According to the grace God granted to me, I laid a foundation as a wise foreman, and someone else is building upon it. But let each one be careful how they build! For no one can lay any other foundation beside the one already laid: Jesus the Anointed One. The material someone builds with— gold, silver, gems, wood, grass, or straw— that person’s work will become obvious in that Day. It will be revealed in fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. Whatever is left standing will be the basis for their reward. But if anyone’s work is completely burned up, they will forfeit any reward. Yet they themselves will be saved, in spite of the fire. 1 Cor. 3:10-15The most important part of a building is its foundation. If that isn’t right, even the most elaborate building will come to ruin. In the same way, if the foundation of our faith isn’t right, it doesn’t matter what we build on it. Our religious systems, theologies, and elaborate arguments are all for nothing if they are founded upon error. And a small error at the beginning will become more obvious as the building progresses.
But Paul’s emphasis here seems to be on those who lead and teach, and it comes with a warning:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone corrupts the temple of God, that one will be corrupted, for the temple of God is holy, and that’s what all of you are. 1 Cor. 3:16-17Teachers will be judged on the quality of their students. But for centuries, if not millennia, most believers seem to prefer spoon-feeding and dependence, and many “pastors” encourage this; they are constructing a building out of straw.
But even sadder is the fact that more and more teachers and leaders are not even building on the right foundation. They have replaced Jesus the Cornerstone with prosperity, spiritual thrill-seeking, compromise, social “gospel”, maleness, Jewishness, and every other “ness” and “ism” you can think of.
The central, foundational truth of the Christian faith is Jesus. Anything that does not “fit” on that foundation is substandard building material. So it is vital that we know this Jesus, who He is and what He teaches. That is why (or at least it should be why) we study the Bible, to get to know Him and His “mind” (Rom. 15:5, Phil. 2:5-11) and ways.
- His teachings were all about freedom from oppression, so anything oppressive is not of Jesus.
- His examples were of compassion for others, so anything without compassion is not of Jesus.
- His mission was to defeat evil, so anything that embraces evil is not of Jesus.
- His model was of humility and service, so anything proud and domineering is not of Jesus.
If we keep those principles in mind we will immediately recognize and reject any teaching, no matter how logical or sensible it may sound, that doesn’t fit. But be careful not to judge the teaching by the teacher; many have “zeal without knowledge” and are only defending a personality or tradition. Such may have issues with individual sin not caused by the teaching. At the same time though, observe the kind of behavior a teaching can lead to. Legalism of any kind is oppressive and can foment cold-heartedness; abandonment of scripture can lead to spiritual danger; chains of command can encourage pride; cherry-picking verses out of context can lead to teachings that contradict the very essence of what Jesus came to do.
Peter began to sink into the stormy sea when he took his eyes off Jesus (Mt. 14:30), and so will we. We need to always compare our beliefs to the central and unchanging nature of our Savior.