Sunday, February 20, 2011

1 Corinthians 3:9-23

"Caring Construction"
MasterPiece Church
20 February 2010

I am teaching an upper division course in church planting this semester. And I think that there are probably two or three students in the class still in shock. For some reason they thought that they were signing up to learn how to construct church buildings.

Well, perhaps not totally that -- but in their minds church planting is a matter of constructing a building and attracting people like yourself to do things in it -- to come to its programs and youth groups and services -- in order to keep the building going. That’s how the great commission is fulfilled.

So the idea that church planting is about going to where people are and reaching out to people who don’t follow Jesus -- the idea that a church can meet in homes, schools, a wedding reception hall, or on a beach under a coconut tree -- it’s all a bit baffling.

On more than one occasion I’ve had students respond to a question about what they think their new church might look like with a thorough architectural description. And much to their credit they are thinking that they need to adopt indigenous designs and forms of construction. Most of the students are Pacific Islanders -- Micronesians.

But the way they respond to the questions shows that we have not done a very good job of explaining that the church is people. In spite of the confusion in the English language churches are not buildings -- buildings are not churches.

There were not even any church owned buildings until about the third century.

And during the greatest periods of expansion the church has been without buildings. In 1949 there were less than 6 million Christians in China. Today there are perhaps over 100 million. Some have buildings but most do not. They are house-based churches.

When those Christians think of church they are not thinking of a building.

Now, having said all of that, we do encounter in our text this morning a building metaphor that describes the church.

As you read through the New Testament you might have noticed that nearly all the metaphors for the church are organic in nature -- bride of Christ, branches, body of Christ, sheep, harvest, family, household, priesthood. All organic -- living -- growing.

But there is an exception. And we see that exception is illustrated most clearly here in 1 Corinthians 3. “You are God’s building.” (vs. 9) But as we read on we see that the metaphor isn’t just referring to any ole building -- “You are a temple building” Paul says to the church.

Vs. 16 -- “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”

The Temple may not be a living breathing organism -- but it was the place where in ancient Israel the presence of God lived. It was his home-base -- a sign of his dwelling with the people.

So, while the temple itself isn’t alive it is a sign of life.

Now, with all of this background information running in our minds I want us to look this morning at the building project in 1 Corinthians 3. And I want to make three observations about the passage -- but these are not just academic points.

These are all a part of Paul’s encouragement for Christians. If we get this stuff down -- if we integrate it into our way of thinking and living -- we’ll become mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus -- growing stronger everyday -- able to take on all that life throws at us.

So, here is the first observation.


vss. 10 & 11 -- “Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.”

From what we talked about in previous weeks, who do you think were the others that were building on Paul’s foundation? What was Paul’s concern in chapters 1, 2, 3?

Right -- he had laid down this profound and wonderful foundation but the people who had come along after him were constructing a shanty.

So Paul is reminding the church of its foundation -- Christ Jesus himself. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.”

This whole construction project rests on Christ himself -- his life, his sacrificial death, his resurrection, his ascension, his return. It’s about the “kingdom of God” -- (to use Jesus’ own label) his ministry with the poor, his concern for the marginalized, the sick, the possessed, his offer of salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation with God and one another for all who would receive it.

Last Sunday at the BBQ someone asked me what kind of church we are and I heard the words “We’re a Jesus kind of church” coming out of my mouth. And it didn’t dawn on me until after I said it how appropriate that answer is.

It’s all about Jesus. He’s the foundation. And all that we construct on that foundation has to be consistent with it.

Think about it. What if we have this great foundation but then we start constructing rooms off the side that don’t line-up with the foot-print of the foundation. Ultimately the whole thing crumbles. And that was the Corinthians problem -- construction gone wild.

Now, Paul is talking in terms of the church here. But you can apply this idea as well to your life as an individual Christian. If you start building rooms off to the side that aren’t related to the foundation you’re going to end up with an ugly hodge-podge that blows over in the storm.

And I’m not just talking about things that are necessarily bad or evil. Anything that we do that is off foundation is going to be destroyed at some point.

And this is leads us right into observation #2. THE BUILDING WILL BE JUDGED.

Now, I don’t want you to misconstrue all of my earlier comments about churches without walls and that historically the fastest expanding churches have not had buildings -- don’t misunderstand. I’m not against churches having buildings. There are times when they can be quite helpful.

I’ve been a part of two significant church building projects.

The church we started in Texas bought a vacant office building and remodeled it for church use. That was about a $300,000 project.

Then in California at the church we developed before going to Guam we bought bare 20 acres. With the help of Covenant Trust Company sold off 13 acres to housing developers and developed 7 for the church.

We built this incredible multi-purpose building and that was a $2.3 million project.

So, I’ve had a little experience in this area. And I know that one of the most traumatic aspects of construction is the arrival of the building inspector.

As you move through each phase of construction you have to meet certain construction bench marks before you can go any further.

So the city inspector comes and checks to make sure that the trusses are made of the right wood. In Turlock some of the trusses were not made right and we had to pull them out.

You have to make sure that the conduit is run in the right way and that the sewer pipes don’t run over the fresh water pipes -- so many little things.

And even though the plans are all approved ahead of time -- there are times when the inspector sees things that he doesn’t like and makes you change them.

So, it becomes a bit of a game, trying to figure out what the assigned inspectors are picky about and making sure that every little thing is up to snuff by their standards -- because you know that they can shut you down if they even think that the nails aren’t close enough to each other. So you err on the side of adding extra nails -- just in case.

The inspector is the judge. And his arrival is judgment day.

It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked or how great the plans are. If the inspector isn’t happy everything stops -- it is judgment day.
12 “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”
Everything -- even everything in the church -- is subject to God’s ultimate judgement. And only the things which survive the fire of judgement count.

So, what survives and what doesn’t?

Acceptable building materials in 1 Corinthians:
  • Unity that transcends ethnicity (1:24)
  • Deep wisdom of God (1:25; 2:7), foolishness by the world’s standards (3:18).
  • Gifts of the Spirit (2:14-15; chapters 12 & 14)
  • sexual purity (chapters 6-7)
  • self-limitation (chapters 8-11)
  • love (chapter 13)

The things which don’t make it on judgment day:
  • Fake wisdom or worldly cleverness doesn't make it. This theme keeps popping up in 1 Corinthians.
Vs. 18 -- “Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,
“He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.”

20 And again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.”

And of course, fractiousness doesn’t make it. Anything constructed of divisiveness burns up on judgment day.

That’s the whole argument here in chapters 2 and 3. And here it is again in vs. 21 & 22 --
“So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—22 whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future.”

This points out the Corinthian problem -- divisive people who had seized power -- who had become influential -- and were pitching their own programs of wisdom and knowledge.

They were trying to build something on the foundation of Christ that just didn’t fit -- and it was giving Paul fits.

However, in spite of all the nonsense inspector Paul wasn’t ready to shut down the whole operation. He was amazingly patient.

And he was hopeful that if the Christians in Corinth -- and indeed throughout the rest of history saw exactly what was going on -- that they were truly the Temple of God under construction, that they’d get it -- and adjust accordingly.

When you’re building a temple you use different materials than if you’re building a pig pen -- I know, because I’ve also built pig pens.


Carry on your construction in light of what you know about purpose and judgement.

vs. 16 -- “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

The NLT does a great job of translating this verse. It’s hard to get into English right because the “you” is second person plural in Greek -- which we don’t really have in English.

So sometimes we read a translation that says, “Don’t you know that you are the temple of God...” and we think Paul is addressing individual Christians.

But he is really talking to the plural -- the group -- the church. The church is the temple of God under construction on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

I mentioned earlier about the temple metaphor. Even in the OT temple system it was all pointing this direction. The reason for the Temple in the first place -- even the ones built with stone blocks -- was to get the covenant people to live into the presence of God. It was a holy place to help people grow into their holiness.

And remember our discussion from a few weeks ago. Holiness is primarily about exclusiveness or dedication -- something or someone is dedicated exclusively to the service of God.

Holy living is an outworking of being holy. And the reason that the church is holy is not that the people in it are morally superior but that it is the place where Holy Spirit of God resides -- in spite of ourselves.

vs. 16 again -- “...the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

In other words, don’t go messing with God’s temple thinking that you’re going to hijack it for some cause other than of Christ -- or that you can mix in your brand of human wisdom and get away with it.

No, the church is holy. It is exclusive to Christ -- the foundation upon which it is built.

Therefore, we are to build with care, and this takes us back to verse 10. “But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful.”

And here is the key point this morning -- THE TEMPLE THAT SURVIVES IS THE TEMPLE BUILT WITH CARE.

For it is God’s temple. it does not exist for any leader or individual. Vss. 22-23 is perhaps the punchline of the whole chapter. “Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”

My whole purpose -- and I believe that it is also Paul’s purpose in 1 Corinthians 3 is to get you -- us -- to think differently about who we are and what we’re doing so that we carefully build an enduring temple that fits on the foundation.

Next Sunday morning, after worship we’ll be going over to the Johnsons -- all of us -- and we’re going to spend some time talking and praying together about our next phase of construction as a church. Everyone is invited.

What will the temple look like here? Do we need to be thinking about getting a building of our own? What are the ministries we want to develop?

Here is a paper with five questions that we’ll be looking at together. And it would be helpful if you spend some time this week considering these questions before we come together to discuss them.

I’m hoping that one of my helpers can pass these out during the offering.

All of these are important issues but only to the degree that they fit in with the bottom-line construction of a church -- a people -- a group -- a community -- which solidly fits on the foundation of Christ Jesus.

And we want to be very careful to make sure that what we’re building fits on the foundation.

Let’s pray --

Perhaps as you’ve listened this morning to all of this construction talk God has spoken to you about the kind of life that you are building for yourself -- that you have become aware of how flimsy things are in your life and that you are building in a direction that is different than God’s intention -- the foundation.

Maybe you don’t even have Christ as the foundation in your life and that you need to turn to him -- and start building in a different direction.

Today can be a new start -- a complete change of direction in your life. Seize this moment to start anew. And you can get things moving in a different direction by praying with me:

God, I’m aware of how much I’ve messed up and that I don’t stand a chance on my own of having anything that survives judgment. So I turn to you. I am trusting in what Christ Jesus has done to save us. I am trusting in the resurrection of Christ Jesus to get me on track with a new life. I want to follow him and God, I want to build a life on his foundation. Help me to do that.

That’s a good start.

Or perhaps God has been speaking to you in a different way this morning and you’ve become aware of the construction short-cuts you’ve taken.

Lord God, we are busy people and we have to take a lot of short-cuts to squeeze everything in. We confess that at times we even take construction short-cuts and that we are not as careful with each other and the temple as we ought to be. We are so easily distracted -- by interesting but matters of lesser importance. So we ask not only your forgiveness but that you would keep us solidly on the foundation that has been laid out for us. Amen.

Let’s join together in affirming our common faith using words from Ephesians 2:
Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to outsiders and peace to insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we all share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

We're no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now our home country. We're no longer strangers or outsiders. We belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He's using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using us, fitting us in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

after worship Sunday, February 27th

In light of the Beliefs & Values spelled out on our website, chew on these questions this week in preparation for our session next Sunday.

1. What are three things that MasterPiece Church is doing well?

2. Mid-course adjustment -- What are we doing that perhaps we need to replace with something else? Specifically, what is the something else?

3. Opportunity? What opportunities for ministry are you seeing now that you did not see a year ago? What opportunities for ministry are you convinced should be a top priority for MasterPiece? Specifically, what would it take to implement them?

4. What wild and crazy ideas have come to mind when considering the future of MasterPiece Church?

5. In light of all this what kind of facility should we be meeting in a year from now?* In two years? In five years? What will it take to get from here to there?

*We have a contract with the Venue at the Grove through November 2011. Excluded in the contract are Mother’s Day and Easter, when they had already scheduled holiday brunch events. We will need to meet elsewhere on those two days.

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