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Hillcrest Construction Company

????? years ago the building on this site was called Aldersgate Methodist Church. The congregation was quite small; and their new pastor, Dr. Bill Ritchie, was about 25 years old and fresh from seminary. Through a series of events, Bill was asked to take a teaching position at Western Washington University. Because the congregation was small, his superiors agreed to allow him to pastor and work on campus at the same time. Well, he took this campus job on like it was a pastorate. He spent lots of time with students and was very relational with the other professors.


One particular professor was having a severe personal crisis in his life. In the midst of his difficulty, he became impressed with the quality of the new teacher on campus. Bill Ritchie seemed to have a meaning and purpose that was missing from this man's own life. He became friends with Bill, who talked with him about his life. After a series of events and a special evangelistic meeting, the professor, Dr. Bob Patton (now one of our elders), discovered the true meaning of life and committed himself to the Lord.

This story speaks to me in many ways, but mostly it exemplifies the importance of letting your life be a testimony wherever you are—in and out of the church.

About one year later the Methodist church closed, with Dr. Bill Ritchie its last pastor. The church building was bought by a new congregation, Hillcrest Chapel, with 25 faith-filled members and their pastor, Richard Ellison. They merged with another southside church and Hillcrest Chapel was born. Four years later in 1978—one year after I came as pastor to Hillcrest Chapel—Dr. Bob Patton along with his wife Betsy came on staff with me. He has been an indispensable and valued member of our staff ever since.

Bill Ritchie left teaching and is presently pastor of a very large church in Vancouver, Washington called Crossroads Community Church. When I talked to him this week, he was thrilled to hear about the legacy left behind and how his ministry continues to bear fruit in Bellingham.

The exciting thing for me after 25 years of pastoring Hillcrest Chapel is that the people building continues. Each of the pastors who preceded me—Richard Ellison and Eldo Lindgren—built an excellent foundation that I have had the privilege, along with the many who have made this church home, to build upon. I am thrilled and excited about my ministry and this church.

The passage that speaks so strongly to me about the necessity of continuing to build this church is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Last week I spoke from a parallel passage in 1 Peter 2, where Peter illustrated for us in a number of ways what the church is all about. Peter used the image of stones and gave us a wonderful example of the church as a people building.

Peter reminded us in 1 Peter 2:

We come to Christ—the One who is a prepared and qualified living stone—in intimate worship. Even though our Lord was rejected by many during His lifetime, He is a chosen and precious cornerstone of the church today.

When we become believers, like Christ, we become living stones too. We are being built together into a spiritual house—not a jumbled pile of stones, but a union with each other where we are being fit together and belong to each other. We are part of the construction crew and the building materials, however. As we are being built by Jesus into His church, we are also building each other up as well.

In addition to our building responsibility, we are also being made into a spiritual priesthood—a priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices to Christ. What are we to offer to the Lord? Our bodies, our praise, our finances, and our good works are a few of the acceptable sacrifices we are to offer to God as His priests. In 1 Cor. 3:10-15, Paul in a similar way to Peter describes the Hillcrest Construction Company. (By the way, this is to be a description for individual churches as well as the church worldwide.)

In keeping with the theme of the church as a construction company, we see:

  • The Building Contract is officially awarded—v. 10a
  • The Building Construction progress and plan is reviewed—v. 10b.
  • The Building Codes are outlined—vv. 10c-12
  • The Building Construction will be inspected—vv. 13-15.

Paul is depicting the Corinthian church as a building and reviewing what has already been built and what remains before the building is complete. The stress is on the quality they should strive for in construction.

Let's begin at the start of any project:

The Building Contract is officially awarded and signed.

v. 10a—"By the grace God has given me..."

This was the only way Paul could enter into the building of the church in Corinth. Grace is unmerited favor—God's resources available at Christ's expense. This is also the only way we have any authority, power, strength and know-how to become a member of the Hillcrest Chapel Construction Company and bring this project along according to the plan.

Grace is what enables gifts to work.

Rom. 12:6—"We have different gifts according to the grace given to us." Don't start any ministry without an awareness of the grace available to you, and eventually it will be extremely helpful to know what specific grace gifts you have been given.

Grace is what propels and enables all personal ministries.

2 Tim. 2:1—"You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2] And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others."

As we join the construction crew, we do so with God's blessing and power—His grace.

The Building Construction progress and plan is reviewed.

v. 10b—"I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it."

The building being completed by the apostles is reviewed.

Paul is reminding us that the apostles were themselves part of the foundation of the church. In Ephesians 2:20 he said God's church is "...built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone." The apostles built their ministry on Christ, and in the process, became part of the foundation of the church. Interestingly, because they had such a good teacher, Paul says his work was that of an expert builder.

The apostles, with all their weaknesses, were able to build the church with great expertise. As we'll see in a moment, that remains a model and a goal for us as well.

That leads us to our part in the building process.

The building of this building is in reality, the building of people.

This is a building unlike any other. It is not made of wood or glass. It is made up of an invisible union among visible people, so it is visible and invisible. We sometimes can see the church when it is gathered in one place. For us, that doesn't happen very often. Yet in another sense, we can't see all the church because of the spiritual connections that are here but unseen.

This is why I will often have people hold hands—to illustrate spiritual reality. The union of the church is manifest in three distinct ways.

  1. First, we can refer to the church as the total union of all believers for all time, both on earth and in heaven.
  2. Second, there is the manifestation of that church as an individual congregation. As an individual congregation, we are the church too. We are to function as a distinct church and yet are still part of a greater church.
  3. Third and still further, even believers around us are a picture of the church as well. You have met the church and it is you. As individuals, we can't talk about the church apart from ourselves; the church succeeds or fails because of each individual, for we are the church individually and collectively.

So we are all responsible to build, be built and continue to build on what began with the apostles and will continue until Jesus returns. Now notice how Paul gives them an on-the-job pep talk about the needs that will guide this building project.

The Building Codes are outlined—v. 10c.

The first code is: be careful.

"But each one should be careful..." We are to be careful how we build. As we saw, the apostles were wonderful examples of how the people building should be constructed. Likewise, when we build upon what the Lord has given us to do, no shoddy work should be done. We should tolerate no half-hearted ministry.

This building will someday be beautiful, so it is necessary we show good workmanship as well. Do we all understand this is a word to every believer? Is it clear from this passage and others that there is no such thing as a spectator in the church? If we aren't building, we are either not a believer or we are being disobedient and lazy. If we aren't building, we are relying on others to do our work. If we aren't building, we don't understand what it means to be a Christian.

The second code is: be centered on Christ.

We should also be careful to build on the only foundation. v. 11—"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." This is how we'll know we are building expertly.

  • Is Jesus glorified in this?
  • Is He the source of the strength?
  • Is He being uplifted?

We don't have to be perfect to build expertly. As long as we build on Christ it will ultimately be beautiful! We will find skill, grace, gifts, and strength when our ministry is focused on and flows from Him.

The third code is: be certain to use the best building materials.

v. 12—"If any man build on the foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw..."

Paul says the Corinthians and we are to use only the best materials—long-lasting ones, like gold, silver and precious stones. He also lists the inferior, temporary and flammable building materials as wood, hay or straw. "Costly stones" used here refers to those large building stones carved out of granite or marble that are put upon a foundation to raise the walls and complete the edifice—they come from the same one who is the chief cornerstone. They were costly stones because they required a great deal of work in quarrying, shipping and fitting them into the place where they ought to be.

Gold and silver bring beauty to the edifice and can withstand any condition—especially the elements and fire. These materials are permanent; they never fail or slip off the foundation—they are in line and a reflection of the foundation.

As believers become mature and strong in Christ, the following represent permanent building materials: love, compassion, mercy, truth, gifts, worship, service, witness, healing, spiritual disciplines, fidelity in marriage, long-term ministry, faithfulness, self-control, purity in relationships, a love for people and God's Word—especially ministry and discipleship of others begins to flow from their lives.

This is in contrast to confusion, hostility, stubbornness, judgmentalism, poor ethics, selfishness, self-centeredness, bad ethics, lack of communication, no thanksgiving, temporal values and treasures, lust and lies, lack of respect: all the traits of an immature child.

How does this building affect ourselves and others?

  • The best way for us to be built is to build, i.e., spiritual exercise builds spiritual strength.
  • The most direct focus of the building project is the building God enables us to do in other people's lives.
  • The way we will know if we are being built up is by looking to see if others are being built through God's working in us. We need to ask:

    What is the impact of my life?

    What am I building with?

    What kind of material am I putting into another person's life?

    Am I being careful how I build?

    Am I building on Christ?

In addition to what we might see in ethics, there is one final way we will know if our work is centered on Christ and that we are using the right material.

In this passage we see why it is important to maintain a high quality control of the building materials; because:

The Building Construction will be inspected.

vv. 12-15: "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."

One of the highest motivations for our work is that an inspection/examination is coming. What does all this specifically mean? Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:10—"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (See also Rev. 1:14) At the judgment seat of Christ, only Christians will be present, and here Christ will personally examine all of our Christian lives.

At this judgment, our salvation will not be judged—that will be secure. At this judgment the Lord will examine our ministry, our good works, all of our works, to see what they have been made of, what we have been building with. Here the good and the bad will be judged and rewards will be received. 1 Cor. 3:13a tells us, "...his work will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light." Will it be gold, silver, precious stones? Will it be wood, hay or straw? How will our building, our works be revealed?

The Scriptures indicate in Revelation 1:14 what the Lord's eyes will be like. John says: "His eyes were like blazing fire." Those searching eyes will view our lives; the poor materials will be burned and the good material will be rewarded. 2 Cor. 5:10—"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."

The fire will determine therefore, the rewards we will receive. Will our due be rewards or the loss of rewards? There will be some believers whose entire life of ministry and deeds will suffer loss—only burnt cinders before the Lord.

Is this the kind of experience you want… to stand before Him with nothing but the ashes of a selfish and immature life? How do you want to finish your life? I want to finish well.

The apostle Paul was obsessed with finishing well. He saw life as a race. To the Ephesian elders he said: "However, I consider life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." Acts 20:24

To the Corinthians later in this letter he said: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25] Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26] Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27] No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize"—1 Cor. 9:24-27.

He also saw life as a fight, saying to Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith"—2 Tim. 4:7. To finish well, our earthly race will not mean we reach perfection. When our time comes, however, we will still be growing in our love for Christ and our intimacy with Him. When we come to the end, we will still be beating our body and making it our slave. When we reach the end, we will still be facing temptation.

Do you want to finish well, with gold, silver and precious stones? What will be your name when you stand before the Lord?

Rev. 2:17—"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."

(I want to be called a good and faithful servant.)

We need to ask ourselves right now if we want to stand before Christ unashamed.

  • What is my life counting for?


  • What is permanent in my life?


  • What will go through the fire inspection of my Lord?


  • On that great day, when all believers who have ever lived see my life inspected, will I be joyful that my life has been filled with good investments and have contributed to the Lord's glory, or will I be ashamed that I have wasted my life and everything I have done will be burned up?

When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ

And He shows me His plan for me,

The plan of my life as it might have been

Had He had His way, and I see

How I blocked Him here, and I checked Him there,

And I would not yield my will—

Will there be grief in my Saviour's eyes,

Grief, though He loves me still?

He would have me rich, and I stand there poor.

Stripped of all but His grace,

While memory runs like a hunted thing

Down the paths I cannot retrace.

Then my desolate heart will well-nigh break

With the tears that I cannot shed;

I shall cover my face with my empty hands,

I shall bow my uncrowned head...

Lord of the years that are left to me,

I give them to Thy hand;

Take me and break me, mould me to

The pattern Thou has planned!

—Martha Snell Nicholson, taken from Expository Studies in 1 Corinthians, Ray C. Stedman,Word Books, p. 78.