Will Christians Be Judged? (I Corinthians 3:10-15)
Topic: One Mission: Until I Come Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:10–15
I. No, But Yes
“When all is said and done, will Christians be judged by God?”
Ever ask yourself that question? “Will Christians be judged?” It's a good question. It's an important question. When we bring that question to the Scriptures, to what God himself has revealed, the answer is not obvious at first. Take for example the words of Jesus in John 5:24...
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
In light of that verse, it would seem the answer to our question is “no... Christians will not be judged by God.” But listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:10-12...
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. [And then again in II Corinthians 5:10...]
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
From these verses, it would seem the answer to our question is “yes... Christians will be judged by God.” Hmm.
Let's see if we can sort out this apparent contradiction by looking together at I Corinthians 3.
II. The Passage: “Let Each One Take Care How He Builds” (3:10-15)
As most of you know, this chapter is from Our Bible Reading Plan for last week. If you were following that schedule, you would have read the first four chapters I Corinthians. Keep those chapters in mind as we consider what the Apostle Paul writes to Christians in the city of Corinth:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on the 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.
One of the first questions we might ask about a passage like this is, “Who is Paul addressing with these words? Or, who is he talking about?” Well, I think we could say that this is...
1. God's Word to “Fellow Workers”
When we pull in the context here, we discover that Paul has been talking about both himself and a brother named Apollos. If you look back to verse 3, you'll notice that Paul is admonishing the church for the “jealousy and strife among you”. How was this evident? Because some were saying (v. 4) “'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos'”. So there were factions growing in this church, factions built around personalities. Look at how Paul tackles this problem in 3:5-9...
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
Now, if you're interested in the specifics of these men and their ministry in Corinth, take a look later at Acts 18. Some of this division may have been due to the stylistic differences between the two men. Apollos was a Hellenistic Jew (i.e., a Greek-speaking, Greek-cultured Jew) who, according to Acts 18:24, was “an eloquent man”. Paul, on the other hand, was described this way in a second letter to this same church: II Corinthians 10:10... “For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.'”
But as you can see in verses 5-9, Paul wants his readers to understand that exalting human leaders misunderstands what had happened and was happening among them. Paul and Apollos are simply “fellow workers” in God's work of establishing and building up the church. God is the only one who should be exalted, because it is (v. 7) “God who gives the growth”. And he gives this growth through a variety of workers. Some plant, some water, but they're all on the same team. And in most cases, when there is criticism of such workers and their work, we need to remember that it is God who will ultimately judge their efforts. Didn't we just hear about that judgment in our main text? But listen to how Paul goes on to address their critical spirit in 4:3-5,
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.  For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
But I also think it's important to see that our main passage is also...
2. God's Word to Every Worker
Look back if you would to verse 10 of chapter 3. Take special note of the last phrase there...
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
Paul certainly wants them to understand that God will judge the work of apostles and other church leaders. And because that's true, all believers need to be very, very careful about criticisms directed at these leaders, criticisms not related to sound doctrine and moral fitness.
But remember what we saw in verses 3 and 4 of this chapter. Paul was admonishing the church for the “ jealousy and strife among” them. Again this was evident from the cliques or factions that were forming at Corinth. In fact, these kinds of divisions were so concerning to Paul that he makes this issue the first thing he addresses, at the very beginning of the letter. This is 1:11,12..
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.  What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” [i.e., Peter] or “I follow Christ.”
Now before you say, “Oh, I'd be with that last group, the one that follows Christ,” be aware that Paul is admonishing everyone here. Of course we should follow Christ, but not with a partisan or factional attitude that draws unnecessary lines and tempts us to a sinful sense of superiority.
So how is their jealousy, their strife, their quarreling, their factionalism, how is all that related to our main text in 3:10-15? Well, remember his exhortation in 3:10... “Let each one take care how he builds upon [the foundation of Jesus Christ]”. When Paul writes, “each one” in that verse, I believe he's talking about leader and non-leader alike. Why? Because every Christian, in one way or another, ends up building into the church. If you a genuine believer, the question is not whether your are building, it's whether you are building up or building poorly. This is exactly why we must also consider...
3. God's Word About This Work
What is Paul saying specifically to both leaders and non-leaders in the church? He's reminding us that some are building others up like a craftsman who uses valuable and durable materials; the kind listed first in verse 12: “gold, silver, [and] precious stones”. But there are others in the church who are not building up. Instead they are building poorly, like someone who uses flimsy materials that simply will not last; things like “wood, hay, [and] straw”. How will the difference between these materials be evident? Verse 13... “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day [i.e., that Day of Judgment] will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
And what will be the result of this testing, this judgment? Well, according to verse 14, there will be “reward” for that which was built to last. But... for those building with cheap and flimsy materials, that work will be (v. 15) “burned up” and he or she “will suffer loss”. How many of our church efforts and so-called ministry accomplishments, how many items on our résumés of faithfulness and service will instead, on that day, be labeled as “loss” because of how we built? Paul wanted to sober these Christians. He wanted them to stop and ask, “What am I doing?”
But please don't miss how Paul qualifies that statement in v. 15: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” Do you see how that clarifies the apparent contradiction we talked about earlier? A genuine Christian will not be judged as a sinner against God, so that he or she would receive condemnation. Christ suffered and died on the cross to free us from that very fate. But a genuine Christian will be judged as a servant of God, so that he or she might receive commendation; for “each one will receive his commendation from God,” as we heard in 4:5.
Remember, when all is said and done, no true disciple of Jesus will face a judgment leading to death, but instead will hear on that Day: 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' (Matt. 25:21)
III. Before the Day Discloses It
But just as Paul hoped to do with the Corinthian Christians, God wants to us to stop this morning and think carefully about that final assessment, that final accounting in the presence of the Father and the Son. Does the reality of that Day sober you? It should. It really should. It should drive every single one of us to ask, in light of our passage this morning, “How am I building?” In light of I Corinthians 3:10, am I 'taking care', am I being careful how I build upon the foundation of Jesus among the people of God?
We should also ask, “Before 'the Day discloses it', how can I know whether I'm building up or building poorly? How can I know what materials I'm using? Look at Paul's warning in 3:18... “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool [a fool for Christ, that is] that he may become wise.” Why is this warning here in this section? Because the factions which were hurting the church were a result of people building poorly with worldly wisdom, not God's truth. And the result was jealousy, strife, and quarreling.
How are you building in the church? Consider the consequences of your work. What kind of fruit is it bearing? Brothers and sisters, I don't believe our biggest concern in this faith family is a brother or sister pushing worldly wisdom (though it is something to watch out for). No. I believe our biggest concern should be, our biggest temptation will be, building with the flimsy materials of consumerism and superficiality and standoffish-ness. When you try to build the church around those tendencies, you suffer and the people of God suffer. When you come only to get, when you put up a front, when you keep people at arm's length, you are, in fact, building; that is, you are shaping the church. And God's loving reminder to you this morning is this: you will give an account for how you've built upon this foundation (or... for how we've failed to build up).
If you recognize that your action or inaction is shaping the church in this way, or you've realized that in some other way you're using flimsy materials, simply talk to God about that this morning. May it be that every single one of us is eager to build up Way of Grace with that which is valuable and durable; to build each other up regularly (and in variety of ways) in the truth and grace of Jesus. Ask God to help you grow in that way, then ask a leader or a mature Christian about practical ways you could do that very thing.
Whether we are seeking forgiveness for building poorly or wisdom for truly building up, our confidence is the same. Look again at v. 11: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Is Jesus your foundation? If He isn't, then there is judgment coming, but it will be a judgment leading to condemnation, forever. Is Jesus your foundation? He can be today, simply through faith. And if and when He is your foundation, then, as another Apostle wrote in I John 4:17, God is at work in and though us, “so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” And it's that confidence, the confidence of grace, the confidence of unwavering love and unshakable hope, it's that confidence in Jesus that should inspire us for a judgment leading to commendation.
Will Christians be judged? No... and yes. So be comforted, but also be sobered. Rejoice deeply, but also reflect carefully. And in all of it, give thanks for the foundation on which we stand.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
August 14, 2022It Really is Finished (John 19:28-30)
August 7, 2022Your Survival Kit for a 'Jesus-less' World (John 14:25-27)
July 31, 2022Hearing the Voice of Jesus (John 10:22-27)