Suppose that you’re building a house. The blueprints are done and the building is ready to begin. The next step is to find the builder. You have your own builder lineup, showcasing several builders. They each show you their best work. And now you have a decision to make: who do you select to build your house? The various builders have different skills and different abilities. Do you want Bob Vila building your house or do you want a person who has yet to build a house? You want the master builder! You want nothing less than the best to build your house.
Paul had founded the congregation at Corinth on his second missionary journey. He had laid the foundation for the congregation as an expert, a skilled master builder. Yet he does not claim special praise for his work, but gives all glory to God. For it was only by the grace God had given him that he was able to do anything at all. The factions in Corinth were forgetting about the grace of God and were boasting about the gifts and abilities of their leaders instead.
Apollos had followed Paul in Corinth and had continued to build on the foundation Paul had laid. But to others, who were using wrong building materials and false methods, Paul issued the warning, “Let each one take care how he builds upon it.”
The only way to build the church is to proclaim God’s pure and unadulterated Word, the Law in all its severity and the Gospel in all of its sweetness. Appeals to pride and an emphasis on man’s gifts and abilities do not strengthen the church, but weaken it. Paul’s warning is very much in place today. In our modern world with its emphasis on salesmanship and slick gimmickry, there is always the temptation to misplace the emphasis in our ministry. There is always the temptation to tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
What is it that the people need to hear? We go back to what Paul said just a chapter before: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul gave the people what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. We want to hear how we’re a good person. But we need to hear “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We want to hear that we are born without sin and that sin is something which we can control. We need to hear “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We want to hear how everyone will go to heaven, but we need to hear that “the wages of sin is death.”
The emphasis that Paul has spent the last three chapters on is Jesus Christ and this doesn’t change in our text for today. He says, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Ask yourself this question: What is the basis of your foundation? Is the basis of your foundation Jesus Christ or is the basis of your foundation something else? For many, the foundation is Jesus Christ. But unfortunately for many, their foundation is something other than Jesus Christ. Their foundation is built upon themselves; built upon something of the world; built upon something that will ultimately fail. Jesus is the only foundation on which the church can be built. He is the cornerstone on which the church centers and lines up. His work of redemption is the heart of our proclamation. As the Bible reminds us, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” And as Jesus tells us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
But throughout the ages men have tried to lay other foundations. They have tried to establish other ways to the Father. But those who have placed their hope in false gods, ancient or modern, will find their foundation to be sinking sand on judgment day. Those within the visible church who have tried to add human achievements or worth to that foundation will find that they have nothing left on which to stand when they appear before the judgment seat of God.
Our Lord spoke about foundations in Matthew 7 when He spoke the parable of building your house on the rock. There he showed what happened to those who built their house on the rock and when the rains fell, the floods came and the winds blew, the house remained. He countered that with the foolish man who built his house on the sand. When the rains fell, the floods came and the winds blew, the house fell. When asking the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?,” this parable reinforces the message which Paul writes to the Corinthians: any foundation other than Christ will ultimately spell disaster.
There are many things and many people in which we could build our foundation upon. We could spend an eternity making a list of them, but at the end of the day, or rather, the end of our earthly life, they too will fail or pass away, leaving us with nothing. But when Jesus Christ is your foundation, there is nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, for Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
The promise which God made to Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is the same promise that is made to us. The foundation of Jesus Christ is unmovable and unshakeable. The promises of Jesus Christ will never leave a person disappointed, because how can a person be disappointed by the forgiveness of sin won for them by Jesus Christ?
The final words which Paul speaks to the Corinthians are words which we all would be wise to hear and remember: “and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Going back to the beginning of this letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks against the factions which the Corinthian church has set up. By their factionalism the Corinthians were robbing themselves of God’s gifts. By attaching themselves to one leader or another they were missing out on what the other leaders had to offer. God had sent different men to Corinth for the building up of the saints there. But the various groups in the congregation were making themselves poor by claiming to be the followers of one or another instead of enjoying all of them as God’s gifts. The gifts which the various men brought to the Corinthian church was Christ, for it is Christ alone who is able to save. For the Church then, the Church today, and the Church tomorrow, the foundation must be Christ, for it is Christ alone which gives to us what we need the most – the forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.