From reading 3:18-23 we realize that chapter three is an explanation and continuation of chapters one and two. In the first two chapters of this book, Paul deals with the wisdom of the Corinthians. Because of their philosophical wisdom, they were divisive, and they exalted spiritual giants. In 3:18 Paul refers to those who think themselves to be wise, and in verse 19 he says that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. In the sight of God, Greek wisdom is foolishness. The Lord grasps the wise in their craftiness, and He knows that the reasonings of the wise are vain (v. 20).
First Corinthians 3:17 says, “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God shall destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which you are.” To destroy the temple of God is to ruin, corrupt, defile, or mar it. To destroy the temple of God means to build with the worthless materials of wood, grass, and stubble, as described in verse 12. This refers to some Jewish believers who attempted to build the church with elements of Judaism, and to some Greek believers who endeavored to bring philosophical elements into the building. All this tended to corrupt, ruin, defile, and mar the temple of God, that is, to destroy it. Using any doctrine which differs from the fundamental teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42), or any ways and efforts that contradict God’s nature, Christ’s redemptive work, and the Spirit’s transforming work is to corrupt, ruin, defile, mar, and destroy the church of God.
The word destroy in verse 17 at least implies the punishment unveiled in verse 15. All those who have corrupted, ruined, defiled, and marred the church of God by their heretical doctrines, divisive teachings, worldly ways, and natural efforts in building will suffer God’s punishment.
In this verse Paul points out that the temple of God is holy. Since the temple of God, the church, is holy, the materials, the ways, and the efforts by which we build it must also be holy and correspond to God’s nature, Christ’s redemption, and the Spirit’s transformation.
We have seen that to build the church with natural things, with wood, grass, and stubble, is to build with our natural makeup, our being, and such evil doings as jealousy, strife, envy, and hatred. With wood, grass, and stubble, there is nothing precious. The interpretation of these figures is not the important matter here; the crucial matter is that we realize that our nature, our being, and our negative doings have no part in the building up of the church. As members of the church, we must participate in the building up of the church. However, we must take heed not to allow the wood, the grass, and stubble—our nature, our being, and our evil doings—to be brought into the church. It is dreadful to inject these things into the church life. We need to have a deep realization of this. We need to see how abominable it is and condemn it.
During the last nineteen hundred years, there has been hardly any real building up of the church. Today the Bible is freely available, and the gospel has been preached in every country. But where is the genuine building up of the church? We must admit that even among us in the Lord’s recovery there is not much building. The reason for this lack is that too much of our nature, being, and doings have been brought into the church life. These elements are germs which damage the church life. However, we may not be enlightened regarding the seriousness of this matter.
Certain saints are strong in their character or peculiar in their way of thinking. Others, however, may regard themselves as common, general, and not strong in any particular way. But according to my experience and observation, such persons are the most natural ones. They may not criticize others and they may adapt to every situation. Nevertheless, they are extremely difficult to deal with. Some of the saints who are unusually nice are like rubber, which cannot be broken. Nothing seems to touch them. No matter how they are treated, they never lose their temper. But automatically these people bring their nature and being into the church life. They regard their nature as good, and others also may appreciate it. Thus, it is unconsciously injected into the church life. But because all this is natural, it cannot be the proper material for the building up of the church. Of course, those who are rough and tough by nature are also not the right material for God’s building.
It is very difficult to find any use for stubble, but certain kinds of wood may be useful and also have a good appearance. Many saints in the Lord’s recovery are like this kind of wood. But not even the wood of a humanity that is naturally good is useful for the building up of the church.
To build the church with natural things is to destroy the temple of God. Many years ago I thought that to destroy the temple of God was to persecute the church. I did not realize that, according to the context, to destroy the church is to build with natural things. For example, would it not mar the New Jerusalem to bring in grass or stubble? Likewise, to inject our natural makeup, our being, or our doings into the church damages the church. Perhaps you have never realized that when you bring your good nature, your good being, and even your good natural deeds into the church life, you ruin and corrupt the church. Of course, if there is jealousy or strife among us, that will also mar and defile the church life.
Those who destroy the church by building with natural things will be punished by God. According to verse 17, those who destroy God’s temple will be destroyed by Him. One aspect of God’s punishment is darkness. It certainly is a serious punishment not to have light and to remain in darkness. If you build the church with natural things, you will be in darkness. God punished Pharaoh with darkness, and He will also use darkness to punish the kingdom of Antichrist (Exo. 10:21-23; Rev. 16:10). This indicates that darkness is a serious punishment. All those who endeavor to bring their nature, being, and doings into the church will be left in darkness.
According to verses 13 through 15, our building work will be tested by fire. If our work remains, we shall receive a reward. But if our work is consumed, we shall suffer loss. I cannot say definitely what this judging fire is. However, in both the Old Testament and the New fire comes from God as a judgment. For example, Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, were judged by fire. In the book of Malachi we are told that the Lord will judge people by fire. In the same principle, fire from God will judge our work. Work that is of gold, silver, and precious stones will pass the test of fire. In fact, the more intense the fire is, the more refined these materials become. However, everything of wood, grass, and stubble will be consumed by fire. Whatever is done according to our nature, being, and natural doings will be burned by fire.
The Lord’s punishment has at least two aspects: darkness and burning. We ourselves may be in darkness, and our work may be burned to ashes. Often I have been in fear and trembling before the Lord, wondering if my work will remain. Many times I have asked myself if my work will pass the test of the Lord’s judging fire. We all should inquire whether our work brings us into the light or keeps us in darkness. Some of those who labored on the mission field can testify that the more they worked, the more they remained in darkness. This is a sign that their work was according to their nature, being, and human doings.
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