Friday, April 01, 2011

Still Learning... 1 Corinthians 3:10-17

In our back yard
Everyone has a worldview. Even the idea that everyone does not have a worldview is itself a worldview, and an indefensible one at that since it would be self-contradictory.

Forty-one years ago I entered the Christian Theistic Narrative. I knew precious little about God and Jesus. I did know this: I once was on drugs, and now am free. And have been since.

Enter a worldview and begin to understand the noetic framework and you will have questions. Every worldview generates a set of questions, sometimes followed by more questions. Questions are beyond-OK. They are inevitible. Never abandon a worldview that has rescued you because you have unanswered questions.

Learning takes place within one's worldview. Some things are totally discarded. Some intra-Christian beliefs I had years ago, which I thought formed structurally supporting beams, have been removed. Honestly, some of this happens weekly. It just happened again.

I'm preaching on April 10 out of 1 Corinthians 3:10-17. Which reads:

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

I'd always interpreted these verses as applying to individual Jesus-followers. Today I see clearly that they do not. This text has nothing to do with individual rewards or losses. Paul is saying, in context and following from his letter to now, the following.
  • Paul laid a foundation. That foundation is "Christ crucified."
  • Preachers and teachers (= building supervisors) are to build with imperishable materials, rather than perishable materials.
  • This who build with iperishable materials will be rewarded.
  • But other teachers and preachers are building on that foundation with cheap materials.
  • On Judgment Day this cheap superstructure will be burned up.
  • So this is not about individual Jesus-followers. It’s about preachers and teachers who are building stuff that worships human leaders and human rhetoric and oratory.
  • God is going to hold these people (i.e., the builders) accountable.
Gordon Fee explains: "This paragraph “has suffered much in the church, from those who would decontextualize it in terms of individualistic popular piety (i.e., how I build my own Christian life on Christ).” (Fee, 1C, 136) And, certain Protestants “have used it as grist for the Calvinist-Arminian debate over the security of the believer.” (Fee, 1C, 137) Paul does not address these issues, not even indirectly. “His concern is singular, that those currently leading the church take heed because their present work will not stand the fiery test to come, having shifted from the imperishable “stuff” of Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (Fee, 1C, 137) Those who have built well will be rewarded, and those who have not will not be rewarded. The reward is not heaven or salvation. It is the sort of heavenly rewards that Jesus talks about. See Matt. 5:12.

Ben Witherington writes: “The testing by fire on J-Day will show whether the superstructure is perishable or imperishable... The purpose of eschatological fire will be to test or prove the strength and endurance of the superstructure." (1 Corinthians, 134)

And N.T. Wright:  "The emphasis if the passage is therefore still on those who build up this Temple, and on the danger not just that they will build with the wrong materials but that they will actually pull the building down altogether... Faulty builders... may get away with 'singed eyebrows' when the fire comes. But destroyers may end up being destroyed in their turn." (Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, 37)

What about individual Jesus-followers? They do well to:
  • focus on the 1-thing foundation and resolve to know it - Christ crucified.
  • don't follow preachers and teachers who depart from this foundation.
  • don't buy into the cult of personality that surrounds some teachers and preachers, where people become more eneamored with them and their sophia rather than the upside-down sophia of God.
Still learning...