James E. Woods

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Could You Survive a Fire?

Could You Survive a Fire?

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
1 Corinthians 3:13

I will never forget the sound of the fire engines one night several years ago. We lived in a high-rise building in central Moscow, so when those fire trucks came speeding through the city with their horns blaring, the sound reverberated between the buildings on either side of the street as sound might ricochet off the walls in a great cavern.

I saw the lights flashing from the back side of our apartment, so Denise and I stepped out onto the balcony to see what was happening. The building directly behind us was on fire — and the flames were literally piercing the top of the roof and ferociously crackling upward into the smoke-filled air. The heat was so intense that the firemen were unable to get very close to the building. They had to stand back and watch the fire do its worst work before they could begin pumping water close enough to put out the burning timbers on the roof.

After the fire finally subsided, the only part of the building that remained was the part made of stone and mortar. Everything composed of burnable material was gone — reduced to ashes and burned to a crisp!

With today’s sophisticated technology and machinery, fires are usually extinguished quickly, thus reducing the amount of damage done. But in the apostle Paul’s day, there was no such equipment. Fires were a huge problem in large ancient cities. In fact, when a fire began, it often raged out of control for many days.


What made this even worse was the fact that the slave population in large cities lived in dwellings made of wood, hay, and stubble. As we saw in yesterday’s Sparkling Gem, this was exactly the picture Paul had in his mind when he wrote, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble” (1 Corinthians 3:12).

To review, the word “wood” in this verse is the Greek word zulos, and it means wood, wooden timbers, branches of a tree, boards, or anything made of wood. However, this word was also frequently used to depict fuel for a fire. Thus, this word zulos can describe a building composed of cheap, temporary, perishable, burnable materials.

The word “hay” in the same verse is the Greek word chortos, and it means grass or hay. This “hay” should never have been used as a construction material, for it ignited very easily. It was meant to be the food that was fed to animals and is often translated as “fodder.

The word “stubble” in First Corinthians 3:12 is the Greek word kalame, which means straw or stubble. This material was so inferior that even animals wouldn’t eat it. Yet in the homes of slaves, it was used as a floor covering, insulation, and stuffing for beds. It was cheap, disposable, and replaceable.

Think of it! Those slave dwellings were made of wood and sticks, covered with a roof of grass, and insulated

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with straw. Imagine how quickly these flimsy structures went up in smoke when a fire touched them! When a fire struck one of those little houses, it ignited like a box of matches and started a chain reaction. Pieces of burning wood, grass, and straw whirled upward into the air as hot embers and fell on the surrounding slave dwellings. One after another, every little house made of wood, hay, and stubble burst into flames and began to burn like an inferno. Wood, hay, and stubble fueled the fire!

When these fires ran their course and died out, everything that could be burned was burned. Everything made of wood, hay, and stubble was gone!

This is one reason important buildings were made of stone. The builders knew that if a fire ever raged through the city, a stone building might get scorched but would still survive. Although it might be stained with smoke, the building would endure the worst of a fire and be fixable!

Living in the First Century AD and ministering in large cities, Paul had no doubt seen the effects of fire. Knowing that hardships, tests, and trials eventually come to every person’s life, he used this example as a backdrop when he said, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13).

Paul began this verse by saying, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest….” By using the words “every man,” the apostle informed us that eventually a time comes to every person when he will be tested. The words “every man” are from the Greek word hekastos, an all-encompassing word that means everyone, no one excluded. Hence, Paul was telling us that no one in this world is completely exempt from fiery situations that arise to test him and thus reveal the true quality of what he is doing and building with his life.

By using our faith and yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can avoid many catastrophes and demonic attacks in life. But as long as we are in this world where the devil operates, there will be moments when fire comes to test our works. When these fires come, that is the golden moment when we discover if our works are made of gold, silver, and precious stones — or if we have been building our lives with wood, hay, and stubble.

The word “work” in First Corinthians 3:13 informs us of what will be tested. The Greek word is ergos, which refers to the work or the output of one’s life. It signifies some kind of action, deed, or activity. Very often it referred to a person’s occupation, a person’s labor, or the things produced by a person’s effort or life. Thus, it could describe a person’s line of work, his career, his acts of labor, or even his profession.

Paul warned us that a day will come when our works will be tested. On that day, the true quality of our works and the real motive, intention, and reason behind our works will become evident. That is why he said, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest….”

The word “manifest” is the Greek word phaneros. It describes something that is visible, observable, obvious, clear, open, apparent, or evident. In fact, our works will become so evident that, as Paul said, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire…” (1 Corinthians 3:13).

That word “revealed” is the Greek word apokalupto. It is a compound of two Greek words, apo and kalupsis. The word apo means away. The word kalupsis means a curtain or a veil. When these two words are compounded, the new word describes something that has been veiled or hidden for a long time, but is now clear and visible because the veil has been removed.

It is like pulling the curtains out of the way so you can see what has always been just outside your window. The scene was always there for you to see, but the curtains blocked your ability to see the real picture. However, when the curtains were drawn apart, you could suddenly see what had been hidden from your view. In that moment, you saw beyond the curtain for the first time and observed what was there all along but had not been visible to you.

Often we see things on the surface, but we don’t know the real motivations of a person’s heart or the hidden reason why people do what they do. However, a day is coming when our works and the works of others will suddenly come into view. On that day, the curtains will be drawn apart, and the picture will become clear both to ourselves and to others. On that day, Paul said fire will pull the curtains apart so that the real picture becomes clear.

Paul went on to say, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire….” The words “by fire” can either be translated by fire or in the midst of fire. The language makes it 100-percent clear that fire is the medium that will expose the truth about what we have done and what we are doing with our lives. We are tested by fiery situations or in the midst of fiery situations.

Paul goes on to say, “…And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” The Greek word translated “try” is the word dokimadzo. It means to test, to try, or to scrutinize. It was used to describe the testing of metals or other materials to see if they could stand up under pressure. If these materials had a flaw of any kind, the pressure of this test was so intense that it would cause that object to crack or to break into pieces.

The purpose of the test was not to hurt the object, but to expose flaws that could later do greater damage to many people. Putting materials through such dokimadzo tests was intended to point out the weak, dangerous, hidden flaws before these materials were used. It was simply a fact that later when these materials were used, they would be put under tremendous stress. If hidden flaws remained undiscovered, it could prove disastrous. Moving too quickly or using materials that were improperly made could result in the loss of an entire project, in the loss of money, and even in the loss of life.

Like it or not, it’s just a fact that tests come to us all in life. So rather than shut our eyes to this reality, we must allow the Holy Spirit to expose the hidden flaws in our souls, our character, and our work that would later break us when even more fiery trials come our way. It is up to us to make sure that we are building our lives with materials that will pass the test and won’t crumble under pressure!

Can you think of a time when you, your work, your job, or your ministry was tested? I can think of several times when our own ministry experienced hardships that revealed hidden flaws in our organization. I didn’t relish the experience, but afterward I was thankful that the fire had revealed weaknesses that we were unaware of but really needed to deal with. As difficult as those situations were, I was grateful I saw the defects and the areas where we had incorrectly built our ministry. Those fiery situations exposed the truth that we needed to see!

That is why Paul concludes this verse by saying, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13).

As we have seen, in the ancient world, fires occasionally consumed everything that was made of wood, hay, and stubble. However, everything made of gold, silver, and precious stone survived. When the fire was done, it revealed what had been built cheaply, hastily, and with perishable materials, and it also revealed what had been built with right materials and by right methods. As Paul says in First Corinthians 3:13, fire tells us what sort of thing we’ve been building with our lives!

An interpretive paraphrase of First Corinthians 3:13 could read as follows:

“Regardless of you who are, it is just a fact that a day will eventually come when the true nature of what you have built with your life will be exposed by fiery situations. When the fire comes, you’ll be so thoroughly tested that you’ll have a clearer picture afterward of what you have been building right and what you have been building wrong.”

I don’t know how our discussion today has affected you, but it makes me want to seek the face of God to make sure I am building my life, my marriage, my children, my finances, my household, my ministry, my organization, and every other part of my life in a way that will pass every test of life.

It is just a fact that if you and I build our lives hastily, cheaply, or with the wrong motives, a situation will eventually arise that will reveal the truth. When that day comes, everything we’ve done wrong will be burned and will go up in smoke, just like a fire consumes wood, hay, and stubble.

So rather than waste our precious time on works that have no eternal value, let’s choose to be wise by getting before God so He can speak to our hearts. God is more than willing to show us what we need to correct before a fire comes to teach us the hard way!


ather, help me take a good look at my life to see if I am building it correctly with the kind of materials that will last through any difficult time. I do not want to be irresponsible in the way I build my life, my family, my business, or my calling, so please help me be very attentive to what I am doing and how I am doing it. I realize that tests eventually come to everyone, and I know that if I am diligent with my life right now, I will stand up stronger and last longer when the storms of life try to assail me. So help me today, Holy Spirit, to start seriously ponder- ing my life to see how I can be building better.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!


I confess that with the help of the Holy Spirit, I am building my life in such a way that I will be able to survive any attack! Because I am building wisely — with the right materials and the right methods — my life is becoming so strong that it will be capable of passing every test. I forsake hasty, irresponsible living, and I press forward with purpose to make a difference in this wo
rld. Therefore, I am giving my best efforts to build something that is excellent, respectable, and will bring glory to Jesus.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!


  1. Can you think of any areas of your life that “went up in smoke” because you moved too hastily, built with the wrong materials, or used the wrong methods? What were those areas, and what did you learn from those experiences?
  2. What have you done differently since you experienced this loss in your personal life? Take a few minutes to write down your thoughts about what you should do differently in order to build your life so it can withstand even the worst fir
  3. Do you know anyone going through tests and trials right now who could use some encouragement? If you remember what it was like to go through hard times, why not look for ways to comfort those who are hurting with the same comfort you received from God?
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