Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 3:10b, 12-13, 15
In the foregoing message we considered the building work with transformed materials. This is the positive side of Paul’s word about the building work. In this message we shall consider the negative side, the building work with natural things.
Before we consider what it means to build with wood, grass, and stubble (v. 12), we need to point out that over the years 1 Corinthians 3 has not been adequately understood by most believers. The reason for this is that this chapter was written in an experiential way. Since most readers of 1 Corinthians are short of spiritual experience, they are not able to understand this chapter. In many cases they are not even interested in it and prefer other portions of the Bible, such as Proverbs, which suit their natural concept.
First Corinthians 3 is deep and profound. In writing this chapter Paul uses many metaphors: milk, solid food, planting, watering, God’s farm, God’s building, foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, stubble, fire, and temple. Without experience we cannot interpret these metaphors properly or understand their significance. Many readers of this chapter pay attention only to two of the metaphors used by Paul: the foundation and the temple. Few know what it means to build with gold, silver, and precious stones or with wood, grass, and stubble. Therefore, for many readers today, this chapter is almost completely closed.
In reading the Bible many of us have the habit of trying to understand it merely in a doctrinal way or in a theological way. However, when we read any portion of the Bible, we should try to understand it not theologically but experientially. We should seek to know how this portion of the Word relates to our experience with the Lord. Furthermore, in giving messages we need to present our message in an experiential way, not merely in a doctrinal way.
We have pointed out that chapters one and two of 1 Corinthians are deep and profound. These chapters even reveal the depths of God (2:10). Chapter three is also very profound. If Paul had not written this chapter in a metaphorical way, he probably would have needed several more chapters to present what was within him.
As we read this chapter we should not only seek to understand the language; we should also look at all the pictures portrayed in it. Paul’s word about God’s farm, a cultivated land, is not only a metaphor, but also a picture. As we consider what it means for the church to be God’s farm, we can visualize plowing, sowing, planting, watering, growing, producing, and harvesting. To consider the matter in this way is to look at the picture conveyed by the metaphors used by Paul.
In reading this chapter, we should not take things for granted. Rather, we should ask what it means to lay another foundation. We should also inquire what is the significance of gold, silver, and precious stones, and what is the meaning of the wood, grass, and stubble. For example, when we read Paul’s word about not laying another foundation in the light of the background of the Corinthians, we shall realize that Paul means not to lay Greek philosophy or culture as a foundation. It also implies that we should not make our opinions, preferences, or choices a foundation. A brother may say that he is burdened to go to a certain place. That burden, however, may simply be that brother’s personal taste or preference. In reading this chapter we should be serious and desire to understand what Paul means by all the different metaphors. We must find the proper interpretation of these figures.
Wood, grass, and stubble signify the knowledge, realization, and attainments which come from the believers’ background (such as Judaism or other religions, philosophy, or culture) and the natural way of living (which is mostly in the soul and is the natural life). Wood may be in contrast to gold, signifying the nature of the natural man; grass may be in contrast to silver, signifying the fallen man, the man of the flesh (1 Pet. 1:24), unredeemed by Christ; and stubble may be in contrast to precious stones, signifying the work and living which issues from an earthen source, without any transformation by the Holy Spirit. All these worthless materials are the product of the believers’ natural man together with what they have collected from their background. In God’s economy these materials are fit only to be burned (v. 13).
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