Building to Code
After the Lord called me to pastor Bethany Bible Church, my wife and I had our first experience building a new home. We were amazed at the sheer number of specifications that regulated everything about the project from the grading of the lot to the laying of the shingles. We discovered that these specifications, or codes, are necessary for the proper building of a house, to insure its structural integrity. There are codes that govern the building of doorways, stairs, windows, and ceilings. There are codes for furnace installation, electrical work, plumbing, water and gas supply, fire protection, insulation, ducts, drains, vents: the list is seemingly endless.
When the apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he tells them, “You are…God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Just as a physical building is constructed through work with brick and mortar, so the church, a spiritual building, is built by laboring among people. A church is constructed as men and women are saved through the proclamation of the Christian gospel and as they are spiritually edified to maturity through the ministry of the Word.
But Paul continues his letter with this warning to those who participate in the actual work of laboring and ministering to build the church: “Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (3:10). You see, Paul was not satisfied with just any building; he insists that the church be constructed after a particular fashion. Why is Paul so concerned about how one builds the church? He gives three reasons:
First, because of the supremacy of the foundation: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (3:11). Paul had come to the people of Corinth and had proclaimed the good news that Jesus Christ died for their sins and rose again. As people responded to the truth about Jesus Christ, the foundation of the church at Corinth was laid. In other words, the church was founded on faith in the truth about Jesus. Now Paul takes this a step further. He declares that the superstructure must match the foundation; that, as the church is built to maturity, the ministers of the church must continue to minister through the clear and accurate preaching and teaching of the truth of Jesus Christ, calling men and women to faith in the particular gospel and the implications of that gospel upon which the church was founded in the first place. This is building to code.
The second reason Paul urges caution in how the church it built is the certainty of the revelation.
“Now if anyone builds upon this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (3:12-15).
How do we know if our ministry works are the gold-silver-precious stones kind? The answer to this question is discovered by returning to the foundation. In the judgment, the character test for ministry works will be what it has always been since the first church: did these works communicate a clear and accurate presentation of the Person and work of Christ. Not, were they done in sincerity, nor were they done by genuine believers, nor did they seem to get a large response, but did they communicate truth.
Why do ministry works need to be made visible? Because in this present world the true character of our ministries are often hidden by impressive disguises. We are impressed by large turn-outs. We are enthusiastic when large numbers of people are excited to come to a church-sponsored event. We are moved when people raise hands in a service to “make a decision” for Christ. We are passionate about our well-organized programs and even the size and attractiveness of our facilities. The problem is, none of these and other such externals offer an indication that we are building to code. It is quite possible, in fact, to have an attractive, sincere, wood-hay-straw ministry. If we wish to discern the true integrity of our ministry we must ask penetrating questions about whether or not we are communicating the truth.
There is one other reason Paul is so concerned that Christian ministry build the church “to code,” namely, the sanctity of the congregation. Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (3:16-17). Those who minister for the church are warned in this text: we are speaking of God’s precious, holy, temple. In fact, the word translated “temple” is the word that refers to the inner temple, or the most holy place, where the presence of God dwelled in the Old Testament. In short, God Himself will deal with anyone who is careless with His church.
As pastor of Bethany Bible Church, I realize that the “success” of our church and its ministries does not prove the rightness of our doctrine or practice. Indeed, it is necessarily the other way around. It is the clear and accurate presentation of truth alone which provides us with any indication that what we are doing is gold, silver, or precious stones ministry. My heart is heavy when I look at modern evangelicalism and see how often the contemporary church speaks and sings about God, and yet how little truth is actually being communicated; how theologically unaware the average church member; how shallow and perfunctory most Christian worship.
Nevertheless, we are not in a position to sit in judgment of someone else’s ministry. Rather, we must consider our own church. Do we respect the supremacy of the foundation? Do we strive to build to code in the church by making sure that, whenever we share or teach or proclaim the message, it is the clear and accurate truth of Jesus Christ? Do we consider the certainty of the revelation? Do we bear in mind as we serve Christ that one day our ministry works will be unveiled and tested? And do we regard the sanctity of the congregation, remembering that, when we build the church, we are serving the precious people of God whom He loves and whom Christ purchased with His blood?
May God give us grace that we may learn to be discerning in our service for Christ, building to code, that the Lord may be pleased to use us for His glory in His church.