• Epistle Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! It is very fitting that this morning’s Epistle reading be heard just a few days before we enter one of the major fasting periods of the Church. And even the proximity to our own patronal feast of the Transfiguration. The last several Epistle readings have explored how we, as the Body of Christ, are to work together as one. To share, to build up, to witness. But today, St. Paul really has us look at ourselves. As Orthodox Christians, we can’t really see and understand ourselves outside of the context of the Church. Members of the Body of Christ is what we are. But each member is responsible for the way that it functions—and this is what St. Paul is reminding us of today. So I’d like us to hear and understand the word that St. Paul is giving this morning, so that as we enter this time of Fasting, we can focus our efforts on being true followers of Christ. St. Paul begins by telling us that we are God’s fellow workers, laborers with God, God’s field, God’s building. (I Cor. 3:9) We’re not just out there doing our own thing, saving ourselves. But neither are we being molded by God against our will. To be Christians, we are working together with God—fellow workers. This is synergy—working with God for our salvation. We are to willingly accept His love and His commandments in our lives and struggle to do them—we willingly offer ourselves to Christ. And in the understanding of the Fathers, the work then really is His. He shapes us, He molds us, He chastens us, He fills and enlivens us. We’re saved by His grace, through our faith—a faith that He upholds and gives—but a faith we must offer. So we are the field—He does the plowing and the planting and the watering, and the fruits come as a natural product of the field and the owner working together. Of course, we’re a field with free will—we can choose to accept the work Christ does on us, or we can choose to remain hard, infertile, un-receptive to the action of God in our lives. But what an incredible calling—to be co-workers with God. In the next verse (I Cor. 3:10a) St. Paul says to the Corinthian Christians that he has done all he can to lay a good foundation. for the building that God is to construct in their lives. “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” (I Cor. 3:10b) Just because the foundation is sure, doesn’t mean the rest of the work will be solid as well. The foundation St. Paul is speaking of is Christ (I Cor. 3:11). In other words, St. Paul has taught the people about Christ—Who He is, What He has done for our salvation, what He wants of our lives. He’s given them the full deposit of the Truth about God and man. The foundation is laid. It’s very interesting, however, to hear what St. Paul says—“ But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” What does this mean? How we build on the foundation of Christ? With the next few verses, St. Paul explains what he means by building on this foundation. “If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble (straw); each man’s work shall be made manifest; for the Day shall declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” (I Cor. 3: 12-15) Remember, St. Paul is addressing people whose foundation is Christ. He’s not talking about who will saved, who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. That verse comes in a minute. In the verses we just heard, the one’s with enduring work, and the one’s with work that is destroyed by the fire, both, St. Paul says, will be saved. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved. But we’ve answered our question—what does St. Paul mean by building on the foundation of Christ? To the consternation of some, St. Paul is specifically talking about the way we live—about our works. As Christians, we’re called to build on the foundation of Christ with gold and silver, and with precious stones. We’re called to follow the commandments of Christ, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to preach the Gospel of Christ to the lost. We’re called to build up our lives as an offering to God. To build a glorious building to His glory. To become a field full of the fruits of righteousness. But we can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes. He knows what we do, and He knows why we do it. And if our actions are not to the glory of God, then St. Paul says that they will be burned up by the fire of the presence of God. But then he gets even more stern. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (I Cor. 3:16-17) Not only do we have the choice of foolishly wasting our lives, of building with straw and wood and stubble. Some of us will even destroy the foundation. Some of us will choose to defile the temple of God—which is our bodies. We defile God’s temple with sin. By being slaves to our sinful passions, we become defilers of the temple of God. And St. Paul’s warning is fierce—“this man shall God destroy.” St. Paul’s word to the Christian community here is both awe-inspiring and somber. It’s terrifying to know that have to choice to turn from God. That we have to choice to follow our own will, to do our own deeds. That we have the choice to completely waste the gift that God has offered us in the person of His Holy Son. But it’s awesome to hear what God intends for us, what God wants for those who hear His word and respond to His voice. That He wants us to be co-workers with Him. Not only working out our salvation in fear in trembling, but making the name of God to be known among the nations. Making God’s word to be heard throughout this place where we’ve planted. Co-workers with God for the salvation of the world. But to be co-workers with God, we have to build with fine metals and jewels. We have to be a worthy building, a field always ready to planted. As we enter this time of fasting, the Church gives us this chance to re-evaluate our lives before Christ. Are we destroying a temple of God? Are we building with straw and hay, that will be burned up in the presence of God? We have this chance, beginning this very moment, to take heed how we build, and to offer ourselves as co-workers of Christ. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!