Last week I began to explore what it mean to develop a faith which lasts the test of time. If you haven’t read it then please do (Link), because it will help you make more sense of this post!
One of the passages in that post which was prominent was 1 Corinthians 3 in which Paul urges us to “build with care” (v10). In the following verse Paul writes that “no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (v11) and then he lists six building materials: gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay and straw (v12) which could be used to build on this foundation. A builders work will be shown for what it is (v13):
12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 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. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 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 Corinthians 3:12-15
Refined by Fire
Some of the materials will be burned up (wood, straw and hay) while others (gold, silver and costly stones) will survive. Paul says that “…it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work” (v13). This is not a question of salvation but of reward and Paul says that there is great reward for those who build with care upon the foundation of Jesus Christ in the lives of others.
Each of us is a work in progress and the same is true for those we are seeking to invest our lives wit. As we build, both in our own lives and in the lives of others, that work be revealed by the fire of testing. How do you react to the idea of being tested? It is not at all unusual in the Bible. Look at the following passage from 1 Peter which talks about all kinds of trials. Why do these trials come? Peter says it is so that the proven genuineness of our faith may result in praise, glory and honour. Notice that Peter says that faith is of “greater worth than gold” which itself is refined by fire. So too with us our faith needs to be refined, tested and proved genuine.
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.1 Peter 1:6-7
I am currently reading a book by Os Guinness and yesterday I read the following line: “Living is faith’s reality test” (Doubt, 1976). I don’t know about you but this really rings true for me – this past decade has been full of challenges: grief, loss, health issues, aging, relationships and transition to name but a few. Trials are a big part of life and there is no getting away from them. I sure that we would all agree that 2020 has been a particularly testing year as we’ve lived in the midst of a global pandemic. I am thankful that throughout the ups and downs of this time, God has given us the strength to keep on trusting Him.
The Example of Abraham (Genesis 22)
The Bible is full of examples of people being tested but the one that springs to my mind is Abraham. Specifically I am thinking of the time when God asks him to go and sacrifice his son Isaac on a mountain top. Remember Isaac was the son for whom he had patiently waited 25 years: the child through whom all of God’s promises were to be fulfilled. Abraham obeyed God and set out on a three day journey along with Isaac. This was incredible obedience for Abraham even took the wood needed for the sacrifice: He was taking no chances!
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.Hebrews 11:17-19
These verses in Hebrews help us see what was on the line for Abraham but they also help us to see how he responded in faith. He believed that God knew what He was doing and still had his best interests at heart.
Genuine faith continues to the end even when it is under attack. The critical characteristic of faith is that it keeps on believing. Yes at times, we all find ourselves asking those ‘why’ questions, but often God’s answer is often not so much about ‘why’ but ‘who’ (for example Job). We often don’t understand what God is doing and perhaps we won’t this side of Heaven. Faith asks us to believe that God wants the best for us and that He will stop at nothing to grow our faith. Why else would God send Abraham up the mountain?
At the moment when God tells Abraham not to lay a hand on his son, God says, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” God wants to know what is in our hearts and He will use the challenges of life as Faith’s reality test. A faith that has not been tested, has not been proved genuine. That said God knows what we need and how much we can bear: He will not push us beyond our limits.
We tend to respond in one of two ways: either we respond in faith and trust that He is for us or we respond in unbelief and drift away. The key characteristic of lasting faith is that it keeps on trusting. Sometimes that will mean believing even when we don’t feel like it! At times our faith might well be hanging by a thread, but that is OK – genuine faith will bring us through those times because such faith keeps on going. As we close listen to the words of the writer to the Hebrews on the essential quality of genuine faith.
“We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”Hebrews 3:14