By Michael E. Brooks
“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. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 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” (1 Corinthians 3:10-13).
Traveling through many different parts of the world has exposed me to a wide variety of methods of work and living. One area where there is much more choice than I might have earlier supposed is in that of building materials. In the U.S. we typically use wood frame / wallboard construction or masonry (bricks or concrete blocks). Occasionally stone is used. In South America, Africa and Asia there are many more options. Houses in northern Bangladesh are typically made of mud blocks, with thatch or tin roofs. In the south, where the dirt is more sandy, they use wood and tin, though the wood is often simply sticks or bamboo stood upright as tightly as possible. In the cities, buildings are usually made of poured concrete, reinforced with steel.
Most houses in the hills and mountains of Nepal are made of stone, usually stacked dry (without masonry). If they are chinked it is with mud. Roofs may be of slate, thatch or tin. In both these countries and many more the poorest people may live in houses made simply of straw, held up by a few small planks or poles. Paper, cardboard, cloth or plastic are also used to provide a little shelter.
Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 3 of materials with which one may build spiritually is metaphorical, but none-the-less based upon real experience. Not everyone can afford gold or silver (or bricks or concrete). Some must use less expensive, more commonly available materials. Though they may not offer the durability or other advantages of the premium supplies, they can still provide shelter. However one must use discretion in order to receive benefit. Paul lists two essentials to achieving a positive spiritual result.
First, one must build upon a good foundation. There is only one such, and that is Jesus Christ. Faith in any other savior is false and will fail us. Dependence upon any other authority than his Word (the Bible) will result in disaster. Jesus said, “Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). He goes on to describe that house as surviving storm and rain, whereas that of the foolish man, built on the sand, falls before the storm. The foolish builder is described as one who does not follow the words of Christ (Matthew 7:25-27). Whether one is building his own life, a family, a church (congregation) or a community, only Jesus and his teaching can provide a solid basis that will support the structure in all trials.
Secondly, Paul commands us to build wisely, or carefully. Two workers may use the same materials, plans and techniques, yet one’s work is straight, solid and finely finished, whereas the other’s may show many flaws and lack strength. The first worker either has greater skills, or else he exercises more care in his work, or both. As we work with people we are not always blessed with the most stable, moral or sensible audiences. We do not abandon those with lesser abilities or obvious flaws, but rather seek to build wisely and carefully so as to minimize their problems and take advantage of their strengths. There are no perfect humans, therefore there are no perfect families, or churches or communities. But a skilled and careful builder may use imperfect parts to create a functioning structure.
Another important thing to remember is that we are all builders. God has trusted the Gospel to us, and he also has given to us relationships, resources, and opportunities. We are his servants, workers in his kingdom. Let us build, wisely and on the one true foundation.
By Michael E. Brooks