By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 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. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NIV
If you don’t delve any further into the context of this passage and just take it at face value, it offers an interesting proposition. The most important and secure work is already done. The foundation is laid and it is Jesus Christ. No one is capable of laying any other sort of foundation, except this sort of foundation already laid by God.
Paul is drawing a parallel here, that he is a wise builder because he laid the only sort of foundation that could last. That one kind of foundation which lasts is the foundation secured by God himself in Jesus Christ.
Follow the metaphor. Whatever you or anyone else builds on this foundation, it will be shown for what it is. Whatever is built in addition to the foundation already laid will be revealed for what it is.
Paul has already drawn a straight line from his work in laying a foundation to the work of God prior to him historically and theologically laying the only lasting foundation Jesus. So when I read this passage what pops out at me is that the very character of the foundation which makes it secure and worth building on is also the same character which will either be purified or destroyed in the end.
What I take from this is something along the lines of a little wooden plaque I remember seeing as a child:
Only one life,
’twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ
I don’t want to read this with a Gnostic flare, as if life and work here are meaningless and we are simply waiting to be snatched into eternal other-worldly bliss. Instead, the work we do when we build wisely is in fact of eternal this-worldly significance. This work gains its significance when it is just like the foundation Paul laid: our work running parallel to the prior work of God. We are simply living out and working out of what God has already done, already accomplished.
A lot of people, even within the Church, are putting a lot of focus on a lot of things. I see ministers who spend their time chasing the skirts of power, as if the kingdom of God were brokered by those who outrank them. I see families destroyed by the love of money and competition with others. I see churches feasting on their own rather than celebrating the Communion which anticipates the marriage supper of the Lamb.
When we build on the foundation in line with the foundation. When we do the work of God after him. When God’s heart works through our tongues and our hands. Our work echoes in eternity.