..."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." (1 Corinthians 3:13-15 NKJV)
People often joke about standing before God and having their lives examined. But the picture Paul paints in 1 Cor. 3:9-15 is anything but funny. He is dead serious about a day of accountability for believers. Most of us are familiar with performance reviews on the job. Paul describes the ultimate performance review--the moment when we stand before God and He evaluates the worth of our lives on earth, not for salvation but for reward or loss.
Paul uses the image of metal being purified in a refining fire (1 Cor. 3:13-15). The fire burns away the worthless impurities, leaving only what is valuable. Based on the values set forth in many passages of Scripture, we can imagine the kinds of things that constitute "gold, silver, [and] precious stones": acts of charity and kindness; ethical decision making; the pursuit of justice and fair play; keeping our word; courage and perseverance in the face of opposition and persecution; humility; communicating the message of Christ to coworkers; honoring our marriage vows; working diligently at the work God gives us; trusting God to keep His promises. Whatever is left when the fire burns down, Paul says, God will reward us for it (1 Cor. 3:14).
Conversely, we can envision what sorts of "wood, hay, [and] straw" will burn up: the lies we've told; ways we may have cheated customers; abuse heaped on family and relatives; manipulation of situations to our advantage; selfishness of all kinds; the squandering of income on trivial luxuries; turning a deaf ear to the poor; damage allowed to our environment; the systems created to lock ourselves into power and lock others out; the arrogance of self-sufficiency; lack of faith.
When the smoke clears, what will be left of your life?
(from The Word in Life Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson)