“Every Man’s Work . . . Shall Be Revealed By Fire”
By George D. Watson
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide [or pass through the fire test] which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
This is perhaps the most remarkable passage in the entire Bible, in setting forth the nature and different degrees of judgment pertaining to the righteous.
The foundation of all Christian faith and practice is that of Jesus Christ. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This foundation is the basis of all saving faith, and also the basis of all good works that are wrought in Christ by the Holy Spirit, and the meaning of the word is: There is no other person or religion in the whole world, or throughout all ages, by which anyone can be saved or by which good works can be wrought that are acceptable to God, except through Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
“...We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10-12).
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men...” (2 Cor. 5:10-11).
“And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12).
We must here distinguish between saving faith and rewards, for so many professing Christians are in the dark concerning the difference between salvation and rewards. We are saved by faith in Christ alone, without any merit of our works (Eph. 2:8-9). But we are rewarded according to our works, the deeds we do in the body before death.
Saving faith is instantaneous, but good works are gradual and accumulative. Saving faith is depending on Christ alone to forgive us and cleanse us; but good works are to be wrought out from our saving faith according to our ability and knowledge and zeal.
Saving faith admits us into the heavenly kingdom, but rewards for good works will decide our station and rank in the kingdom, and our degree of glory and usefulness in the ages to come.
Saving faith is for this present life, but rewards are given us at the Second Coming of Christ, and at the judgment seat of Christ.
We are all saved alike, but we are all rewarded in different degrees according to our works.
Different Building Materials
Let us notice the different materials that Christian people build upon the foundation. All who trust in Christ alone to save them are standing on the true foundation. But there is a difference in the lives of Christian people, and in the kinds of material that they build with, and in the character of their works and of their rewards.
The apostle mentions six things which represent the different building materials, viz.: gold, silver, precious stones – which are non-combustible; and then wood, hay and stubble, which are combustible.
It is very evident that every Christian will build his religious life according to the degree of the saving grace he has, and according to the power of his motives and intentions, whether they are carnal or spiritual, or whether they be mixed.
You will notice in this passage which I am expounding that although Christian believers are building on Christ, the true Foundation, yet the materials of their building are of mixed character, partly carnal and partly spiritual in many cases, and this mixedness enters into every part of Christian life and service, and it will never be known until in the Judgment, which things are of gold and silver and precious stones, and which things are of wood, hay and stubble.
For instance, Christian ministers who are not thoroughly purified and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, will put into their sermons truth and error, Christ and self, the things of the Spirit and the things of the flesh, seeking in some measure to glorify Christ, and at the same time in many ways seeking to glorify self, and to advance their own material honor and reputation and self-interest. The mixedness of their religious experience will of necessity be imparted to their preaching.
Also, in the prayers which Christians present to God, there is in most cases much of selfishness in multiplied forms, mixed in with what is true Scriptural praying; and many prayers are loaded down with so much of self that they cannot rise to heaven.
Also in religious teaching, in books and Bible lectures, there is so much mixedness of truth and error, of the perverting of the Word of God, of allowing one’s religious creed or denominational theology to override the true interpretation of God’s Word.
Also in our religious motives, there may be much which is intended to please God, yet multitudes of Christians have motives of self-seeking in their religion, in the building of churches and religious institutions, in the carrying on of missionary enterprises, in the training of children.
Works Clearly Manifested
Now God is the only One that is able to look through this great mass of religious life and the building of Christian character and work, and discern how much is of the Spirit and how much is of the flesh.
And when the believer stands before the judgment seat of Christ, there will then take place the sifting of the true from the false, and of self from Christ, and a complete separation of those elements which partake of gold, silver and precious stones, and those other elements which partake of wood, hay and stubble.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:13). It would seem from these words that the life-work of every servant of God will not be clearly and openly manifested until this judgment of the saints comes to pass.
It is impossible for anyone of us in this life to understand all the details of our actions, because of the mixed condition of things in our lives, and because of the infirmity of our minds in the present state. No action can ever be seen in the present life in its fullness, for in the nature of things there is always an unseen moral and spiritual quality in every act which can never be made known in this life.
When icebergs are seen floating in the ocean, we are told that about nine-tenths of the iceberg is in the water and only one-tenth of it is visible to the eye. This may serve to illustrate the nature of all our actions and our conduct and words; for, while a certain part of every act can be known and judged in a measure, yet the greater part of our actions and words is submerged, as it were, in a spiritual sea, and we never can fashion or measure all the parts or ascertain the magnitude of any action or any word.
The same act may be performed by a hundred different persons, and yet the act may contain as many different forms and degrees of character, so that the same act would not receive the same degree of reward or of punishment to each person, because of the unknown quality that is put into the act by each person.
We are told in this passage that the fire will make manifest every man’s work, of what sort it is.
When Hannah, the mother of Samuel, visited Shiloh the second time, and presented her little boy to the Lord, she uttered a wonderful prophecy in which she said that Jehovah was a God of knowledge, and that by Him actions were weighed (1 Sam. 2:3).
That is a wonderful expression – that God should weigh our actions and our words and our thoughts and be able to manifest to others the exact specific gravity of all actions and of all conduct.
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:14-15).
This passage proves positively that [some] will be saved who will yet suffer loss because their works have not been according to the truth of Scripture, or have not been wrought in the love of God, and will be burned.
We must remember that salvation is one thing – and rewards is quite another. What a vast conflagration will take place at the judgment seat when such a vast amount of erroneous sermons and false books and selfish prayers and selfish giving of money and carnal religious work will be burned up because they partake of the nature of wood, hay and stubble!
Many a fine sermon, many a beautiful song, many an eloquent prayer, and millions of money that have been given for selfish motives and sectarian pride, and so much busy service wrought in the flesh, will be utterly destroyed and get no reward because it will not be able to stand the test of the Judgment!
There will be no reward given for the life-work of any believer except for those things that shall escape the fire, for the apostle says, “If any man’s work abide” – that is, pass the fire test – “he shall receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3:14).
The reward will correspond exactly to the quality of the action, and also to the magnitude or the weight of the action, and also to the amount of divine love or of sacrifice or of faith or of perseverance that has been put into action.
These rewards will extend down to the littlest things in our life as well as to the greatest.
Jesus tells us that there will be a reward given to those who give a cup of cold water to another in the name of the Lord Jesus (Mark 9:41).
The consideration of these things should certainly inspire us to the utmost devotion and the putting into our life-work of as much of Christ and His truth as we possibly can!
Nothing will pass the judgment seat of Christ, except that which is perfect truth and perfect love and such things are fit to endure throughout everlasting ages – the light and truth of God.