In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul teaches that every Christian’s life is like a building. For the building to be strong and to remain, it must first be built upon a strong foundation, that is Jesus Christ (verse 11).
It is our responsibility to be careful how we build! “If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder's work will be plainly seen,” (verse 12). These materials and the building represent our faith and character structure.
All of our characters will be tested and developed through fiery trials. “…do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad,” 1 Peter 1:12,13 (NET).
“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,” 1 Corinthians 3:13 (NKJV).
This is a symbolic picture. It does not mean a literal fire! It refers to the painful trials which can threaten our trust in the redemptive work of Jesus, our reliance upon him or anything which will destroy (as a fire destroys) our obedience or commitment to him!
When the building materials are fireproof, such as precious stones, gold etc., then the building (of faith and character) will remain. The result is God will be pleased with us. “If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.” (verse 14)
If our efforts are not built upon true biblical principles combined with a strong commitment, we are building with the symbolical…wood, hay, straw mentioned in vs 12. Our faith structure will collapse under trials just as a building made of wood will quickly burn to ashes if overtaken by fire.
Those who fail to overcome may face additional “fiery” trials, which will ultimately bring them back to Jesus, back to God. In this way, they do not perish (do not suffer the second death, which is final), but their reward is a lesser reward than those who “built their structure of faith” carefully. (vs. 15) “If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”