Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—1 Corinthians 3:12
Christ Our Foundation
…For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work.…
Now if any man . . .—Better, But if any man.
Precious stones.—Not gems, but grand and costly stones, such as marble. “Hay,” dried grass used to fill up chinks in the walls. “Stubble,” stalks with the ears of corn cut off, and used for making a roof of thatch.
Many ingenious attempts have been made to apply the imagery of this passage in detail to various doctrines or Christian virtues, but it seems best to regard it as broadly and in outline bringing before the reader the two great ideas of permanent and ephemeral work, and the striking contrast between them. The truth brought forward is primarily, if not exclusively, for teachers. The image is taken from what would have met the eye of a traveller in Ephesus where St. Paul now was, or in Corinth where his letter was to be first read. It is such a contrast as may be seen (though not in precisely the same striking form of difference) in London in our own day. The stately palaces of marble and of granite, with roof and column glittering with gold and silver decorations, and close by these the wretched hovels of the poor and outcast, the walls made of laths of wood, with the interstices stuffed with straw, and a thatched roof above. Then arose before the Apostle’s vision the thought of a city being visited by a mighty conflagration, such as desolated Corinth itself in the time of Mummius. The mean structures of perishable wood and straw would be utterly consumed, while, as was actually the case in Corinth, the mighty palaces and temples would stand after the fire had exhausted itself. Thus, says St. Paul, it will be with the work of Christian teachers when the “day of the Lord is revealed in fire.” The fire of that day will prove and test the quality of each work.
1 Corinthians 3:12. If any man build upon this foundation — Thus firmly laid; gold, silver, precious stones — The most valuable materials in nature, the most solid, durable, and precious, and which can bear the fire. And here they stand for true, firm, and important doctrines; doctrines necessary to be known, believed, and laid to heart, and which, when so received, fail not to build up the people of God in faith, love, and obedience; rendering them wise unto salvation, holy and useful here, and preparing them for eternal life hereafter. The apostle mentions next, as materials wherewith some might possibly build, and with which indeed many have built in all ages, wood, hay, and stubble; materials flimsy, unsubstantial, worthless, if compared with the former, and which cannot bear the fire. And these are here put, not merely for false doctrines, condemned or unsupported by the word of God, or doctrines of human invention, but all ceremonies, forms, and institutions, which have not God for their author, and are neither connected with, nor calculated to promote, the edification and salvation of mankind: all doctrines that are unimportant, and not suited to the state and character of the hearers; all but the vital, substantial truths of Christianity. To build with such materials as these, if it do not absolutely destroy the foundation, yet disgraces it; as a mean edifice, suppose a hovel, consisting of nothing better than planks of wood, roughly put together, and thatched with hay and stubble, would disgrace a grand and expensive foundation, laid with great pomp and solemnity.