The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 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 3:8-15)
Today’s passage is one of the richest on the topic of work in all of Scripture. We could spend weeks unpacking these eight verses, but this morning, I just want to focus our attention on three things.
First, ”the quality of each person’s work” will one day be tested by God. Work matters greatly to God as it is a means of glorifying him and serving others. Thus, we ought to strive to do our work exceptionally well and in accordance with his commands.
Second, this passage makes clear that there are varying rewards tied to how we work in this life. Verse 8 says this plainly: “each be rewarded according to their own labor.” Which work will be rewarded? The work that “survives” the “fire” of God’s judgment.
Paul lists six building materials in this passage: three that would survive a “fire” (gold, silver, and costly stones) and three that would not (wood, hay, and straw). The question then becomes, what sort of work is considered “gold, silver, [and] costly stones?” The quality work we do in accordance with the commands of our “foundation…which is Jesus Christ.” In the words of New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, “What we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.”
But, while Paul makes clear that we will all receive varying rewards based on how we work today, he is also careful to ensure we don’t turn this into a false gospel, which brings me to the final thing I want us to see this morning: Regardless of whether or not our work will “burn up” or be rewarded, “the builder…will be saved.”
One day, God will test our work and reward us accordingly. But as those trusting in Jesus Christ for the atonement of our sins, our souls have already been judged and our entrance into God’s eternal kingdom is irrevocably secure. While rewards will vary, our statuses as co-heirs with Christ are equal.
May that ultimate security lead us to be ambitious for doing excellent, God-glorifying work today!