1 Corinthians 3 and Works Burned Up By Fire

As long as we’re talking about works, I need to put one more myth to rest.

1 Corinthians 3:15 says, "If any man’s work is burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, but so as through fire."

That passage is talking about ministry. The works involved there are teaching and building the church. If a teacher builds the church poorly; if he builds wood, hay, and stubble, he won’t be sent to hell for being a bad teacher and bad church builder. He will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Read the chapter. That’s the context. It’s very clear.

The passage is not about works like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. If you turn a deaf ear to the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, and sick, then you will go into the lake of fire (Matt. 25:31-46). You will not be saved so as through fire; you will be lost so as through fire.

If you practice drunkenness, adultery, division, envy, greed, selfish ambitions and such things, then you will not be saved so as through fire, you will be told by Christ that he does not know you, whether your ministry was successful or not, whether you cast out demons or not, and whether you worked miracles or not.

1 Corinthians 3 is about workers in the church and their teaching. Thank God that those of us who teach do not have our salvation on the line when we teach. Nonetheless, we do not wish to have all our work burned up, as we will lose all our rewards.

If, however, we live like the world, greedily pursuing our own gain, we will be judged like the world, and we will be condemned along with all liars, cowards, idolaters, and unbelievers (Rev. 21:8).

By the way, I don’t teach these things because they’re fun or I like them. I teach them because that’s what the Bible says, and it is inappropriate for us to dance around what the Bible says because we have a 500-year-old doctrine that we have elevated to divinely-inspired status.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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6 Responses to 1 Corinthians 3 and Works Burned Up By Fire

  1. Jennie S. says:

    Hi John Bob,
    Your illustration is helpful in showing how obedience is linked to saving faith. We do need to abide in Christ to remain safe; and it’s funny, I’ve found algebra useful in many areas, even though I don’t remember the specific rules, even in situations like this, since the Bible uses specific words kind of like equations very often. I’m not a math kind of person, but I’ve seen how all subjects tie together in many ways. I like that.
    One thing that I see that might make a difference in the illustration is that in salvation we are made new creations by God’s Spirit, and have Him dwelling in us. We were dead and now we are alive, so it’s not only that we were pulled back from the cliff, but we were raised from the dead; so how does this relate to us remaining in Christ after we are saved by faith? It may make it ‘easier’ for us to remain, because we have His grace and power to help us, but only if we understand that this is what is expected and then obey it. It may also make the consequences worse if we don’t abide and walk in obedience to Him, since we were given so much, and then cast it aside. That is what Hebrews was talking about in several passages when it says ‘how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation’ and ‘trample the Son of God underfoot’.

    So I see what you and Shammah are saying, but, as I said under the post on “a quick overview of salvation”, I don’t think faith can be separated from works, or we run the danger of doing works by our own power instead of abiding in Christ and doing them by His love and strength. I think you guys, in your community, are learning to walk in the love of God and each other, which is what I want to learn; I’ve begun to see this finally as I’ve studied this year, but I want to DO it, not just HEAR it, as Jesus teaches. But I think you all may be living it better than you are explaining it, and I may be explaining it better than I’m living it. What happens if we help each other out 🙂

  2. John Bob says:

    Hey Jennie, John Bob here…

    The other night we were discussing this very thing at a teaching. I and another fella had a similar problem wrapping our brains around it.

    I’ll give you what I wrote in my notes…

    Salvation comes to save us from a perverse and wicked generation. We know this is true. Walk outside… we’re surrounded by the enemy. There is no salvation without faith, believing the Son who was sent to save us from this horrid world.

    So through faith in Him, we enter His life. Now, we have access to His grace… now we abide. Day by day, staying in Him and not walking away and returning to the life that we MUST count ourselves dead to… thus, we live in Christ.

    I have a rough time writing this way, because I often feel like I’m writing an algebra equation.
    faith+you multiplied by the square root of faith equals salvation… because it’s deeper than that. So now I’ll say it the way that i see it.

    If we’re friends, and I see you standing on the edge of a cliff, and you’re slipping, I’m going to try and save you. I reach out my hand and say, “Grab my hand! I’ll save you from falling to your death!”

    So you agree and grab my hand, you’re saved from the cliff and canyon and pretty brutal death. (salvation)

    Now, I, your friend tell you, “If you want to stay safe from that, follow me and stop hanging out by this cliff. I’ll show you the way and help you navigate to safety. I will give you everything you need to live.” (grace)

    Now, at this point, you have access to me, and all of the help that I want to give you. It’s common sense. But if you ignore what I’m giving you, and keep walking back to that cliff, you’re not going to have access to what I’m offering you.

    That may seem an over-simplification… but it’s real. No one can say they believe their friend, or even call them a good friend for that matter, if they don’t actually listen to, and DO what they say when they’re trying to help.

    How much more is it with GOD!?!

  3. Jennie S. says:

    I went back and read 1 Corinthians 1-3 again; I agree, Paul is talking about ministry, and I agree that the works being burned up (or not) is NOT talking about bad deeds or sins, but is talking about what materials they build with, God’s or their own. I would also say that in a way all believers are ministers of the gospel to the world, or should be, and that the hungry, blind, imprisoned and naked are not only the physically blind, etc, but are those who are spiritually so as well.
    So if we turn a deaf ear to spiritual or physical needs that we can meet, then we are in danger of judgment, because we either are not saved at all or have fallen from faith. So if we are living in sin and disobedience and don’t repent, we will be condemned.
    You are right that this passage can’t be used to say that people can live in sin and still be saved. And you are right that people who live in sin will be condemned, whether they originally had faith or not. I think we are just saying things in different ways or looking at the subject from different perspectives.
    As I said under an earlier post, what I still don’t understand is separating faith from works in describing two steps in salvation. I think it’s confusing to separate them since one flows from the other through the love of God.

    • Shammah says:

      Two things on this comment.

      One, in what you say in this comment, I’d have to agree that we’re thinking the same thing in general.

      Two, you say you think it’s confusing to separate them since one flows from the other through the love of God. I can understand that because it is true that faith brings grace which brings righteousness. If we American Christians didn’t already have a doctrine–at least most of us–that already separates faith and works, but in a false, unbiblical way, then I wouldn’t have to separate them. In American doctrine, faith is good, works are bad. I’m being very picky in some very specific contexts–but picky in a scripturally accurate way–to point out something that I wouldn’t have to point out if Christians weren’t so far off base in what they believe about works.

  4. Britt Mooney says:

    So good. I’ve had to teach on this a couple times, that the context of “wood, hay and stubble” is ministry you build upon Christ, the only foundation, not that you can live in sin and still be saved “as if by fire.”

    Which means something important to me: you can have the right foundation, but build upon it in a way that gains you no reward. You CAN actually do it wrong. You can at least not build the church in such a way that will lead to real value or reward.


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