessed. They experience Jesus as a light burden and his yoke is easy. They rest in the finished work of the Cross, the sufficiency of His Grace, the very revelation the Apostle Paul had, and no longer strive and struggle at the Christian life. They no longer beat themselves up over sin or even struggle with sin, because they are more righteousness conscious than sin conscious. Holiness is the fruit and not something to achieve. They are firmly established in their new identity and authority in Christ, knowing full well what Jesus afforded them, and they stand IN Christ at the right hand of the throne, the place of victory, with full assurance they can stake their lives on God’s promises through Christ. This is what it means to abide in Christ. Receiving the promises of God through Christ’s finished work and not through man’s dead works.
Burnable ministries on the other hand, put the main focus on man. When man takes center stage, everyone becomes focused on sin, and will apply the Law as the remedy, which the Apostle Paul addresses adamantly in Galatians, calling it “another gospel”. And because keeping the Law becomes the source of man’s righteousness, ministries like this are legalistic and condemnation is the poisonous result. They preach abiding in the Law and dead works more than abiding in the finished work of Christ, where sin has been conquered. This results in man cleaning himself up before approaching God. It creates a sense of insecurity as to whether you’re acceptable to God or even loved by Him. You’ll hear statements such as “I must pick up my cross daily” (a misused scripture) as if Jesus didn’t do enough for you, or “The Holy Spirit convicts me of sin” which there is no scripture to support this and is completely contrary to the finished work of forgiveness of sins. These beliefs make God feel distant, legalistic and ready to punish, as though He is maintaining a list of your wrongdoings (read 1 Cor 13:4-7 on love). Being sin conscious also manifests outwardly as judgement not just toward people in the church, but also with the world, unbelievers. Does the Starbucks red cup debacle sound like a fitting example?
Burnable ministries will cause uncertainty and double-mindedness. You’ll hear statements such as“If it is God’s will that I be healed, then He will heal me” or “sometimes God allows you to struggle with sin in order to make you rely on Him more” or “God allowed this bad thing to happen in order to glorify Himself.” You’ll hear things like “God gave me this disease in order to teach me a lesson” ….. or “God gave you that baby and He can take it away.” God is made out to be a child abuser, because anyone who bases God’s goodness toward them on their good deeds, they will always fall short, feeling guilty and expecting to be punished for it. God is viewed as a condemner, a judge with a long stiff arm that says “stay away”.
These ministries will burden people with 10 step lists and programs that focus on sin, to support you as you change your behaviors to be more Christ-like. I once read about a ministry for women who were addicted to pornography named “Dirty Girls”. While the intention of the ministry is good, it is a perfect example of how a minister views the flock as wood and is also chasing after sin – this truly is no different than labeling lepers as “unclean”. God doesn’t label us as alcoholics or drug addicts either! God sees His people as sinless, white as snow, as if they are Jesus Himself. And most Christians who are suffering in habitual sin (one study estimated 50% of Christians are addicted to pornography), truly have no revelation they are forgiven, and in right standing with God – that they are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. They are buried in condemnation and shame instead.
Ministries that teach you’re not forgiven, that you’re only saved by Grace and then you have to work at maintaining it, or that you can lose your salvation, or that your standing before God is dependent on you, are all negating the Cross. Ministers in this pulpit are condemning, legalistic, controlling by nature, and fear driven. Anyone who ministers this way believes God is also this way. Anything and everything that negates the finished work of the cross – It’s all burnable!
Additionally, the flock will be full of struggles and unable to withstand the storms of life. People who were considered “pillars” or “strong in the Lord” or a “great man of faith” will crumble and burn when faced with bad news, and no one will understand how this could be. Think about all the pastors who take their own life. People will look and say “well if she, a strong woman of God, can crash, what could happen to me?” And this leads to trying to explain away God in an effort to defend Him or even reconcile God to our own erroneous beliefs, which really is just an effort to defend and maintain an unsound foundation, a foundation not built on the finished work.
The flock will also be tossed to and fro at every wind of doctrine, never truly knowing what to trust about God, and it is evident in the way they live out life. There is doctrinal confusion and conflicting ideas about what is Truth. They mix Old Testament doctrine with the New, putting new wine in old wine skin. Keeping the Law is their source of righteousness with some Jesus sprinkled on top. And because this recipe of self and divine righteousness doesn’t work together, like oil and water, self-condemnation is the result. And condemnation is the source of so many problems in the church and here is the evidence: sickness, disease, depression, divorce, adultery, suicide and suicidal thoughts, habitual sins such as pornography and drug addiction, legalism, judgement, guilt, shame, condemnation and hypocrisy. The fruit is the evidence of what building materials were used. And even if the ministry doesn’t die, the people within it will….spiritually, and sadly, sometimes physically. Condemnation kills. Period.
Think about how many people you know who grew up in church, may even be saved and believe in God but “want to take a break from Him.” And then there are those who once believed in Jesus and now no longer believe, or Christians who became atheists, teenagers who become wayward and rebellious, or adults who become backsliders. These people were fed with combustible materials. Something bad happened, and because there was no establishment of gold, silver and precious stones, everything burned, and that person found they could no longer maintain a belief in a “God that would allow these things to happen” or they just gave up “trying to be a good Christian”, and the only thing to do is just dismiss Him.
Have you noticed that the section on burnable ministries is so much longer than the section on ministries built on the finished work of Christ? That’s because the Cross is not complicated – it is simple and perfect. Leave it to man to turn the Cross into a bureaucracy with lots of red tape and hoops to jump through! Burnable!
Destroying the Destoyer
Verse 17 says in the amplified “17 If anyone destroys the temple of God [corrupting it with false doctrine], God will destroy the destroyer; for the temple of God is holy (sacred), and that is what you are.” God, in His Grace, will shut down false ministries, shut doors of opportunity, shrink congregations, decrease funding, etc, as a way to preserve His Church, His people. Anything that negates the finished work that Jesus accomplished at the Cross is false doctrine. The fire mentioned in verse 13, will come in the form of trials and testing, and it WILL “test the quality of each man’s work”, so make sure what you’re building with lines up with the finished work of Christ, the Gospel of Grace and Peace. Fire is discipline, and Hebrews 12:11 says “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” See? “The peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Gold!! Be trained by this discipline and don’t allow pride to be your fall. Welcome to the process of sanctification!
Now, because ministers, or any imperfect person for that matter (everyone!), can only give what has been given to them, they may truly be innocent and completely unaware that they are feeding wood, hay and straw to you. They may think they are doing the right thing. And remember that God knows the motives of man’s hearts and He is a just God to correct in love – He knows our ignorance and what we are blind to. But if correction and repentance are refused, there are serious consequences that may lead to being removed from a position of leadership or even worse, negatively affecting other people’s lives.
As a student Christian, which is ALL of us, you should always research what you’re being taught and not just passively accept whatever doctrine is fed to you. Don’t rely on doctrine just because your family has passed it down to you, or a close friend told you, or the pastor told you on Sunday, or you read it here. This is so incredibly important! It is irresponsible and dangerous to just eat whatever is given to you without testing it. Test everything and filter it through the Cross. If God says it’s finished, then it is most definitely without any doubt, finished. If God says your forgiven and He’ll remember your sins no more, and you choose to believe that, a block of silver was laid down! If God says you’re the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, and you believe it, a block of gold was laid down!
Test doctrine by doing the following:
- read scripture in its full context (consider audience, speaker, reason for speaking, cultural significance, uses of symbolism, time frame in relation to the Cross)
- compare it to other scripture because God is consistent in His Word and character.
- ALWAYS view it in relation to the Cross and what was accomplished there. (i.e. a curse is now a blessing)
- And always look to God to teach you through His Living Word.
So take responsibility for yourself and make sure you not only see yourself as a precious stone, but you are treated like one too, and that your heart and beliefs about God are fortified in God’s divine righteousness and the redemptive power of the Cross. Be a Barean who “with great eagerness, examin[ed] the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)” So be sure to examine the scriptures! I find when I am studying scripture, God will send confirmations and fill in gaps of missing information, that help me know I’m on the right track, so just know God is with you when you study.
The Blood Covenant of Salvation
One last thing that is very important to note: Paul says in verse 15 that “if it (ministry) is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames.” Loss could be a child who falls away from the Lord, or a life of struggle and defeat, with no peace or joy, or it could be as drastic as a ministry being shut down. Even if your ministry or components of your life are burned up, (which I would hope that would be an eye opener that something just ain’t right) it doesn’t change the fact that you are still saved. Not just saved, but loved by a good Dad, and a Dad who redeems our failures and loss. By faith in Christ alone, you are saved. And Jesus even says, that no one (not even yourself) can pluck you from His hand (John 10:28). That’s our God – He won’t break His blood covenant of salvation! “It is Finished!”