1Corinthians 3:10-17 is frequently cited as one of the places which teaches that believers will receive various rewards or crowns in heaven. Some use this passage to teach the basic idea that you need to add to your faith. Rewards or lack thereof will be determined by how you build on your faith.
If I understand the flow of thought in Paul’s argument correctly, then it is virtually impossible for Paul to be teaching that view of rewards here.
We’re nearing the end of a discussion that runs from 1Corinthians 1-4. Some in the Corinthian church have rejected Paul’s teaching and authority in favor of the more eloquent style of Apollos. Paul used two metaphors to argue that the perspective they should have is that he and Apollos are fellow-servants of God, teaching the same gospel.
First, he compared the Corinthian church to a field where Paul planted the seed and Apollos watered it later. Second, he compared the Corinthian church to a building where Paul, as the master builder, laid the foundation and Apollos is building the next level.
As we go into this section on rewards, the topic under discussion is NOT how each Christian builds on the foundation of his/her faith with either good or bad works in order to gain rewards in heaven.
The topic is building a church and how Apollos and others are building on the foundation Paul laid in Corinth.
3:10According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. – 1Corinthians 3:10-13 NASB
- Paul stops citing Apollos by name to generalize his point to all the leaders and teachers of the Corinthian church.
- Though Apollos did not intend to create divisions in Corinth, that was part of the result of his efforts.
- The leaders who follows Paul are to build on the foundation Paul laid, not tear it up and start over.
- The foundation is the gospel that Jesus is the Christ.
- Paul continues his metaphor: When the building burns, the fire reveal the quality of each person’s building materials.
- In addition to teaching the true and complete gospel, they should pay attention to how they are teaching. For example, are they pandering or promoting maturity?
- The testing fires are a metaphor for the trials of this life (not the first of judgment day which are a rejection).
3:14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. – 1Corinthians 3:14-17 NASB
- By “reward”, Paul means wage or pay.
- Paul and Apollos will be “paid” by the one who hired them. They are looking for praise from God, not praise from men.
- Their reward will be seeing those they taught standing with them in glory.
- Compare with 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.
- You can be a wise and faithful worker and receive the satisfaction of doing a job well.
- You can be a foolish and immature worker and have the disappointment that in the end you didn’t accomplish much that will last even though you are still saved.
- Or you can be an enemy of God and God will destroy you.
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