Service And Rewards!


‘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 3:12-15

This passage is sometimes used in sermons and studies to teach that Christians should take care to ‘lay up treasure in Heaven’ because we shall be rewarded according to the quality of the service we have performed for the Lord, and the credit we have ‘laid up’ in Heaven.

I recall many years ago, hearing someone tell a ‘preacher’s story’ about a man who on arriving in Heaven, was surprised and disappointed to discover that the ‘house’ assigned to him, was far less grand than the one assigned to someone else. The story says that, when he complained, he was told, ‘We can only build with the material you send up!’

It surely does not need to be pointed out that the scriptures contain nothing that gives credence to this simplistic tale! Nevertheless, very often discussion of these verses often revolves around the question,

Do they teach that there will be different rewards in heaven?

If they do, doesn’t this mean that there will be different classes and therefore inequality in Heaven?

Such a discussion is both unsound and unproductive, because these verses have nothing to do with the service of the ordinary Christian, or with rewards in heaven, nor was that ever their intention, because that is not the issue with which Paul was dealing or writing about, although, sadly, this is a fact which a great many Christians fail to understand.

Whenever the discussion of ‘Rewards’ is raised, it means that the fundamental, most basic, rules that must always be observed when studying the Scriptures, have been ignored.

The American writer and poet, ‘Rudyard Kipling’ wrote the classic ‘The Jungle Book’ and the ‘Just So stories’, excellent children’s books. He also wrote, ‘I keep six honest serving-men, (They taught me all I knew) Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who?’

This little verse contains a wealth of advice to anyone studying anything!

I put this very simply, when we study the Scriptures we should always ask, WHO is the writer? To WHOM is he writing? WHAT is the subject about which he is writing? And WHY does he write this? Many erroneous doctrines have been born because someone has taken a text or a passage ‘out of context’, with the result that the Scriptures have been miss-applied and used to support theories they were never meant to support.

The early preachers of what became known as ‘The Restoration Movement’ in America, sometimes spoke about preachers in the denominational world who were guilty of ‘stealing the promises’. They were preachers who failed to ‘handle right the word of God’, 2 Timothy 3:15, and as a result, they took specific promises that were made to specific individuals at specific times, or in specific circumstances, and applied them to today.

Incidentally, there are several ‘3:16’ verses, besides the most familiar John 3:16, that are well worth examining, 1 Timothy 3:16 is another and Jeremiah 3:16 has a lot to tell us!

When we study 1 Corinthians, we know to whom Paul is writing, and we read from his first letter, the problems with which he has been called on to deal with. The question we now ask, is, about whom is Paul speaking in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15?

To answer this question, we go back to that first letter and think again about the first problem at Corinth with which Paul dealt at the beginning of his letter.

We see it was the dangerous division that had been created among the Corinthian Christians because they had formed themselves into groups and parties that were named after the different teachers and preachers who had visited the church in Corinth after his departure.

You will remember that he was the one who began the work in Corinth and who established the church and, in 1 Corinthians 1, he deplores the disunity that, after his departure, had developed in the congregation, that had subsequently been reported to him by those whom he describes as ‘of the household of Chloe’. 1 Corinthians 1:12

This leads him to comment on the immaturity of the Corinthian Christians, and he says that, although he had taught them, they still needed simple instruction, which he describes as ‘milk’ because they were not sufficiently spiritually mature enough to be able to receive and digest the ‘strong meat’ of deeper spiritual truth.

In fact, he does not hesitate to tell them that their behaviour demonstrates that they were still ‘babies in Christ’, which is a phrase that effectively describes immaturity.

What they needed to understand was that these men, Peter. Apollos, and even Paul himself, were merely, nothing more, than teachers, whose duty it was to carry the Message, 1 Corinthians 3:4-7, who shouldn’t be elevated above their station in the manner in which they were being elevated by the church in Corinth.

In 1 Corinthians 3:9, he describes himself and these other preachers as ‘God’s fellow-workers’, whilst they, the Corinthians themselves, are ‘God’s field.’ That is, he uses what we might call ‘an agricultural’ illustration. Then, in 1 Corinthians 3:10, he uses another illustration, that of the work of the builder and he describes himself as a ‘builder’ for God, building on the ‘Foundation which God Himself has already laid’, which, he says, is Christ Himself. 1 Corinthians 3:11.

Now, when we come to 1 Corinthians 3:12-13, we see that he says that there will come a time when the work of every teacher and preacher will be tested, and he says, in effect, ‘I am not talking about you, the member of the congregation, I am talking about the responsibilities of the teachers and preachers’. He says, on that Day, the effectiveness of their ministry, i.e., the work of the preachers and teachers will be tested ‘as by fire’.

It will help us to understand this analogy if we bear in mind that, in the course of his travels among the great cities of his day, Paul must have seen many beautiful buildings in such cities as Ephesus, from where he sent this letter, Ephesus, and Corinth and Rome itself. These were grand cities with magnificent buildings that were built of expensive materials such as marble or granite, and columns decorated with gold and silver.

Nearby he would sometimes see, in the very shadow of these magnificent buildings owned by the rich and influential, the miserable hovels that were the homes of the poor and the outcasts hovels made of mud, wood and straw, that call to mind the poverty-stricken areas seen today, on the outskirts of such South America as Rio De Javier.

When there was a fire in the city, and, as history testifies, fire was an ever-present danger in those days, the fine, well-constructed buildings survived, but the poor hovels inevitably perished. As a matter of fact, history records that such a fire actually destroyed the city of Corinth itself, less than a hundred years after Paul wrote this letter.

And so, here, Paul declares that ‘The Day of the Lord’, that is, when the Lord returns, the occasion will be like such a fire which will prove the quality of the work done by those who preach and teach, those who bore the responsibility of proclaiming the Message. God, Himself will evaluate the work of each ‘builder’, and His ‘evaluation’ will be like such fire.

If a teacher’s work has been effective and has produced lasting results, it will be as though it has survived the fire, and he will receive the Lord’s ‘well done’. He doesn’t need the acclamation and admiration of the church members. But, if his work is shown to have been ineffective, he will receive no commendation. God will not be able to commend him.

Paul, significantly points out, that this testing time will not affect a teacher’s salvation, because ‘works’ have nothing to do with salvation, since salvation does not depend on works of any kind but on faith in the grace of God. Therefore, regardless of what happens to the work that has been done, those who serve God will still be saved.

This passage in the letter, therefore, is designed to help Corinthians to acquire a proper understanding of the significance, value and responsibility of the work of those who preach God’s Word, and it brings into focus the admonition in James 3:1, ‘My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.’

There is a lesson here for both the teacher and those whom he teaches. The danger exists that there will always be immature members of the church who become so impressed by particular preachers that they forget that a preacher is merely one who serves God in a particular field, who should not become so admired that he, himself is tempted to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, and they should not become so fascinated by the preacher that they encourage him to think, by wearing his name, that he is in any way more ‘special’ than his brothers and sisters.

Any teacher, whether Paul, Peter or Apollos, or, for that matter, anyone else, who has a particular role in the life of the church of the Lord, is merely ‘God’s servant’.

It is important to remember that we are saved by the grace of God, revealed in the Good News which tells us that Jesus died for our sins, offering Himself as the sacrifice which makes our forgiveness possible. No matter what service a preacher renders, it has no merit where salvation is concerned, and, as for ‘reward’, to hear the Master say, ‘Well done’ will be reward enough! Matthew 25:23



"For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."