We don’t hear the expression “built to last” very often any more. It’s used of old castles and some classic and vintage cars, but not much else. In fact, with modern “planned obsolescence” being as widespread as it is, we don’t hear the term used very often at all.
Why is this? Doubtless because “built to last” requires both planning and hard work on the part of the builder, and neither of those concepts is popular in a world that increasingly promotes instant consumer gratification and fast producer profits wherever possible. The result, of course, is that most things aren’t built to last any more, and that’s a principle and an attitude that all too easily affects other areas of our lives.
The apostle Paul has something to say about how we build things in relation to our spiritual lives. Notice what he told the Corinthians:
“… no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
First, Paul presumes that we will be building on the foundation God has provided. When we look at the differences between the various building materials that Paul lists, most noticeable is the diminishing value of the materials themselves: “gold, silver, stone, wood, hay, straw.” But these construction materials are also different in their permanence. In both cases they are listed in decreasing order. Paul makes the point that value is tied to lastingness in his analogy – value is limited when things we produce do not last.
In stressing this, Paul is looking at things from God’s perspective – and clearly, God has a better perspective on time than we have. He knows that nothing physical that is human built is really lasting – the only thing we can build that will ultimately survive is His character in us and what we accomplish for Him. It is our service to God and to others that cannot be destroyed through wear, rust or the destructive elements. This is clearly what Paul had in mind when he urges us to consider the works we are doing – what are we making that is truly “built to last?”