to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master
builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it.
But each man must be careful how he builds on it.
Scott's responses will be inserted in white boxes,|
like this one.
11 For no man can lay a foundation
other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man builds on the
foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay,
13 each man’s work will become
evident; for the day will show it because it is to be
revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality
of each man’s work.
14 If any man’s work which he has
built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he
will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as
This passage of Paul’s
first epistle to the church at Corinth has prompted much
discussion down through church history. The context of the
preceding ten verses is really quite simple: Paul is
discussing the problems that exist in the Corinthian
congregation. He has used harsh words with them, referring to them
as “men of flesh” and
“infants in Christ.” He refers to the strife and jealousy
that exists among them. He zeroes in on their partisanship:
the fact that they are saying “I am of this Christian leader
or that one.” He reminds them that leaders are but servants
of the Lord, and that it was the Lord that even gave those
servants the opportunity to preach the gospel to them. He
writes in verse 6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was
causing the growth.” God used Paul and Apollos as means, but
the growth was caused by God, not by the Christian leaders
themselves. At this point then Paul begins to speak of the
role Christian leaders have in the work of the Church. Note
8 Now he who plants and he who waters
are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his
own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you
are God’s field, God’s building.
Verse 8 provides the
first reference to “reward,” and it is clearly in the context
of the Christian leaders who labor in the work of ministry.
It will be significant to note that the phrase “receive a
reward” in verse 8 is identical in terminology to the
same phrase in verse 14. Since in this context we know that
the planting and watering mentioned goes back to Paul and
Apollos, the topic remains consistent throughout this
passage. Paul then speaks of himself and Apollos as “God’s
fellow workers,” and they labor in this high calling in God’s
field. He uses two terms, field and building, but picks up
only on the second, “God’s building.” A fellow worker of God
works in building God’s building, and that building is the
So, if this is refering only to "Christian leaders," then we have an
inconsistency in arguments when he tries to argue that we all belong to the
"priesthood of believers." To quote White:
Instead, we are believer priests, a royal congregation of called
out ones who make up the body of Christ, the Church (Ephesians 1-2).
Notice especially that all are included...
One of the chief duties of the priest is to lead and guide the people, along with
the offering of the Sacrifice. Without getting into a lengthy discussion of the
roles of the priesthood, the point here is that on one hand White claims the role
of "Christian leaders" varies from "all Christian believers"
1 Peter 2:5: "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual
house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable
to God by Jesus Christ."
You may want to put "living" for "lively" to avoid any unwanted ideas.
This verse teaches that all Christians who are in the Church are part
of a holy priesthood that offers sacrifices, not for sin (like the
old priests) but spiritual sacrifices. What are these sacrifices? We
offer praise, obedience, even our very bodies (Romans 12:1) to God.
brings us to the main passage. Verses 10-15 give us an
illustration of how weighty it is to minister in the church,
and how God will someday manifest the motivations of the
hearts of all those who have engaged in that work. Then in
verses 16-17 Paul adds a further warning, speaking of God’s
certain judgment upon those who do not build, but instead tear
down, or destroy. There is an obvious movement between 10-15
and 16-17, for in 10-15 the metaphor remains the construction
of a building upon a foundation; in 16-17 this switches to the
metaphor of the temple of God, already constructed. Further,
in 10-15 the “certain ones” are those who are indeed building
upon the foundation, even if they have less than perfect
motivations or understanding; the certain one in verses 16-17
is not building anything at all, but is instead tearing down
and ruining what has already been built. This distinction is
important as well, as we shall see.
10 According to the grace of God which was
given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation,
and another is building on it. But each man must be careful
how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other
than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Paul continues the
context, insisting that by God’s grace he has laid a
foundation, knowing that others would build upon that same
foundation. This foundation, of course, refers to the work of
ministry in building up the church that he has engaged in.
But there is an element of personal responsibility that is
part of ministry in Christ’s church: a man must be “careful”
how he builds upon the foundation, which Paul reminds us is
holy. The only foundation of the church is Jesus Christ
Himself. So just as we are to have an attitude of fear and
trembling when considering that it is the holy God who is at
work within us, working out our salvation (Philippians
2:12-13), so the minister is to recognize that ministry in the
church is a holy task, and he must “look well” (a literal
understanding of the Greek) upon how he goes about this work.
This leads to further expansion upon this thought in the
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with
gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s
work will become evident; for the day will show it because it
is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the
quality of each man’s work.
The first thing to see in
v. 12 is that we are still talking about the same group:
Christian workers. Those under discussion build upon
the foundation. We will see that in vv. 16-17 Paul refers to
a different group, those who do not build, but instead tear
down. So we have one group who build upon the one foundation,
but with different quality “materials.” Now obviously, the
terms gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw, are
all figures of speech, metaphors. Christian leaders are not
known for having an abundance of gold, silver, or precious
stones, let alone is the “building” being done here a literal
activity either. These are terms referring, as Paul himself
puts it, to “the quality of each man’s work.” Some labor
selflessly and in obscurity with motivations pure and
honorable, while others have mixed motivations, tinged to a
lesser or greater degree by selfishness and vainglory (cf.
Phil 2:3-4). During this lifetime we cannot necessarily know
which Christian leaders, even within the bounds of orthodox
teaching and practice, are doing what they do with motivations
that are pleasing to God. But Paul is reminding us that such
will not always be the case: God will reward those who have
labored diligently for His glory in that day when all the
secrets of men’s hearts will be revealed.
Paul says that each man’s
work “will become evident, for the day will show it.” The
nature of the Christian minister’s work will be plain and
clear: the lack of clarity that exists during this lifetime
will no longer cloud our vision at the judgment. What a
tremendously sobering thought for those who labor in building
upon the foundation of Jesus Christ! God, who searches the
hearts, will reveal our true motivations on that day!
The revelation of whether
one’s ministerial works are precious and lasting, or
surface-level and temporary, will be accomplished “by fire.”
Obviously, fire differentiates, at the most basic level,
between gold and wood, silver and straw, precious stones and
stubble. The precious elements withstand the fire’s presence,
whereas the others are consumed in their entirety. Given that
it has already been established that gold and silver, etc.,
are figures for the quality of men’s works, so it follows
inexorably that “fire” refers to a testing that makes its
verdict as clear as the destruction of wood, hay, and stubble
by the raging flames of a fire. The works that were not done
to God’s glory are destroyed, while those works having the
proper character pass through unharmed.
14 If any man’s work which he has built on it
remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is
burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved,
yet so as through fire.
The context continues,
unbroken. Note the repetition of the preceding concept of
“building” on the “foundation.” If a man’s work, built upon
the foundation of Christ in the church, remains in the
presence of the judgment of God, he receives a reward. But in
direct parallel, if another worker’s labors are burned up, he
will suffer loss. The opposite of the reception of a reward
is to suffer loss. The Greek term Paul uses is translated by
the vast majority of recognized translations as “suffer loss,”
and there is a reason for this. Despite the fact that you can
render the term as “punish,” its normative meaning, especially
in the NT, refers to experiencing the opposite of gain (i.e.,
loss), and often what is not gained is found in the
immediate context of the words use. For example:
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the
surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I
have suffered the loss of all things, and count them
but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, (Philippians 3:8 )
Obviously, this does
not mean Paul has been “punished,” but has “suffered the loss”
of all things. The same is true in Jesus’ use of the term:
"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and
forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange
for his soul? (Matthew 16:26, see also Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25)
In 1 Corinthians 3:15,
the term is used in a context that provides a direct
correlation to the term: the one whose work remains
receives a reward, so the one whose work is burned up does
not, hence, they suffer loss (for further information
on this word, see TDNT 2:888).
We are reminded, however,
that despite the seriousness of the loss of reward for the
Christian worker, we are still talking about those who have
found salvation in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us that despite suffering loss, these are saved,
“yet so as through fire.” This in no way makes the judgment
of the motivations of Christian workers a trivial matter: it
is obvious that for Paul, who himself faced this test, it was
not. But it also safeguards against the misuse of his
teaching. No one can argue that one’s salvation is based upon
the works one does: this is not his teaching here, nor
anywhere else. A man is justified before God by the
imputation of Christ’s righteousness to him, and the
imputation of the man’s sin to Christ, the perfect substitute,
who bears in His body the sins of His people upon Calvary
(Romans 3:20-4:8). But this is not his subject here. The
context has remained constant: the revelation of the
motivations of the hearts of Christian workers.
In a perfect world it
would not be necessary to go beyond the mere exegesis of the
text to understand Paul’s meaning and intention. But we do
not live in such a world. In God’s providential wisdom, we
live in a time when the church must struggle against false
teaching and false teachers (Acts 20:24ff). Specifically, the
truth of God’s sovereign grace is attacked by Roman
its man-centered sacramentalism. One of the most egregious
attacks upon the finished nature of Christ’s work on Calvary
is the dogma of purgatory. We have often engaged in debate on
this topic (see, for example, the debate against Fr. Peter Stravinskas
on this topic, May, 2001). Rome attempts to
enlist this passage in support of its doctrine, but in the
process engages in gross eisegesis of the text, missing its
plain meaning, and inserting concepts utterly foreign to
Paul’s theology. Just a few items should be noted that, in
light of the preceding comments, should be sufficient for any
person not committed to the ultimacy of Roman authority.
First, the passage is
about Christian workers, not all the Christian faithful.
You Can't Have it Both Ways?
Well, that's what I just said, but apparently White wishes to have it both ways,
or he's forgotten what he wrote in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy.
We find this interesting statement, from White who most recently is affirming that
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is ONLY refering to Christian Leaders/Ministers,
right after quoting this passage from 1 Corinthians he states:
The Roman Catholic view sees in these words a reference to Purgatory,
believing that the concepts of judgment, loss and reward support the
concept of a cleansing after death. Yet when we allow the passage to
speak for itself, we find almost nothing that supports the concept of
Purgatory. The mention of fire seems to be about the only common
concept between this judgment of believers
and the Roman doctrine of Purgatory (even though modern Catholic
writers are quick to point out that the Roman Church has never
dogmatically affirmed that there is a literal fire in Purgatory).
First off, that final sentence is flat out "wrong" for the section does not say the person
will merely "receive no reward," for it actually says "he will suffer loss..."
What is judged is the type of work the Christian
has done. . . The point of the text is that if a
person's works withstands the judgment, the person receives a reward. If
not, the person suffers loss -- not punishment -- yet is saved, "but as
through fire." The passage does not say the person goes through
fire, is punished, or suffers to make atonement for sin.
It simply says that the Christian's works are judged for their own merit, and
if those works are found to be made of wood, hay and straw, the works will be
burned up and the person will receive no reward.
[James R. White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, p193. emphasis mine]
Secondly, and more importantly, in January of 2002, White posted an article to his
website stating 1 Cor. 3:15 ONLY applies to "Christian Leaders," but in 1996 (the year
he published The Roman Catholic Controversy) he makes no restriction on this
verse to "Christian Leaders" and in fact only says, "the Christian's works are judged,"
and, "this judgment of believers."
The rest of White's article gets more into attacking other sources. The intent of
this response was not to defend those other sources, but to show (yet another)
inconsistency in White's arguments, thus my response will end here.
For a full response, basically line by line, to White's entire article, I recommend
Robert Sungenis' response to the same article: