"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" (1 Cor. 3:12-13 NKJV).
In this passage of scripture, Paul is addressing the minister who seeks to build the body of Christ upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, and his warning to the minister is that he "take heed how he builds on it" (vs. 10). Paul warns us ministers that we had better stop and consider our building material, because in the Day of Judgment, what we built during our life on Earth will be tested by putting it through the fire, and if we built using combustible material, everything we built will burn, and we will suffer loss, though we ourselves are saved. However, if we built using the fire resistant gold, silver, and precious stones, we will receive a reward in that day.
I think in that day, rewards will be very important, and I believe that you can chose where you will receive your reward: either here or there. Therefore, take heed how you build.
High up in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado are many gold and silver mines. Perched on a crag two thousand feet above Cunningham Gulch, just north of Silverton, Colorado, sits the Old One Hundred Mine's bunk house and mill. I cannot fathom how the old pioneers of yesteryear built this impressive structure in a spot that appears to be inaccessible, and they did it in 1904.
Some of the hard rock mines around Ouray, Colorado would produce around 100 ounces of silver and 1 ounce of gold per ton of ore (waste rock).
One day, all the noble labors of ministers will be put to the fire, and only that which he obtained through mining (gold, silver, and precious stones) will survive the fire. But, you see, most are building with that which is obtained by other means. Stand and look at the inconceivable effort of the miner, with a fist-full of a few ounces of "building material" and you will see why so few give themselves to mining.
There's a large sawmill close to my home, and I've driven in there many times to pick up firewood, and I always have to drive by mountains of timber and wood chips that fill several semitrailers a day in a constant stream of production. Compare that mountain of productivity with the "hand-full" of gold that the miner would bring out on a good day, and you will get a fine picture of the difference in "productivity" between the minister who spends his time in secret prayer, mining the treasures of God, and the minister who spends his time with more active endeavors. The former appears to many to be wasting his time, when there is so much to be done. The later appears to others and to himself to be building a fine structure that boasts size and reputation: an example of true productivity. "How can that miner's few 'trinkets' compare with my massive endeavor?", the successful builder quips as he hurries by the humble man of prayer on his way to...
Ah, but the fire. Only the gold, silver, and precious stones will survive the fire, and these materials only come by mining. The true treasures of God are uncovered only in the secret place, far from the beaten path of man: the place where the stones thereof are sapphires and the dust thereof is gold. The effort, hardship, faith, and obedience involved in mining these treasures seems completely unreasonable to the man who seeks to build with more readily available materials. Why would someone exert such personally exacting energy for so little volume? Well, because of the fire.
The miner understands the value of his treasure, and yet, "gold fever" comes upon a man, infecting him with a feverish desire that transcends a mere pragmatic consideration of value verses cost. It's the fever that drives, not the commerce. It's the fever that causes him to build his occupation high on the face, "in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the cliff", and there on the mountain heights, "in places forgotten by feet... he swings to and fro" (Job 28:4).
The Gold, Silver and Precious Stones
He mines gold: the nature of God, silver: the work of redemption, and precious stones: The glorious sons of Zion who love and obey Jesus, and who reflect the light and glory of God. The minister who has no interest in mining, believes himself to be building something lasting, but that's only because he has found no treasure for himself, and he has never seen that place that is "turned up as by fire" (Job 28:5). Ah, the fire - just a passing consideration as he hurries off to...
For the frantically busy minister, running from this meeting to that counseling session, organizing, supervising, managing, the three-point-sermon-outlines-with-humorous-stories web site is a godsend. Here, he can quickly gather the straw left by another man's labors, and attempt to feed God's people with that which contains no food value, but is meant only for the fire. Ah, the fire.
For the successful minister with the thriving mega-church-mega-ministry, the key to his success is the hay. He has cultivated for himself, through much study and observation, perhaps with a Ph.D. as his aid, the wonderful self-help "Christianity" that so sooths and encourages the masses. His messages may lack fire (Ah, the fire), but what they lack in fire, they make up for in broad utility, for his life message applies to all men in any fairly affluent western community: how to get along with your wife and kids, how to get along at work, how to live a balanced life, how to set goals and attain them, how to think like a millionaire, how to... His message is to all, not just to the few, the oh-so-very-few of his born-again constituency. His building material is hay, harvested for "natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed", those who "will utterly perish in their own corruption", and what he builds as a shining example of a godly structure will go up like a Kansas prairie fire during the spring winds.
There are many "sound" Christian structures today, and some reach high into the heavens, but much of what stands as shining examples of ministry are made of wood. Wood is a fine material for construction. It's relatively light, strong, and readily available. It is the most common building material known to man, I would guess. Everyone uses it, and the infrastructure of the timber industry is well established, so why not use the material that fits with the norm? Strength, utility, availability... anyway, most plans are designed for wood, not gold, silver, and precious stones. We can do much in the Kingdom of God without spending undo time seeking God. We can do much through the strength of the flesh, and should fire break out, we have a state-of-the-art fire suppression system with sprinkler heads in every room of the church.
Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - Paul's list of building materials goes from highest to lowest in density, and divided between that which is mined and that which is not, from rarest to most common, from most valuable to least, and from most fire resistant to most flammable. Only that which is mined in the secret place of the most high will abide the fire in that day, but those substances are heavy, rare, and inaccessible. They are weighty substances, and the mining of which I write is searching for God just as literally as the miner searches for gold, silver, and precious stones, and he who finds God, finds weighty, costly, and precious substance.
Wood symbolizes humanity, or that which can be built with human effort, gifts, talents, and earthly resources. In short, a minister who builds using human energy, ambition, abilities, personality, knowledge, techniques, or resources is a minister with no power to build a spiritual building. He may build a church, but not a dwelling place for God. He may build a temporal temple, but not an eternal one. Even the strength of the anointing can enable an un-crucified man or woman to build that which will not stand the proving fires on that day. The cry of the minister who builds with wood, is, "Lord, I need more money so I can fulfill the vision you've given me." The cry of the miner is, "Lord, I need more of you."
The minister who has given himself first and foremost, not to building, but to digging, and who has unearthed the wonderful hidden treasures of Christ Jesus, and who has been appointed and empowered by God to build a spiritual building, will build, not with the strength of the flesh, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, and that which he builds will be standing with glimmering gold and silver and shimmering diamonds after the fire. Oh, yeah, the fire.
The fire is what compels one to "take heed how he builds." The fire is the love for God that burns in the heart of the miner, and it's the jealousy for that love that burns in the heart of God: the crucible that will try the works of man. The miner hungers, not just for God's power, blessing, influence, or favor, but for God Himself, and it is the work of the spiritual miner to search for God. Mining takes faith, where other industries do not. The house builder can see the forest of material before him, and can joy in his accomplishments from one stage of the process to the next. However, the miner chips away at the rock, knowing by faith that gold lies just a little bit further, if he doesn't give up. He can see the gold only with the eyes of faith as he labors in darkness, and every ton of granite that separates him from his treasure, tests his faith as the days stretch on as a testament to his folly in the eyes of those who don't understand the signs.
One minister builds while the other searches for God. The truth found in that one sentence can be easily passed over if one isn't careful. Take head how you build.
The miner "puts his hand on the flint" (Job 28:9 NKJV), the flint being Christ Jesus, just as Moses struck the flint and water gushed forth (Ps. 114:8, 1 Cor. 10:4), and just as John wrote: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1 NKJV). Mining is searching for God and going His way when it seems so wrong. He will set you up, and order difficult circumstances. He will pierce your heart in places untouched, through circumstances perfectly ordered by God, and He will require you, in simple obedience, to go a certain way when it seems so wrong. He will say dig here in this painful place when it appears to you to be a veil of confusion, a flinty rock that shows no promise of treasure. It is there, as you are willing to suffer wrong, even when insult is added to injury, that you dig a shaft of obedience, and it is there that He reveals the wonderful treasures of His person to the oh-so-very-few who are willing to go that way: the way of the miner.
I once heard of some Chinese Christians who visited the U.S., and when asked what they thought of the western church, one responded, "We are amazed at how much you have been able to accomplish without the Holy Spirit." It's not that amazing when you consider our financial resources. However, take away our finances and all that our finances have built, and see if our power and influence goes out with the lights. Don't mistake the physical for the spiritual. Don't mistake Amperage for the power of the Holy Ghost.
I heard a recent poll result that said that the average pastor in America spends three minutes per day in prayer. Three minutes - that's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I knew it was bad, but I never dreamed it was that bad. That's not the prayer life of a true believer, much less a true minister, so I won't even address that. Let's look at the more reasonable figure of fifteen or twenty minutes per day. The only building material a pastor can find on twenty minutes per day of prayer is straw, and at that, he wouldn't even notice if it was soaked in kerosene.
Gold, silver, and precious stones come only by mining, and one can only mine the treasures of Christ by spending time in the Holy Place. It takes time to get there, and it takes time spent there. It takes time to search for treasure. I learned years ago that there's no gold in Texas. If you're going to find gold, you have to get up high in the mountains. I understand why so many go the easy way. While the miner is climbing his peaks high in the rugged mountains of gold country, the majority are building fine ranch houses on the plains. The miner doesn't fault the choice made by the masses, so long as they understand, with him, that all that they build will be touched by the fire. Oh, yes, the fire. The church in the West has built much, very much upon the foundation of Christ Jesus, yet I fear that pitifully little of what we have built to date will pass through the fire. Let us take heed, therefore, how we build.