What is meant by "wood, hay and stubble"?

The expression 'wood, hay and stubble' is found in 1 Corinthians 3, verse 12. What does it mean? The text doesn't spell it out. We have to work it out. The answer has implications for the life of faith.

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Transcript of “What is meant by 'wood, hay and stubble'?”

The Bible says that believers in Jesus are as living stones, and we are being built up as a spiritual house for God (see 1 Peter 2:4-5).

We are “God's building” we are told in the third chapter of 1 Corinthians (see 1 Cor 3:9). The foundation of the building is Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor 3:11).

The passage goes on to say: “... if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, each one's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it will be revealed in fire, and the fire will test the quality of each one's work. If the work that anyone has built remains, they will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, they will suffer loss, yet they will be saved, but only as through fire.” (em>(see 1 Cor 3:12-15).

There are two groups of people on view: One group builds with what is called “gold, silver, and precious stones.” The other group builds with what is called “wood, hay and stubble.” Note that both groups build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Both groups believe in Jesus. Both groups are people who will come into salvation.

But ... a fire is going to come. The gold, silver, and precious stones will last. The wood, hay and stubble will be burned up.

Those who built with wood, hay and stubble will haven othing to show for their work for the Lord in this life. They will make it to heaven, but they will suffer loss ... for all eternity.

A wise person surely wants to be in the group that builds with gold, silver and previous stones. A wise person wants to avoid being in the category of believers who build with wood, hay and stubble.

Which raises the question: What is meant by “wood, hay and stubble”? What is symbolized by the expression “wood, hay and stubble”?

The text doesn't make it clear. We have to work this out ... from the context.

The first thing we can highlight is that there is a contrast on view. Gold silver, and precious stones represent enduring material ... living stones that have certain fundamentals as part of their spiritual DNA. Wood, hay and stubble lack this quality.

Gold, in the Bible, is a symbol for faith in God. Silver is on view in the Bible as a symbol for redemption. And there is only one redemption that matters for salvation ... the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus bought us with His blood.

Precious stones indicate the apostles' teaching. And that teaching is summed up in the command to love one another. Love is the fulfillment of the Law.

In chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we read that spiritual gifts, and knowledge, will pass away (see vs 8) ... but faith, hope and love will last forever (see vs 13).

Faith in God, the hope that we have in the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, and the love that we have for one another ... these are everlasting qualities.

In other words, believers who build others up in faith in Jesus, and in love, are people who are preparing the right materials.

And then there is the wood, hay and stubble. Wood, hay and stubble won't last. They are corruptible. Just like flesh. Flesh ... the desires of man ... won't endure. Whatever is done out of self-interest, out of personal ambition, out of competition and envy ... must be in this category.

Is this thought supported by the wider context of the passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 3. The context is "division". The context is introduced in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes: “I exhort you ... that you all agree, and that there be no divisions among you ...” (1 Cor 1:10). And he continues: “... one says “I follow Paul”; another says “I follow Apollos”; another says “I follow Cephas” ... has Christ been divided? (see 1 Cor 1:12-13). So the letter opens with an important principle for Christians. We have unity in Christ. We are not to distinguish ourselves as followers of the particular teachings of any person or group. That brings division.

In chapter 3, the chapter starts with more on this topic. Paul writes: “... there is jealousy and strife among you ...” (1 Cor 3:3). “... when one says, 'I follow Paul' and another says, 'I follow Apollos', you are being unspiritual.” (1 Cor 3:4). And the chapter closes with the exhortation: “... let no one boast in men ...” (1 Cor 3:21). And, in between, in chapter 3, is the passage about “wood, hay and stubble”.

So, I feel safe in making an interpretation that “wood, hay and stubble” refers to believers who bring about division in the body of Christ by drawing people to themselves, and who compete for a following.

“... we are one body … “ (see 1 Cor 12:13). There are many different members, but it is still one body (see 1 Cor 12:14,20). And we need each other (see 1 Cor 12:21)