Originally published in El Karaza Magains, on Friday, August 5, 2005
I would like to meditate with you in the teachings of St. Paul the Apostle about the spiritual building, as mentioned in his first Epistle to Corinthians, where he said: “According to the grace of God which was
given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.” (1 Co 3:10-13).
So what are gold, silver, and precious stones? What is straw, and what is fire?
A Wise Master Builder: In the English translation of the Bible, New King James Version, came the sentence “A wise Master builder” meaning a wise teaching builder. And St. Paul the Apostle as a Master in building placed Jesus Christ as a foundation to every spiritual building in our doctrine. Christ is the foundation in His redemption to us and in every work He did for us. But what can we build on the foundation of this doctrine? Here appears the difference between one person and the other and between the behaviors of each of them:
A person whose building is of gold, silver and precious stones, if was tested by the fire or trials and tribulations does not lose his salvation but becomes better. Because the fire does not burn the gold but purifies it of impurities. But if a person’s building was of wood, hay or straw, it will burn. Straw burns fast, wood burns in a longer duration; hay burns with a smoke. And thus all the work is wasted and it is hard to save it. So let’s meditate together in all these types of building s and what they symbolize.
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First, we start with the superior building, which is made of gold, silver and precious stones: fire cannot conquer these. No doubt that this building symbolizes the three main virtues that the apostle mentioned in 1 Cor. 13:13: faith, hope and love, added to them other characteristics.
Faith: To have a stable spiritual building that does not vanish, get burnt or shaken, you have to have a real faith. And what is meant by faith is not just mental faith but practical faith. Millions of people have the mental faith. And even St. James the Apostle says: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble!” (James 2:19). He means that they only have faith in God but all their deeds are evil. Thus the apostle says in the same chapter that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 20). And the practical faith has levels of which the highest is the faith that moves mountains. Our Lord talked about this faith in Mark 11:23, Matthew 17:20 and Matthew 21:32. And the church history talked a lot about faith and heroes of faith.
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If you have a strong practical faith in your life, the Lord says to you: “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). Meaning that through faith, nothing stands against you, but God’s hand work miracles with you. How beautiful is the Lord’s saying to Martha, talking about the death and the raising of her brother Lazarus, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:40). And of the importance of faith is that in many of the miracles He made, the Lord Christ used to first ask the person: Do you believe? Like He did with the two blind men (Mt 9:28-30), or he said to who was healed: “Your faith has made you well.” (Lk 8:48; Mk 10:51, 52).
Strangely enough, it was said to the Lord that He did not make any miracles in His country and that was because they did not believe in Him and doubted Him (Mk 6:3-5).
+ Some people may have doubts and that’s why no miracles happen to them. Faith had to be stronger
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Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). You must believe that God is capable of working and that He loves you and wants to work for your sake. Therefore, do not panic, be afraid or doubt. You should also believe in things that you did not witness with your eyes for “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Jn 20:29)…
You should believe that God sees everything you do, hears everything you say, and keeps track of everything, even thoughts of the mind, desires of the heart, intensions and hidden matters. If you believe in all this a full faith, you will be embarrassed to commit a sin and be scared because God sees and keeps track.
And the true faith includes your faith that the sin in directed to God. Like prophet David said in Psalm 50: “Against You only I have sinned, and done evil before You.” The Righteous Joseph said: “How then can I do this
great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). All this because sin is a disobedience of God’s orders, opposition against Him, rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and resistance against the grace work and an indication of one not being embarrassed from God who sees him or forgetting this while committing sin.
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There are other things related to faith from the side of forgiving and sin. Like believing that the sin is not forgiven except through redemption and by putting it over the Lord to erase it with His blood. So, you through sin, add extra weight on his cross or more bitter drops in a cup for Him to drink…And you have to believe that without heart purity no one will be able to see the Lord and believe that only the pure in heart will see the God (Mt 5:8). Believe that one day you will stand before God’s judgment seat and you will receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Co 5:10). The Church teaches you everyday in the Compline Prayer where you say: “Behold, I am about to stand before the Just Judge terrified and trembling because of my many sins…” holding before you the Lord’s saying: “unless you repent you will all
likewise perish” (Luke 13:3-5).
Faith also includes believing in all His commandments and teachings and abiding by them…This is the faith that is part of the building that is made of gold, silver and precious stones. What else comes besides faith too? There is Love and its importance.
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It is not sufficient to only believe in God but better to love Him as well. When the Lord Jesus Christ was asked about the first commandment in the Law He said that it is love: loving God and people: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39). Because of this the apostle said about the three great commandments faith, hope, love, “but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). And said: “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8).
It was also said about love in the Song of Solomon that: “Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it” (Song 8:7). You have faith, that is good, but you can build more in it with love as the apostle says: “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). And says: “and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2). Therefore the Lord says: “My son, give me your
heart, And let your eyes observe my ways” (Prov. 23:26). A love from the heart has the fruit of keeping the commandments.
Therefore, the Lord says: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He says also: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). St. Augustine also says: “Love, then do
afterwards whatever you wish for”, meaning do whatever you wish for in the God’s Love. And the apostle made love the first fruit of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
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And the desired love is to love God more than anything and more than everyone, and even more than the whole world…From the side of the world St. John the apostle says: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the
Fr. is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15). St. James the Apostle says: “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). Our Master the Lord says: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37). The Bible gave you the example of our father Abraham who loved God more than his only son whose soul loves him and accepted to offer him as a burnt out of his deep love to God and obedience to Him (Genesis 22). So if you wanted to build your life a spiritual building, on God’s love ask yourself in a total frankness: do you love anything or anyone more than God? Is there something in your heart that competes with God?
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I remember a story in the visiting in troubles service that happened with us around 55 years ago. We were servants in Sunday School. And we went to visit one of the brothers who did not come to the church and we sat and each of us started asking him about the reason behind him stopping to come to the church meetings? As our questions started to increase, a spiritual servant from among us said to him: “I do not want to tire you with many questions, but I want to ask you one question. Do you now love God as you used to before?!”. Of course that was the core of the subject because if his love to God was the same as it was, he would have never stopped going to the church. Thus said the Lord to the angel of the Church of Ephesus “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).
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The love of martyrs of our Lord is what made them sacrifice their lives for Him. Each one of them loved God more than himself and more than worldly life. This love made them accept death in joy, as the Lord said: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Yes, this is the love. For many people say that they love God but the time of trial shows whether they really loved God or not. “The fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:13). The fire may be temptations, tribulations, or fights from devils… maybe then you discover that you have a certain covetousness that prevent you from loving God for you love this covetousness more than you love God!!
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We said out of gold, silver and precious stones: faith, love and there is also hope in eternal life. Hope in Eternal Life:
If you are thinking about your eternal life, you would have never sinned. Because of this, the church taught us to put eternity before us everyday so we say on our Compline prayer “If life were everlasting, and this world ever-existing, you would have an excuse, O my soul…But repent, O my soul, so long as you dwell on this earth, for inside the grave, dust does not praise”… Truly, if the human thought constantly in his eternity and in standing before the just God’s seat of judgment, he would have been scared and never sinned…
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+ Among the precious stones that you build your life with is: communion of the Holy Spirit. This is what St. Paul the apostle mentioned in (2 Cor 13:14). Meaning that you become in a communion with the Holy Spirit in every thing you do, in every thought that comes to your mind and every desire you feel in your heart. Ask yourself in all this: is the Holy Spirit in communion with you in this or not?! And if not, stay away from everything that the Holy Spirit does not commune into with you.
+ There is also abiding in God. The Lord says: “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4) and “Abide in My love” (John 15:9). This abiding resembles the branch abiding in the vine so that it bears fruits…The person abiding in the Lord is not movable easily. And the apostle says: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58).
+ Also among the precious stones that you build your spiritualities with is: Depth. Depth in your prayers, in your meditations, in your understanding of the Bible, in your service, in caring about others and in every spiritual work you do.
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Straw: If this is how things are, then what is the straw that is burnt?
+ An example of the straw is: shallowness of the spiritual life that has no depth. Like a worship without understanding, a communion out of the habit and a confession without repentance with which you take forgiveness of the past sins to open an account of sins of the same type!
+ Another example is a prayer without humility, without depth and without passion, only listing of words of which St. Mar Isaac warned by saying: “Say I have not stand before God to prepare words…”!
+ Another example of straw is: Reading the Holy Bible without understanding or meditation. Or attending sermons without doing what is heard, but just as a presence… or a worship on which applies the Lord’s saying: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isaiah 29:13).
+ It is only an appearance or a sort of religious appearance to gain people’s praising and not out of a virtue and love for the good… Just straw…
+ The spiritual trial comes and burns all this straw and the person falls and all his work is wasted uselessly. It is the fire of trial that tests the person’s work and how close he is to God in all what he does. And are his virtues abiding in God’s love or not?