Having a Firm Foundation
A New Testament Word Study based on two New Testament Greek words:
themelios - (something) belonging to a foundation, or laid
down as a foundation
themelioo - to lay the foundation of; metaph.: to make stable,
to establish (something)
This study is divided into two sections:
Physical foundations - sometimes used to teach us spiritual truths.
Our spiritual foundation - the basis of our salvation and eternal hope; also,
the relationship of that foundation to various aspects of our spiritual life.
ALWAYS CHECK THE CONTEXT OF A VERSE, IN ORDER TO GET AN ACCURATE UNDERSTANDING
OF WHAT THE TEXT SAYS. The word "foundation" may be used with an emphasis
that is slightly different, in different passages.
PART 1 - Physical Foundations
A. The foundation of a building (or some other structure)
A good foundation vs. no foundation: Being built on a rock foundation vs.
on the sand
Being built on rock (a firm foundation)
Matthew 7:25 - The house founded/built on the rock
did not fall down.
Luke 6:48 - The house founded/built on the rock
did not shake ...because it was well built. [KJV (etc.): ...because it was
founded/built on the rock.]
Being built on sand (no foundation)
Luke 6:49 - The house without a foundation collapsed
and was totally destroyed.
This illustration is used to teach us the need to pay attention to Jesus'
words. It shows the contrast between those who hear/obey and those who don't.
A foundation that was never finished
Luke 14:29 - Once he [the builder] has laid the
foundation, and then discovered that he cannot finish the project...
others will laugh at him.
This illustration is used to teach us the need to "count the cost" of being
a disciple of Jesus, before we decide to become one.
A foundation that was shaken
Acts 16:26 - The foundations of the prison were
shaken by an earthquake, causing the doors and the prisoners' chains to come
This account is an illustration of how God providentially works in the
circumstances of life, to accomplish his purposes. [Read the entire passage,
to see what happened. In the end, because of everything that occurred, the
prison guard became a disciple of Jesus.]
B. A city's foundation: Part of the description of the "eternal Jerusalem"
This city is worth waiting for
Hebrews 11:10 - [Abraham was content to live in a tent
(something that does not have a foundation)] ... because he was looking forward
to a city with foundations - one designed and built by God.
There are many illustrations in the book of Hebrews, which contrast what
is temporary (example - the tent) to what is permanent (example - the city).
A description of the foundations
Revelation 21:14 - The wall of the city (the new, eternal
Jerusalem) had 12 foundations. (Inscribed on them were the names
of the 12 apostles.)
Revelation 21:19 - The wall of the city... its
foundations were decorated with many kinds of precious stones. The
first foundation stone was... (a list follows, describing the precious
stones on the 12 foundations).
C. The earth's foundation: built/laid by God
Hebrews 1:10 - You (the Lord) laid the foundations
of the earth. You also made the heavens... [v. 11 - They will perish/wear
out, but you will remain forever.]
Note the contrast between creation and the Creator.
PART 2 - Our Spiritual Foundation
A. What is the foundation?
The Person: Jesus Christ
1 Corinthians 3:11 - No other foundation can be
laid, except Jesus Christ. [At Corinth, Paul had already laid this foundation.]
The message of the apostles and prophets [with Jesus as the "cornerstone"
- the one who holds it all together]
Ephesians 2:20 - You are built on the foundation
of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone.
[In this passage, God's people are described as the building.]
The Old Testament prophets did not understand as much about Jesus, as did the apostles,
since he had not yet been born. Some of their writings have direct reference
to Jesus (example - many of the prophetical writings); at other times, their
focus on Jesus was indirect. But either way, their message would
complement - not contradict - the message of the apostles. (The apostles,
on the other hand, would reaffirm the message of the prophets - along with
revealing what had not been previously made known.)
Note: Since the message is Jesus Christ, perhaps this verse could also fit
under the previous heading, "The Person: Jesus Christ."
The basic teachings of the faith
Hebrews 6:1 (+) - The foundation (basic teachings)
of the faith... includes the following: repentance, trust in God, baptisms,
the laying-on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, eternal judgment. [The
focus: We must go beyond these basic teachings: We must grow-up.
(See Hebrews 5:12 and following.)]
B. It's integrity- a firm foundation for our faith
Those on this foundation can never be moved
2 Timothy 2:19a - God's solid foundation is one
that stands firm - contrasted with the easily-destroyed faith that some have
- v. 18. (Compare this to the "good foundation vs. no foundation" illustration,
in the first part of this study.)
It is based on God's sovereign knowledge: What he knows to be true -
such as the identity of those who belong to him - cannot become
2 Timothy 2:19b - God's foundation... is sealed (indicating
its authenticity and integrity) with two inscriptions. The first is: "The
Lord knows those who belong to him." (He's not fooled by fake expressions
It is based on a specific human response: Turning from evil.
Timothy 2:19c - The second inscription on this solid foundation
is: "Everyone who claims to belong to Jesus must turn from his wicked conduct."
(The necessity of a changed life: This is the concept of "repentance"
- changing the way one thinks and acts.)
C. An eternal foundation vs. a short-lived one
We need to focus on an eternal foundation: We must change from our short-lived
focus on love for self and for possessions, to a focus that has eternal
significance: a genuine love for other people.
The context of the verse (1 Timothy 6:19): Those who are rich in monetary
wealth have a wealth that comes and goes - there is no guaranteed certainty
that it will continue to exist. [Indeed, at the point of death, it is
all lost!] Such people should change their focus to one of being
"rich in good deeds."
1 Timothy 6:19 - In doing this, they will be storing-up
(like a treasure) a good, strong foundation that will be of value
in the coming age. They will be taking hold of real life - a life that does
have certainty (in contrast to a life focused on money and possessions).
D. The role of preaching/teaching: a "construction project."
The foundation - the introduction to the good news about Jesus and what he
Romans 15:20 - Paul's desire was to preach the good news
where Christ was not already known, so that he would not be building on someone
This was the primary focus to which God called him. His description of this
calling is seen in the quotation from Isaiah 52:15 - which he mentions in
1 Corinthians 3:10a - [At Corinth] Paul laid the
The building - everything after the foundation
This involves everything that follows the introduction to the good news
1 Corinthians 3:10b - [At Corinth, Paul laid the
foundation...] ... someone else [Apollos] is building on it.
Warnings to the builders
1 Corinthians 3:10c - Each person needs to be careful how
1 Corinthians 3:11 - First, there is only one legitimate
foundation (Jesus Christ); none other can be laid.
1 Corinthians 3:12-13 (+) - Second, everything a person
builds on this foundation will be tested by fire... [This will test
the quality of what he has built.]
See the previous verses in this passage. Using a different analogy (planting
and harvesting), Paul tells us that is it God who is responsible
for the ultimate success of these endeavors. Don't take the credit for
Correcting a misconception, concerning the "building materials" - 1 Corinthians
This passage focuses on the success (or failure) of the leaders (such as
Apollos), in helping the people of the church to "grow up" and mature in
If a leader does a poor job of building-up the believers in the faith, his
efforts will be of no value. But that does not mean he becomes unsaved (v.15).
He just won't be rewarded for accomplishing anything (since he
didn't accomplish anything). This is one of the reasons why a leader
must be careful to do things the way Scripture tells him to do it.
This passage does not refer to the "spiritual fruit" of a saved
Some people attempt to use this passage to justify (or excuse) sin in their
lives. They claim that their sinful actions are the "wood, hay, and straw,"
mentioned in v.12. Then they say that v. 15 "proves" that they are saved,
in spite of their continued sinful lifestyles, and their unwillingness to
The Bible, in contrast, says that their "fruit" (their sinful lifestyle)
actually shows that they do not belong to God. They may strongly
insist that they are saved, but according to Scripture, their so-called
"salvation" is not genuine. Compare to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which shows
us that a changed lifestyle is a part of salvation. Paul reminds the Christians
at Corinth that people with such sinful lifestyles cannot inherit
the Kingdom of God. It's just plain impossible! It is only because God
changed their lives, that the Christians at Corinth were now able to
have a part in God's kingdom.
The fact that a change occurs in one's life does not imply that
Christians have no struggles with sin, and or that they don't experience
"temporary setbacks." The Corinthians were definitely not
sinless! The flesh (which desires to live the old way) continues to
fight against the spirit (which desires to follow the way of God). But
when the changes occur (that is, when a person becomes a disciple of
Jesus), the sins, which were once enjoyed like friends, now become
full-scale enemies. (See Romans 7, which focuses on this struggle.)
E. Establishing a foundation of faith and love
The key emphasis of this passage (Colossians 1:21-23) is our reconciliation
What this means: In the past, we were enemies of God (because of our sins,
our rebellious hearts, etc.). But now, we have become friends of God, because
of what Christ has done. And because of this, we will be able to stand before
God (at the Day of Judgment), holy, blameless, and free from accusation.
This wonderful promise and future hope applies only to those who have a type
of faith that endures - those whose faith is firmly built on the strong
foundation, which is found in the message that Paul proclaimed:
Colossians 1:23 -...if you continue in the faith, firmly
established and steadfast, not moving away from the (message of) hope,
which is found in the good news that I/we have proclaimed to you.
See also Colossians 1:5, for more about this good news. See the section (above)
about 2 Timothy 2:19, for more about this type of faith that remains steadfast.
(See also 2 Timothy 2:18, which makes reference to the opposite: a "short-lived"
This love (Ephesians 3:17) is associated with Christ, who dwells in us, and
whose moral character is seen expressed in our lives. (Of course, this passage
only applies to those who belong to Christ - those who have changed lives.)
In this passage, we see one of Paul's prayers for the people. Two of the
things he prays for are:
(Ephesians 3:17a) - ... that, through God's power, Christ will be dwelling
in your hearts (as you trust him).
Ephesians 3:17b - ... that you will be rooted and grounded
/ firmly established in love, so that (v. 18) you will begin to comprehend
the incomprehensible greatness of Christ's love.
It may be debated, as to whether this "love" focuses on God's love for
us (an unchanging love which provides a firm foundation for our salvation),
or on our love for God and other people (a love which is sometimes
weak, and needs to be reinforced - made stronger - as we grow in our salvation).
As the impact of God's love increases in our hearts (as we become more aware
of its reality and effect), our love for others (and for God) will also
increase... and so, both expressions of love will be present!
In some respects, these two concepts - faith and love - could be considered
a summary of the entire Christian life.
F. Being kept on a firm foundation... by God - 1 Peter 5:10
The background (the recurring theme in 1 Peter): God, the source of all
undeserved kindness (grace), has called us to share in his eternal glory
in Christ. And because this is true, we have the following promise to look
to, when we are experiencing trials:
1 Peter 5:10 - After you have suffered for a while, God
himself will restore, support, and strengthen you, and will
establish you (= place you on a firm foundation).
Note that the source of our salvation (= God, who will enable us to share
in Christ's future glory) is also the source of our strength (so that we
can endure and overcome trials in this present life).
Dennis Hinks © 2000
NOTE: At the end of Section D (The role of preaching/teaching: a "construction project")
is a reference to Romans 7 and a Christian's struggle with sin. If interested,
an article is available which examines this struggle, entitled
"The Civil War Within Us.")