“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it“ (1 Corinthians 3:10).
Paul emphasizes over and over again that his labors were “according to the grace of God.” In other words, we can only do what God enables us to do. We are only as strong or skillful or successful as God’s grace working in and through us.
Have we been blessed to persevere in Christian service for several years or decades? We are persevering “according to the grace of God.” Have we been blessed to see and embrace some truth in God’s Word that perhaps some other Christian hasn’t? We have whatever truth we have “according to the grace of God.” Are you blessed with a good marriage? Believing children?
Every success in the kingdom of Christ is a supernatural one, “according to the grace of God.”
Yet, Paul also says that he has been a skilled master builder. Here is the other side of the same coin: while every success we experience is through God’s grace, we are responsible to be wise and careful laborers.
Paul was the one who planted/built the church at Corinth; and he had worked hard at it! Paul was a purposeful architect in that he had refused to build on any other foundation than Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11). And he was skilled in that he had been strategic and urgent in his labors among them: in only 18 months of labor in Corinth, Paul had laid a foundation for further gospel ministry by those who came behind him.
Paul had begun the labor, but others were now continuing that labor – including their current elders, but also including every member of the church at Corinth. And he warns, “Let each one take care how he builds.”
Each person is responsible for how he or she continues the kingdom work of Christ.
Every Christian is taking part in this colossal, multi-generational building project. Each of us contributes to the overall strength or weakness of the local church, and of the larger cause of the kingdom of Christ.
Paul, later in this same letter, again balances the necessity of grace with the responsibility of the believer: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me“ (15:10). Paul labored. He worked harder, in fact, than many other Christians. Yet, in the end, he says it was all of grace.
This balance of divine grace and personal responsibility is crucial for us still, today.
We can labor only “according to the grace of God”; and, at the same time, we are to take heed how we build.
May the grace of God work in us, by faith, in such a way that we skillfully build and carefully continue till the end. And may the wisdom of our work be grounded in the grace of Jesus Christ.