Paul refers to his office as an apostle when he says, “by the grace God has given me.” And, as an apostle to the Corinthians Paul says he “laid a foundation” for the Corinthian church to begin its building process. Paul realizes that other ministers, pastors and teachers are building on that foundation as they minister to the Corinthians. But, Paul warns the Corinthians on several points concerning the ministers, speakers and “apostles” that will follow Paul.
First, Paul warns them that there will never be a minister that can lay a new foundation for the church. The foundation is Jesus Christ and this is the foundation Paul laid for the church to continue to build on. If another preacher came into the Corinthian church with a new foundation it would, by the very nature of being a new foundation, be a false foundation. So he says:
“no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Second, Paul tells the church of Corinth that there are two basic classes of building material pastors can build with as they build on the foundation of truth laid down by Paul. The two types of building material can be categorized as eternal truth that is useful and temporal points of information that are worthless. Building material that has eternal truth will transform mere men into sons of God. This is described as gold, silver and costly stones. The worthless materials that will be consumed in the fire of God’s evaluation of the worldly ministries that pass through Corinth are called wood, hay and straw.
“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.”
Third, Paul tells the Corinthians all ministries will be evaluated by God himself on the day of judgment. Many ministries will pass into eternity having placed quality teaching into the lives of believers. This type of building program will pass into eternity. The pastors, teachers, apostles, speakers, etc. will receive eternal rewards for their building programs accomplished in time that used eternal building material. But, the pastors and ministers who built on the foundation of Jesus Christ with wood, hay and straw (temporal information, entertainment, philosophic reasoning, points of application for success in life, etc.) will suffer loss of reward as they see the work of their ministry consumed because it had no eternal value. Paul says these ministers will be saved (because of faith in Jesus) but their ministry work will be consumed in judgment.
“If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”