1Corinthians 3:9-15 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (10) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– (13) each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (14) If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
What does it mean to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ? Most often we think that it simply means to preach the gospel, telling people that if they believe in Christ their sins will be forgiven and they will be saved. This certainly is true, but…
The foundation of Jesus Christ, upon which all that we do in His name must be grounded, is more than just a bare statement of “believe and be saved.” The gospel, as you will find if you research the New Testament, encompasses everything Jesus Christ taught, performed, and is going to do. The gospel is often called the “gospel of the kingdom of heaven” or the “gospel of the kingdom of God,” which means “the good news about the kingdom” which Jesus proclaimed.
And so, to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ is to be certain that all we preach and do is consistent with the body of teaching that we have in the Scriptures. Let me illustrate:
I once knew an old preacher who was a genuine, sincere, humble Christian. He really did know Christ and he served the Lord in the ministry for over 50 years. I have no doubt I will meet him again in heaven. Nor do I have any doubts that in his ministry he led many, many people to a saving knowledge of Christ.
In his years of ministry, something seemed to happen rather repeatedly. As an effective pastor and evangelist, he would build local churches – literally building the buildings often with his own hand. People would come. Attendance would increase. And after some years then he would move on to establish still another church. But in those churches there was often trouble. Usually it stemmed from a small core group of arrogant, power-hungry types. They worked to drive the pastor out. They split the church. Splits would happen and the departing group would start another church down the road. In one instance a small group of men insisted upon their rather strange pattern of observing the Lord’s table and when they did not get their way they left, doing great harm to the rest of the church body by their actions.
How does this all happen? Why does it happen so often? Well, this pastor I knew followed a certain school of theology that is sometimes called “Finneyism.” It is the “come down the aisle of the church this morning, accept Jesus, be baptized, and you are saved for sure” methodology. It’s emphasis is upon grace, insisting that good works are not necessary for salvation. While our works cannot merit salvation of course, Scripture is plain that a person who claims to be a Christian but who shows no good fruit (like loving the brethren) should not be encouraged to assume he is saved. But this emphasis was left out of my friend’s preaching. He would confidently maintain that divisive, sinning members of his church were Christians, but perhaps just rather “stubborn.” “Good people. Saved believers. But stubborn.” But what does the foundation of Jesus Christ say? –
James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
And my point here in this article is that while such a theology and preaching will inevitably fill the empty pews of a church, it will not fill them with real Christians. Trouble will inevitably come. Trouble was always brewing in this pastor’s churches, you see.
James 4:1-4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (2) You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. (3) You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (4) You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The fact is that the foundation of Jesus Christ includes all that Jesus taught and did and is going to do. It is the entire corpus of truth that He has given us in His Word. And that truth tells us this about real Christians:
Joh 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”