1 Corinthians 3: 11-15
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13their 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. 14If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
I used to wonder what this passage meant. What did the building materials symbolize? Why would some people's work be burnt up? That didn't sound very fair. Even more confusingly, why did the lousy builder survive?
Now, I believe it refers to the works Christians do for Christ, the foundation.
We all try, in our own ways and different situations, to build upon the foundation of Christ, guided by the Word.
We try to serve, to reach out to people, to live righteously, to be Christ-like, to love.
And we have good intentions in doing so.
But motivations are complex things, mainly because the human heart is capable of harbouring diverse emotions at the same time and cleverly blending them up with each other till we can't tell even in ourselves what is what. And though overall we may have the right intention, other things are present, other things may creep in and get braided together.
We volunteer genuinely wanting to help and yet also pleasantly conscious of the eyes upon us.
We pray in public or teach others feeling spiritual because of our eloquent words and knowledge even as we sincerely want to encourage and edify others.
We rebuke others, wanting to see what's wrong corrected but forgetting who we are and lapsing into pride and judgmentalism.
We serve faithfully and dutifully yet complain about it and feel like we're not given the appreciation and recognition we deserve, feel that others are slacking off, feel like these people aren't properly grateful for what we do for them.
Our hearts are complex. If they weren't literature wouldn't need to be more complicated than fairytales.
However, to the One who made our hearts and sees them clearly even right now, that tangled up mess of motivations is more important, if not all important.
In fact, our motivations determine the effectiveness of our works.
If our works are in themselves our security, they are pointless. Perhaps that's the hay and straw Paul mentions, and that's the builder who just barely manages to survive the fire, faith almost negated by the unconscious descent into self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. If our sincere good desires are tainted by other less-than-Christ-like motivations, the effectiveness of what we've done is set back. Perhaps that's the wooden architecture, which though it comes out better on the fire test than hay and straw, definitely can't compare to the precious metals and stones.
We may have served in doing legitimately good things. Helped others. Fulfilled needs. Without the right heart, however, we won't have been building with anything more precious or lasting than wood or even hay. And on the last day, when this world and its concerns come to an end, when our works are tested in the 'fire' of the transition to another dimension and everything except its effect on us ceases to be important--we will be reminded for good that what matters to Him is the heart. Perhaps the same deed, done with different motivations, turns out diamond in one case, smoky ashes in the other.
I often make the mistake of over emphasizing to-do lists. Getting things done, the more the better, the bigger the better, just remembering to stick on a little 'For God' gift label at the last minute.
But before we get distracted by how much we do or what we do, consider the why--remembering that the motivations that come from our hearts may be what determines how effective our works ultimately are.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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