‘Let Each One Watch How He Builds’
THE Scriptures speak of Jehovah God as a builder or constructor. “Every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God.” They also speak of Christ Jesus as a builder. “On this rock-mass I will build my congregation, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Christ’s followers are spoken of as being both God’s building and his fellow workers: “For we are God’s fellow workers. You people are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.”—Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 3:9; Heb. 3:4, NW.
As to the activity of Christians in building the apostle Paul continues: “According to the undeserved kindness of God which was given to me, as a wise director of works I laid a foundation, but someone else is building on it. But let each one keep watching how he is building on it. For no man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood materials, hay, stubble, each one’s work will become manifest, for the day will show it up, because it will be revealed by means of fire, and the fire itself will prove what sort of work each one’s is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward; if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved; yet, if so, it will be as through fire.”—1 Cor. 3:10-15, NW.
To whom are these words addressed? Primarily “to the congregation of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in union with Christ Jesus, called to be holy ones, together with all who everywhere are calling upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ”. (1 Cor. 1:1, 2, NW) These, “God’s fellow workers,” by accepting Christ Jesus as their Savior and Redeemer and as their Exemplar have made him their foundation. Now it is up to each one to “keep watching how he is building on it [him]”.
They are to watch “how” they build, or the kind of building materials they are using; that is, what kind of hopes they build for themselves, what teachings they accept and preach, and what course of action they take. Clearly the gold, silver and precious stones would picture the right kind of hopes, teachings and activity, whereas the wood materials, hay and stubble would picture the wrong kind.
Christ Jesus gave many illustrations showing that at his return he would judge and reward his faithful followers. (Matthew chapter 25) Such Bible prophecies as Matthew chapter 24 and Revelation 11:15-18 show that he returned in 1914. However, the physical facts indicate that he did not begin to take an accounting with his followers until 1918; thus paralleling his work of cleansing the typical temple at Jerusalem and pronouncing judgment upon that nation three and a half years after his appearance as the Messiah.—Matt. 21:12, 13; 23:1-39; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Pet. 4:17.
Prior to that time Jehovah had a work done of preparing the way before the Lord, even as he commissioned John the Baptist to prepare the way before Jesus’ first advent. (Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 11:14; Luke 1:17) This preparatory work brought together a great number of Christians who professed to be dedicated to God, and to recognize Christ Jesus as their foundation.
However, coming from apostate religious systems these brought with them many beliefs and practices which were, in fact, just so much wood material, hay and stubble. Among such were the beliefs that it was necessary to develop a beautiful character to get to heaven and that that was a Christian’s chief duty; the notion that Christians must appear sanctimonious and pious, evincing more concern over what men thought than over what God thought; false teachings such as that the political powers of this wicked world were the “higher powers” of Romans 13:1 who must be obeyed even though they contradicted God’s expressed commandments; that a pile of stone in Egypt constituted a witness to Jehovah (Isa. 19:19, 20); that one imperfect man living in our day was repeatedly foretold in Bible prophecy; etc.
Among the Lord’s people at that time were two classes. One of these was building with the durable materials by humbly, sincerely and unselfishly serving God to the best of their ability and understanding. These had, however, some of the wood, hay and stubble with them. And then there was the other class, who were self-centered, proud and insincere. These were serving God solely for what they got or hoped to get.—2 Thess. 2:10-12.
As with the illustration of the wheat and the weeds, these two classes were permitted to continue alongside each other until the harvesttime, or time for judgment, which was foretold as the time of the Lord’s coming to his temple. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple. . . . But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness.” (Matt. 13:36-43; Mal. 3:1-3, AS) Similar prophecies are to be found at Zechariah 3:1, 2; 13:9.
What is this fire which will make manifest the kind of building that each one has done? Catholic theologians use this text, 1 Corinthians 3:15, to support their teaching of purgatory. But how could that be? Are we to understand that the gold, silver, precious stones, wood material, hay and stubble are to be taken literally? No? Then why view the fire as being literal? Logically, if all those substances were used to represent something else, then the fire also would represent something and would not refer to literal fire. It would picture something that exposed and destroyed the false hopes, false teachings and unchristian activities of those who were or professed to be Christians, God’s fellow workers, would it not?
And what was that? The facts show that the instrument that God used to destroy this worthless combustible material was and is the truth. Yes, the truth of God’s Word is pictured not only as a sharp sword, as hail and as a hammer, but also as fire. “Is not my word like fire? saith Jehovah; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Isa. 28:17; Jer. 23:29, AS; Heb. 4:12) This fire appeared as lightning flashes from God’s temple; bright shining truths which burned up the wood, hay and stubble. (Job 37:3; Rev. 11:19) The truth destroyed these things in the eyes of the faithful ones by exposing their unscripturalness, unreasonableness and folly.
Those whose hearts were honest were only too glad to get the increased light and to let go of the false teachings and wrong practices as soon as the fire brought them to their attention. They had no selfish affinity for such. They wanted their message to be as pure as Jehovah’s words, as silver purified in a furnace seven times. (Ps. 12:6, 7, AS; Isa. 12:1) Their chief concern was to have Jehovah’s approval and share in the vindication of his name.—Prov. 27:11.
On the other hand, those who had accepted “present truth” because of some selfish reason or motive, refused to let go of the wood, hay and stubble. It was these very things that had attracted them to the truth, and so they could not let go of them. They were too proud to admit that they had made mistakes; they were too self-centered to let go of the flattering occupations of character development and creature worship; they were too fearful of what Satan’s world could do to them to take an unequivocal and bold stand for God’s kingdom. So they, together with their hay, wood and stubble, perished as far as Jehovah’s organization was concerned. If they had let go of these things they might have been saved.—1 Cor. 3:15, NW.
The words of Paul which we have just considered not only are of prophetic interest to us, but announce a principle of Jehovah God which applies to all his creatures, not just to the remnant of the “body of Christ” which were on the earth at the time that the Lord came to his temple. Today there are a great number of professed Christians who are building with wood materials, hay and stubble; doing great works in Jesus’ name, but to whom he is going to say: “I never knew you at all. Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:23, NW.
These go to church on Sundays, occasionally or regularly, but have no conception of what the Bible teaches or what God requires of them. They hold to the trinity teaching even though Jesus said “the Father is greater than I am”, and that he was “the beginning of the creation by God”. (John 14:28; Rev. 3:14, NW) They believe and teach that man has an immortal soul, whereas the Bible plainly states that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”. (Ezek. 18:4) They further teach that sin’s penalty is eternal torment, whereas God plainly told Adam that because of his disobedience he would return to the dust, and Paul states that the “wages sin pays is death”.—Gen. 3:19; Rom. 6:23, NW.
Further, they believe that hundreds of millions, either at death or via purgatory, will go to heaven; whereas the Scriptures plainly teach that only comparatively few, a little flock of 144,000, will do so. (Matt. 7:13, 14; Luke 12:32; Rev. 14:1) They mix in with the politics and commercial schemes of this world, even though Jesus told his followers not to lay up treasures on earth and that they were to be no part of this world. (Matt. 6:19; John 15:19) They put the laws of man above the laws of God, although Jesus plainly commanded: “Pay back, therefore, . . . God’s things to God,” and the apostles stated, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Matt. 22:21; Acts 5:29, NW) They accept the evolution theory which makes void the Word of God, which Jesus plainly stated is the truth.—John 17:17.
Surely the false religious organizations of the world are building with combustible materials, which suffer damage now as the fire of truth strikes them, and which will be consumed entirely at the coming battle of Armageddon. Politicians and financiers also build with materials that cannot last beyond Armageddon.
In view of these facts let all men of good will bestir themselves. Let them investigate as to just what the Bible teaches, just what is the hope that God holds out for them, and just what his requirements are which must be met if they would realize that hope. Jehovah’s witnesses everywhere consider it a privilege to help all such sincere ones to build with the durable materials and to follow the apostle’s injunction: “Let each one keep watching how he is building.”—1 Cor. 3:10, NW.