1 Cor 13:12-15, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
We see hard work as a virtue, but it’s important to work for the right things. It’s possible to be a diligent worker and still end up with your labours being burned up. When Paul mentions “that Day” he is referring to a day of judgement. This is not necessarily the final judgement of the world in the end times however, but can be each person’s own judgement immediately following death.
What are the minimum requirements to get into heaven? One extreme view is antinomianism. This teaches that your manner of living and obedience to Christ are of no importance and you can be saved regardless by only believing. This view is growing in popularity among some parts of mainstream Christianity who want the comfort of going to heaven but without having to make any lifestyle changes. The other extreme is legalism which tends to come with a strong religious spirit. This camp may believe only members of their denomination are saved and none else. They may include optional practices such as Sabbath keeping and make them mandatory. Overall their leaders exercise a tight grip of control over members and their lives. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are one such group.
The Bible itself does not clearly teach an exact “minimum” of faithfulness to be saved, nor the precise number of sins you can get away with while remaining in Christ, nor does it show a precise line where a person can barely step across and be assured of heaven. This is because the Bible was written to guide us toward the center of God’s will, not to comfort us in lukewarm living while remaining at the edge of entering the devil's domain. It is clear however that there are different levels of reward in heaven depending on a person’s faithfulness. Lets look at verse 15, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” This destroys the legalist argument that a person has to live near perfect in order to be saved. There will be plenty of Christians who believe in Christ but do not receive any extra reward apart from eternal life, due to their works being judged unworthy. Like a person pulled out of a burning building by a firefighter they have to stand on the road watching all they worked for going up in flames, but they still survive. Some Christians will have this experience after death, due to putting in so much effort for the world and little for Christ.
Lets look at the building materials our works can construct. Paul lists three good materials and three bad. Gold, silver, precious gems, or wood, hay, stubble. Immediately what jumps to our attention is the value of the first set while the second set would be used for a common third world hut. What is less obvious however, I do not believe Paul is referring to earthly materials when he mentions the gold, silver, and precious gems. These are the materials used to construct the heavenly city New Jerusalem. The city is built on a foundation of 12 gemstones. The streets are paved with gold. These cannot be burned up by disaster or trial because they are spiritual materials.
Revelation 21:19-21, "The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass."
The wood, hay, and stubble on the other hand refers to our material accumulations. The dream house (wood) enjoyable as it may be, cannot be brought along to eternity. At “the day” of death, we surrender all the material objects our works helped gain and leave them behind. All we can take along are the works we did which are of value to Christ.
This principle also applies to ministry, not only personal life. The wood, hay, and stubble is the physical church building. The precious stones however are the PEOPLE, the true church! “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5). How many leaders blinded by ego fall prey to the temptation to create a grandiose new facility (by “faith” of course) and only ever fill the current building twice a year on major holidays? Meanwhile being oblivious to the state of their own flock. The true church and temple are the people, not the building. You would rather stand before Christ knowing you helped grow, minister to, and equip the flock rather than boast to Christ of how you built the largest facility. There will be no boasting standing before the fearful awe of God.
Lets take prayerful analysis now. How much of our works are for Christ and for helping/ministering to those in need, and how much are simply for ourselves, building our own earthly kingdom we will have to leave behind?