9th Sun. after Pent. Aug.22, 2021; 1Cor.3:9-17 “Building Principles”
In today’s epistle we hear Paul describing our short journey here on planet earth as a building project. This is something I can relate to as for much of my life I have been involved in some aspect of building. I thought that period of my life was behind me, but lately it seems it has once again caught up to me. The very first verse in today’s epistle says, “you are God’s field/building.” Then St. Paul explains the starting point for any building is the foundation, and that the only foundation for our lives that has any permanence is Jesus Christ! Without a proper foundation, all our labour becomes pointless.
I spent several years as a home inspector, and one thing I learnt was that all well built homes started with a good blueprint and were built by disciplined builders who understood good building practise. Pretty much every problem you encounter when doing a home inspection is the result of someone taking a short cut or simply not understanding the proper method for building a home, and instead doing their own thing. A home without a good solid foundation often needs to be bulldozed and a new building built on a new solid foundation erected in its place. It is very sad when a lovely looking home has a crumbling foundation. Whitewashed tombs come to mind and describes perfectly a life without Christ!
When architects and engineers set out to create a set of blueprints, they follow the boundaries set down in the national and provincial building codes. However, before they are permitted to stamp their first set of blueprints and working drawings, they have spent at least 7 years in school learning how to interpret the building codes, reading hundreds of books and taking dozens of courses. Then when they first graduate, they are often considered to be a very special menace, as they have much head knowledge but little practical experience. However, all builder types and architects need the whole team to complete the building successfully. One trade that doesn’t care or have the experience can really mess up the building. Ideally the fresh graduates are teachable and trained by the experienced. This is also how the body of Christ works, we all need each other. We all have different gifts and skills within this body. If one member doesn’t come through, the whole body suffers. Experience counts.
The essential textbook the “Building code” from which to learn the proper principles and create the blueprint for our lives is the Bible. But the writings of the fathers, the ecumenical councils, the teachings we receive from living experienced brothers and sisters; all these serve to help us understand and correctly interpret it, to guide us in living a Christian life. Try to interpret the building code or the bible on your own and you will surely end up with a twisted mess! The Church’s services; Vespers, Matins, feast days and the Divine Liturgy are the classroom where we absorb the true building code for Christian construction. We learn to create a proper blueprint, and we build according to these instructions.
It is Church Tradition that teaches us how to correctly understand and interpret the scriptures, and correctly apply them to the unique building that is our lives, so we will be able to withstand the severe storms, trials and tribulations that crash against us. Our building is destined to go through some heavy weather that will test our structure to its foundation – Jesus Christ! As we attend the Church’s services, these lessons are written on our heart, and we are strengthened. In the Divine Liturgy, we encounter Christ Himself and experience the fullness of the kingdom. That which has been faithfully handed down through the centuries, is of priceless value and is lovingly passed down to us, the next generation of builders. We need to continually apply these time honoured and tested principles in building a solid God-pleasing life. As we put in the effort to “attend class” to apply ourselves intentionally to growing and developing the mind and heart of Christ, we will find ways to apply these ancient time-tested principles to new situations in our present lives and the modern culture in which we live. An experienced roofer takes the rather simple but unchangeable principles of roofing. – water flows downhill, and blockages create dams which leak; and applies them to both familiar and new roofing projects. Without this fundamental understanding, the winds and the rains will beat upon the house, rot will set in, and great will be its fall. There are many basic fundamental principles we need to understand in order to build our spiritual building as well. Christ is the source of all truth – whether the world recognizes this or not. Orthodoxy is Paradoxy – any new trend needs to square with Christian belief.
These essential principles though simple must be followed, or disaster will soon appear in both building practises and in building our spiritual houses. St. Paul says, (1 Cor. 3:11) “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” You can put a beautiful looking building with the very best of materials and workmanship on a bad foundation and all of that wonderful work and effort will end up in a rubble pile when the foundation fails. This is the end result of many beautiful looking new age spirituality practices built on human potential hopes, some supposedly enlightened guru figure, the world’s wisdom, or even worse on a counterfeit “Christ.”
St. Paul then goes on to talk about the materials we may use to build upon the solid foundation of Christ. He says some will build with (1 Cor. 3:12) “gold, silver and precious stones” a wonderful and skilful work, whereas others of us will choose to build with those materials that are perhaps more readily available and convenient, less costly and requiring less sacrifice and work; “wood, hay and straw.”
God will work with us as much as we allow, and be by our side as we work, but in the end, this building we construct will be examined and tested for what we in the home inspection world call “service life” – that is, just how durable and long lasting will this building be? Here we are shooting for an eternal service life! This takes eternal God supplied materials and choices as we build. Eternal gold, silver and precious stones.
When is the best time to work on this eternal building project? When we are young, we have so many demands on our lives, new families, careers to build, places to see, things to do, how do we ever find the time for reading the scriptures and the Fathers, for prayer, almsgiving, works of charity and for building that spiritual building? Even making it to Church once a week can seem to qualify as a major miracle! We can tell ourselves that later, when we have a little saner lifestyle; we’ll have more time. When we get older however, our habits are now in place. It takes effort and discipline to form new habits, and life and the devil make sure there is still plenty to keep us otherwise occupied. Beware of “later.”
We are told very clearly in today’s epistle that there will come a day when our building will be inspected very thoroughly. It will be tested with fire. The image of fire is used often in the scriptures and in the writings of the Fathers. It is a great destructive force, but also a great cleansing force. It only destroys that which is of no real value, allowing to shine forth with great brilliance, that which is of true and everlasting worth. Only truth and love will survive this glorious fire!
St. Paul gives us great news regarding the outcome of the testing of fire for each of us as we build upon the solid foundation of Jesus Christ! (1 Cor.3: 13-15) …the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” We will greatly rejoice for the times when we dug down a little deeper and sacrificed to spend time and energy on the things of lasting value in the kingdom of God. Praying, fasting, giving Alms, works of charity, doing whatever is full of God-pleasing love… these are the gold and silver and precious stones which are not touched by the fire. They shine gloriously. We will receive our reward.
But what about all those wasted opportunities? Those times when we just didn’t take the time, when we chose to indulge ourselves rather than sacrifice a little, or even did a good thing, but just for our own glory and reputation? As these, our works of wood, hay and straw are burnt up, we will suffer great loss and regret that we did not make better decisions and dedicate more of our time and riches towards the things of the kingdom of God. But still we have hope as St. Paul tells us that if we are building on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, we will still be saved.
For He is a good God; He loves us and all of mankind!