I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now the one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s co-workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to God’s grace that was given to me, as a skilled master builder I have laid a foundation, and another builds on it.
But each one must be careful how he builds on it, because no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid—that is, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.
(1 Corinthians 3:6-15 Holman Christian Standard Bible® ©)
I am convinced that we pass through many baptisms. They come in forms of what Moses described in Deuteronomy 4:34: trials, signs, wonders, wars, and the strong hand and outstretched arm of Yahweh. Some of these transforming experiences are like a fire that burns off of and/or out of us qualities that are not like Jesus.
We may be tested with regard to our patience, and it happens in an environment where we need much patience. After the experience (or experiences), we are more patient: there is less of who we used to be. We are a little smaller.
We grow more mature in that new, improved identity. We are bigger and stronger. We encounter another baptism. It washes off or out of us some more of who we used to be. We are a little smaller. We grow in that new strength, and become larger.
The overall development of our character shows that we grow more than we shrink – not one step forward and 3 steps back. Maturity is measurable in evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The more we are transformed, the stronger and more mature and more humble we are.
The contrast, I am convinced, is that we can avoid much of the transformation by avoiding difficult situations and difficult people. Stay away from wars and trials, and costly situations. This path prevents growth, though. My imagination has created a picture from this passage above from 1 Corinthians 3: If I pass through many fires, being transformed into His likeness through them, even if I make some mistake in my building in some way, the final fire over my work will not be so destructive or costly.
If I am avoiding all the fire now, that final fire will be so great that it will have to burn much away. I won’t have the second stage of the process, in which I grow back larger than I was, and all that is left of me may just be a little purified toothpick.