Saved…as Through Fire
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 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. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 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. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1Co.3:9-15)
As we consider the importance of recognizing that Christians are to play a cooperative role in the advancement of God’s kingdom, this passage proves enlightening. Paul begins with the phrase “we are God’s fellow workers” (“we are laborers together with God” – KJV). He follows this by making a distinction in reference to another group; “you are God’s field, God’s building.” Maintaining this distinction, between “we” and “you” is important for understanding a later thought.
In verse 10, Paul warns that “each man must be careful how he builds.” Within the context of his analogy, this is a warning to the workers, those building, not the building as a building does not build itself. Of course, we know that, beyond the analogy, both groups are accountable for their choices.
We then see that the only foundation we can build upon is Jesus Christ. Though there were many things that led up to Christ (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Nation of Israel, the Law, the Prophets, etc.) and many things associated with Christ (Mary, the disciples, the apostles, the church, etc.), Christ is central and foundational, and we must be careful not to, overtly or inadvertently, replace Him with anything else.
Referring to the builders, Paul indicates it is possible to produce various qualities of work. Gold, silver and precious stone refers to good quality that is valuable and durable. Wood, hay and straw indicates a lesser quality that is more subject to destruction. This is an important point in his argument.
As Paul is endeavoring to challenge the worker to “be careful how he builds,” he warns that the quality of each man’s work will be tested (vs13). It is good to recall at this point that the “work” refers to “you” (the field, the building), the recipients of one’s ministry efforts. When tested, one’s “work” might remain, or it might be burned up. This is sobering warning.
To conclude this reflection, we read, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” It would appear the assumption is that the worker was founded upon Christ but the instruction given to others was not sufficient to secure genuine repentance and saving faith; that they were not sufficiently founded based on the worker’s influence and ministry efforts. The idea of being “saved, yet as through fire” would seem to refer to the excruciating experience of seeing the recipients of one’s labors being ushered from the presence of God as reliance upon them firmly upon the foundation.
Those “saved…as through fire” are not “sinning Christians,” people who have accepted Jesus as Savior but have not given up sin or accepted Him as Lord. To attempt convincing people of such would be to build carelessly.
This was an appropriate warning to the first-century church and one to be currently considered as we minister in the 21st century environment that seems to place too much emphasis on accommodation and mere acceptance.