Fellow Workers With God
When Paul called the brethren at Corinth 'fellow workers with God', his comment was not limited to the assembly at Corinth. It applied to the whole Church. Being fellow workers with God is a very exciting concept because it involves us directly in what He is doing. It implies a close working relationship with Him to attain a specific outcome.
According to Paul we are not only working with God - we are also the work of God (I Corinthians 3:9). Paul uses the analogy of constructing a building, but not one made of wood and stone! He says that if we have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us then our body is God’s Temple (I Corinthians 3:16). A temple is defined as a dwelling place for God. Not only are our bodies temples, but the concept Paul was explaining extends well beyond our individual physical bodies. He was saying that collectively we are part of a greater temple – a spiritual temple.
As a wise master builder Paul said that he laid a foundation on which we build (I Corinthians 3:10). He confirmed in a letter to the Ephesians that the foundation comprises the teachings of Jesus Christ, the apostles and the prophets - “Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom all the building, being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22). That is the work of God in which we are to be involved. The shaping and fashioning that is taking place now, in our individual lives is preparation for our part in that collective spiritual temple.
By following the examples of Christ, the apostles and prophets and practising what they taught we add to the foundation until - “we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Christ himself is the chief cornerstone and we are being shaped and fashioned to be fitted together into the framework of that magnificent spiritual temple, or spiritual body, that will become the kingdom of God.
The analogy of building a temple has its precedent in the Old Testament, when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. There are many aspects of the temple and its construction that have parallels for us today.
Take for example the manufacture of instruments of service that were used inside the temple. Great emphasis was placed on the quality of the precious metals used. The gold and silver was to be pure and carefully weighed for each individual item. The significance for us is that we are to be purified and weighed in a spiritual sense.
Paul, in II Timothy 2:19-27, likens us to the vessels in the temple and talks about purging ourselves from iniquity (lawlessness) so we become vessels of honour, sanctified (set apart) for use by God. James talked about drawing close to God and purifying our hearts or minds (James 4:8). In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ talked about getting to the source of our actions – our thought processes. By purifying and controlling our thoughts we have better control over our actions (Matthew 5:8, 21-22, 27-28, and II Corinthians 10:5). It is better to focus our thoughts on the pure things of God rather than the things of this world (Philippians 4:8, II Corinthians 4:1-5 and James 1:27). The world has its own set of standards and morals, which are constantly and subtlety promoted through magazines, books, films and other media. If we absorb and adopt the world’s standards we run the risk of being rejected as part of the spiritual temple (I Corinthians 3:17-21). To purify ourselves is to purge our minds of the corruptness of this world by renewing our minds to become more like God.
That is what He wants us to do and will work with us to achieve it (Romans 12:2). It is God’s will to work in us that we may be perfected in Christ (Philippians 2:13, Colossians 1:28).
Tried by Fire
Pure gold requires the intense heat of a furnace to burn out the impurities. Just as gold and silver is refined by fire so, too, are we purified by fiery trials. When we are told to rejoice in our trials (I Peter 1:6-7) it doesn’t mean that we take pleasure in pain. It means that as fellow workers with God we can now face life’s many trials confidently (John 16:33, Romans 5:3-5).
One of the most encouraging passages in this respect can be found in Isaiah 41:8, 10 and 13. According to Paul this passage is directed at the Church who are the true children of Israel - spiritual Israel (Galations 3:7, 26, 29). What great joy it is to know that we have that sort of help available and that God Himself will walk with us through our trials. Although it may not seem like it at the time, our trials will never be more than we can bear. They also work to our good, working patience and endurance, helping us to understand what others suffer (II Corinthians 1:4).
To achieve consistency with the vessels and instruments produced for the temple, the precious metal for each item was carefully weighed. This would have been done by balancing the gold against a standard weight measure. In order to maintain consistency among the spiritual vessels we weigh our lives against that of Christ and the written word of God (John 1:1,14, Ephesians 4:12-13). He is the standard to which we aspire.
It is important to keep in mind that although we strive for perfection we will fall short of the mark. That is what sin is – falling short of the mark. We are not yet perfect. When there is insufficient gold to balance the scales against the standard weight, the goldsmith adds more to make the scales balance. Similarly when we fall short of the mark we can expect God to make up the shortfall by helping us overcome our problems.
Solomon was promised help and did not hesitate to ask for it when he felt inadequate for the job (I Chronicles 28:20, II Chronicles 1:10). We have the same promise which we read about in Isaiah 41 (also Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 4:16). Paul said he could do all things through Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:13). God’s Spirit helps with our inadequacies (Romans 8:26). Being a God of infinite love and mercy he does not leave us short.
Consistency in our beliefs is also achieved by carefully weighing our beliefs against what the Bible says (II Timothy 3:16). The Bereans of New Testament times are a good example. They measured the things they heard preached against the scriptures to test their validity, ensuring they were pure and unadulterated truth (Acts 17:10-11). We should test what we are taught, proving all things, weighing them against the scriptures, holding fast only to those things which measure up to what the Bible says (I Thessalonians 5:21).
The Bible warns us not to be taken in by the philosophies and traditions of men and especially in this later age, false prophets and teachers abound (Mark 7:5-9, 13, Matthew 24:4-5,11 & 24). Don’t believe what men tell you without proving it to yourself from the Bible. You will find the Bible has many warnings about false teachers (II Peter 2:1-3, I John 4:1).
It says many will be deceived. Don’t be surprised to find that some things we have been taught as part of traditional Christianity do not weigh true with what you find in the Bible (II Corinthians 11:13-15, Revelation 12:9). Even our own personal interpretations can be suspect (Jeremiah 17:9). Pray fervently that God will continue to walk with you and keep you from error. He expects us to check what we are taught so we build only with quality materials – only with pure truth carefully weighed.
Another aspect to consider is the testing of our workmanship. Paul warns us to “take heed how we build” (compare I Chronicles 28:10 with I Corinthians 3:10-15). If our workmanship is substandard cracks will begin to show, especially when the heat becomes more intense during fiery trials. We want our workmanship to be rewarded not condemned (Revelation 22:12).
Paul warns those that teach to be careful what they teach. All of us (every man) are warned to be careful how we use the scriptures (also Matthew 5:19 and II Timothy 2:15). If we follow the standards our workmanship will endure and we will be worthy of our vocation (Ephesians 4:1). The ultimate weighing, of course, is in the final judgement when we will be accountable to God for the way we have lived.
Jesus Christ has the plans and specifications for a new Temple – a spiritual temple. Whether we are to be vessels of honour, or pillars, in God’s Temple (Revelation 3:12) he knows exactly what is needed to shape each of us to fit into the precise position he has reserved for us (John 14:2). And we can be confident that he will not give up on what he has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).
Solomon and his fellow workers laboured with a great enthusiasm to produce a magnificent and awe-inspiring temple that last only a few hundred years until it was destroyed. As fellow workers with God we have the task of building a temple that is far, far greater than any thing ever built before. It is a spiritual temple that will never be destroyed