Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-23
Fires capture our attention! Ever since I was a little kid, I have been mesmerized by the way the flames dance and do their work. Growing up as a farm kid, we were always burning something and I was intrigued by what I would find in the ashes the next day… nails, a bottle, maybe some wire. It made me wonder why certain things burned up and others made it through the flames. This puzzle caused me to throw more things into a fire to see what happens (note to my 9-year-old self – don’t place that aerosol can in the burning barrel on laundry day… it was amazing how far the ashes were strewn onto the white bed sheets drying on the line when the can exploded…. sorry, mom).
Paul uses the idea of fire as he teaches about the bema seat judgement – the judgement reserved for believers after this life is over. This judgement is referred to as the bema seat because of Paul’s reference in passages like 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 when he likened our work in this life to the Greek games where the winner was taken to a platform (called the bema) and received the prize for his accomplishments in the games.
It is important to understand that the bema seat judgement is not about our salvation. We read in 1 Cor 3:15 that the builder whose work is destroyed will suffer loss but yet will be saved only as one escaping through the flames. Paul is saying this person won’t have any reward from this judgement but by God’s grace will spend eternity with Jesus.
So how does this judgement work? As we read in 1 Cor 3:12-15, our work will be tested by fire and whatever good we have done will not only pass the test but bring about a reward. I love how Paul uses the 6 building materials to illustrate our work… ranging from gold to straw. We know how these materials fare when placed in a fire… the first three come out unscathed, the last trio not so much. In the same way, our works in this life undergo God’s scrutiny. Some of our labor will be rewarded while others won’t pass the test. So often I think I am doing something amazing for God only to realize my motives were not stellar as I wanted people to see what I did… poof, just like a handful of straw thrown into a campfire. Other times, with pure motives I used the gifts God gave me, stepped out in faith and obeyed… that’s silver and gold! This picture makes us think about what we do and our motivations that drive us as we serve. Let’s use our gifting to make a difference in the world around us today… and, if given the chance, be very careful what you throw into the burning barrel on laundry day.