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Building a House with Eternal Materials

As a little girl, Amy Carmichael sensed God whispering 1 Corinthians 3 into her ear. She understood that all of her works would be thrown into the fire, and only those things done for Christ would matter eternally and bring reward. Amy went on to become a missionary to India, opening an orphanage and founding a mission in Dohnavur.[1]

First Corinthians 3:10–15 captured her heart, and it should capture ours as well. Paul wrote:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Paul is telling us that as wise master builders, we need to build according to a plan. He’s carefully calculating a foundation that keeps his heart in heaven and his hand in the harvest, ready to serve others.

Starting in verse 12, he shows us different types of building materials. Three survive the judgment fire and three don’t survive. He is encouraging us to build our lives on lasting materials—gold, silver, and precious stones. Why not wood, hay, and straw? Because they perish. Using those inferior materials means we’re building upon the foundation of Jesus using worthless things. It means we are unwilling to pay the price.

Then, he tells us in verse 13 that every person’s work, with the materials with which they’ve built their spiritual lives, is going to become clear. Jesus Christ, the ultimate and final judge, will declare the worth of our work. Fire will reveal how we’ve built our spiritual houses.

Improper actions, impure motives, or even right actions with wrong motives are not going to stand the test of God’s purifying fire. At some point our spiritual houses will have matches thrown on them. What is worthless will be burned and what is precious will stand and be rewarded.

It saddens me when I realize how many Christians are going to run out of a burning, crumbling spiritual house. No reward, just fire and smoke. Yes, they are saved, but there’s no reward. Their motivation was self-centered instead of others-focused. Their hearts weren’t focused on heaven; instead, their hearts were focused on the temporary things of this earth, and those things motivated their actions.

On the other hand, some Christians will get rewards and responsibilities in heaven that will blow their minds. Why? Because their hearts were motivated by heaven.

Should this change how we view our lives? Absolutely. We need to be motivated by heaven so that our hands will automatically go out in love and service to others—into the great harvest of people who need Jesus.

Let’s not choose the easy way. Let’s not go to heaven by the skin of our teeth. Every day we have the ability to build with precious, eternal materials. Let’s learn from Paul’s motivation and make sure we’re constructing with the valuable and not the worthless.

To learn more about heaven and the right building materials, check out my latest book, Between Heaven and Earth.

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Ten People Every Christian Should Know (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2011), e-book edition.

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