During the first century, a spirit of favoritism began to spread throughout the church at Corinth. Based upon verses 4-7, some church members were elevating Apollos and Paul to god-like status. To nip this in the butt by preventing others from taking similar stances, Paul explains the role that leaders and preachers play in the spiritual growth of their flock. As individuals share their faith or reach out to the lost, spiritual seeds are sown. However, it is God who waters and makes these seeds grow.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is [already] laid, which is Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). 12 But if anyone builds upon the Foundation, whether it be with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 The work of each [one] will become [plainly, openly] known (shown for what it is); for the day [of Christ] will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done, 1 Corinthians 3:11-13.
Fearful that some had already selfishly taken credit for winning souls to Christ, Paul uses an analogy to set people straight about spiritual rewards. Building upon the apostle’s teaching of 1 Peter 1:6-7, Paul refers to the refining process. This test will expose hidden agendas, motives and personal goals. After everything has been uncovered and laid bare, only those rewards built on the foundation of Christ will last. Anything else will become like dust in the wind, quickly vanishing from sight.
If the work which any person has built on this Foundation [any product of his efforts whatever] survives [this test], he will get his reward. 15 But if any person’s work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward], though he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire, 1 Corinthians 3:14-15.
The above passage appears to parallel Hebrews 10:26-27 with a different focus. While the author of Hebrews 10 blames addiction to sin for just barely getting into heaven, Paul eludes to those who will enter heaven without a reward. To avoid experiencing a spiritual Christmas in heaven without any gifts under the tree, Paul addresses which rewards will last. Just as Galatians 5:16-17 warns Christians about sinful desires, eternal rewards are accumulated by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. Thus, as hearts, minds and souls look upward, these heavenly treasures will survive.
by Jay Mankus