Paul wants us to build the “building” of the “house” of our own personal spiritual lives on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ (v.11, 12) so that your house can withstand the storms of life (cf. Mt. 7:24-29). But it’s also important what you build your house with (v. 12).
You say, “Who builds a house with things like gold?” Solomon! He built the temple with it (I Ki. 6:17-21), and that house was a type of what God will someday make the house of Israel into (Rev. 3:12). That’s the living temple of God He had in mind when He said He’d live in the Jews (II Cor. 6:16).
But that wasn’t God’s only house of people. Paul told Timothy about a “house” that was “the church, which is His Body” (Eph. 1:22, 23). That’s God’s other house of people, and it’s also the other house He wants us to build on the foundation of Christ! It’s a house made up of all the individual spiritual houses of the members of Christ’s Body. God wants us to build up their houses as well as our own.
This “great house” of the Body contains vessels made of gold and silver (II Tim. 2:20). A vessel is a container used to carry things (Ge. 43:11). Ships are called vessels because they carry cargo. God put the cargo of the gospel in us (II Cor. 4:3-7) expecting us to carry it to others, as He did Paul (Acts 9:15).
And He doesn’t want the vessel carrying His salvation dishonored by sin (I Thes. 4:3, 4), like the vessels of dishonor in II Timothy 2:20. And when Paul talks about honorable vessels of gold and silver in the context of rewards in our text, that tells us the personal conduct of our testimony is the first thing God plans to reward. Not because our sin hurts Him—Christ paid for that hurt!—but because it hurts the gospel.
But the gospel isn’t the only thing God wants you carrying in your vessel to others. To build up the spiritual house of other believers, you have to carry Pauline truth to them. If you fail, you are a vessel of dishonor. We know this because the “these” Paul says you have to purge to be a vessel of honor (II Tim. 2:20-22) are dispensational errors (2:16-18).
God plans to test our works for wood, hay and stubble like that (I Cor. 3:13) at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10) with the “fire” of God’s Word (Jer. 23:29) to see what “sort” it is. “Sort” means kind (cf. Deut. 22:11). God is going to judge the quality of your work when the fire of His word burns up your wood and hay, and leaves the gold and silver that can “abide” the fire still standing (I Cor. 3:14, 15).
He won’t put you in the fire. He did that when He identified you with Christ on the Cross and His fire fell on Him for your sins. So your sins will only be judged as they affect your work. The word “wrong” in Colossians 2:22-25 doesn’t mean servants will be punished for their sins at the Judgment Seat. It means they’ll suffer a loss of reward for being bad servants. The wages of sin is death, not a loss of reward!
All believers will suffer that loss for the “bad” work they’ve done as servants of the Lord (II Cor. 5:10). “Bad” doesn’t mean sinful (cf. Num. 13:20; Jer. 24:2; Mt.13:48), it means we did a bad job building up the church. A bad carpenter doesn’t follow the blueprints, and a bad believer doesn’t follow the blueprints for the church found in Paul’s epistles.
A believer who does a good job building according to Paul’s blueprints will be rewarded with a “crown” (I Cor. 9:25) so he can “reign” with Christ (II Tim. 2:12) over the angels (I Cor. 6:3). God wants us to run so we can reign at the highest possible level (I Cor. 9:25-27). Paul compares the Judgment Seat to Olympic games like that because it will be a joyous day, not a somber day, like when sinners are judged and sent to the lake of fire. The “terror” we’ll know in that day is the kind Israel had just standing in God’s presence, when He wasn’t even mad (Ex. 20:18-20). The “mercy” Onesiphorus will need is the kind Israel got when God didn’t leave the Jews in captivity (Ezr. 9:9), the loss-of-reward kind.
But our motivation to serve the Lord isn’t rewards, it’s the love Christ showed in dying for us, as Paul went on to say (II Cor. 5:14, 15). But the foundation of your spiritual house can’t burn, because it is the rock-solid foundation of Christ. So even if all your work burns at the Judgment Seat, you’ll still be saved in that day “yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:15).
Video of this sermon is available on YouTube: The Builder and His Building – 1 Corinthians 3:12-15