Building With Fire-Resistant Materials
“Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw.”—1 CORINTHIANS 3:12, Today’s English Version.
1, 2. (a) What would be more painful than seeing one’s house burn to the ground? (b) What similar disappointment do Christian ministers sometimes experience?
IT IS certainly a pitiful sight when a beautiful house burns to the ground. How especially sad it would be if you had built it! To see all your time and effort go up in smoke would be painful indeed. And yet this pain is nothing compared to the hurt felt by the Christian parent whose son or daughter abandons the truth for the things of the world. Little could be more painful than seeing one’s child come to such spiritual ruin.
2 The feelings in the hearts of such parents may be somewhat similar to the disappointment that you as a Christian minister may have experienced. Perhaps you started a Bible study with an individual and then spent months or even years helping him to come to a knowledge of the truth. You see him attend meetings and even begin sharing in the field ministry. But then, suddenly, he weakens spiritually and becomes inactive, perhaps even returning to former bad practices. How disappointing!
3. Faced with such situations, what questions naturally arise, and upon what do the answers depend?
3 Sad to say, this happens from time to time. So it is only natural to ask: Why does it happen? Is there anything we can do about it? While the individual’s own heart condition may be a factor, to some extent the answers to those questions depend upon the answer to another question: When you teach others, are you building on a right foundation with fire-resistant materials? Our clearly understanding what this means and how to do it is a key in helping those we teach—our Bible students and our children—to stand firm in the truth.
Who Does the Building?
4. At 1 Corinthians 3:10, 11, to what does Paul liken the Christian minister, and how?
4 In answer, we turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 3, where Paul likens the Christian minister to a builder. We read: “According to the undeserved kindness of God that 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.”—1 Corinthians chapter 3 Verses 10, 11.
5. (a) According to the context, what kind of building work is Paul discussing? (b) In what sense does the Christian minister ‘build people’?
5 What kind of building work is Paul talking about? Well, note the context: “You people are . . . God’s building.” “You people are God’s temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16) So it is a figurative building work, one involving “people.” That is to say, the Christian minister ‘builds people’ in the sense that he endeavors to build up in interested persons a Christian personality, making disciples out of them.—Matthew 28:19, 20.
6, 7. (a) On whose responsibility do Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 focus? (b) Nevertheless, how is a joint building work involved? (c) What will a further consideration of Paul’s words help us to see?
6 Does that suggest that the Christian teacher has the sole responsibility for how the student develops? Not at all. In the first place, we are “God’s fellow workers.” While Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 focus on the responsibility of the one building, or teaching, really it is a joint building work in which the student also is involved. We might compare it to preparing a soldier for battle. Others may train and equip him, but once he is out in the battle the soldier must put up a fight, using what he has learned. His very life depends upon it! Similarly, the one teaching endeavors to build a genuine Christian, one able to resist the pressures and temptations of this system. At the same time, though, the student has a responsibility; he has to apply in his life what he learns.—Matthew 7:24-27; Philippians 2:12, 13.
7 Nevertheless, the fact remains that the one teaching has a weighty responsibility. As we further consider Paul’s words, we will see the importance of teaching God’s Word effectively so as to build in others appreciation for our heavenly Father.
Lay the Right Foundation
8. In this figurative building work, what is the foundation?
8 Before you can put up a building, you must first lay the foundation. So in the building work of making disciples, what is the foundation? Paul answers: “No man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11) Yes, the right foundation upon which we are to build is Jesus Christ.—Compare Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-6.
9. (a) In teaching others, what is involved in laying Christ as a foundation? (b) Why is it important for our Bible students to understand the whole truth about Jesus?
9 How can we lay Christ as a foundation when teaching others? To begin with, we must teach the truth about Jesus and help others to build their lives around that truth. That includes helping them to put faith in Jesus as our Helper and the One through whom Jehovah provides the ransom. (Matthew 20:28; 1 John 2:1, 2) But that is not all. Jesus Christ is the appointed head of the Christian congregation. (Colossians 1:18) He is also earth’s rightful King, and in that capacity he will soon “complete his conquest” at Har–Magedon. (Revelation 6:1, 2) Clearly, then, to lay Christ as a foundation involves teaching the whole truth about him, helping others to understand Jesus’ role in the outworking of God’s purpose. Why is this so important? If our students put faith in Jesus as God’s reigning King, they will not easily get disheartened over world conditions and the problems of daily living.—Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:6-8.
10. (a) According to Ephesians 3:17-19, what else is involved in laying Christ as a foundation? (b) How do we let Christ ‘dwell in our hearts’?
10 However, more is involved in laying Christ as a foundation. We should have the same aim as did the apostle Paul. His prayer for the Ephesians was that “the Christ dwell through your faith in your hearts with love; that you may be rooted and established on the foundation, in order that you may be thoroughly able to grasp mentally with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness that God gives.” (Ephesians 3:17-19) Notice that being “rooted and established on the foundation” involves having Christ ‘dwell in our hearts.’ What does this mean? Well, Christ ‘dwells in our hearts’ when we let his example and teachings affect our feelings and actions.
11, 12. (a) How can we help others to have Christ ‘dwell in their hearts’? (b) In addition to learning about Jesus, what else is involved?
11 How can we help those we teach to have Christ ‘dwell in their hearts’? Imparting knowledge is vital, for they are to “grasp mentally” “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the truth of God’s Word, particularly as it relates to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We want our students to acquire “the mind of Christ,” to know him thoroughly as a living, feeling person. (1 Corinthians 2:16) This will touch their hearts.
12 But notice that Paul also said: “And to know [Greek, gnonaiʹ, to know “practically, through experience”] the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge.” We can know Christ’s “love” by learning what the Bible tells us about his life course and the way he dealt with others. However, it is by imitating the kind of person Jesus is that we can genuinely appreciate his feelings. In this way, by experience, we come to know “the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge.”
13, 14. (a) How can we help our students to imitate Jesus’ qualities? (b) Why will trying to be like Jesus help our students to develop a good relationship with Jehovah? (c) In addition to the right foundation, to what else must we give attention?
13 So in laying the foundation, call attention to Jesus’ qualities—his love (John 15:13, 14), warmth and feeling (Matthew 11:28-30), humility (John 13:1-15) and compassion (Mark 6:30-34), to name a few. Encourage your student to imitate these qualities in his way of life. This will provide a fine foundation upon which to build other important qualities. At times, when discussing Bible accounts about Jesus, you may need to pause and ask: ‘What quality do you see Jesus displaying? How can you more fully display this quality in your life?’ Explain that imitating Jesus’ personality will help the Bible student to develop a strong, intimate relationship with Jehovah. How so? It is because Jesus so perfectly mirrored his Father’s personality that when we try to imitate Jesus we are actually imitating Jehovah himself!—John 14:9.
14 Having the right foundation is important, but is it enough? Paul answers: “But let each one keep watching how he is building on it.” Yes, what about the materials we use in erecting the structure that will rest on top of the foundation?
The Fire-Resistant Materials
15, 16. (a) At 1 Corinthians 3:12, what contrast is Paul evidently drawing? (b) Applying Paul’s illustration, what question is asked?
15 This brings us to verse 12 of 1 Corinthians chapter 3, where Paul discusses various building materials: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood materials, hay, stubble.” That is quite a variety of contrasting materials! Is Paul suggesting that we build a little of each into our students? Apparently not. Notice how some other translations put it: “Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw.” (TEV) “On this foundation you can build in gold, silver and jewels, or in wood, grass and straw.” (The Jerusalem Bible) So evidently Paul is contrasting two types of buildings. On the one hand there is, as it were, a beautiful palace adorned with gold, silver and precious gems. In contrast there is a thatch-roofed hut made with wooden boards or posts supporting walls of dried grass mixed with mud.
16 Applying Paul’s illustration, then, the question is: In teaching others, are you building “palaces” or “huts”? The reason why some youths and newer ones fall away may be that not all are built with the same materials. What is the difference? The situation in the ancient congregation in Corinth illustrates the difference between building with fire-resistant materials and flammable ones.
17, 18. (a) What serious problem existed in the congregation in ancient Corinth, and how did Paul set matters straight? (b) So what is a key factor in determining whether we are building with “gold” or “hay”?
17 Paul had done his part in laying the proper foundation, but apparently some in Corinth were building upon it with ‘wood, hay and stubble’—flimsy materials representing qualities that are not durable. (1 Corinthians 3:12) Thus, Paul had to write to the brothers there: “Dissensions exist among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘But I to Apollos,’ ‘But I to Cephas,’ ‘But I to Christ.’ The Christ exists divided.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13) So the members of the congregation were split into factions. And why? Because they attached too much importance to certain men. Paul set them straight, explaining: “What, then, is Apollos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers . . . I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow.”—1 Corinthians 3:5-7.
18 In short, the problem was this: Because they attached too much importance to following men, some members of the congregation in Corinth did not have a strong intimate relationship with Jehovah. This is a key factor in determining whether we are building with “gold” or “hay,” building “palaces” or “huts,” as it were.
19. (a) How might the one teaching inadvertently direct too much attention to himself or to another human? (b) If we want to build with ‘gold, silver and precious gems,’ what must we endeavor to do?
19 There is a valuable lesson to be learned from that. Some may say, ‘But I do not teach others to follow any man.’ However, this can easily happen even though we do not intend it. For example, if, when a student raises questions, we repeatedly say, ‘Brother (or Sister) So-and-so says, . . . ,’ might we inadvertently be directing too much attention to an imperfect man or woman? Or if, when questions are raised, we say, ‘Well, I’m not sure, but here is what I would say,’ might we unwittingly be attracting too much attention to ourselves? Remember, it is very easy for a student to develop an exalted opinion of his teacher. (Compare Acts 10:25, 26 and Revelation 19:10.) If we want to build “palaces,” we need to be on guard against building followers of men. Instead, we must help our students to develop a close relationship with Jehovah. To that end we must build with ‘gold, silver and precious gems.’ What do these represent?
20. What do the ‘gold, silver and precious stones’ represent? (Proverbs 3:13-15)
20 A comparison of such scriptures as Psalm 19:7-11, Proverbs 2:1-6 and 1 Peter 1:6, 7 shows that gold, silver and precious gems are at times used figuratively to represent qualities, such as strong faith, godly wisdom, spiritual discernment, loyalty, loving appreciation for Jehovah and his laws. Such qualities are essential to one’s having a strong intimate relationship with Jehovah God. These qualities make up the personality structure that we must endeavor to build in those we teach. Are you building in this way?
Will They Withstand the “Fire”?
21. (a) Why is it so important that we build durable qualities in those we teach? (b) What does the “fire” represent?
21 Why is it so important that we help to build such durable qualities in those we teach? The apostle Paul goes on to explain: “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.” (1 Corinthians 3:13) So the “fire” will “prove” in just what way we are building. What does the “fire” here represent? Violent physical persecution? Evidently not. For notice that “each one’s work” will be subjected to the “fire.” Not all Christians receive violent persecution. So the “fire” represents any of the pressures or temptations that could destroy one’s spirituality.
22. What are some of the fiery tests that some may experience?
22 For some the “fire” may come in the form of the neutrality issue. For example, some may be pressured to participate in political activities or face imprisonment. (John 15:19) At times the “fire” may be more subtle. Perhaps it is the temptation to watch movies or TV programs that feature sex and violence. For Christian youths the “fire” may come in the form of exposure to sexual provocation, invitations to take drugs or the pressure to share in the world’s degraded entertainment. The natural desire to be accepted by others can exert tremendous pressure on Christian youths to conform.—1 John 2:16.
23. (a) With regard to facing such tests, what questions are raised, and upon what do the answers depend? (b) What will be discussed in the next article?
23 Most true Christians have successfully withstood such fiery tests. Sad to say, however, others have not. Hence, we need to ask ourselves: When the ones we have taught face the “fire,” how will they fare? Will they be like that beautiful palace adorned with fire-resistant gold, silver and precious stones, and stand firm? Or will they be like that hut made of wood, hay and stubble, and burn up? Of course, much depends upon the student himself. At the same time, though, much also depends upon us as teachers—how we ourselves have built. So this question remains: How do you build such durable qualities in those you teach? This will be discussed in the next article.
Can you explain:
□ How a joint building work is involved in teaching others?
□ How you lay Christ as a “foundation”?
□ What can be learned from what happened in the congregation in ancient Corinth?
□ What the “fire” is, and how this emphasizes the importance of building durable qualities in others?
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When teaching others, are you building with fire-resistant or combustible materials?