The word of the day is “foundation.” How does it happen that church leaders lead the flock of Christ astray? How does it happen that the members of a church depart from the teaching of its founders? In today’s reading of 1 Cor. 3:9-17, Paul explains the squabbles dividing the church in Corinth. He writes, “As a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it” (OSB vs. 10).
Paul has founded the congregation, but other pastors have succeeded him. But the members are now dividing themselves according to what they perceive as the different teaching of their shepherds. Are Paul’s successors at fault?
Let Everything We Do as Leaders and Members be Founded on Christ
Paul only says that those who build on the work of others must continue the construction carefully. They should use the best materials so their work may not be inferior. Today we will consider that Christ is the foundation of the church. He should be the basis of our lives. Moreover, how we build on Him will be tested. We should make sure that everything that we do as church leaders and church members is constructed solidly on the firm ground of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s reading, Paul is speaking of the Body of Christ whose foundation is Christ (vs. 11) and whose growth is the work of God (vs. 9). None of those who shepherd the flock of the faithful are owners of the house. They are fellow-laborers or co-workers (vs. 9). The Greek word for “fellow-laborers” is a form of term “synergy.” The Orthodox Church uses this word to refer to our cooperation with the work of God in our hearts and lives. We might say that Paul and the other laborers in the vineyard and builders of the House of God are colleagues of Christ who are called to cooperate with God in tending to the congregation. Like associates in a firm, they are accountable for their work and will be judged on how faithfully they build on one foundation, Jesus Christ (vs. 11-13).
Allow No Space Between Christ and Ourselves
What above all is necessary for these co-workers of Christ? St. John Chrysostom comments that they must build firmly and entirely on the foundation of Christ. He writes, “Let there be no interval between us and Christ. For if there be any interval, immediately we perish” (Nfpf1:12 “Homily 8”). He explains, “for… the building stands because it is cemented together. Since, if it stands apart, it perishes, having nothing whereon to support itself (NfPf1:12 “Homily 8”).
The preacher goes on, “If He is ‘the Head,’ we are ‘the body’ can there be any empty interval between the head and body? He is ‘a Foundation,’ we ‘a building:’ He ‘a Vine,’ we ‘branches:’ He ‘the Bridegroom, we ‘the bride:’ He the Shepherd, we ‘the sheep:’ He is ‘the Way:’ we who walk therein…’ (NfPf1:12 “Homily 8”). All these images are metaphors of unity, that is, total oneness with Christ. And they admit no “integral,” no space in between them (NfPf1:16 “Homily 8”).
How Deviation from the Truth of Christ Begins
Extending this thought, Chrysostom says that we should not allow the slightest space to intrude between ourselves and Christ. Such a hiatus is like a small cut on the body, a tiny rip in a garment, a few loose tiles on a roof. If unattended, all of these may expand into a life-threatening wound, a huge tear, a collapse of the roof (NfPf1:16: “Homily 8’).
Therefore, both church leaders and those who are led must abide totally in Christ. How? Chrysostom says they must cling tightly to Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:21). That is, they should by their works (NfPf1:16: “Homily 8:). Using the metaphor of building a house, they must be careful to keep the commands of Christ as they build on the foundation of Christ.
Our study has reached the answer to the question of how church leaders and church members deviate from the truth. Our discussion suggests that straying from the true faith does not happen all at once. It begins with a minor variance from Christ and His teachings. Gradually, the cleft between Christ and the flock widens. Church leaders begin to innovate, update, and revise the Tradition passed down to them. Churchgoers let other convictions and concerns intrude into their relationship with Christ. Eventually, the building of the church or the believer’s life is no longer faithful to the Lord. And finally, its flimsy construction will collapse because it is built on sand and its materials are unsound.
Never Neglect the Small Things
With this in mind, Chrysostom says, “Let us never neglect the small things lest we fall into those that are great” (NfPf1:12 “Homily 8”). Whenever we commit “some little fault or even negligence,” we should not overlook it. But we should diligently seek the forgiveness of the Lord, pray that the Spirit would help us correct our course, and return to complete obedience to the Lord. By so renewing our total devotion to Christ, we will continue to build on the one sure foundation, and what we build will last into eternity.