If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
— 1 Corinthians 3:15
I’ll never forget the day as a boy that I accidentally set our kitchen on fire! I had wanted to surprise my parents by cooking a wonderful meal for our family. I’d planned to set it on the table and have it ready for them when they arrived home from work. I cooked the corn, the green beans, and the biscuits — and, finally, it was time to fry the hamburger meat.
Because time was running out, I decided to turn up the fire so the meat would cook faster. The oil in the bottom of the pan grew so hot that it began to spit into the air. I jumped back to avoid being struck by it, but knew I had to do something quick because that hot oil was splattering all over the stove top and creating a huge mess. I reached to turn the fire down, but just as I did, the hamburger meat in the frying pan burst into flames! And when the fire on the meat burned down to the oil in the pan, the oil exploded into fire. My well-prepared hamburger patties were being cremated right before my eyes!
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I reached for a pitcher of water and threw it on the flames to put the fire out. When I did, the hot, burning oil detonated like a bomb! An explosion of fire surged into the air. Red-hot embers of flaming hamburger exploded in front of me like lava spewing forth from a volcanic eruption. I watched as those burning embers sailed into my mother’s beautiful curtains that hung above the kitchen sink and engulfed them in flames. I was so completely stunned by what was happening that I stood motionless. I watched in shock as the fire consumed my mother’s delicate curtains.
Soon the tips of the flames reached upward and curled around the kitchen ceiling and cabinets. Smoke began to fill the room. The air became so smoke-filled that it began to hurt my eyes. That is when it dawned on me that I better act fast because I had a serious situation on my hands. So much happened so quickly that I don’t recall how the fire was extinguished. By the time my parents arrived home, the fire was gone. But instead of surprising them with a wonderful meal, they came home to a kitchen that was severely burned by a fire started with hamburgers!
The fire was gone, but the smell of smoke lingered for days. That acrid smell was in our clothes; it was in the walls; and it hung in the air. However, as bad as those cabinets looked, the damage was primarily cosmetic. With the aid of sandpaper, an electric sander, and a lot of hard work, my father put those burnt cabinets back in shape again. When he finished, no one could ever tell that there had been an inferno of flaming hamburger in our kitchen!
In First Corinthians 3:15, the apostle Paul wrote about the loss that can be created by fire. He wrote, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
The word “burned” in Greek is katakaio — a compound of kata, meaning down, and kaio, meaning to burn. When compounded, the resulting word means to burn down, such as a building that burns all the way to the ground. In other words, this is no small fire. This is a fire that completely devours a building so that nothing remains but the foundation. Normally we would say a building burned up, but in actuality the word katakaio in this verse means to burn down until nothing remains but the foundation.
Such a consuming fire would be a great loss! That is why Paul went on to say, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss….” The word “loss” is from the word zemia, which means to suffer loss, to experience damage, or to forfeit one’s reward. This word pictures great injury, harm, and loss of property. It is the sad image of a man standing in the burned-down, charred remains of his house or building — but in this case, he is standing in the midst of his works that are now burnt to a crisp! Now nothing remains but a pile of rubble. After all his years of living and doing, everything went up in smoke, and now he has nothing to show for his life or works!
But Paul gave us this good news: “…But he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Even though this person’s works have burned, he is still saved himself. His works have been lost, but not his salvation.
Although it’s good news that this person is still saved and headed to Heaven, Paul tells us that he is saved “yet so as by fire.” The phrase “yet so as by fire” comes from the Greek words dia puri. The word dia means through, and the word puri is the word for fire. When these words are used together as in this verse, most commentators agree that the Greek phrase means, “…He shall be saved, but like one who is escaping through the flames.” Or it could even be translated, “…He is saved, but he has the smell of smoke on his clothes.”
We should always be so thankful that God’s grace covers our sin, our mistakes, and the things we have built wrongly in our lives. But who wants to look into the face of Jesus and say, “Lord, I made it, but everything I did in my life went up in a puff of smoke”?
God has so much planned for us, and if we will listen to the Holy Spirit and build our lives and works wisely, our works will endure any fire that comes to test them. Then when we stand before Jesus, we will joyfully look into His eyes! Isn’t that better than having the smell of smoke on your clothes because your works were built so shabbily that they were burned in the fire and lost?
At the beginning of this Sparkling Gem, I gave the example of the kitchen I nearly burned to the ground. When the fire went out, there was smoke in the walls and the carpet, and the smell of smoke hung in the air for days and weeks. But rather than gaze on the mess in a state of despair, my father took his sandpaper and sander and went to work to put those kitchen cabinets back into good shape again.
If you can see that much of what you have built in the past has already burned up, of course you should repent for building your works wrongly in the first place. But wallowing in unending remorse won’t help you make any changes in your life. Never forget that God is on your side and He is just as sorry about your losses as you are!
Today I urge you to grab hold of the Holy Spirit’s power and begin to rebuild your works — and build them correctly this time. There is nothing you can do about the past except repent for what you did wrong. However, you can do something about the present and the future! Make the decision that from this moment onward, you are going to build your works right. I know that you don’t want to show up in Heaven with only the smell of smoke to show for your life. So ask the Holy Spirit to help you begin building works that will survive every test and bring a testimony of Jesus for eternity to the glory of God!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I thank You for speaking to my heart today about what I am building with my life. I must admit that a lot of what I’ve done has already gone up in smoke. Yes, I know that I’m saved and headed to Heaven one day when I die, but when I see You face to face, I want to have something to show for my life. I don’t want to have only the smell of smoke to show for the years You have given me here on planet earth. I repent and ask You to please forgive me for what I’ve built too hastily and wrongly in the past. Holy Spirit, I ask You to help me build my works correctly this time!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I declare by faith that I am cautious in the way that I build my life, my works, my relationships, my business, my ministry, and my family. One day I will stand before Jesus, and on that day I will give account for my life. Because I am aware of that day, I live my life circumspectly and am very thoughtful and careful in the way I construct my life. Because the Holy Spirit guides me and I listen to Him, I build works that abide!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of past areas in your life that went up in a puff of smoke because you didn’t build them first in the right place? What were those areas of your life?
- What did you learn from that experience? Did you just feel sorry and regretful that you lost so much, or did you allow the Holy Spirit to teach you from that experience?
- Are there areas of your life that the Holy Spirit is trying to correct right now so that they will not go up in a puff of smoke later in life? Are you listening to the pleading of the Spirit? What areas are you most concerned about right now?