1Co 3:12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- 1Co 3:13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1Co 3:14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 1Co 3:15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
When I was young I heard a preacher who told us that these verses taught us that we were sending up building supplies for the mansion Jesus was building for us. If we sinned more than we did good things our mansions would be incomplete or have holes in it when Jesus judged our works. Of course, one problem with that is that since we sin all the time no one’s mansion would ever be anything worth stepping inside. The very idea that we can do more good things than evil things is preposterous.
Of course all this falls apart also if we aren’t going to have mansions in Heaven and I don’t believe John 14 is teaching that. When Jesus said in John 14 that in his Father’s house are many mansions (KJV) he is referring to places of abode or rooms as the ESV has it. This makes more sense especially when you consider these are located in his Father’s House, not on his property or whatever. It is most likely a reference to the rooms in the Temple where the on duty priests stayed while they served. Jesus is simply saying that it is the Father’s will to have a redeemed people with him in eternity and Jesus was going to the cross to make a way for us to get there.
I believe what Paul is getting at is that all that we do in this life means something. It either honors the Lord (foundation) and will have everlasting reward or it is not done for the Lord’s glory and has no lasting value. It is generally assumed that the Day spoken of in the above passage refers to the day that we stand before him and receive reward for those things done in our body and I think that makes perfect sense. But I also think there is another way that all this takes place as well.
There is a very real and biblical sense in which the trials of life are God’s fire upon us to purify us so that we can produce works of enduring value. It is interesting that the language Paul uses here is used similarly by other NT writers:
Jas 1:10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. Jas 1:11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Here the useless pursuits of the rich man produce no lasting value while those who bear up under trials for the Lord receive an incorruptible crown.
1Pe 1:7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Again notice how fire is seen as that which proves the value of the work much like fire removes the dross and purifies gold. While even gold will eventually perish, those things done for the glory of God will never pass away.
And so while only a Christ honoring life will receive reward; such passages remind us that the most perfect way to prove our faith is under fire, not when everything is going well. The Lord has his way of helping us prove our faith and at the same time he is the one giving us the strength to endure. One of our goals as Christians should be to fan the flame of our love for the Lord so that in the day of trial we will come forth as gold.
And we don’t want to forget that the only hope we shall be saved so as by fire in the Day of Judgment is because we are found in Christ. He is our assurance, our strength, our only hope. If I endure through tribulation and ever do anything that glorifies my Savior it will be because of him and yet he promises to reward me while all along giving me the strength to do works that honor him. Amazing Grace.
Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.