But I, brothers,[a] could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 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[b] 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[c] 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.
(1 Cor 3 ESV)

We’re back in 1 Corinthians today, beginning a 3-part message on chapter 3, called Building Temples.

I’ve never been a part of building something big before. Certainly not a temple. The closest I think I’ve ever gotten was a few years ago. Jami and I considered having a custom home built.

And it’s funny because you get looking at catalogs and all sorts of things, talking about design elements, all the things that really make it your home. We’re choosing paint colors before we even choose the floor-plan. We tend to start there, looking at the end result. And that makes sense because we don’t really care how it’s built; we care how it comes together in the end.

But, an architect is going to think differently about the house. An architect needs to think about every single phase of the project, beginning with…

The Foundation

The architect is thinking about the soil conditions and how much rebar to put in the foundation. The architect wants to know what the city standards are and all of that.

So, Paul says,

1 Corinthians 3:10 ESV

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.

First of all, notice that the word translated as ‘skilled’ in this text is actually the Greek word sophos, which means wise. Paul is the one who is wise, the one who is discerning, the one who has laid down exactly the right foundation for the Corinthian Church.

Imagine what happens to a building when it’s built on the wrong foundation. The classic example of this is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower was built as a bell tower for the Pisa Cathedral in Pisa, Italy. When they laid the foundation, they didn’t take into account soil conditions, so the tower began to lean, even before it was finished in the 14th century. It continued to lean until it was stabilized and restored in the 1990’s through the early 2000’s.

The funny thing about the tower is that they have tried to stop the tilting numerous times throughout history. In the 60’s the Italian Government recruited help from other countries to see if they could fix it. But, because the tourist industry had grown so much in Pisa, they wanted to retain the tilt! Today, the leaning tower of Pisa has little to do with worship at Pisa Cathedral, and everything to do with tourism. It completely fails to serve the purpose of the architect who designed it.

That’s the reality of foundations; you have to have the right foundation for the thing you’re building.

That’s why Paul exhorts others to be careful how they build on the foundation that he laid for the church in Corinth. Paul is the builder. Unlike the unwise builder of the tower of Pisa, Paul is a very wise builder who skillfully lays the foundation designed by the Architect.

Realize, now, we are not talking about building a building; we’re talking about building a church which means people, a church body, a church congregation. Paul lays the foundation according to God’s design, the Architect.

So, what is the foundation that Paul laid down for the building of the church?

Paul writes,

1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the foundation of the church. And I want to be careful here because there’s a lot we know about Jesus because we have the whole Bible. The Corinthians didn’t have the whole Bible at the time this letter was written. They just knew what Paul taught them as he laid the foundation.

So, we need to ask, ‘In what sense is Jesus the foundation of the Church?‘

To answer that question, you have to understand the way the ancient people understood authority. We tend to look at our Bible as if it were a single book that God wrote down for us, His church. And every passage is just as authoritative as the next.

Now, it’s true that all scripture—everything in the Bible—is authoritative. Paul wrote to Timothy,

2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Scripture is most certainly important because it is all God-breathed or God-inspired.

But, an ancient Jew would have seen the Torah—the first 5 books of the Old Testament—as being far superior in authority to the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all that). Likewise, they would have seen the prophets as more authoritative than the writings (Kings, Chronicles, Proverbs, for example). They were all scripture, but some were more authoritative than others.

The early church carried that model of scriptural authority forward. When the early church decided what would be in the canon—in the Bible—they considered the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John to be the most authoritative books in the New Testament. The rest of the New Testament was important and authoritative but always subjected to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel accounts.

Although the Bible had not been compiled into one book yet, that concept is what Paul had in mind when he wrote,

1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Paul taught the Corinthians everything they needed to know about Jesus and that was foundational to anything else taught, whether by himself, Apollos, or anyone else, because God did not want anything built on anything else than Jesus. Because, to build a church on anything other than Jesus, would be substandard at best.

That’s why I often recommend the Gospel of Mark to new believers. If you haven’t read much of the Bible, read the Gospel of Mark. It’s all about Jesus. It’s foundational knowledge for what we do as the church.

And then, don’t forget that Paul said to be careful how you build on that foundation. Paul wrote,

1 Corinthians 3:5–9 ESV

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul’s fear here is that you might end up with the church of Paul or the church of Apollos when it is, in fact, Christ’s church. The architect doesn’t want a church of Paul or a church of Apollos. It’s not about Apollos, and it’s not about Paul. Apollos and Paul are God’s workers, but God is the architect who ultimately builds His church.

Imagine I went out and bought a big field here in Palmdale. I don’t have time to farm that land, though. So, I hire someone to clear the field. And then I hire someone to plant the field. And then I hire someone to water the field. And then I hire someone to harvest the produce. All those people I hired, they just get their wages. They don’t get a cut of the profits. They don’t get to enter the produce in the county fair. They don’t get their name on the packaging, ‘Delgado Farms,’ or whatever. The farm isn’t about them, and it doesn’t belong to them.

Same with Paul and Apollos. It’s not about them. They don’t get the glory; God does. Paul even says that they don’t bring the growth, God does! If Paul were alive on earth today, I think he would have some hard words for all the churches out there named, “Saint Paul’s.” It’s not Paul’s church; it’s Christ’s church.

People come to faith, not because of the one who proclaims the Gospel, not by their own efforts or by the efforts of any man. But by God’s good works, people come to faith. He makes it happen.

And it’s the same with any of us today. We need to believe what Jesus taught—the foundation—and then be careful how we build on it.

So, let’s move on to look at…

The Building

Are we building something? And what, exactly, are we building?

By that I mean to say, that we as Sonrise Church must be aware of what it is that we are building. We’re definitely building something. But what is it?

To answer that question, we’ll jump back to Paul’s farming illustration. He writes,

1 Corinthians 3:8–9 ESV

He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Let’s make a few observations.

First, Paul creates a distinction. He says, ‘We are God’s workers,’ and ‘You are God’s field.’ When he says, ‘we,’ Paul is referring to himself and Apollos. When he says, ‘You,’ he is referring to the Corinthian Church. What we see is that, for Paul, there is some distinction between those who build and those who are being built. That reality will become very important next week but is important even now.

Second, although there are different leadership gifts, all leaders operate in unity, as one. Paul was the church planter, the one who shared the Gospel in Corinth and established the church in the first place. Apollos was a teacher in Corinth who helped direct the church after it had been established.

To create a distinction between the two men is silly since both operate together. And, certainly, to split the church over which leader you prefer is absolute folly. Paul and Apollos operated together to lead the church in Corinth just like our leaders here at Sonrise work together to lead Sonrise Church.

Third, and final observation, Paul, and Apollos are the builders, who work alongside God in order to carry out God’s purposes. The church is the building project. Paul says, ‘You are God’s field, God’s building.’ The church as a whole is not charged with building the church. The church leaders are charged with building the church.

There’s a very exciting discussion to be had here because there is some ambiguity about what it means to build the church.

There are two camps.

One camp says that the leaders of the church are supposed to be primarily pastoral. They are to be shepherds that care for the flock of God. This perspective says that the role of the pastors/elders/leaders in the church is to care for and teach the people who are already in the church—to build them up. It’s an inward looking perspective.

When Paul concludes his second letter to the Corinthians, he writes this,

Emphasize, …authority…up…

2 Corinthians 13:10 ESV

For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Paul, clearly perceives that God has given him authority to build up the church, internally, and I think Paul gives away a perspective on this issue. He says that severe words would tear down. Tear down who? Those already a member of the Corinthian Church.

But, rather, he prefers to build up those in the Corinthian Church since God has given him, as the leader of the church, the responsibility, and authority to build that church. Clearly, Paul sees it his responsibility to build up those people already a part of the church, to shepherd or pastor them. That’s the internal perspective.

Now, the other perspective says, it is the responsibility of the pastors/elders/leaders of the church to build the church by taking the Gospel to the people outside of the church. We call this mission or evangelism.

And you might think that sounds right.

I mean, wasn’t Paul a church planter, after all?

And we have this passage of scripture we call the great commission, which says to make followers of Jesus from all the nations.

Emphasize, …make disciples… CUT after … commanded you.

Matthew 28:19–20 ESV

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus didn’t say to make disciples from those who already believe; he said to go out. And Peter says,

Emphasize, … but is patient…ff.

2 Peter 3:9 ESV

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

It seems fairly obvious that a huge part of building the church ought to be the making of new disciples of Jesus. If we don’t teach people to follow Jesus that are outside the church, then the church will not last another generation. We have to look outward to build the church.

So, is a pastor’s focus inward or outward?

That’s the question. Here’s where I’m at.

When I was a kid, I used to play with Legos … a lot. I had a big bucket of them. And one of the things I liked to do was to build castles using every Lego piece I had. I’d try to build the biggest Lego castle I possibly could. I’d even turn the weird pieces to the inside to make sure I could use them all.

And there’s this funny thing about Legos. When you dump the bucket out and they spill across the floor it seems like you have way more than you actually do. But, it’s like they shrink when you put them together. The castle is never as big as you imagined.

So, I built a castle. And that was fine. But, I wanted to keep building the castle, making it bigger, stronger, prettier. To do that I would need more Legos. After building what I had for a time, I had to go out to get more to build with.

That’s a picture of how the church operates.

When it comes to church building, it’s not that we build from the inside and ignore the outside. It’s also not that we build from the outside and ignore the inside.

It actually takes both. Some churches operate in seasons where they shift from an internal focus to an outward focus and back again. Others maintain a balance between the two so that as people come into the church, there are systems to help people get connected and begin to learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

The point is, it must be both. We have to go out to get the materials, and then bring the materials in to build the church.

So, what are our leaders doing to build Sonrise Church?

Our strategy is pretty simple. We look inwardly to the people that make up Sonrise Church, and we teach you to live your life according to the Message of Jesus Christ. That’s inward. And then, if you believe what is taught, you then  take the message out to the community around you.

It’s like a cycle, and it takes everyone to make the machine function. Leaders proclaim truth and give direction internally. The church members reach outwardly and bring people in. Those people hear the truth and begin to grow until they become church members and begin to reach outwardly to bring other people in.

In this model, the church is built in maturity according to the truth of God’s Word.

And in this model, the church is built numerically.

This is how virtually every church, ever, has been built.

My Lego story fails on one point, though. When I build with Legos, I never have the little booklet that tells you how to make things—the plans from the architect. I never kept those as a kid. I just like to build. But, the problem with building without the plans is that you often make things that are too fragile, and they break. Or they just don’t look right. You don’t build what the architect intended.

Likewise, when it comes to building the church, we have to look at…

The Plans

…or what we build will not last.

The first question we should ask as we look at the plans is this:

Is the building appropriate for the foundation?

You remember, Paul said,

1 Corinthians 3:10 ESV

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.

We see here, the architect, God, who bestowed wisdom on the Apostle Paul to be able to lay the foundation for the church.

And the foundation that was laid is Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Any church whose foundation is not Jesus Christ is not a church. Paul says, no other foundation can be laid except for Jesus Christ. If the foundation is not Jesus Christ, then you don’t have a church. You might have a club or a cult, but without Jesus, you do not have a church.

And, make no mistake, Paul believes it is possible for a church to have the right foundation of Jesus Christ and yet build carelessly without looking at the plans. He writes,

Read at…like a skilled master builder…

1 Corinthians 3:10 ESV

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.

Paul warns to be careful how you build upon the foundation. And I think the church at large has a problem with building up the church. Let me show you some numbers. These come from a 2015 study of American Congregations.

The median attendance of churches in the US was 129 in 2005 and has fallen to 80 in 2015. Some people say that’s fine because church planting is on the rise. They say, since we have more churches, that means fewer people per church. And we don’t have to have big churches; we just have to have churches that are committed to the building of the church. That’s true.  Every church doesn’t have to be a mega church.

Here’s the part that’s disconcerting. The median size of a church is 80, but less than 20% of churches under 100 people in attendance on a Sunday see their churches as spiritually healthy churches.

In other words, MOST churches are not healthy. They aren’t building the church. They’re striving and failing to keep the walls up that they already have. Most churches are like the leaning tower of Pisa, but they can’t stop the tilt and they’re going to crash to the ground.

We’re going to stop there for this week, because next week, we’ll look at building materials to discuss the problem in many churches. What are the materials that the church should be built with? What are the materials that churches are building with that are not going to last? And what can we actually do here at Sonrise to build the church, not just maintain it, not just prevent it from crashing to the ground; but what can we do to build the Church of the Great Architect?

As we close, may the grace of God, the free gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus cause us to strive to build God’s Church, here in East Palmdale on the foundation that is Jesus Christ.