Summary: What is to be the foundation of a church, and how then should the builders build upon it?
1 Corinthians 3:10-13 The Church’s One Foundation
1/26/03 D. Marion Clark
I am amazed at times at how well the scripture for the sermon fits the occasion of the day, considering that the text is chosen without my knowledge of the circumstance. I could not have selected a more appropriate passage than the one that by “chance” falls on this Sunday. Perhaps there is something to the providence of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide the preaching of the Word.
What is to be the foundation of a church, and how then should the builders build upon it? Paul, who laid the foundation for the Corinth Church, is concern about how the leaders he left in charge are continuing the work.
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Paul develops the analogy he introduced in verse 9: For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. Using the concept of the Corinth Church as a building, he talks about the work that must be done. Consider what Paul says about himself. He notes that he does his job “according to the grace of God given [him].” This fits what he has previously said about himself and Apollos. They are no more than servants carrying on the special tasks that the Lord has given each. What Paul means by “grace” is both the decision of God to give him his work and the gift to enable him in his work. By God’s grace Paul is called. God then gives a “grace-gift” to fulfill the call.
Paul likens his work to that of being a foundation layer. He does not see himself as the builder who continues the work until the building is completed. That is an accurate depiction of his history in the book of Acts. Paul would travel to a place that had not heard the gospel. He would then proclaim it, get a church started, and leave. In some cases he would appoint and prepare church members to serve as elders, such as recorded in Acts 14:23. Other times he would leave his assistants to complete that training for him. As he wrote to Titus, for example, This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you (Titus 1:5).
The term for “master builder” in Greek is “architecton.” You don’t have to be knowledgeable in linguistics to catch that this term is the root for our English word “architect.” Paul was a laborer, certainly, but here he is comparing himself to that of an architect or engineer. I’ve laid foundation as a construction laborer and neither a master of the work, nor particularly wise. But I could follow orders to dig dirt, tie reinforcement bars, and then fill the ditches with concrete. Knowing how deep to dig, where to dig, what kind and how much “rebar,” and how much concrete was needed to sustain the building intended – for that I was clueless. For that type of knowledge, a wise builder is needed.
Paul is such a builder for he understands exactly what the foundation must be – Jesus Christ. Paul did come up with this idea on his own. Jesus spoke of the same thing. After his disciple Peter confessed him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus told him that it was on such a rock that he would build his church. The rock was the substance of what Peter professed – Jesus’ work as the Christ, i.e. the Messiah.
But Paul, being the scholar of Scripture that he was, probably had in mind Isaiah 28:16:
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.
Jesus is that stone that has become the foundation for his church.
Paul then warns the builders who have the job of building on his foundation work: be careful how you build. Paul is not complaining that others are building on his work. He is expecting others to do that job. But he is concerned in the case of Corinth with the quality of labor.
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.