Yesterday we continued our series at Southampton Student NAVS with our third session entitled “An Invitation to Build – Building to Last”.
Having spent some time in recent meetings discussing what it means to follow Jesus and to grow towards maturity we now turn our thoughts to the New Testament’s building metaphor. As someone who has spent most of their life building (whether it be in Lego or in house construction) this is a metaphor dear to my heart! Paul is clear that we are God’s building and he describes his own work in terms of being a builder, laying foundations in preparation for building work; “For we are fellow workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care” (1 Cor 3:9-11). Peter takes the metaphor further saying that “we are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:2).
To think about this metaphor we need to consider three areas; (1) Preparing to build (purpose, place and cost), (2) Laying foundations and (3) the building process itself. Our aim is to discover what it means to “build to last”. The truth is that while many set out to follow Jesus some give up on the way. At University it is reckoned that up to 50% turn their backs on Jesus upon arrival, choosing to go their own way once they are away from home. The statistics are not much better after Uni either; 5 or 10 years later a significant proportion have also given up. The question of how we build to last is therefore critical!
(1a) Preparing to Build: Purpose – The first part of the building process is to determine its purpose. Purpose determines everything; the design, foundations, costs, time scale, labour requirements, materials to use, maintenance costs and so on. The same is true of faith and so we too need to determine purpose. Paul writes that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do God works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). God has plans and purposes for our lives and if we’re going to build to last then we need to understand what they are. If we skip the purpose phase or it is unclear the building will be built ad-hoc and is more likely to fail its purpose. Our first task is to determine God’s purposes both in the world, and for us individually. Only then can we build to last. God’s purposes are a central theme of the Bible; He is “reconciling to Himself all things” (Col 1:19-20), He is working to bring “all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph 1:9-11) and He is working so that the nations know that He is the Lord (Ezekiel 36:23). Purpose determines everything and influences everything God wants to do in our lives.
(1b) Preparing to Build: Place – Location as they say is everything and is a key decision in preparing to build. We too must ask where God has asked us to build. God has chosen us! Paul says “we are…God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor 3:9). God made Himself known to us so that he could build something new in us and through us to build something new in others. Builders need to ask questions such as; how do we gain planning permission (who to apply to)? What is the ‘state’ of the land (is there a building on it already)? What is the soil type (clay, sand etc) and how does it affect our foundations? What is the country, geography and climate (surveys etc) of where we are building? The Bible says that we have been purchased by God “You are not your own; you were bought at a price…”(1 Cor 6:19). Planning permission is needed because there is a building there already. We need to give permission for it to be pulled down! We need to sign ownership rights to God! He will not build against you. The location is a war-zone. Others are out to pull the building down. The climate isn’t benign; it is prone to earthquakes & hurricanes! It will be tested. The soil is clay and prone to shrinkage and moving. To “build to last” the work within needs to be of a sufficient depth and quality. A building is made for the one who lives within it – we too are made for the one who lives in us.
(1c) Preparing to Build: Counting the Cost – Thirdly we need to think about cost so that we don’t run out of money half way through like the man in Jesus example about counting the cost in Luke 14:29-30; “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish’.” Counting the cost is an ongoing process that we have to do for life. Following Jesus will cost all that we have but God has given us the best He had to give. God will continue to meet the costs of the building but there’s one condition. We must agree not to build something else!
(2) Laying the Foundations – Next we need to think about the foundations for the building; that which the Oxford dictionary defines as ‘The strong base from which a building is built upon’ (Oxford). Foundations hold up the rest of the building. They’re not visible, but weaknesses will become evident in the building when the foundations are under stress. Everything else depends upon the foundations. Jesus illustrates this in the parable of the Wise and Foolish builders (Matthew 7); both buildings looked pretty similar from the outside but the foundations made a significant difference when the storm came. Paul is clear that our foundation must be Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor 3:10-11). We need to build our lives on the life and work of Jesus and all that He has done for us. The writer to the Hebrews after telling his readers they should have been on solid food rather than milk encourages them to move on from the basics and ensure that the foundations do not have to be laid again (Heb 6:1-3).
The world around us does not base its foundations on Christ. Instead it bases its foundations on Pride (I am God and I am good), Power (knowledge is power, the here and now is the only thing that matters, there is no God) and Possessions (the one with the most wins, financial security and comfort rule). God made us with deep needs for security, acceptance, significance and love and the key is to look for them in our foundation of Christ. Without Jesus the world needs to fill these needs in other ways. We can have a very ordered and even ‘Christian’ life while our foundations are no different to those of ‘the world’ around us. Many give up because they have the wrong foundations. When life’s hardships come, they look to their foundations, thinking they are Christ’s, when they are not, and give up.
(3) Building to Last: Roles and Responsibilities – The final stage of the process is to ask who is building this house and how is it being built. There are many different people are involved in the building process (carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers etc) and each are assigned different tasks. In terms of faith we can boil it down to the responsibilities shared between us, God, and others. If we try to do it all on your own we will fail; what we build on our own will not be good enough! We ourselves are responsible for building. Paul says that we are to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). In the next verse however we read “…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Phil 2:13). “God is the builder of everything” (Heb 3:4); God gives the growth but only as we put in the effort to build in our own lives. At the same time God has given gifts to specific others to build his church (Eph 4:11); planting, watering encouraging, building-up, praying, teaching, modelling, rebuking, admonishing one another and the list could go on and on. It is a team effort! After all we are also being built into a “spiritual building” together (1 Peter 2).
It’s important that the right person undertakes the right job. Tradesmen normally specialise in particular aspects of the building process and don’t necessarily have the experience or even the qualifications to do someone else’s job. Likewise we too need to be careful not to try to do something that is not our responsibility. God gives the growth but only as we put in the hard work to build in our own lives while others are seeking to help and encourage us.
Paul gives a final warning; “If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their 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 person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor 3:12-15). Are you building with gold, silver and costly stones OR wood, hay and straw? Your work will be tested. No other foundation will last except that of Jesus and no other building will last except that which is built by God along with our co-operation and consent. Are you allowing God and others to play their roles whilst taking seriously your own responsibilities to build? If you know anything about our story over the past couple of years you will know that it is not been an easy time for us. We did not choose it and at times we certainly did not enjoy it but we can say that our buildings are strong for it. The storms of life will come and we must build in such a way that when they do our building remains standing.
(4) Help others to Build to Last – To finish we come to the question of how we can apply these things to other people. God’s desire is to work through people like us in the lives of others, helping them to follow, to grow and to build. We need to invest deeply in them helping people to develop character and be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. I for one would rather give my life for handful of people who would “build to last” than to see a multitude of people make shallow decisions to follow Him and give up. University is a great time for building which is why we give ourselves to this ministry knowing that the decisions we made during these critical years will make a huge difference for the rest of our lives. Will you join us in seeking to “build to last” and asking God to enable you “to bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).