Be careful how you build

Photo by Luis BritoOK–Everyone who’s ever had to deal with the consequences of shoddy workmanship, raise your hand…

We once hired a plumber who spent five hours under the house on a simple job that should have taken an hour or two at most.  Wondering what had taken so long, I pointed to the diagram I had drawn for him, and asked, “So you did, this, this, and this, right?”  He stared blankly at the paper, and told me no, saying that sometimes he had trouble understanding things.

The next day, the company sent another plumber.  “What happened to the other guy?” I asked.  “Oh, he’s in jail,” was the nonchalant response.  Plumber # 2 then took a look at the job, and called in his supervisor.  The two of them banged around under the house for another two hours and declared the job done.

That night, after we had gone to bed, my wife turned to me and said, “Do you hear water running?”  We had a geyser under the house.

The same two plumbers came again the next day and banged around some more.  This time, they were supremely confident that their work would hold together.  They had tied it together with piano wire.

They left, we crossed our fingers, and never called them again.

The quality of the work matters.

In the last post, we saw how the apostle Paul insisted to the fractious Corinthians that Jesus was the only foundation for the life of the church, and that people should therefore take great care how they build on the foundation.  He elaborates:

So, whether someone builds on top of the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or hay, each one’s work will be clearly shown.  The day will make it clear, because it will be revealed with fire—the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.  If anyone’s work survives, they’ll get a reward.  But if anyone’s work goes up in flames, they’ll lose it.  However, they themselves will be saved as if they had gone through a fire. (1 Cor 3:12-15, CEB)

Paul envisions a day in which even believers will face a judgment, a divine testing of the quality of the work they’ve done in this lifetime.  Some building materials are flammable and some aren’t; some will withstand the test and others won’t.

Paul doesn’t make this a matter of salvation–which is encouraging, considering the state of the church to which he wrote!  Nor does he spell out the details of the reward or the loss.  That’s not his intent.  He wants the Corinthians, who are so concerned about their social status in the present, to take the long view.  On the one hand, they should look back to their one foundation: Jesus, their crucified Savior and Lord.  On the other, they should look forward to a future in which the ultimate reward is to hear that same Savior say, “Well done!”  And in between, their life together as a church should connect the two.

Do we so take our heavenly destiny for granted that we don’t anticipate the possibility of entering eternity with the smell of smoke on us?  So much time and energy goes into building an impressive record of accomplishments.  Personally, I am sure that much of my “life’s work” will one day go up in flames.  And I know that sometimes I approach ministry as a list of things to do: Let’s get this done and checked off, shall we?  That, I think, is neither the vision nor the attitude Paul is advocating.

As Paul has said, we are God’s building.  Each of us has many opportunities to build on the foundation.  How much will we value those opportunities?  What kind of care and attention will we give to them?

Because frankly, without such care, things could get a little toasty.