Sermon: “Our Firm Foundation” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord. We will be reading in 1 Corinthians 3:5-17, but we will be looking particularly at 3:10-11.
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 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.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.1 Corinthians 3:5-17, ESV
May the Lord bless the reading and the preaching of his word this morning.
When I was 8 years old, we moved from far-west Nebraska to central Nebraska, Hastings to be exact. The house that we ended up moving into came preequipped with a grape vine across the fence in the back. That wasn’t on our list of things that we wanted. We realized we weren’t moving into Napa Valley, but southcentral Nebraska. Nevertheless, there was this grape vine and we suddenly had all of these grapes. We found out really quickly that we could eat them, and we soon began the tradition of making grape jelly each year.
My parents do not still live at that same place. About five years ago they moved to a new house. This new house didn’t come equipped with grape vines. They wanted to continue this process of making grape jelly, so they realized they would have to plant their own grape vines. I got to help plant these grape vines. I was shocked at how small it was. It was a tiny little thing with two green leaves on it. We planted it in the ground. Children, if you come ask me, I can show you the picture of when we planted this tiny vine into the ground. I was holding the shovel in the picture so that I would look like I knew what I was doing.
We planted it and then fast forward a couple of years. This vine has overtaken their back fence. When we got there, there was nothing there, but now the vine has overtaken everything. Now there are all of these grapes that every fall are just hanging there waiting for people to eat.
We are diving into the middle of a passage. Into a place where Paul abruptly changes the topic that he was teaching about. He has been talking about agricultural growth, much like a grape vine. He’s been talking about how he, Paul, didn’t give the growth. He was only someone who planted a seed and Apollo came along and watered, but it was God who gave the growth.
So last week we talked about how we must labor as God’s instruments for the growth that God alone gives, but we cannot engineer it. We cannot bring about the growth of faith in individual’s lives. All that we can do is to serve as God’s instruments in preaching and proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. To create the conditions that God has appointed for bringing about the growth that he alone can give.
So, we are going to look at a passage where Paul shifts his focus from this agricultural image of the church being God’s field as a place where plants are grown and bearing fruit to God’s building. You see that in the end of verse nine, “for we are God’s fellow workers”, he’s referring to ministers, “you are God’s field.” Then on a dime he moves the subject to God’s building.
What’s behind the shift and where does this take us? The big idea for this morning is this, God is finishing Christ’s finished work through his people.
Christ’s work is finished, there is nothing more to do and yet God is finishing Christ’s finished work through his people. That’s our big idea and we’ll unpack this in three points.
- We will see God’s purpose.
- We will see God’s provision.
- We will see God’s plan.
God’s purpose for his church, God’s provision for his church and God’s plan for of how he will use his church. We’re going to start in verse nine. Again, you are God’s field and God’s building.
God’s Purpose for His Church
We have to understand how Paul’s using both of these images because really God’s purpose in his church is two-fold. The purpose that we get from this agricultural image, and there’s another purpose that we see in the building that Paul is talking about. God is building his church and we see the way in which both of those two purposes hang together.
Why then does Paul use this agricultural image that the church is God’s field? It’s not actually a new image. If you know your Old Testament you might know that at several points God is talking about his people as the vine. Not only that, but as a vineyard. For example, in Psalm 80 there’s an extended metaphor of God’s people as the vine.
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
11 It sent out its branches to the sea
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted,
and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
16 They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
Psalm 80:8-16, ESV
The people of Israel are God’s vine that he transplanted from their captivity in Egypt and planted in Canaan with the goal that they would flourish. This is what we see in Isaiah 27:2-6. Now listen to this one because this is where we see the glimpse of what God’s purpose is in his people. Not as a vine, but it’s a vineyard where lots of vines are grown.
2 In that day,
“A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
3 I, the LORD, am its keeper;
every moment I water it.
Lest anyone punish it,
I keep it night and day;
4 I have no wrath.
Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!
I would march against them,
I would burn them up together.
5 Or let them lay hold of my protection,
let them make peace with me,
let them make peace with me.”
6 In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
and fill the whole world with fruit.
Isaiah 27:2-6, ESV
This vineyard is the place that God is watering and God is keeping. Why? We see why in verse six. Just like those vines in my parent’s backyard were just sort of in one place in a tiny little scrawny thing, but they sent out shoots and tendrils. Now they fill up the entirety of the fence in my parent’s backyard. This was God’s purpose for his people. His people Israel were to spread out. They were supposed to fill the whole earth with all of the vines and tendrils and shoots that God would put out, so that the whole world would be filled with God’s fruit.
Israel failed at that the purpose that God had given them. At different places in Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah God says that they to become a wild vine, a degenerate vine that bore bad fruit. Or they were just a worthless fine; they were just a dry dead worthless fine that could produce no fruit.
If you know how thick a vine is it’s not very thick. You can’t use it as a peg to hang anything on. It’s really only good to be burned as fuel for the fire. That’s what God’s people became. That’s why it’s so significant that in John chapter fifteen Jesus comes along and declares that everything that had been spoken about God’s people as the vine was fulfilled in him. Jesus said in chapter fifteen,
I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1, ESV
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5, ESV
Okay church, you are the vineyard and the garden where I, the true vine, will be growing up. And I the true vine will be weaving my way and bringing my tendrils throughout the world. So that everywhere that I set up a church to proclaim the gospel of me, I will bring dead, lifeless, or wild degenerate branches and I will engraft them into me.
When they abide in me and partake of my life and vitality, they will bear abundant fruit through me. This morning, like every Sunday morning, we are late to the Lord’s Day party. We are one of the last groups of people to gather in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to worship. People have been worshiping in China, Nigeria, Romania, Mexico and Colombia. All people across the world, because Jesus the true vine has been spreading his way throughout all the nations of the earth, establishing churches and grafting in branches to the true vine and giving life where there has been lifelessness.
When Paul says that we are God’s field. He doesn’t mean that we are a plot of land that is supposed to stick where we are. The point is that the church is where Jesus Christ grows up and draws people into himself. Then Jesus can continue to grow ad draw more people to himself. It’s an image of unstoppable growth throughout all the nations of the earth.
The eventual goal is that everywhere God’s people will bear fruit throughout the whole world. What’s interesting is that this same purpose appeared originally in the Garden of Eden. God put a worker there, a vine dresser there, his name was Adam. God put Adam in the garden to cultivate and expand it, to guard it and to keep it. The idea is that Adam expanded the borders and helped the vineyard of the Garden of Eden to grow. As Adam and Eve reproduced and created additional image bearers of God, eventually as that garden increased and as God’s people increased in that garden, the whole earth would be filled with the glory of the Lord through his image bearers in his garden. God’s doing the same thing right now in and through his church as Jesus Christ, the true vine, spreads out across the entire world.
This is a marvelous image, a powerful visual representation of the way the church is working. We are God’s field. Here’s where Paul turns a corner. The purpose for God’s church is not to just be a thing of unstoppable growth. It’s shown for us in the image of the field. Then he says we are God’s building, why God’s building?
There’s a different purpose in view here. First of all, we have to ask which building we are talking about. You see that in verse sixteen. We are talking about a very specific building, the temple. Now the image has changed. It’s not that all of these branches are being woven into a vine that is spreading its way through the entire world, Jesus Christ through his Gospel. Now we are talking about people who are bricks. Brick by brick and soul by soul they are being brought out of their destruction and devastation and defilements in the outside world and sanctified and set apart as holy to be built up as the church, the Temple. Why the temple? Because the temple is the place that God dwelt with his people.
Again, in the Old Testament, the first temple was not a brick-built building. The first temple was actually called a tabernacle, a tent. It had animal skins and props that could stand it up so that they could tear it down from place to place as they moved through the wilderness. When they first established the tabernacle, God’s spirit came down and filled it with glory. Then the Israelites encamped themselves around the tabernacle. God dwelt in the presence of his people, in the tabernacle.
Eventually when God planted his people after driving out the nations in the land of Canaan. They got settle in a way that God could have them build the temple, a brick structure with gold and precious stones. It was a permanent structure. When Solomon dedicated that the glory of the Lord filled the temple so that no one could enter into it. That is where God dwelt in the midst of his people in his temple in Jerusalem. Just as Jesus said the he was the true vine, so Jesus came into the world to say that he was the fulfillment of the temple to dwell among his people.
In John 1:14 we read,
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14, ESV
The glory of God dwelt in the midst of his people in the person of Jesus Christ. In John chapter two, the Jews ask for a sign, “Show us by what sign you cleanse the temple.” Not Solomon’s temple here, but Herod’s temple. And Jesus said, “tear down this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.” He wasn’t talking about the physical structure. He was talking about the place where God dwelt in the fullness of his glory in the midst of his people in the peron of Jesus Christ.
The plan of God was not merely that Jesus should be the true vine and not that Jesus should be the true temple, but that in sending Jesus into the world, that Jesus would be the true vine who would bring in branches to participate in his life. Also, that he would be the true temple where we would be engrafted into it, as with bricks. Why? So that we could be the place where God could dwell in the presence of his people.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV
So, these two images have two different purposes. One tells us about the purpose of God to spread his people throughout the world through the preaching of Jesus Christ. The other purpose that God is telling us about is that we should be the place where God dwells in the midst of his people. This garden imagery and temple imagery are together throughout the entire Bible. Paul just brings it together explicitly here.
Where was the first dwelling place of God with his people? It wasn’t the tabernacle; it was the Garden of Eden. That was the first “temple” of God where God dwelt in the midst of his people. G.K. Beale has a remarkable book about that, “The Temple and the Church’s Mission.” I would highly recommend it to you. It’s a beautiful exploration of all the places where the garden and temple images come together.
But you have Adam and Eve dwelling in the temple of GOD. Once they were kicked out the tabernacle and the temple were filled with garden imagery. The lampstand was shaped like a tree. There were pomegranates that were sewn into the garments of the priests as they ministered, like Adam working in the garden. There were even sculptures of pomegranates that filled the temple. This is where God was recreating the Garden of Eden in order to dwell in the midst of his people again.
We are told one day we will dwell directly with GOD. John tells us in Revelation 21:22, there won’t be a temple anymore. In the new heavens and the new earth, the temple will be the Lord God Almighty in the lamb. We will directly in the presence of God forever. In that place the Holy Spirit will be flowing like a river from the throne of God. The tree of life will be there. It will be a city, not a garden, but the tree of life will be on both sides of the river. This tree will have leaves that are like healing for the nations. It will bear all sorts of fruits throughout its seasons.
The fullness of what God has been preparing to do from the beginning, he is accomplishing right now in his church and he will bring us where we will dwell directly in the presence of God forever. This is the purpose for which God created the world. To have us dwell in his presence forever. God didn’t need to create the world. He wasn’t lacking anything except us.
It’s not like we were a resource that he needed, not as though he was lonely or bored. God is the perfection of all in all. Yet somehow in eternity past God imagined a people whom he would set his love upon. He did so knowing full well that to acquire those people to dwell with him forever would require God the Son entering into this world and die for us so that we can partake of his life. So, the mission that God has given us in Jesus Christ is a mission that we see reflected in our nature as a field and a temple.
Thing about Harvest’s mission, “Making Disciples who Worship and Serve”. Those two ideas that we make disciples who worship and serve are reflected in these two images.
When we talk about worship, we are talking about God’s temple. We have an unreplicable experience of God dwelling in the midst of his people when we are gathered together in the church. As important as it is for us to have that fellowship with God independently, or in small groups, or our families, it’s nothing like what we have right here when we are gathered as the church to worship Jesus Christ together.
God indwells us as his temple, filled out brick by brick in a unique way here. We also see the nature of what it means to serve. To serve means to help take part, to help be a part of what it means to cultivate the branches of the vine. Ultimately, we can’t give the growth, we aren’t the ones who can bring about life. Only Jesus can through his Holy Spirit. Yet God calls us to serve in a couple of ways.
One is the help one another in the body. To build up the body of Christ, to care for the various branches. Understanding that when damage happens to any of the branches, that can disable other parts of the vine. When disease creeps in through one of the branches. That disease can debilitate the rest of the vine. We have to care for one another and stir one another up to remember the promises of Jesus Christ and to grow in the holiness without which no one will see the LORD.
It also means that we are called to grow beyond our little plot of land. Like the vines on the back of the fence in my parent’s house. The vine of Jesus Christ intends to send out tendrils and bear fruit everywhere, not only in here but throughout our neighborhood and the metro area and to the far corners of the Earth. To see Jesus Christ spread out and proclaimed everywhere.
Two questions to think about.
- Do you love the presence of the Lord? Is your desire to be in the presence of the Lord? That is the most precious promise of the Gospel. Jesus died to purify us so that we could be reconciled to God. Is that your hope? That’s a good way to take your spiritual temperature.
- Do you think about, no whether you are called to the vine’s cultivation to reach beyond these walls, but how are you called? What are the gifts that God has given you, the relationships that God has entrusted you with for this purpose? God’s purpose is to be a place where he can dwell in the midst of his people. To give growth to their worship. Also, to be a field from which God’s Gospel of Jesus Christ will spread like a vine to all the nations of the earth.
How do we get there? How can guilty sinners come into the majestic presence of a pure and holy God? This brings us to our second point.
Namely the foundation of Christ for his people.
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. 1 Corinthians 3:10, ESV
Paul is talking about true Christian ministry. He raises a question, what is this foundation that he is talking about, that he doesn’t answer until the next verse. He’s telling us about a foundation but doesn’t clarify what it is until verse eleven. I want to return to verse ten in just a moment. Once we clarify the nature of this foundation it makes it a lot easier to understand. We will come back to ten, I’m not skipping it.
11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11, ESV
Paul says, I laid a foundation among you and that’s important, but no one can lay any foundation other than the foundation that was already laid. Understand, I didn’t create this foundation, I am not the philosopher who constructed this wisdom from my own head. I’m simply declaring to you the foundation that God has laid.
Once again, God is talking about the wisdom hidden in a mystery that God predestined before the ages. 1 Corinthians 2:7
7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;1 Corinthians 2:7, NASB
Before the foundations of the earth were laid, God in eternity past had predestined to a plan to send the Son into the world. To take upon himself human nature, to live and to suffer and to be rejected, to be crucified and bleed out and die; so that sinners could be made righteous in him.
This was the plan that God had predestined before the ages and it was to our glory. This plan, Paul says, is the first foundation. When God created the world, this plan was foundation upon which God built the world. Everything that God did was in reference to this plan. Nothing that God did fell outside of this plan. This plan is all encompassing for everything that will take place in human history. Everything shows forth the coming of Christ into this world. Everything that happens now is working out what Christ has done until he returns to bring everything to completion. This is the plan of God.
It’s a plan that though you were guilty, Christ would come into the world to die for you in your place. Though you were defiled and filthy and polluted, Jesus Christ shed his blood to cleanse you from every stain until you have been washed white as snow. This is the plan that though you were weak and foolish. Though you could not save yourself and clung to your foolishness, Jesus Christ sent his spirit into the world to open your hearts. To imagine all that God had prepared for those who love him.
This is the gospel, the hope, the foundation, the person of Jesus Christ. Which is what every subsequent church is planted upon, including us.
This is the 25th anniversary of Harvest Community Church this year. We were planted in 1994. We were at that time rooted and established upon the idea and the message and the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners. The people who have gone before us have faithfully proclaimed this message. We are at a point where we need to continue to carry that our into the world. To see people come to know Jesus Christ.
I ask you this morning, as the ongoing faithful work that has been repeated week after week at this church, do you know Jesus Christ? This is all we’ve got. This is everything. If you are waiting for better wisdom, something that is more than this, you will be disappointed. Not only because we don’t have it but because you don’t really want anything but this.
Do you know Jesus? Do you recognize your sin and that you need a great savior? And that God, from before when the foundations of the earth were laid, predestined to send his son into the world to shed his blood for you. Is this your hope, is this your joy, is this your salvation, is this what you cling to in grieving times?
The cross of Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because as Jesus himself tells us, the cross is where his work was finished. John 19:30 Jesus declares that it is finished. The foundation is laid.
We have to ask ourselves, if it is finished, why has there been 2,000 years of Christian history upon the foundation of Jesus Christ? It’s not because Christ lacked something or failed to accomplish something. There was a man named John Murray who wrote a book that even if you don’t read it, the title is helpful, “Redemption, Accomplished and Applied.” When Jesus Christ came into this world, he laid the foundation for our salvation and nothing else needs to be done.
What God continues to do is to take the accomplished finished work of Jesus Christ and finish applying it to everyone who still needs to hear. To everyone who God has chosen and called. Everyone whom the Spirit will come to open hearts and open ears to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Here’s the mystery of this. God’s plan is to call us to help finish Jesus’ finished work.
We continue to build on the foundation that God has laid in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s purpose is to both fill the world and be a place where the Spirit will fill us up. God’s provision is Christ as the foundation for his people. Now God’s plan is to finish Christ’s finished work through his people.
Come back to verse ten.
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. 1 Corinthians 3:10, ESV
The word for master builder is where we get our word for architect. He’s saying that he is a master architect, but he is also a skilled architect. Literally that word is wise. The second half of 1 Corinthians chapter one and the all through of 1 Corinthians chapter two, Paul is contrasting the wisdom of the age with the wisdom of God. Paul is saying I am a wise architect in this way. I laid a foundation, and now someone else is building upon it.
Earlier, in verse six Paul used a similar idea in a different image. I planted, Apollos water, but God is the one who gave growth. We have this foundation, which was laid, that God accomplished for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. All of us are called to build on this foundation.
We have to take care how we build upon this. Much of this is directed towards Christian leaders, but not exclusively. The idea is always that leaders will equip everyone else for the ways that everyone else will build up the church. The point that we have returned to again and again in our Building on A Firm Foundation campaign, which had reference to Jesus Christ our firm foundation, is that all of us are called to build on this foundation.
Partially we have in view a financial aspect. We are seeking to raise money to build up our facility as a foundation from which to proclaim the foundation, Jesus Christ and him crucified. It’s far more than financial. The goals are spiritual. The whole reason for building up a facility is to build out our outreach. To have a facility in which to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ. To continue to send shoots and tendrils into the world. To blossom and bear fruit for Jesus Christ.
We have to remind one another of the promises of Jesus and to stir one another up into holiness, as well as, continuing to build out our Gospel witness to those outside of us.
Also, our goal in building up outside of ourselves is to continue to plant new churches. These are the way in which we continue to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, the foundation that is already laid, as places where Christ can be proclaimed. Just as Jesus has been proclaimed at Harvest for twenty-five years, our vision is to see so many other churches planted. Not only in the Omaha metro area, but around the world.
Remember that 43% of people in Omaha have no meaningful connection to Christianity. If our metro area will be one million people by 2023, then there are 430,000 people who don’t have any meaningful connection to Christianity. It would take over 2,000 churches the size of Harvest to reach those people. That’s growth we can’t engineer for ourselves. It’s growth that God alone can give. But you and I are called to labor for it. To pray for it, to pray toward it. We are called to build up, to build out, to build new so that Jesus Christ, the firm foundation, the one who is all in all, may be proclaimed and exalted and lifted high. This is our mission. Pray with me.
Father we ask that as you call us to serve in so many ways, we realize that we can’t accomplish anything unless you give the growth. We ask Father that you would give the growth. Growth that we can’t engineer, that we can’t bring about by our own strength. Growth that you promised to give. Growth that even the gates of Hell cannot stand against. In the midst of spiritual warfare and spiritual attacks, we realize that Jesus, the true vine, will be unstoppable in his growth. His glory will reach from the rising of the sun to its setting to fill the whole earth. We pray that we would be a little branch on the vine of Jesus Christ. That we do our work to send tendrils and shoots through our union and vital connection with Jesus Christ. To see others engrafted into the branch. You give the growth and we ask that you make us faithful in the work that you would call us to do. Fill us up by your Spirit, sanctify us according to the blood of Christ and give us grace for the mission that you have put ahead of us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.