Perhaps, as a teacher, you have had the experience of teaching people who just turned out to be gold. They withstand the challenges of their faith. They endure life. Then, there is the disappointment of teaching those who are wood. They stand for a little while but then the trials of life and old desires begin to influence and pull. They go back to what they so eagerly left. One of these is encouraging. The other is tremendously deflating. With the latter, we might ask, “What did I do wrong that caused them to walk away?” On the one hand, we rejoice. On the other hand, we mourn. I have found myself in this very position. When those we teach walk away it is deflating. It has a tremendous negative effect. What happened?
Evidently Paul faced this same challenge. As he builds in Corinth, he helps us see the material with which we build, makes the difference. The challenge is we cannot tell how enduring the material is until the time of trial comes. He will describe those who are taught in one of two categories. He describes some as gold, silver, and precious stones. These do not burn. Others he describes as wood, hay, and stubble. These all burn. It is just hard to tell about people when working with them.
Paul explains, “Each one’s work will become clear…” (1 Cor. 3:13). “Because every believer’s work will be inspected. At the judgment seat of Christ God will reward believers of their work” (1 Cor. 3: 14-15). He is not talking about the teacher but the material with which he works. He does not know the nature of the material. In preaching Jesus, the Christ, to the Corinthians, Paul had laid the foundation. That is the foundation on which the material is to be built. Others, in making converts to Christ, were building on the foundation laid by Paul. Some of these would be as gold, silver, or precious stones. Others would be like wood, hay, or stubble. Some will endure, others will fail. Therefore, Paul admonishes: “Take heed how you build…” (1 Cor. 3:10). High pressure methods produce a lot of worthless material.
“Each one’s work will become clear. The Day will declare it …” (1 Cor. 3:13). The day usually refers to the day of judgement, though here it seems to refer to the day of trials, or persecutions, which test the kind of material used to build. Persecutions try this building material.
“If anyone’s work, which he has built on, endures, he will receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3: 14). His reward is not going to heaven. The teacher’s reward is the joy in knowing children of faith or truth.
“If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). What is burned or suffers loss? The teacher did his work and continues to do his work. This does not mean the teacher is lost because those he taught left. He did a diligent job. He built on the right foundation. His work is right but sometimes his material is bad. He will escape fire that consumes his work. But it will break his heart! He endures the loss.
We must not have the idea that we will measure the effectiveness of our work by how faithful our converts remain. The teacher is not responsible for the convert’s heart.
This passage is a great encouragement for those who labor, building on the foundation of Christ. We cannot control the response of those we teach, even years later. Sometimes we invest ourselves in others only to see them walk away. The teacher suffers loss. The loss of those he taught. It hurts deep. It is not his fault. The material, kind of heart, was combustible. They burned with the fiery trials.
On the other hand, there are those we teach who remain faithful. One day one of them may even be appointed an elder in a local church. Again, that is not the teacher but his material, the kind of heart that one has. His work endures. It is a reason for great rejoicing. Both hearts face the same trials; one burns up and the other endures. One teacher suffers loss and the other rejoices. Both will build again and again.
We seek to build lives on His foundation with materials that will withstand the gaze of His knowing eyes.
by Rickie Jenkins