Online Bible Commentary
1 Corinthians 3:12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (NKJV)
The writer of 1 Corinthians is the apostle Paul. He wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, Greece during his third missionary journey. The church was established by Paul during his second missionary journey when he ministered in Corinth for a year and a half during A. D. 51-52.
Paul wrote this letter during his two year and three-month ministry in Ephesus, Asia in A. D. 54-56. Paul had started the church in Corinth and had stayed on for one and a half years before turning it over to Apollos to run. It has come to Paul’s attention that there is dissension in the church because some of the new converts are following Paul while others are following Apollos.
This passage builds on the previous passage which ended with a caution from Paul. Paul cautions that those who do God’s work should ”take heed how he builds on” the foundation that God laid (v. 10d). The foundation of the church is the Lord Jesus Himself (v. 11). Those who build on that foundation should be careful to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Those who “build” on God’s foundation are the teachers of the Gospel. They can build in one of two ways. God’s way to build on His foundation is to build with “gold, silver, costly stones” (v. 12a), a reference to teaching the Gospel as it is written. God looks with favor upon those who teach the Gospel according to God’s foundation as accurately expressed in the Bible.
The second way to teach the gospel is one that God does not approve of and one that is not faithful to the Gospel as written. This teaching occurs when one is not careful or capable of teaching the Gospel as written. This kind of teaching is referred to as “wood, hay or straw” (v. 12b).
It “will be shown for what it is”, meaning that it will not last (v. 13a). When the “light” of God is shown upon it, this teaching will be known as it is; not faithful to the Gospel as written. “It will be revealed with fire” (v. 13b), meaning that the teaching will not last when God’s light shines upon it. It will be like wood, hay, and straw which can be burned and will not last. This is the way that God tests the quality of our work of teaching the Gospel (v. 13c).
The faithful teacher’s work will survive and he will receive rewards in Heaven for his work (v. 14). On the other hand, the negligent teacher’s work that is not faithful to the gospel because of ignorance or carelessness on the part of the teacher will not survive and the teacher will not receive rewards in Heaven for his work (v. 15a). However, his sin will not cost him his salvation (v. 15b). Our salvation cannot be lost. If we are true believers we have eternal assurance, eternity in Heaven.
Then there are those teachers who purposely distort the Gospel for their own gain. This teacher “destroys God’s temple” and “God will destroy that person” ( v.16). This teacher was never a true believer and will not have eternal life in Heaven.
This passage warns teachers of God’s work to be faithful in their teaching of the Gospel. This does not mean that all teaching should agree exactly. The Holy Spirit brings out different teachings to different teachers at different points in time. However, all teaching should be faithful to the truths of God’s word.