1 Corinthians 3:9-23
9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. 
In the last section, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that their culture of self-growth and self-improvement was completely opposite from the way God works in his people. They were like a field and Paul was merely a worker in the field. There was no teacher, no method, and no discipline that could grow them spiritually. Only God could grow them. Only God was worthy of their honor and praise. Even the great Apostle Paul was merely a recipient of God’s gracious work in him to equip him as a laborer. In verse 9, he concludes his agricultural metaphor and takes up an architectural metaphor to further explain to the Corinthians what a gospel community should look like.
The gospel community goes from being a field to a building. Perhaps Paul was aware that he was writing to mostly city dwellers, many of whom had little agricultural experience. But they did live in a bustling metropolis where buildings were demolished and constructed and reinforced all the time. It’s doubtful that the church was full of architects and engineers, but everyone had seen houses, shrines, storefronts, and pagan temples being built and rebuilt in and around the city of Corinth. Paul invites them to see themselves as a diverse group (some freeborn, some freedmen, some slaves, some wealthy and important in their city) who join together different skillsets (some highly specialized— masons, carpenters, engravers— others unskilled labor) to erect a building. After returning to his role and emphasizing again the heart of his gospel—Jesus Christ (v. 11), he then uses the imagery to urge them to build with imperishable materials (vv. 12–13) – the solid steel of the gospel of Christ. 
Paul discusses gospel community in three stages: construction; demolition; and renovation (though not entirely sequentially).
CONSTRUCTION (10, 11, 16)
The opening sentences of the paragraph form a chiasm:
A Paul laid the foundation for the church;
B Someone is now building on it;
B´ But let that “someone” take care how he/she builds;
A´ The foundation Paul laid is Jesus Christ.
Paul builds a word structure to emphasize the spiritual structure of the gospel community. Beautifully designed buildings speak for themselves. Their fascinating and artful designs allow them to become destinations. On the other hand, ugly and cheaply constructed buildings also speak for themselves since they are eyesores of our community. Cheaply constructed buildings aren’t merely aesthetically unpleasing, they are also dangerous because they are composed of cheap materials and their design cannot hold up to natural disasters like fires, floods, and earthquakes. Paul is warning the Corinthians that their congregation has the potential to be seriously damaged by the spiritual disaster of divisiveness forming in their ranks.
Paul instructs them about how to build their community in a solid, sturdy, beautiful way. If it is worth building, it is worth building well. If the Corinthians, like us, apply careful building principles to their careers, their investments, their education, and their social standing, why would they not do this with the spiritual life of their community? Paul writes:
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
The church-planting apostle worked like “skilled master builder” [ lit. wise architect] – a combination of an architect and engineer. In the ancient Greco Roman culture, the master builder was the person who oversaw all the various elements of a construction project from start to finish. That made Paul the person of authority, responsibility, and personal interest in the Church of Corinth. All of this he did not out of his own fleshly resources, but out of “the grace of God given to me.” Paul is not a hireling paying off a debt, nor is he a disinterested observer, but he is a major part of this cooperative construction project with the Corinthians. He laid the foundation, but other teachers and the Corinthian elders are building upon it. The specific notation of “grace given” continues the emphasis from verses 5–9 on God as the primary ground of their communal spiritual existence.
Paul says “each one” is to take care “how he builds” upon Paul’s foundation. Remember, Paul has been discussing how God’s wisdom is utterly upside-down from fleshly wisdom. Paul was the wise architect by God’s graciously-given, upside-down wisdom. The church was not to be built as a place where individuals could acquire human power and suck up human approval for themselves, working by means of the meritocracy that pervaded the Corinthian culture. They were not to build by following teachers who made people’s felt needs – not Jesus – the primary focus. If one person in the congregation demands to hear fleshly wisdom being taught because God’s upside-down wisdom isn’t doing it for him, that person is lobbying for a wood, hay, and stubble construction that will destroy the gospel community.
11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The foundation holds up everything that is built on top of it. It is the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ that provides unity to the church. And the Lord Jesus Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  Jesus calls us not to live for our preferences, but to die to self. He calls us to die to horizontal approval and horizontal control and seek all of our significance, all of our love, all of our peace, all of our trust, all of our stability in the vertical relationship of Father/Spirit/Jesus. That is your best death now!
“In the context of 1:10 – 4:21, the Apostle Paul has in mind Jesus Christ and him crucified (cf. 2:2). Paul does not know anything about who Jesus is apart from what Jesus has accomplished through his dying work. Jesus Christ and him crucified is the singular foundation that establishes the unity for the community-building project and for all of life. It is a sure foundation that can guarantee and secure our greatest longing for unity, stability, and even our identity.”  In our fleshly, worldly thinking we might want to establish a foundation that reflects our personal view of socioeconomics, of societal change, of making the community or the world reflect our personal values. We love hearing people tell us that we are right on any subject we hold dear. And we’re suspicious of those who don’t agree with us, so we draw up sides against them.
The Corinthians wanted their church to be hip, cool, contemporary, and relevant – “contemporvant.” Who, after all, wants to be a part of something foolish like a movement based upon the death of a Jewish day-laborer from Palestine? But if you can make your church about really exciting stuff – like prophecies and tongues and gifted entertaining speakers – then you might have something that the average person could find impressive. And if your horizontal relationships find your church impressive, then you have your horizontal approval that you are part of something important. Who really wants a foundation that demands the death of self? Jesus does; and so does the Apostle Saul Paulus of Tarsus.
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord. All other foundations are non-starters. Shifting sand. Humans were created for unity and reconciled relationships. Very few people wake up thinking, “How can I create conflict today?” or, “How can I disrespect others and get them to turn on each other?” We long for Shalom and stability against life’s storms. We long for steady, normal, pleasant, secure lives. We long for identity; we spend our lives constructing our own and hoping to confirm our choices by horizontal approval. We want to feel secure and connected to other people. That’s why our flesh demands that everyone agree with us, everyone be on our page and dance to our tune.
Paul says that being God’s building gives us our new and true identity. “16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Paul uses the word that referred to the very sanctuary in which the presence of God lived among the Jewish people and he applies it to the congregation of course. He is saying that when the congregation is joined together on the foundation of Christ it is the container in which God chooses to dwell on earth. It is the present fulfillment of God’s promise for us to be his people, for him to be our God, and for him to dwell with us as our Immanuel. The spirit dwells with us individually and he particularly and uniquely dwells with us communally when we gather for the divine service. What other reason could we possibly require for working in harmony together in our gospel community?
Of course, the Corinthians had ignored Christ as the foundation. Building a gospel community became a cause for division, discord, destruction, and demolition. For them, it was OK for the church to kind of be about Jesus as long as it was also about self-improvement and self-actualization and self-approval. We know the church at Corinth was not alone in their view of spiritual architecture. We have the same kind of destructive divisions at work in the Western church today. Individualism and community are a tenuous connection when Christ and the Spirit of Christ are not the sole foundation.
DEMOLITION (12-15, 17)
There are several ways to demolish a gospel community. One way is to disregard the one true foundation (V. 11). We seek foundations in political causes, philosophical ideologies, consumerism, rugged individualism, and the “me, Jesus. and my Bible culture” that belittles the importance of corporate worship. We can look like we’re building, just as the Corinthians were certain they were building, but our building-like activity is actually destructive because it’s not built on the foundation of the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ.
One popular foundation in our culture is emotions. This is not to demonize emotions or even attractional model churches. But we do need to recognize that all people have an inherent personal nature and there’s nothing wrong with having affections. But affections and emotion are not to be our foundation. When emotion is the foundation of a church culture, then the culture is one of sensationalism and not Jesus. We can have a great and exciting worship service one day, but when the storm hits on the next day, we no longer feel great about ourselves, and the experience we had yesterday has done nothing to carry us through. A foundation built on emotions and feelings appeals to our internal properties and directs us away from the external and unshakable reality of the gospel.
The 2nd way to demolish the gospel community is through the use of shoddy building materials as Paul states beginning in verse 12:
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Paul is not talking in categories of salvation here. Neither is he talking in categories of our personal good works. Several commentators and popular talking heads go off on tangents about the worthiness of our personal good works for God. But Paul is talking about teaching and doctrine. He is speaking specifically to the elders and teachers of the church who have focused on gifts of the Spirit rather than the message of the Spirit which is Christ crucified. As Gordon Fee explains it:
Here is another paragraph that has suffered much in the church (cf. 2:6–16; 3:1–4): from those who would decontextualize it in terms of individualistic popular piety (i.e., how I build my own Christian life on Christ), to certain Protestants who have used it as grist for the Calvinist-Arminian debate over the security of the believer, to those in the Roman Catholic tradition who have found in it the single piece of NT evidence for the doctrine of purgatory. Paul addresses none of these issues, not even indirectly. His concern is singular, that those currently leading the church take heed because their present work will not stand the fiery test to come, having shifted from the imperishable “stuff” of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
What did Paul intend by listing the six building materials, “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw”? I dare say there are teachers and preachers who assign each of those items some allegorical value that reaches far beyond the apostle’s intended meaning. Gold, silver, and costly stones figure prominently in the description of the Old Testament temple. Paul did not mean anything by gold or straw as such. His concern is not so much with the material itself but with those doing the building of the new and true temple of God.
James wrote (Jas. 3:1), “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  Are the teachers teaching perishable doctrine or imperishable doctrine? Is the congregation striving to be the kind of place that gains horizontal approval in the city of Corinth, or is it striving to be the kind of place that promotes the upside-down wisdom of God displayed in the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial blood-shedding death of the risen an ascended Messiah Jesus? Is their congregation a place where the down and out can come and be real and be healed or is it merely a place for the up and in to come and celebrate themselves?
The 3rd way to demolish the gospel community is for you to demolish yourself. Paul writes in verses 17 through 20:
17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
God built his gospel communities, and he takes his people very seriously. He promises to destroy those who are out to destroy his congregations. God has called us to be craftsman, builders, cultivators, and promoters of the peace of Christ. But those crafters who used their craftiness to destroy the peace of the church according to their own worldly wisdom and worldly wants face destruction themselves. It’s a natural conclusion because fleshly wisdom is ultimately a naturally destructive force. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).
It’s also a natural conclusion because every believer is herself a temple of God. To turn on your gospel community is to turn on yourself – it’s an irrational thing to do. To receive the benefits of the foundation we must be a part of the building. One support beam cannot say to another, “I can’t stand being this close to you; it’s making me uncomfortable!” The components of the building must be unified and interdependent. Being a rugged individualist will only lead to self-consumption. Any push for independence from the gospel community is really a push toward one’s own demise. Further, God has already laid a foundation and a blueprint and to deviate from the foundation that is Christ and from the blueprint that is scripture is to create a faction that brings destruction to God’s temple. To have a gospel community, we have to see ourselves as co-builders, determined to maintain unity, not foreman with competing ideas of how the project ought to be developed.
Christians who isolate themselves from a gospel community are not living a natural life but are violating their own nature. Not only does it violate their own nature, but life without community also means life without accountability or intimacy. Our basic problem is that we are all prone to disregard the foundation of Christ crucified and build our lives with shoddy materials and turn inward upon ourselves as we turn away from community. So, what was the hope for the Corinthians? What is our hope since our natural bent is rugged individualism? How can the unity, solidarity, an architectural beauty of God’s temple be restored and maintained?
Paul answers that question in verses 18 through 23:
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. …21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
Paul doesn’t give them a list of things to do. He reminds them of their upside-down position born of God’s upside-down wisdom. They don’t have to become anything other than what they already are – united into Christ. Many of the Corinthians were looking for a foundation that would provide them with a cooler, hipper, identity of which their pagan neighbors could approve and which they thought would elevate them above their fellow Christians. They were living like braggards when they were actually only beggars. But Paul is arguing we already have an identity-forming foundation. In his perfect life, blood shedding death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ laid the unshakable foundation.
That foundation is true whether the Corinthians, or you and I, believe it to be true. It is true even when we take it for granted, ignore it, or disregard it by demanding that our ears be tickled. Christ is the one sure foundation upon which a gospel community is built. We already have “all things” because God has given them to us in the gospel community. We do not need to demolish ourselves in pursuit up the world because all the world worth having is already ours. we do not need to earn life, we do not need to earn rewards in heaven (because Jesus is our reward in heaven). Christ has even demolished death for us. And he has given us the Spirit of God, the one who searches the depths of God, to ensure that the building holds together and is filled with his life and God’s beauty.
The certainty of our renovation, both individually and corporately, lies in this fact: we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Christ was the true temple in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwelled (Jn. 2:18-22). At the cross, the Christ/temple was demolished, and that demolition became the foundation of the new and true temple of God the Holy Spirit is building – us, the great gospel community, the Church Universal. God is so committed to this great reconstruction project that he gave up his own life to lay the foundation, ensuring that all things are ours: life, death, even the world itself. In Christ, we have already won the victory. Because of his demolition project, we can enjoy the renovating spoils of life in him. We can trust him for everything and thank him for everything (especially the hard) because nothing we have that is worth having comes from us. So, let go and enjoy your best death now because your best life now is in the gospel community.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 3:1–23.
 Fee, 136.
 Id., 137.
 Fee, 138.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 9:23–24.
 Um, 61. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, 136–137.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jas 3:1.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 14:12.