Let me tell you a little story – an oldie but goody.
Once upon a time there were three little pigs – not so named for their stature as compared to other pigs; but as compared to, say, a redwood tree. Yes in the grand scheme of things, these pigs were little. But this is not what defined them in this world; rather it is what they did in this world that defined them.
All three pigs were starting out new lives and needed homes for their families. So they built their homes along the south California shore.
These were smart pigs though, so they built their homes on a solid rock foundation that had already been put in place for them rather than building on the sandy beaches. They knew that California’s coasts occasionally had inclement weather and they wanted to be prepared for it.
This is as far as the houses’ likenesses went though.
The second pig was not as lazy, but he still didn’t feel it was necessary to put too much effort into the completion of his house with such a wonderful foundation. So he went out into a forest, cut down a few trees, and turned the wood of those trees into a nice, sturdy house for his family.
The third pig, however, recognized that although the foundation laid for him was enough to sustain his life, he now wanted take advantage of this foundation and live a life that was worth something. So he went out and found an abandoned gold mine. This mine was drained nearly of all it’s gold, but some still remained in bits and dust here and there. Day after day, the third pig went out to this mine and collected as much gold as he could – usually only a few pounds per day. After a very long time and lots of hard work, the third pig had enough gold. He melted it down and formed it into his house.
Springtime came, and with it came the stormy season. Waves pounded the coast and eroded away the beaches, washing away the houses of all the little pigs’ neighbors on the sand. But the three little pigs’ houses stood strong on their foundation, as we all know they should have.
Springtime passed and summer came, bringing a scorching heat to the pigs’ neighborhood. In late August, the infamous Santa Ana winds blew in from the mountains. A massive fire erupted from the forests and began eating away at everything in its path. The pigs’ houses were no exception and the deadly inferno enveloped them.
The First Pig’s house of straw went up in flames and vanished as quickly as flash paper, leaving only the foundation.
The Second Pig’s house of wood burned as well – not as quickly and thoroughly; but in the end, all that was left was a pile of ash and a few lucky twigs.
The Third Pig’s house of gold, however, stood strong. The fire could not destroy it. In fact, the fire, instead of destroying the house, refined the gold, burning up all of its impurities, but leaving the house intact.
When the danger was clear and the pigs returned home with their families to assess the damage, it was clear to them that the First Pig had used the gift of his foundation without care, taking it for granted. The Second Pig didn’t take the foundation fully for granted, but he also didn’t use it to its fullest potential. The Third Pig, however, recognized the gift of the foundation and devoted his life to making the most out of it. In the end, the Third Pig had an even stronger, more valuable house on the other side of the fire.
Now, as nice as that story was, I do have a point (big surprise there).
The other day I was reading 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Reading through it, I couldn’t help but feel like Paul was the original author of this moralistic tale from our childhood. Read it for yourself and see what you think.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 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. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
I’m sure the pieces are starting to fall into place in your mind at this point, if they haven’t already; but allow me to continue for both of us.
Paul begins this passage by talking about a single foundation that we all build upon, the foundation of Jesus Christ. He is the only foundation we can build upon in order to ensure our salvation (remember the parable of the two houses from Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:46-49). Just like the three pigs survived the storms because of the foundation upon which their houses were built, we have our salvation because of our foundational belief of salvation through Jesus. But I’m probably not saying anything you don’t already know.
What comes next is more applicable for us as Christians. Paul talks about what we build on Jesus’ foundation. Obviously, Paul is speaking symbolically throughout this passage, so what does he mean when he speaks of building with “gold, silver, costly stone, wood, hay or straw”?
If the foundation is our salvation, then the houses upon that foundation are our lives. Paul is pointing out to the Corinthian church and to us that our salvation is only the beginning. It is what we build on that salvation that defines our lives in this world and the next.
I know some people who foolishly build on their salvation with straw. They have accepted their salvation, but don’t feel like putting any more effort into their lives as Christians. Instead, they have invested the remainder of their mortal lives in worldly pleasures. I have seen these people trampling the Body of Christ – that is, the Church – in an effort to get what they want in life (I can recognize it easier in others, since I did the same thing for years). When the Day Paul speaks of comes (passing on from this life to the next, the Second Coming, what-have-you), they will pass through this figurative fire with only their salvation intact. Everything else will be burned.
I know others who are building practical houses of wood. They are more committed to glorifying God in their lives, and they invest portions of those lives to “furthering His Kingdom”, as I have heard it said before. However, when it comes to being radical for God, they settle for the comforts of this world – acceptance by society, popularity, technology, wealth, etc. I feel like this is the category that most of us fall into these days. In the end, we won’t have much to show for our mortal lives on the other side of eternity.
However, I know still other people who shed the cares of this world and live lives fully for Christ. They are building on their foundations with gold, choosing to live in relative poverty, starting up non-profit Christian organizations, and witnessing to their neighbors. These are people like Rodrigo, who don’t care what persecutions they may pass through. They only care about living lives that glorify God.
So what category do you fall into? Which pig are you? Which pig do you want to be? Will you pass through the fire with only your salvation intact? Or will you arrive on the other side of the fire with your house still still standing strong, and perhaps even better off?
I pray that when we finally meet God, we can present Him with lives that were at least slightly deserving of our salvation.