Build Your Life To Last!November 5, 2015
Recently Denise and I celebrated a very special anniversary. Fifteen years ago this fall, we held our first service of the Moscow Good News Church in a rented hall of a hotel. We had just moved our family from Riga, Latvia, at God’s direction, to begin the church in Russia’s capital city. And I am so glad we obeyed! Since that time, the Lord has built MGNC into a thriving church of approximately 3,500 people that is continually expanding its reach in this vast city and beyond. We’ve grown vigorously over these 15 years, moving from one rented facility to the next larger facility and celebrating many big and small victories along the way.
But this year’s celebration was different. This anniversary was our first ever to be celebrated in our permanent church home! The sights and sounds of those Sunday morning festivities were precious and beautiful. Hundreds of balloons were released into the air during one of the services — and as the balloons cascaded upward in a colorful display, the congregation worshiped and praised God with deep gratitude and joy. Denise and I just stood tearfully in quiet awe of everything the Lord has done through this ministry in this part of the world.
In a couple of months, Denise and I and our family will celebrate another momentous anniversary — 25 years of service to Jesus in the former Soviet Union! While there will be no cascade of balloons to commemorate this occasion, we are no less grateful, joyful, and awestruck by the goodness of God in calling us to carry out this assignment in the Russian-speaking world. We are so thankful for each opportunity to obey Him as we live and work before an audience of One and receive our praise from God who called us (see 1 Corinthians 4:5). We’re also deeply grateful for our partners who have stood with us so faithfully — some over the entire span of these 25 years and longer — to help us see our assignment fulfilled. They, too, will receive a reward for their obedience, faithfulness, and works of generosity before the Lord.
That is what I want to share with you this month. I want to talk to you about the importance of building our lives correctly — in obedience to God’s will and plan — and to do it excellently, in a way that honors Him and what He has done for us through His precious Son. I will start by telling you about an experience from several years ago that made this truth and a familiar Bible verse really come alive in my heart.
One particular night, Denise and I heard the roar of fire engines coming very close to our apartment. We lived in a high-rise building in central Moscow at the time, and when those fire trucks came speeding toward our building with their horns blaring, the sound reverberated, bouncing between the buildings on either side of our street just as sound might ricochet off the walls in a great cavern.
I saw the lights flashing from the backside of our apartment, so Denise and I stepped out onto the balcony to see what was happening. The building directly behind us was on fire — and the blaze was literally piercing the top of the roof with flames ferociously crackling upward into the smoke-filled air. The heat was actually so intense that the firemen were unable to get very close to the building. They had to stand back and watch the fire do its worst work before they could begin pumping water close enough to put out the burning timbers on the roof. After the fire finally subsided, the only part of the building that remained was the part made of stone and mortar. Everything composed of burnable material was gone — reduced to ashes and burned to a crisp!
With today’s sophisticated technology and machinery, fires are usually extinguished much more quickly, thus reducing the amount of damage done. But in this letter, I want to talk to you about the time during which the apostle Paul lived when there was no such equipment. Fires were a huge problem in large ancient cities. In fact, when fire broke out in a larger city, it often raged out of control for many days before it was finally put out.
What made this condition even worse was the fact that the slave population in large cities lived in dwellings made of wood, hay, and stubble. This is exactly the picture Paul had in his mind when he wrote in First Corinthians 3:12, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.” Of course, Paul was talking about the way each of us builds our lives before God — and whether we are building on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ or upon some other foundation that will not stand the tests of life.
The word “wood” in First Corinthians 3:12 is the Greek word xulos, and it means wood, wooden timbers, branches of a tree, boards, or anything made of wood. This word was also frequently used to depict fuel for a fire. Thus, this word zulos can describe a building composed of cheap, temporary, perishable, burnable materials that would not withstand a fire.
The word “hay” in the same verse is the Greek word chortos, and it means grass or hay. This “hay” should never have been used as a construction material, for it ignited very easily. It was meant to be the food that was fed to animals and is often translated as the word “fodder.” The word “stubble” is the Greek word kalame, which means straw or stubble. This material was so inferior that even animals wouldn’t eat it. Yet in the homes of slaves, it was used as a floor covering, insulation, and stuffing for beds. It was cheap, disposable, and easily replaceable.
Think of it — these slave dwellings were constructed of wood and sticks, covered with a roof of grass, and insulated with straw. Imagine how quickly these flimsy structures went up in smoke when a fire touched them! When a fire struck one of those little houses, it ignited like a box of matches and started a chain reaction. Pieces of burning wood, grass, and straw whirled upward into the air as red-hot embers that would fall on and spread to surrounding slave dwellings. One after another, every little house made of wood, hay, and stubble would burst into flames and began to burn like an inferno. When these fires ran their course among those ancient slave dwellings and finally died out, everything that could be burned was burned. Everything made of wood, hay, and stubble was gone!
This is one reason why important buildings were made of stone. Builders knew that if a fire ever raged through the city, a stone building might get scorched, but it would potentially still survive. Although it might be stained because of the fire and smoke, the building could endure the worst of the ordeal and be fixable!
Living in the First Century and ministering in large cities, Paul had no doubt seen the effects of fire. Knowing that hardships, tests, and trials eventually come to every person’s life, he used this example in First Corinthians 3:12 as a backdrop before he added in verse 13, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”
Paul began this verse by saying, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest….” By using the words “every man,” the apostle informed us that eventually a time comes to every person when he will be tested. The words “every man” are from the Greek word hekastos, an all-encompassing word that means everyone, no one excluded. Hence, Paul was telling us that no one in this world is completely exempt from fiery situations that arise to test him and thus reveal the true quality of what he is doing and building with his life.
By using our faith and yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can avoid many catastrophes and demonic attacks in life. But as long as we are in this world where the devil operates, there will be moments when fire comes to test our works. When these fires come, that is the golden moment when we discover if our works are made of gold, silver, and precious stones — or if we have been building our lives with wood, hay, and stubble.
The word “work” in the phrase “every man’s work” informs us of what will be tested. The Greek word is ergos, which refers to the work or the output of one’s life. It signifies some kind of action, deed, or activity. Very often it referred to a person’s occupation, a person’s labor, or the things produced by a person’s life or efforts. Thus, it could describe someone’s job, his acts of labor, or even his career or line of work — his profession.
Paul warned us that a day will come when our works will be tested. On that day, the true quality of our works and the real motive, intention, and reason behind our works will become evident. That is why he says, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest….” The word “manifest” is the Greek word phaneros. It describes something that is visible, observable, obvious, clear, open, apparent, or evident. In fact, our works will become so evident that Paul says, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire…” (1 Corinthians 3:13).
That word “revealed” is the Greek word apokalupto. It is a compound of two Greek words, apo and kalupsis. The word apo means away. The word kalupsis means a curtain or a veil. When these two words are compounded, the new word describes something that has been veiled or hidden for a long time, but is now clear and visible because the veil has been removed.
The revealing action that apokalupto describes is like pulling curtains out of the way so you can see what has always been just outside your window. The scene was always there, but the curtains blocked your ability to see the real picture. But when the curtains were opened, you could suddenly behold what had been hidden from your view. In that moment, you saw beyond the curtain for the first time and observed what was there all along but had not been visible to you.
The tests of fire come to every one of us. In my own life and ministry, I want what I do to withstand the tests of fire as silver, gold, and precious stones. I believe this is what you desire for your life as well. Then when our works are “made manifest,” or revealed, they will be proven to be works of heartfelt obedience and surrender that will enter eternity with us (see 1 Corinthians 3:14,15). This truth should cause every one of us to seriously seek the face of God about the way we’re building our lives. Although you can’t alter the past, you can decide today that you will build your life on the foundation of nothing else but Jesus Christ. As you do, He will help you redeem the time and press forward to capture the prize of His calling for you. (1 Corinthians 3:11; Colossians 4:5; Philippians 3:12-14.)
How can Denise and I and our team be praying for you this month? It is always thrilling for us to hear from you about the things that are closest to your heart. We are honored to be your prayer partners!
We love you and thank God for you!
We are your brother and sister, friends, and partners in Jesus Christ,
Rick and Denise Renner
along with Paul, Philip, and Joel and their families