If the Devil Can’t Make You Bad,
He’ll Make You Busy
1 Corinthians 3:1-15
James C. Denison
On Friday, 108,000 Americans moved to a different home. The government issued 50 more pages of regulations. The Smithsonian added 2,500 things to its collection. We bought 45,000 new cars and trucks. 20,000 people wrote letters to the president. Dogs bit 11,000 people, including 20 mail carriers. We ate 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, and three million gallons of ice cream. We jogged 17 million miles and burned 1.7 billion calories. Tomorrow, we’ll do it all over again.
We are busy people. But are we busy about the right things? The things that matter? The things that give life meaning, joy, and fulfillment? If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.
We’ve learned that our church belongs to Jesus, as do our lives. We are his new creation, the temple of his Holy Spirit, the branch attached to his vine, bearing fruit for his glory. Now let’s get into details. How do we live this day in God’s will? How do we make our decisions, spend our money and time, do our work, live our lives according to God’s plan and purpose? How do we live today so that we’ll be rewarded by our Father now and forever?
Where do you need to know and do the will of God today? How can you be sure that you will? Paul gives us three questions to ask. If we answer them well, God will answer us as well.
Questions to answer
First, do you belong to Jesus?
The Corinthians were a divided, immature bunch of Christians to be sure. Some claimed to follow Paul as their leader, others Apollos. But “the man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (v. 8).
Why? Because “we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (v. 9). Men and women plant and water, but the field belongs to God. The harvest is his. To change the metaphor, the building is his. You may paint, I may clean, but the building belongs to God. The universe is his; your life is his; your day is his.
Do you know that? Have you asked Jesus to forgive your sin and be your Lord? If you have, do you know that you belong to him in every dimension of your life? He has a will for your dating relationships, your parents and children, every dollar you earn and spend and save, every moment you live and breathe. You have another day because God says you’re not finished with his purpose just yet. Does your entire life belong to him this morning?
Are you giving God your best?
By God’s grace, Paul has “laid a foundation as an expert builder” (v. 10). He did his work in Corinth as an “expert,” sophos architekton, a “wise and skilled master-builder.” He did the best he could do with what God’s grace had given him.
We see that fact on display in Acts 17, where Paul found himself speaking to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the leading intellects in the world. Years earlier, as a Jew and Pharisee, he had surprisingly learned Greek philosophy. He wanted to be as fully prepared as possible. He never knew that he would one day be quoting Greek poets like Epimenides and Aratus in the service of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but he did. And he established a church which thrives in Athens to this day.
Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest inspires and challenges me very day. Its very title captures what Paul is saying here. Last Tuesday Oswald admonished me: “Never reserve anything. Pour out the best you have, and always be poor. Never be diplomatic and careful about the treasure God gives.” Give your best to God’s glory, your utmost for his highest, always.
Is Jesus first in your life, or merely the Savior of your soul? Do you want to please him above all others? Do you want to fulfill his will before you want anything else in life? Do you want every part of your life to glorify God?
The recently deceased Ruth Bell Graham once said of her husband, “I have never known anyone who wanted to do the will of God with his life as much as Billy does.” And so he has. Do you?
Are you building for eternity?
Paul likens our lives to “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” (v. 12). The difference is not one of monetary value. Costly stones could be more valuable in the ancient world than gold. Silver had functions gold could not fulfill. Wood, hay and straw were much more practical building materials than gold, silver, and costly stones. You don’t want your car tires to be made of gold or your clothes to be made of marble.
Paul’s point relates to the enduring value of our lives and days: “his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” Gold, silver, and marble withstand fire; wood, hay, and straw do not. The question is not the monetary value of our work today, but the eternal value of our work in glory.
Are you building every day for eternity? In other words, are you more interested in what God thinks of you than how your society evaluates you? Are you more concerned about your children’s character or their popularity? Are you more interested in your client’s soul than his or her business? Are you willing to sacrifice earth for heaven, the present for the eternal? Will you go whenever he asks, wherever he leads, whatever the cost?
If the answer to these questions is “yes,” you will know God’s will and purpose for your life as each day and step comes. He will guide you through circumstance, Scripture, and his inner voice. As you are faithful to the last word you heard from God while open to the next, you will receive “reward.” Your life will matter now and be rewarded forever. You will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
But if the answer is “no”–if he is not Lord of all your life, if you will not give him your best, if you will not live for eternity–you will “suffer loss.” You will not lose your salvation, but you will be saved “only as one escaping through the flames” (v. 15). Your life will bear no significance, no fruit, no result on earth or in heaven.
There will be a “payday someday,” as R. G. Lee used to say. It’s guaranteed.
A decision to make
When Jesus is Lord of all of life; when we want to glorify him with our best; when we live for eternal reward–then we will do and fulfill God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect” will for our lives (cf. Romans 12:2). Such is the clear teaching of God’s word. Why?
Why should we make Jesus the Lord of the entire building, of every part of our lives? Lord of our work and home and money and time? Lord of every day and every moment? Why give our best for his glory, using every minute of this day for eternity? Why not relate to God like an honest man who pays his taxes but certainly hopes he’ll have money left over to do with as he wants?
Let me ask you: would you rather I design your next computer, or let Steven Jobs or Bill Gates have a try? Do you want me to handle your money, or would you rather let Warren Buffett invest it? Would you rather take golf lessons from me or Tiger Woods? Tennis lessons from me or Roger Federer? Do you want me to play the piano at your funeral, or would your rather have Barbara Loest?
Do you think that God can do more with your life than you can do with it? Can the all-knowing Lord of the universe guide your steps and direct your decisions better than you can? Can he reward your faithfulness better than you can reward yourself?
Will he? His holiness requires him to redeem all that he permits or causes. He is all knowing, all powerful, and all good. By sending his only Son to die on our cross in our place, he proved how much he loves and likes us and wants our best. But he cannot lead if we will not follow. He cannot give what we will not receive. He cannot do for us what we try to do for ourselves.
Why not give him your building and your best today? Why not take a chance on the grace and goodness of your Father in heaven? Why not tell him that you’ll go whenever he asks, wherever he leads, whatever the cost? Measure what you have to lose by what you have to gain.
This week’s Time magazine features John F. Kennedy on its cover and the topic, “What we can learn from JFK.” The article likens the war in Iraq with the Cuban missile crisis and the Cold War, suggesting that President Kennedy’s diplomatic and civil rights strategies are worth considering again today.
As I read the article, here’s what I learned from JFK: time marches on. Even the President of the United States will not be familiar in a generation. Even in a city as tragically important to President Kennedy’s legacy as Dallas, most people do not remember much of what he did or stood for.
My sons never heard President Reagan speak in person. I never heard President Kennedy speak in person. It’s been longer since the Vietnam War than it was from World War II to Vietnam. How long will the world remember that you and I were here?
But there’s a Payday Someday. “Only one life–’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Only what’s done for Christ will last. Why do you need that reminder this morning?