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The Reward of the Redeemed
by David A. DePra
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters, but God that gives the increase. Now he that plants and he that waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are labor together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor 3:6-17)
This passage, which speaks directly to the reward – not salvation – of the redeemed, has one fundamental point. It governs the entire passage. The point, and we might say that it really is a question, is this: Will what I have built ABIDE?
Paul clearly states, "If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward." He likewise states, "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." Thus, the question of REWARD is determined by whether what we build ABIDES or does not survive, "the fire."
Now, of course, we must back up and ask: What ARE we to build? And upon WHAT? And WITH what? And HOW? These questions really determine whether what we build does abide. Consequently, they are the more important questions.
Paul says, "But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For no other foundation can any man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
This sentence sets the context of the passage. Paul is not talking about unbelievers. He is assuming that everyone who is building upon Christ is saved – because once you are saved, that is your only foundation. Or, to put it another way, if you aren’t saved, you may think you can build upon Christ, but you can’t. You haven’t the foundation, and are deceived. So, the context of Paul’s teaching is the foundation of Jesus Christ. All believers have Christ as their foundation, and all believers are building upon Him.
Now, make no question, you ARE building. You are. It doesn’t matter whether you think you are, or whether you want to build, or whether you know to build. Once you are saved, and Christ is in you, you automatically begin to build something upon that foundation.
The question, therefore, is quite simply: WHAT do we build? What will ABIDE? – even after passing through the fire?
The answer is simple: We build upon the foundation of Christ the measure of Christ -- the fullness of Christ. If Christ is the foundation, then the building must agree with the foundation.
This is seen clearly in the passage. Once we realize that Christ is our life, and in Christ alone there is life, and that we receive all things only in Him, then we understand that to build upon the foundation of Christ is nothing more than adding to the fullness of Christ, and contributing to the value of Christ.
The Materials Used
Christ alone can abide through the fire, and Christ alone WILL stand. Now, of course, this is somewhat abstract and difficult to wrap our arms around, but one way to think of it is in terms of CHRIST IN YOU. And contrast that to your flesh, and your soul life. What are you building upon Christ? That which is made of flesh, religion, and human soulishness? Or is what you are building upon Christ made out of eternal materials – made of Spirit, Truth, life, and holiness. There are of Christ, are they not?
Paul is telling us that only that which is eternal and incorruptible can abide through the fire and result in a reward. And only Christ in us is eternal. Only that which we minister of Christ to others is eternal. Again – we must add to the measure and fullness of Christ. We must build Christ, yes, in ourselves, and yes, in others. Christ is what we must build upon the foundation OF Christ. For only Christ can abide the fire.
Paul uses earthly materials to draw a contrast between that which is of Christ and that which is of US. He says, "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones…" Those symbolize CHRIST. And then he says, " …wood, hay, stubble." Those symbolize that which is earthly. Thus, again we see that the nature of the materials – whether they be eternal or temporal – will determine whether they abide.
What We Build
Now we are ready to see a Truth that is basic to this idea of being rewarding according to our works. Can we see that it isn’t the works themselves that are at issue here, but rather what is built BY them? In other words, we all do many works, but what is being built by them? – what is being produced by them? The measure of Christ? Or just man-made religion? Is what we are building a big ministry FOR US – in the name of Christ – but which does little to contribute to the actual life of Jesus?
But what IS, "the measure of Christ?" Well, it is the life of Christ in ourselves and others. It is that which has come through death and resurrection. It is that which is incorruptible and carries eternal value. It is that which is one with God. It is that which is eternal in nature, and which glorifies Jesus.
Once we see that, we see that DOING our ministry carries no value, unless what is produced by it is Christ. For example, I could have the biggest and most popular ministry in the world, and seem to be used of God to save souls and to spread the gospel. But in the end, that ministry itself will pass away. All of the money, and popularity will pass away. I will die. And so will everyone else that I affected by my ministry. The only question that will matter, and the only thing that will abide, is that which is of CHRIST. What did I BUILD? What did I build in others? Was it eternal? Did I build upon the foundation of Christ MORE of Christ? Or did I build upon the foundation of Christ error, religious flesh, and only that which is temporal?
There are going to be a lot of terrifying surprises in that day. A lot of them. Much that seemed to be of God – because of the size – will be shown to be built out of flesh. And much that no one ever heard about will abide, because it was of Christ.
Imagine spending years building a giant house for a rich man. Perhaps you worked yourself to exhaustion. As a result, you think that you deserve a big bonus. After all, look at all the work you did FOR the rich man. But how about the house itself? Will it stand up when the storms come? Is it, "up to code?" See what I mean? It isn’t WHAT we do that is at issue, or the AMOUNT we do. Rather, it is what we are building BY what we do. That will determine whether it is eternal.
Note the words of Jesus:
Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Mat 7:21-27)
This saying of Jesus is almost an exact parallel to Paul’s teaching of I Corinthians 3. Only that which is built upon Christ will abide. Only that which is eternal. And likewise we have the teaching at the end of Hebrews 12:
See that ye refuse not him that speaks. For if they escaped not who refused him that spoke on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaks from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:25-29)
I say it again: When everything is said and done, nothing except the measure and fullness of Christ is going to abide. The rest is going to be shaken to the ground, burned, and done away.
Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
These passages speak to what we build upon the foundation of Christ – whether it is eternal; whether it adds to the fullness of Christ. But do not limit this, "building," to ministry – in the sense that it has come to be defined. So many of us think that ministry is merely preaching, teaching, or perhaps that which is done in a full-time profession. But according to the Bible, ministry is much more. Ministry is LIFE – the result or impact of the life of Christ in us upon others. It is Christ working through us to edify others in Himself – to increase His life in others.
Paul talks much about EDIFICATION. He tells us that the purpose of the spiritual gifts are to EDIFY each other in Christ. He tells us that this is the purpose of all ministry. But the word, "edify," means to BUILD. Can we see what is being revealed to us? Ministry is that which BUILDS upon the foundation of Christ more of Christ! Ministry is that which contributes to the value, measure, and fullness of Christ. And according to the Bible, that is ALL ministry does. If what I am doing is not building Christ, it is NOT ministry. And if what I am doing is building Christ, it IS ministry. Whether I preach, teach, or have a full time job in ministry, has nothing to do with it.
It is entirely possible to have no public ministry, yet to build Christ, in myself and others. It is entirely possible to never preach or teach, and yet build Christ. And in contrast, it is possible to spend a lifetime in public ministry, but to do very little eternal building of Christ. Again – it is not the fact we are doing that matters. It is what we are building BY the doing that matters!
Hopefully, we understand that when we talk about adding to the measure of Christ, we realize that we are talking about the LIFE of Christ in people. We are talking about the resurrection life of Jesus, and the necessity that the Holy Spirit govern us. We are talking about that which is eternal and of the Holy Spirit IN US. Contrast this over and against mere information, doctrines, teachings, and serving. No. Those things are fine and have their place. But when this age ends, what will abide is what those things PRODUCED in us of LIFE – His life.
Do you realize that the Bible facts you know mean nothing if there is little LIFE in you? Do you realize that all of your preaching and teaching and serving mean nothing if you have not built Christ? Read again the words of Jesus from Matthew. Those folks did plenty for Him. But what they built could not stand, because what they built BY their doing was not eternal. It was not OF CHRIST. Rather, it was more for them.
We have all known people that seem to have MORE of Christ than others. Assuming that this is REAL – and that is a big assumption – where do we think they got that? God is not a respecter of persons. They seem to have MORE of Christ because Christ has more of them. They have become BUILT in Christ. And as a result, Christ has a larger place in them.
But how did this happen? Well, you grow in Christ as you decrease in yourself. The LIFE of Christ is built, not just by ADDING, but also by first SUBTRACTING. You must have your life, your flesh, and your self subtracted, crucified, and brought down to a death. That is all the negative. But only then is the positive possible. Parallel to this, "demolition and excavation," there is a building up of Christ. LIFE comes through DEATH. We can be built up in Christ only as we are torn down in Adam.
Now what this really does is show that LIFE begins, not with the ministry, but with the MINISTER. If God is to use us to add to the measure of Christ by enlarging His life in others, we must open ourselves to Him. This must start with US. Then we can minister to others.
Paul’s teaching eventually brings us back to a vital principal that is often lost when people talk about ministry. And that principle is this: God begins with the MINISTER. The MINISTRY is simply the outcome of God’s dealing with the minister.
Think about it. If ministry means to edify, or build Christ in others, how am I going to be able to be used of God to do that if Christ has not been built in myself? Now, of course, if you think that ministry is nothing more than a dispensing of information about the Bible, and teaching others doctrine, then perhaps this question won’t make sense to you. But we are seeing that real ministry is much more. Real ministry is the enlargement of CHRIST. It is the impact of the LIFE OF CHRIST in me upon others. Thus, if I have little of the life of Christ governing me, I will build very little that is of Christ.
We see this in the passage from I Corinthians 3. Paul says, "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." Note that Paul says that the man shall suffer loss. Loss of what? Well, the man shall suffer the loss of that which was burned – he shall suffer the loss of everything that is not of the life of Christ and eternal. But wait. The man himself suffers this loss. In fact, Paul accents this by saying that, "he himself shall be saved, YET SO BY FIRE." Can we see that Paul is telling that not only will everything we have built through ministry be tested by the fire, but that WE OURSELVES must pass through the fire? Sure.
We must see this. Everything we have built must pass through the fire. And included in that is certainly going to be US! WE have been built into a building for God – personally and individually, even before we can talk about the greater Body of Christ. The question will be: What have we BECOME because of the life of Christ in us? For isn’t what we have BECOME what we have contributed to the fullness of Christ? And isn’t what we have BECOME, personally and individually, our contribution to the Body of Christ as a member? Furthermore, isn’t what we have BECOME – in Christ – the person WE WILL BE throughout the eternal ages? Absolutely. That is what abides through the fire – who we really are in Christ Jesus; what has been built of Christ in us.
The man Paul mentions as an example is said to HIMSELF pass through the fire. But because what he had built upon Christ was NOT eternal, he suffers the loss of it, and any corresponding reward. And yet because Christ is in him, he himself will be saved.
Paul accents his point by saying: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." Obviously, the context shows that, "destroy," has nothing to do with going to hell. "To destroy," in the context of this chapter, means to BURN UP. God is saying that anything we build in ourselves, or in the Body of Christ – both of which are the temple of God – anything we build on either level that is not OF CHRIST, is equal to us defiling Christ. And those things which are not of Christ, in the Body, or ourselves, will be destroyed or burnt up, as it illustrated in this chapter.
And so we see that the issue here is LIFE – eternal life in Christ. Only that which is built in ourselves – through our relationship with Christ – and in others by us – through the ministry of that life to others – will abide. Thus, both the MINISTER and the MINISTRY must pass through the fire so that it might be revealed as to the true nature of it.
Paul specifically says that, "if any man’s work abide, he shall receive a reward." But what is this reward?
Well, if what we have CHRIST IN US, and we are to add to the measure of CHRIST IN US, then I submit that the reward is an eternal release of CHRIST IN US. Sure. Isn’t that what we are building? A temple of God – which is US? Sure. So if we are building a temple for God, it holds that the reward which corresponds to our building of that temple would be God Himself.
Our reward is Christ Himself. Right now, we are building a house for Him – and we are building it in the form of what we are BECOMING in relation to Him.
Let’s put it this way: When you die, all that will remain when you pass through this symbolic fire, is who you are to Christ, and who Christ is to you. THAT is your measure of Christ. And THAT is really what we are building in this life – both individually and collectively. So the reward becomes clear – it is the measure of Christ that we have built, being release into fullness. In short, we have built a temple for Christ, and once that temple passes through the fire, what abides of it will be the temple that Christ will fill. And that temple, as Paul says, IS US.
So what is the reward of Christians? Christ Himself. What are we to be building in this life through ministry? Christ Himself – or, a temple for Christ Himself. Our eternal inheritance is Jesus Christ, and right now, we are determining, "the size," of our house for that inheritance. The issue is therefore not how much of Christ God wants to give us, it is rather how much of Christ we will make room for. What size of house are we building for Christ?
What we are becoming in this age is going to be revealed. And only that which is of Christ will remain. This ought to sober us up and help us to get our priorities straight in the church today.
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