If you recall, last week we saw a clip from Stanley Praimnath. He worked on the 84th floor of one of the WTC towers and he survived. He was a Christian, but this event made him think about how he was investing his life and he ended up becoming a pastor. Sister Jen shared with me another clip by a pastor named Soju John and he, too, is a 9/11 survivor.
I have a lot to share today so in the interest of time, I am going to summarize the clip instead of showing it and you can google his name later on youtube.
Like Stanley Praimnath, Soju John was already a believer before 9/11. He came to this country from Calcutta to make a better life for himself and for his family. He and his wife were very talented. One worked in the North Tower of the WTC and the other worked in the South Tower.
They had everything they wanted. Success. Financial security. They were expecting their first child. But there must have been a restlessness in his heart so at 8:05am that morning, he sends an email to his friend, and this is what he wrote —
I sense a call of God upon my life. I am just chasing stuff. ~Sujo John
Then an hour later, the plane hits the floor where he was working. He thought he had lost his wife and the child in her womb, but God had mercy on his wife because she was running late that morning.
Prior to 9/11, Sujo was already a Christian. This means, he had Jesus as the foundation of his life. And God was already speaking to him that morning. And through the events that day, he felt called to full-time ministry and he became a pastor and shared his testimony, and I quote, “I was chasing after the things on my heart: success, fame, financial security. Now I want to chase after the things on your heart, God, and I am convinced that what is on your heart is people. I want to redeem my time. Here is a surrendered life. Would you rewrite the story of my life?”
My life and your life might not be as dramatic as Sujo’s, but for a believer, we ought to be able to relate with his testimony. While the details will be different, the core is the same — Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and therefore, we are all saved by the grace and mercy of God, and to this gospel, we responded with repentance and faith. And from that point on, Jesus became your foundation. That’s salvation and it’s fundamentally the same story for every believer.
In Sujo’s case, I think there are 2 distinct phases in his spiritual journey and I think his journey mirrors many of our own journeys. In the clip, Sujo doesn’t share about how he was saved. We know that when 9/11 happened, he already believed in Christ, he had a relationship with Christ and the morning of 9/11, maybe during his devotion time, God spoke to him and he felt a sense of calling upon his life. He doesn’t say much, but you can read between the lines. He was torn. He was restless. He had everything he wanted in this life, yet he wasn’t satisfied. He confessed that until that day, he was just a closet Christian. But he sensed on the morning of 9/11 that this day was going to be different.
And sure enough, God was speaking to him that morning. 9/11 happened and the end result was Sujo surrendering to the call of God upon his life.
I’d like us all to reflect a bit on our individual spiritual journeys. We are all different. We all come from different backgrounds and various walks of life. Some of us grew up in the church. Your conversion might have been gradual, like the disciples in the gospel. Peter, James, John and the rest had a relationship with Jesus. They kind of knew him as at least a good Rabbi, a teacher with some miraculous powers. And they liked him enough to follow him around for 3 years, but when did they actually make him the Lord and Savior of their lives? Not until after the resurrection and even after Jesus resurrected, some of them were confused for a while. Peter for one was going back to his life of fishing. Many of us fall into this category. Your salvation was very gradual.
For others, your conversion was dramatic, like that of Apostle Paul. You were a sinner and you knew it. You were going head first into sin and away from God. You were pursuing the things of the world with gusto. You wanted nothing to do with God, or Christians, or church. But God broke through. You were going one direction, but God intervened and you repented and you turned around. And like the prodigal son in Luke 15, you did an about-face and you went home.
Whether your salvation was gradual like the disciple Peter, or dramatic like Apostle Paul, we all have to get to where Peter did, where Paul did, where Pastor Sujo did. You might meander a bit, or you might do a straight shot, but we have to eventually get there. And the destination I am talking about is a life of surrender. Total surrender.
Sujo said it well, after his experience on 9/11, he realized that he needs to stop chasing after the things on his heart: success, fame, financial security. Instead, he said,
“Now I want to chase after the things on your heart, God, and I am convinced that what is on your heart is people.”
Listen carefully to how he ended the clip —
“I want to redeem my time. Here is a surrendered life. Would you rewrite the story of my life?”
That’s surrender. I want to redeem my time. I want to stop wasting time chasing after stuff. Prior to surrendering to God, Sujo was in control of his life. The pen was in his hand. He was writing the script of his own life. A life of respect and money and prestige. And because he was a Christian, God probably was somewhere in the story. If his life were a book, Sujo might have devoted a chapter or even a few sections to God, but Sujo was still the main actor and God was just part of the supporting cast.
Then, Sujo invites God to take over — would you rewrite the story of my life? In other words, my life is a blank canvas. God, I give you the pen. God, my life is yours. Write whatever you want. This is the picture of a surrendered life.
Surrender is really important. We all have to get there, somehow, someday. Have you surrendered your life to God? I mean, really surrendered. I am not talking about belief in Jesus. I am talking about control. Who controls your life? Are you following Jesus, are you a follower of Christ or are you calling the shots and making decisions and telling Jesus to follow you and bless whatever decisions you make? There is a fundamental difference. Surrender means yielding the control of your life to God. Giving him the pen and saying, Lord, my life is a blank canvas. Write whatever you want and I will obey you. I will follow you.
You may wonder, what does surrender have anything to do with this passage? This passage is talking about Judgment Day as well as the materials we use to build our lives. I’m going to answer that toward the end of the message so keep that question in the back of your mind.
12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 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. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
The Corinthian church, esp. its leadership, is under God’s judgment because although they started out well and had Jesus Christ as their foundation, meaning they were saved, yet they started building with the wrong kinds of material. There are only two categories of materials with which we can build God’s church, or build our lives for that matter. On one hand, you have gold, silver and costly stones. And on the other hand, you have wood, hay or straw.
The first category consists of materials which are very reminiscent of the Old Testament temple.
In Exodus 26, the tabernacle is built with gold and silver. In Haggai 2, the new house of God is built with gold and silver. In 1 Chr 22, the temple of God is made with gold, silver and stone. In 1 Chr 29, the temple of God consists of gold, silver and all kinds of fine stone. In 2 Chr 3, the temple of God is built with gold and precious stones.
It is not surprising, then, that when Paul, who is a Pharisee and hence very familiar with the Old Testament, when Paul is speaking about the New Testament church, he references the same building materials as the OT temple or tabernacle: gold, silver and costly stones. The only difference is that we are not talking about a physical building. We are the temple of God. Christian brothers and sisters gathered together in community represent the new dwelling place of God. In addition to the OT references, he future city of God in Rev 21 consisted of valuable metals and precious stones. So there is a very obvious distinction between this first category of building materials and the second category of wood, hay or straw.
In contrast to the Old Testament temple of God and even other ancient pagan temples, the houses of ordinary people in Paul’s day were made of wood, hay and straw. The frames of most houses and buildings were built of wood. Hay or dried grass, mixed with wood, was used for the walls. Roofs were thatched with straw.
The contrast between these two categories of building materials is rather obvious. The fire comes and those who built with gold and silver and stone survive while those who built with wood, hay and straw are burned up.
13 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.
The imagery of fire in the Bible is used in 1 of 2 ways — either to purify or to test. The use of fire here is the latter — the fire is used to reveal or to test the quality of each man’s work. And that test is whether or not each man’s work will survive the flames of judgment. Specifically, the Day with a capital “D” here refers to Judgment Day when Jesus returns and the world as we know will end. At that time, his judgment will be like a fire to consume the flimsy, flammable materials so that only the imperishable remains.
Then in v14 —
14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
Paul says that we be rewarded according to whatever survives the fiery judgment. So are you following the logic from the first chapter of this letter? Paul preached only Jesus and him crucified to the Corinthian church. That was the foundation for the church. And on top of the foundation of Christ, we are expected to build using gold, silver and stone, imperishable materials.
Those who built with imperishable materials will receive a reward. I am not sure exactly what that reward looks like. We know from Scripture that God will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Beyond that, the Bible doesn’t say explicitly what this reward will look like. But I will say, considering the kind of God that we serve and his impeccable track record for producing quality work, I am sure this reward will be out of this world.
However, if you build with the wrong materials, it doesn’t matter how great the foundation is, the building itself is going to be burned up and the only thing that will remain is a concrete slab at the bottom. Nothing will survive the flames except for the foundation.
It’s like you may have a safe in your home that protects your most valuable items. The walls of the safe are fire resistant. Thus, in the event of a fire, everything burns up — your Cal flag, my Eagles tshirt, your photos, your couch, your books — but what remains is the precious stuff because it was protected by the safe. The same is true in spiritual life — if you are saved, if Jesus is your foundation, that means everything in your life might burn up, but in a sense, you will be saved because you have the good deposit. You are saved because you have a safe. Jesus is your safe. You are in Christ. I hope this makes sense. This is important stuff. You gotta get this.
The first warning is for everyone — examine the spiritual foundation of your life. Is Christ your foundation?