For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
We’re in a 5-week series exploring this wild idea that some of the work has the chance of literally, physically lasting into eternity. The question, of course, is which work? Scripture doesn’t tell us explicitly. But it does give us some clues.
As we saw last week, it appears that some acts of evil will carry on, so long as in their redeemed state they bring God greater glory. The nail scars in Jesus’s hands certainly fit that bill. Isaiah 2:4 says that some swords and spears will last, but they will be turned into “plowshares and…pruning hooks,” which will point to Christ’s glory and victory over all wars and violence.
But while Scripture alludes to the idea that these cultural goods we would call “evil” will be redeemed, my guess is that God will deem many things totally irredeemable. “What about intercontinental missiles or nuclear submarines? Or pornographic movies?” Dr. Richard Mouw asks. “[Isaiah 60] seems to be sensitive to these kinds of questions. The things [Isaiah] mentions….are items that seem quite capable of being employed in a ‘redeemed’ environment.”
But today’s passage may be the most instructive of all in helping us discern which work will survive for eternity. Paul says that fire will ”test the quality of each person’s work” and implies that the work done with “gold, silver, [and] costly stones” will be the only work that “survives” judgment.
What do these metaphorical substances represent? Pastor Skye Jethani says they represent “works of high quality” and are consistent “with the character of God.” I’ve read dozens of similar answers to that, and I think Jethani is directionally right. Here’s how I’d summarize my biblically informed guess as to which work will last for eternity: Any work we do with excellence, love, and in accordance with God’s commands that, if redeemed, will bring God greater glory.
Based on that, here are some practical questions for you to meditate on today:
If so, Scripture gives you reason to hope that your work will literally last into eternity. That one day, you might ride the ships of Tarshish into the New Jerusalem with artifacts of your work in hand, and lay them down at the feet of Jesus as an offering of worship.
I pray that motivates you to work with excellence, love, and in accordance with God’s commands today!