The Importance of Context

I have spent some time in the last couple of days listening to the debate between Jack Honeycutt and Michael Brawner as was mentioned here:

The debate is on whether or not baptism in water is essential to salvation.  It was a two night debate.  It can be found here:

Part one –
Part two –

On the first night, Mr. Honeycutt was in the affirmative position (supporting the necessity of water baptism) while Mr. Brawner was in the denial position (refuting the necessity of water baptism).  On the second night, they swapped roles.

Overall, the debate was very good and had a lot of good information.  However, something was said on the first night by Mr. Brawner that I waited for Mr. Honeycutt to respond to, but he didn’t.  I don’t blame him.  There was a lot of information and no possible way that either man could address everything that was said.  This particular point hit me hard, though, as a classic example of taking scripture out of context.

On the first night, Mr. Honeycutt gave his first 30 minute speech affirming the necessity of water baptism.  After that speech, Mr. Brawner had a 30 minute speech giving his denial.  During that first denial speech, Mr. Brawner asked the audience to open to 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 which he read while adding his commentary to it while reading.  Here is the full quote:

‘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.  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man’s work shall be burned’ Now, what kind of work is that that’s burned up?  We would say those are sinful works.  Things that are flammable.  We would say that these are the things that if works could condemn an individual and send them to Hell after they’ve been saved, these would be the works.  But notice what this scripture says, it says ‘If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss’ but what is going to happen to that individual?  ‘But he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.’  So, we see that that individual who is saved, they remain saved.  So, I’m getting back to works.  Works didn’t save.  Works do not condemn.  What saves is grace by faith.  And what condemns…is failing to believe.

Before the quote above, Mr. Brawner started by saying, “Work has never saved nor has it condemned anybody.”  And by reading what he quoted, it’s easy to get that idea.  However, he failed to understand those verses properly because he failed to put those verses in the proper context.  Let’s expand the reading to include verses 1-15:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

By including the context, it completely changes what we thought those three verses meant.

In this passage, Paul is dealing with a problem.  The problem is that division was already happening within the church with some saying “I follow Paul” and others saying “I follow Apollos.”

He goes on to explain that neither he nor Apollos is what matters.  That they are only servants.  He explains that he may have planted the seed, and that Apollos may have watered the seed, but that God is the one that caused the growth.  He explains that the person who plants and waters are working together toward the same goal, but each of them will receive a reward based on his work.  He then tells the Corinthians that they (the Corinthians) are God’s building.

He goes further in explaining that, like a builder, he laid the foundation by teaching the Corinthians about Christ, and that another (Apollos) is building on that foundation.  But that each person must be careful how he builds on it because the foundation is Christ…not another.  So, you have to build a building worthy of being built on that precious foundation.

It is in this context that we then must evaluate the final three verses of the passage.  It is clear from the context that what is being tested in verses 13-15 is the builder’s work, not the building itself.  In other words, the work of the various teacher’s is what is under test, not the person who was taught.

What this scripture is telling me is that if I teach another and they remain faithful, I will be rewarded (one of the greatest rewards is the feeling when you help someone you care about find God).  But, if I teach another and they fall away, I will suffer loss (the loss of a brother or sister and the heartbreak that comes from that), but I will not lose my own soul because a brother or sister fell away.

This passage has nothing to do with being saved or not saved by works (either of the law or of men’s hands), but is strictly talking about how the obedience of the student affects the salvation of the Christian teacher.  The short answer is, it doesn’t.  As long as the Christian teacher is teaching the full truth based on the foundation of Jesus Christ, his salvation is intact even if his student defects.

Taking these verses out of context teaches a heinous falsity.  Namely, that what I do in my body has no affect on my salvation.  This doctrine flies in the face of 2 Corinthians 5:10 which states:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

This scripture clearly teaches that my works do have a bearing on my salvation.  “Deeds in the body” = works.  “According to what he has done” = works.  James tells us that “faith without works is dead being alone.”  In contrast, Matthew 7:21-23 tells us that works without faith is dead:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

It goes on to say that everyone who hears Jesus’ words and ACTS ON THEM (does work) is like the wise man who built his house on a solid foundation of rock and when the storm came and the building was tried, it didn’t fall, but stood firm.  But, everyone who hears Jesus’ words and DOES NOT ACT ON THEM (does not work) is like the foolish man who built his house on a sandy shifting foundation and when the storm came and the building was tried, it fell.

It is clear from the Bible, that works will not save us.  No amount of work is enough to earn our salvation.  But, there certainly are works that can lose us our salvation and eternal life.

I would beg Mr. Brawner to reevaluate his teaching on the above passage and consider the context it is surrounded with.

And for the reader, please, always read the context or you may not know the doctrine you are being taught is a false one.





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