Verse 13 says, "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. "
1 Corinthians 3:1 - 23
ESV - 1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.
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Paul really explains it in verses 6-8. Someone plants the seed "foundation" and another can add to that foundation "watering", but it is God who gives the increase. The increase by God is through proper understanding by the 'foundation layer' of God's Word, the Bible. More specifically, it is stated that it is Paul's gospel for today (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) that we will be judged by (Romans 2:16). This is the gospel of God's grace and faith in Christ. It is our job as ministers of reconciliation between God and man to learn, understand, and teach this, Paul's gospel of Christ crucified. When the solid foundation of "gold, silver, precious stones" has been laid, and not the weak of "wood, hay, and stubble", the solid foundation will then prevail when tried by fire, and the builder shall then be rewarded for it. Loss of reward then occurs when a weak foundation of today's gospel of God's grace and faith in Christ has been planted. For instance, adding works as a requirement for salvation today in God's dispensation of grace (Ephesians 3:2). Believers today work for God because we ARE saved, not as a means to BE saved. I would like to expand on the question also since this chapter is in regard to the Judgement Seat of Christ, and not the White Throne Judgement as some confuse. Verse 17 is a reference back to verse 9. Anyone who defiles you, "the temple" and "laborer together with God", will He (God) then destroy. Some mistakenly take this to mean that if you defile yourself in some way, God will destroy you. When kept in its context it is apparent that if anyone attempts to defile you, God's temple, God will destroy them at the White Throne Judgement. Only members of the Church the Body of Christ will appear at the Judgement Seat of Christ. This is also made clear through verse 15 that states that our works of foundation laying and building upon are what will be tried by fire, not we ourselves, as "he himself shall be saved". We, as believing members of the Church the Body, can do nothing that would cause our own destruction by God, as we are sealed until the day of redemption by the holy Spirit at the moment of belief (Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 4:30 KJV). It is important to state also though that true believers of the gospel that saves today (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) would not desire to do anything of this nature to begin with. True believers grow in faith and hate their sin nature in the process. The understanding of God's grace, compared to that of God's future wrath to unbelievers, is the motivator for believers to begin serving God in their lives, and resist the temptations of serving themselves in the flesh. Sometimes we will fail, but remembering that in the end "he himself will be saved" shows how God's grace is greater than our offenses (Romans 5:20).
In my opinion, the "fire" that will test each individual's works will be the degree (known to an omniscient God) to which the individual's actions were performed for, or motivated by, bringing glory to Christ, as opposed to being done from a primary motivation of promoting one's own reputation among others (even if those actions were ostensibly performed in Christ's name (Matthew 7:22-23)),.
Scripture tells us that the judgment of human beings now belongs to the 'Son of man' (one title of the Lord Jesus Christ, John 5:27), and that Christ's eyes are 'like flames of fire' (Revelation 1:14, 2:18). This analogy refers to the standards set for the human race by Jesus Himself as the world is judged by His new 'law of liberty,' (James 1:25, 2:12), also known as 'the law of the Spirit of life,' (Romans 8:2), and the 'law of burden-bearing' (Galatians 6:2). This 'universal law' was established after all authority in heaven and earth was legally declared by GOD the Father to belong to Jesus through His work on the cross and confirmed by His resurrection, (Matthew 28:18). The process by which this declaration is fully applied on earth represents the 'standard of fire' by which the world itself is being tested. We are all expected to 'bear one another's burdens' as part of a system of 'irreversible goodness' (Romans 8:28), which can only be achieved as a collective work inspired by Christ's Holy Spirit living through us, identifying and reversing the effects of each other's sins over the successive generations through a steadily growing love. None of this is possible without first repenting and humbly accepting that only Christ can achieve this through us. It is not a 'human work' of our own. We stand together in His righteousness alone. All authorities and powers are being 'made subject' to Christ according to this new law, (Hebrews 2:5-8), while two distinct paths are also being preserved so that all human beings retain 'liberty,' which requires the ability to choose for themselves which path they will take, (whether good or evil). Even as genuine Christians, we can have our individual 'work' destroyed and any eternal reward potentially attached to it lost forever based on Christ's 'fiery' standards, even while our soul is preserved according to the promises of Christ's gospel, (1 Corinthians 3:14-23). It is clear that this will happen to some of us because we side with the 'wise of this world' who 'boast in men' (1 Corinthians 3:19-21). Christ's work has no 'fellowship' with the works of darkness, even though Satan disguises himself as a 'messenger of light,' (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). So such souls will have no authority in the holy kingdom, despite having been rescued from eternal separation from GOD and His kingdom. It is clear that Satan's 'impostor' work can be readily identified by the presence of 'boasting' in human achievement. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may abolish the things that are, so that no flesh may boast before God." "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31, [verse 31 excerpt from passage in Jeremiah 9:23-24]). This is why we are told directly by the Lord that the 'meek shall inherit the earth.' (Matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:11).
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