Rewarded By Jesus

The work done by churches and Christians will one day stand in judgment before Christ, who will condemn and torch all works not built upon the foundation of Christ.


  • Pastor Mark Driscoll
  • 1 Corinthians 3:9b-15
  • February 19, 2006

Father God, I thank you that this church and the people in this church were purchased by the Lord Jesus through his death, burial and resurrection. And Father, we want to do a good job being the church. We want to do a good job serving this city. And to do that, we need wisdom. We need the Holy Spirit. We need the foundation of Jesus. We need a good plan.

And we need your help, so we’re asking for your help today, that you would instruct us as to the big picture of how we can be the church that you intend for us to be, and specifically what that means for each of us individually, and the part that you would have for us to play for that to happen. We ask that our time would be focused on Jesus; that the Holy Spirit would come to teach us and lead us and guide us and empower us and convict us, as we ask these things in Jesus’ good name. Amen.

Well, as we get into it today we’re gonna be talking a lot of church business, quite frankly. Some things that maybe many of you don’t think are all that important because it’s the inner workings and the nuts and bolts and the details of church life. But I think it’s important that you see the church from the perspective of a pastor. I think that’s what Paul is trying to do in 1 Corinthians. The people in the church don’t have an accurate understanding of the whole church. They only see their part, and so he wants to give them a broader perspective. He wants them to see the church from his perspective so that they have the same heart and the same devotion to the church that he does.

Different churches put themselves together in different ways. And if they do a good job organizing themselves, then money is well-spent, and people are well-served, and things run efficiently, and new people meet Jesus, and people grow in their faith, and good things happen.

And if it’s not a church that’s architected well, what happens is just like a home that’s not architected well, eventually it collapses and people get hurt. And this is really important business. I know some of you are here because you’ve come from churches that weren’t well-architected and they fell apart. There were church splits, fights, immorality, bad use of money, and people got hurt. Some people spiritually just got destroyed. And this is important because if a church is not well-architected – if it’s not put together well – and things fall apart, the reputation of Jesus is really harmed. People think very lowly of Jesus. And also what happens is that people get hurt.

And because of our love for Jesus and our love for people, we want to do a good job being a trustworthy, well-architected, well-put-together church. And that’s what Paul is talking about today. And he lays out six principles.

And so we’re talking about us as a church today and some very important principles for how we do life together. The first is in chapter 3:9, and that’s where Paul begins. “For we are God’s fellow workers, and you are God’s field, God’s building.” We looked at the metaphor of God’s field last week, and this week we’ll focus on that metaphor of God’s building. And he says that the people in the church and the church itself belong to God. And this may seem obvious, but we have to start there.

Churches – even if they’re in a denomination, they don’t belong to the denomination. Churches, if they have a lot of pastors, don’t belong to the pastors. Churches, if they have a lot of people, don’t belong to the people. Churches that have some very generous donors that make most of the things happen are not controlled and owned and the possession of those donors. We each belong to God – to God. What that means, that God is the most important person in this church and in our lives; that our goal is to obey God and to honor God and to serve God and to worship God.

And it doesn’t matter what the majority says, and it doesn’t matter what the critics might say; that the real question is what does God want for us as a people? We obtain that by reading Scripture and praying and looking at history, because there are other faithful Christians that God has used, and we want to learn from their example. And ultimately it’s seeking what God would have for us as a church, individually and collectively. Ultimately, this church belongs to God. Ultimately it belongs to God alone, as do we individually as a people.

Beginning from that, he’s established the question of ownership. Now he’s going to refer to the church as a building, and then it comes the question of architecture. And if you’re an architect you know how important architecture is. If you live in a junky, dumpy, falling-apart place, you know how important an architect is. The architect of any building or organization is absolutely critical, okay, because if the architect doesn’t do their job well, eventually organizations, relationships, companies, churches, whatever it might be that needed to be architected, collapses.

So Paul says that in verse 10, the first half: “By the grace God has given to me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder.” And I was reading Paul’s words on this, and it struck me that he said it as plainly as he did. He says this: “I’m a good architect. I know how to build churches – systems, policies, procedures – develop leaders, raise money, find buildings, do real estate, disseminate small groups. I know how to do that; I’m really good at that.” And it sounds at first glance kind of arrogant, doesn’t it? I mean I always have this reticence to tell you I know how to do my job, because then you’ll think I’m arrogant. But if I tell you I don’t know how to do my job, then you’ll leave.

So it’s really the horns of a terrible dilemma as a pastor. If you get up and say, “You can trust me. I know what I’m doing.” “Oh, he’s arrogant!” “You shouldn’t trust me. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Well, then you leave. It’s like those are hard options. The truth is that every church needs to have a leader, a senior leader, like Paul, who can architect a church. Okay, what this means is some of you come from smaller churches where the pastor works in the church, not on the church. So if you call, they answer the phone. If you drive by, they’re mowing the lawn. They’re making the photocopies for the bulletin, right? If you need something, you can just go to their house or call them or just get right to them, and they’re available. They’re working in the church.

What Paul is talking about is leaders in the church need to also work on the church. Systems, policies, procedures – actually being aware that there are state laws, and we need to abide by them so we don’t end up doing prison ministry from the inside, right – and being aware of these things. And this is the not sexy, not cool, not fun, laborious, really hard part of ministry. Singing, that would be cool. Teaching, leading, that’s cool. You know, charts and graphs and by-laws and sub-points and legalities and technicalities and indemnification insurance – most of you are like “Uh! Them is big words!” I know.

I know; them is big words. And they’re scary words, like litigation and jail time, right? Those are big, scary words. So we need to pay attention to those words.  

Paul says this church belongs to God, and that an expert builder, a good architect, is needed if we’re to do anything. And then he goes on at the end of verse 10 and says that “someone else is building on it,” that someone else is exercising the plan, “But each should be careful how he builds.”

So now he’s getting to the construction crew that actually builds the church. You are the construction crew. There are deacons that help manage the crew, and you are the crew. And what he says is that we each need to be careful how we build, so I would ask you, you know, what are your skills, talents, abilities? What are your capacities? What does he have for you to do? What is your contribution? You need to be careful how you build. What that means is you need to get to know us, and we need to get to know you, if you’re not already connected.

So he says you gotta be careful how you build. What I would say to you is be careful what church you commit to. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure you have trust. Make sure that you feel that it’s put together in a wise way. And then when you do serve, serve wisely, serve well. What that means is that we all need to be first getting our plan from the Holy Spirit through prayer and Scripture. At every point in the church where we are growing, I always go find a church that’s ahead of us – a number of churches that are ahead of us, that are more mature, bigger, more effective. And I’ll get on a plane and I’ll go bug their pastor.

Read every book I can find. Read church history. Study everything. You know, and some of it is really important. He then goes forward in verse 11 and talks from the owner of the building to the architect of the building to the foundation of the building. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And here’s what he’s saying: at the bottom of everything has to be Jesus. You can have a nice kids’ ministry, a nice singles’ ministry, a nice high school, junior high, small groups, women’s, men’s, retreats, conference – you can have all kinds of great things. But they all need to be built on Jesus Christ. That apart from that, they’ll fall apart. Apart from that, eventually it’ll go sideways.

A church can’t be built on a personality. It can’t be built on a tradition. It can’t be built on anything other than Jesus Christ. And I know this seems obvious, but the sad truth is, it is not common. There are churches that are just built on Jesus, but there are other churches that are built on style, or personality, or musical preference, or small groups, or programming. I was talking to a friend of mine, and he’s a pastor. He’s going out to plant a church. He’s a great guy. And he said there was a very successful church in his area. He was in with a few hundred other pastors for training a few weeks ago.

And so he went to visit this very successful church, honestly wanting to just see how they do things so he could learn how to be a better architect and build a better church. And he said what broke his heart is through the whole service – the singing, the service, the altar call, the offering – the name of Jesus was never spoken once; not once. A whole church, you know, and the church is the Bride of Christ. I couldn’t imagine if my wife never said my name. You know, for Jesus to say, “There’s my bride” – the bride never says the name of the groom. Tragic!

He said this pastor preached a whole sermon; at the end, said, “If you would like to go to Heaven and have all your sins forgiven, here’s what you do,” and he never said “Jesus.” What? Let me just make this as plain as I can: Jesus is our God. He came down as a human being. He lived a life without sin in our place. He died as a substitute in our place for our sins. Three days later he rose. He’s now ascended in Heaven. We worship him. We pray to him. We follow him. The Bible is about Jesus. Our life is about Jesus. Our church is about Jesus.

And we have lots of ministries – we have small groups, but the small groups are about Jesus. We have a premarital process, but the premarital processes connect couples to Jesus. We have a marital training, but that’s to allow couples to worship, love, serve, obey Jesus. We have a kids’ ministry; the whole point is that the kids would meet and love and know and follow and serve Jesus. I mean the bottom line for everything truly is Jesus. And there may be some things we get wrong, and I’m consciously aware of my own failures, faults, flaws, shortcomings, the problems in this church, the areas needing maturity. But boy, this is the most important thing of all – that everything is about Jesus, and everything is built on Jesus.

And then he moves from that to talk about different materials used. He begins in verse 12: “If any man builds on this foundation” – of Jesus – “using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his 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” – he says – “of each man’s work.” Get a sip of water; throat is dying. But what he’s talking about here is materials, okay? How many of you have lived in a place that was not built with good materials? How many of you are right now. Cutting-edge balsa wood framing; aluminum foil siding; you know, you’re like, “What a heap this is!” You can tell when something has been built with good materials, quality materials. It lasts. It endures. It holds up. You can tell when something has just been thrown together. The materials are not good. The workmanship is not good.

And maybe the house goes up, or the building goes up, but it’s not gonna be there for a long time. What Paul is saying is that churches need to be built with good materials – and I’m not talking just about the physical building, though that’s part of it. What I’m talking about is the systems, the policies, the procedures, the programs, the leadership development, the accountability, the discipline of sin, the protection of people from stalkers and sex offenders who want to come in and do evil, or false teachers who have all kinds of crazy ideas.

That the church is architected in such a way that there are good things in place to make the church healthy, solid, and enduring.

Okay – then he talks about final inspection. Now, if some of you are contractors, builders, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, you know final inspection, right? If you’ve ever had a home improvement project done, you get a permit. You hire an architect. You get a permit. You deploy a crew. They do the job. At the end of it, the inspector comes. You hold your breath, and you hope that he signs you off so you actually, can use what you’ve built. The metaphor he uses here is that Jesus is like a building inspector. And I love this, because my dad was a union drywaller till he broke his back, and now he’s a building inspector, so this is like, “This reminds me of my dad.”

Building inspector – the guy who shows up, and all of you tradesmen hate him, because he red-tags you and shuts you down. And this is what he talks about Jesus regarding churches in verse 14. “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” I’ll make one quick theological point and move on. The Catholic church teaches that this verse teaches the doctrine of purgatory. This is actually the primary verse for the doctrine of purgatory.

It doesn’t teach purgatory. When you die, you go to Heaven or hell. They teach there’s this third option. You go to purgatory, and that there you’re sort of purified through trial and fire, and that you grow in holiness until you’re ready for Heaven. Well, Hebrews says it’s appointed once for a man to die, then for judgment. You go to Heaven or hell. And this concept here of fire is not a fire of purifying you. It’s also not a fire of hell. It’s a fire of testing – that’s what he says. That here’s what happens: people live their life, churches live their life, and you don’t really get your report card till the end. You stand before Jesus, like inspection day, and he tells you how you did.

And that testing is like a fire. And what he’s saying is: if you haven’t had a good plan for your life – and your church hasn’t had a good plan for its ministry – that at the end there’ll be a fire. And only those things, lives and churches, that were well-architected, well-built, with good materials, pass through and get approved. The rest just burn up, right?  

It’s like you get a house built, and the guy says, “Oh, it’ll withstand an earthquake!” Well, you really don’t know till you’ve had an earthquake. And if it’s still up, it was well-built. And if it collapses, it was poorly constructed.

Our lives and churches are like that – poorly or wisely constructed. Built with wisdom and good things, or built with folly and shortcuts. And your life goes through that, and there’s a testing. Here’s exactly what he’s saying: that there will be churches at the end that the people will be saved – they’re not gonna lose their salvation and go to hell. He says they will be saved, but they’ll pass through the fire.  

And so there will be a judgment. To be honest with you, I get frustrated sometimes because people in churches seem to just get away with murder – just do terrible things. And you think, “Gosh, is there no justice?” There will be one day. One day it’s all gonna get straightened out. One day it’s all gonna get judged. One day it will all be made known for what it truly is. So you and I need to wait for that day, and be organizing our lives and participating in our church anticipating that day of judgment.

And what he’s teaching here is if what he has built survives – verse 14 – he will receive his reward, okay? Let me tell you this: there is a reward for those people in churches who are faithful. Jesus says this in Matthew 6; he says if you tithe generously and you’re good with your money, God will reward you. If you pray faithfully and you intercede for others, God will reward you. And if you fast for the needs of others in God’s Kingdom, God will reward you. Three times in Matthew 6, Jesus gives specific examples by money and fasting and prayer that God does reward. God does reward, and I’m telling you this: your reward may not be instantaneous.

It may not be till that day, the day when you finish your life, and you do your ministry, and you stand before Jesus. And Jesus looks at you and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And you don’t want to be that guy who’s standing before Jesus in the end, he looks at you, and he says, “It’s all gonna burn. I’m gonna still let you in; you’re my kid. But what you gave your time to, your money to, your energy to – what you gave your life to, the family you built, the company you built, the ministry you built, the church you participated in – that all is just trash. It’s not fit for my Kingdom, and it is not going to make it. It’s just all gonna burn. I still love you, but everything you’ve given yourself to was a waste.”

Now, that is a sober day. That’s a day that I want us all to avoid. I want us individually to stand before Jesus, hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Here’s your reward.” Now, between here and there means architecting, serving, giving, foundation of Jesus, doing things with excellence – just like he’s talking about. Now, some of you are struggling with this because you say, “Hey, I thought it was all about grace. This seems like works.” It is about works – and grace.

Let me put this together for you. Jesus did tell us that we would be rewarded. In 1 Corinthians 3:8, previously, Paul said that each would be rewarded according to his works. So you think about it. You become a Christian, and you’re faithful with your life, you get rewarded. If you’re unfaithful, you get a different reward. Some of you say, “Well, wait, wait, wait – I thought we were saved by grace.” Well, here’s the deal: there is in Revelation 20:12 a judgment of works for the non-Christians. They will be punished in varying degrees, depending upon how much evil they did. Just like you and I will be rewarded in varying degrees, depending upon how faithful we were.

It says in Revelation 14:13 that for those who are Christians, that their good deeds – that their good works – will follow them into Heaven, right? That they’ll pass through that testing flame. Some of you believe, “I am saved by grace,” and that is true. Okay, if you’re here today and you think that by being a good person, moral person, religious person, working hard, that God’s gonna love you and you’re gonna make it to Heaven, that is not how it works. You’re saved by grace. Jesus lived the life. Jesus died the death. Jesus accomplished the victory through his resurrection. Jesus takes away sin. Jesus is God.

It’s Jesus who saves you, not yourself. And he gives you salvation as a gift of grace. That’s true – that’s true. But – but – his saving grace then includes empowering grace that enables you to live a life of good works and faithfulness, okay? Most Christians think, “I’m saved. I’m done.” No. “I’m saved. I begin.” So what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, 9, 10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. This is a gift of God through Jesus; not of ourselves that we can boast.” And then he says, “To do the good works that God appointed in advance for us to do.”

We’re saved by grace, and then empowered by grace to do good works of ministry. This is the same thing Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:10: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder.” Paul says, “I’m good at building churches, by the grace that God gives me.” See, now he’s really not being arrogant. He’s saying, “God has enabled me to do a good job, so I do a good job.” That’s humble confidence, saying that God’s empowering grace enabled him to do a good job. He says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15:10 at the end of the book. He says this: “I worked really hard, and I got a lot done, but it wasn’t me. It was the grace of God which empowered and enabled me to serve God and do a good job.” So it’s still grace.

So let me ask you this: Jesus came back today. You got hit by a car. You’re standing before him on inspection day. How does it go? Is it a great day? Do you say, “You know what, by God’s grace, I feel like I’m serving him. I feel like my money, my time, my talent, my treasure, my love for my church, my service – I’m not perfect, I’m a sinner, but I have been changed. And I am excited, and I do feel like God has allowed me to be faithful, and I’ll hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful.’” Or are some of you thinking, “That would be a tragic day, because there’s a lot of things I’ve put off.

“My relationships, my money, my ministry service – there’s a lot of things in my life that just, quite frankly, are not well-architected. I haven’t put a lot of work into. They’re kind of shoddily, haphazardly put together, and they’re not gonna pass through that testing flame at the end, and it’s gonna burn. My business, my relationships, my marriage, my ministry – it’s just gonna burn. Because it really is not a faithful, empowered by grace, service to Christ, like he desires.”

I want us, as a church, to be an empowered by grace, faithful, humble, competent, capable, excellent church – excellent church. I believe that we have a wonderful opportunity to serve a wonderful city. I believe we have a wonderful opportunity to serve that city on behalf of Jesus Christ. I believe that you and I are here on divine appointment, all necessary – our dollars, our prayers, our service, our participation is incredibly important. And that every one of us is necessary to accomplish all of the things that Jesus would have for us.

But it comes down to individual people assessing themselves and asking, “Am I being faithful? Have I really even picked a God yet?” Do you know Jesus? Have I picked a church? Is this my home, or should I be elsewhere? Have I picked a ministry? Where will I serve? Where should I plug in? Have I picked the money that God would have me to give? Have I picked the prayers that God would have given me to pray? Have I picked the people that God has given me to serve, and done my part?

This is a crucial time for us as a church. It’s not a sales pitch or a guilt, but what it is: it’s the honest declaration that unless you see the church from the perspective of a pastor, and the massive church that we’re trying to build, and all of the people that we’re trying to care for, and all of the dollars that we’re trying to steward, and all of the responsibilities that we’re trying to execute, the result will be a bunch of people who don’t really have the heart of Jesus for their city, and don’t really have the heart of a pastor for their church.

So I give you a chance to respond today in prayer – become a Christian, give your sin to Jesus, ask him to forgive you – he will. If you’re a Christian who feels encouraged, I want you to thank Jesus for his empowering grace and the fruit you are seeing in your life. If you are a Christian who feels convicted because you really don’t think much about your church, you really don’t think much about ministry, you really don’t think much about Jesus, then this is a wonderful opportunity to have a change of heart and mind and direction, and to let God’s grace empower you and enable you to do differently.

When you’re ready to partake of communion, remembering Jesus body and bloodshed for sin; when you’re ready, you give of tithes and offerings as God has apportioned you to give. And then we’ll sing and we’ll celebrate that this is all about Jesus, and we’ll honor him. And that’s why we exist as a church.

And so Jesus, I do thank you for these people and this church. There may be things that we wish were different, but if we’re obedient to you, that’s what matters. And Jesus, I pray for us as leaders – me and the other pastors and deacons – that we would be good architects, thinking strategically, continually, about how most effectively to do the best job that we can. And Jesus, I pray for the people in this church who serve and give, that they would do an excellent job. That they would build carefully. And Jesus, I pray that our foundation would always be you. That it would be about you. I pray that the materials, the policies, systems, procedures, ideas – the way we do things – would be done with excellence, and that they would stand the test of time, and that this church wouldn’t just collapse, it wouldn’t fall apart, it wouldn’t get off to a great start and a tragic demise. But Jesus, we would finish our race. That we would complete the task of building this church, and that people would meet you, and that by your grace they would be saved. And by your grace they would be empowered. And by your grace, they one day, too, would hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So Jesus, we thank you. We give ourselves to you. Amen.

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Mark Driscoll

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