For those of you who are Christian believers, I'm certain that the vast majority of you have heard of the words spoken of by Jesus about how our deeds will be tested at the Bema Seat of Christ. To refresh your memory, here's the verse I'm referring to:
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 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. - 1 Corinthians 3:12-13 - King James Version
So what's so special about this verse, and why do I bring it up to all of you? Well, to summarize briefly, the verses themselves (there are two there, not one), speak of our deeds, that we commit in this life, being represented by one of six items. But let's break this list down even further. For most people, at least if you're properly paying attention, you'll notice two divisions here. Namely, items of wealth, and items of commonality. The first three are represented by items of wealth, namely precious metals and jewels, and the second group is represented by common, every day items you might find around your house, farm, etc.
These two can also be broken down by nonflammable and flammable materials. Both of these, if thrown into a fire, will react differently. The first three, the gold, silver and precious jewels won't burn. The wood, hay and stubble will. So, if tested in a fire, out of the six items presented, only three remains. Anyone of you who's ever been through a simple Sunday School class will already know this. What a lot of you may not have paid attention to is a further division within the six listed items. Allow me to break this out a bit further for you so that you can see what I'm referring to.
Gold - Let's start with this item, as it's first in the list, and focus on its value, place in the list, and so on. Gold is a precious metal, and the rarest, thus most valuable, of all the precious metals on the list, and in the world. That is why it is often referred to as a "wealth" metal, as it carries both an esthetic, and a commercial value with it. Gold can be traded for things, it can back currencies, it can be used to make jewelry, it is an unbelievably amazingly contact metal, giving it also an industrial use that can be employed in places where the need for maximum electrical contact quality is required. Even God puts Gold in highest value. Just look at the dream given to King Nebuchadnezzar, as spoken of in Daniel 2. Or the countless verses about the New Jerusalem, and the streets paved with gold, and other numerous similar examples. Gold is viewed by God as the greatest of all metals, of which there are none higher.
Silver - The second metal in our list, Silver, is an unusual entry among precious metals. Whereas Gold is seen primarily as a "Wealth" metal, Silver tends to have a much greater list of industrial uses than any other precious metal in the world. This is because, where Gold is primarily seen as a symbol of status, wealth, and more, Silver, on the other hand, while itself possessing many useful and beneficial "Wealth" applications, it's primary use is in industrial applications, such as electronics, chemical processes, medical and many other things that can be found in our daily world. Among its numerous wealth centered uses, such as coins, jewelry and figurines, and more. It's also often used as a backing metal for Gold. That's because, even in its purest form, Silver has a natural hardness similar in many ways to iron and steel, whereas Gold tends to be soft in its natural form. So where Gold is more malleable, Silver is stronger, and thus more durable. Silver also has medicinal uses, as it possesses incredible anti-bacterial properties.
In fact, for centuries, if not millennia, colloidal silver, basically silver dissolved in water (it's more complex than that, but I'm just trying to make this easier for you to wrap your mind around), was a major component in holistic medicine due to those very same anti-bacterial properties. Silver also has numerous industrial uses outside of electronics, such as in photovoltaic systems, photography, mirrors, maintaining good body health and more. And that's only scratching the surface of what it can do.
Precious Jewels - While the Bible doesn't directly specify what these "precious jewels" are, one need only read about the New Jerusalem to get an idea of what some of these items might be. Revelation 21:19 lays this out in great detail for us:
"The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst." (Revelation 21:19)
Now, something you have to take notice of when reading this list is that these jewels, or really stones in some cases, don't include precious jewels such as Diamond, Spinal and others. Why is that? Well, the 12 stones listed there are the individual family jewels of the 12 Tribes of Israel. So, when the Bible mentions precious jewels, I believe that these are what it's referring to. That doesn't exclude other things, such as Diamonds, from being included in that unspecified list of jewels, but rather, if they were to turn out to be anything, those twelve would be the most likely ones. And, while that assessment is up for debate, for purposes of illustration I'll be going with the idea that these are the twelve stones of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Anyhow, regardless of what those Precious Jewels might ultimately be, let's look at this closer. Compared to Gold, which is malleable, rare, and valuable, the jewels mentioned in this part of the list are not. They're fragile, they're unique for certain, they come from nature, but can't be changed from what they are, so their true value is in the eye of the beholder, unlike Gold and Silver that holds their value, regardless of who is viewing them, they take far greater work to turn into something usable, some of them have a primarily industrial use, and possess the least amount of "Wealth" value of the three precious items from the primary list. Jewels like this also tend to act as accents to both Gold and Silver, but are not the primary item of wealth set in any given item. Take a crown for example. What are its primary components typically? It's Gold and Silver, isn't it? I've seen plenty of crowns in my life that are made entirely of Gold and/or Silver, and are also completely devoid of any kind of decorative jewels.
But you never see the opposite where a crown of any legitimate standing is made entirely of precious jewels, without a single ounce of Gold or Silver to be found anywhere. That, by itself, puts precious jewels at the bottom of the list among all three of the listed "Wealth" items mentioned in the first half of the list of items found in 1 Corinthians 3:12, which are representative of the six possible states that our deeds, the ones that we have, or will commit while in this life, which will be tested by fire before the throne of Christ some day. Once that fire has gone out, all that will remain are the above three items. And, while the Bible doesn't specifically say what will become of those three items (aside from being the only thing that will count in eternity), there is some evidence that they will be used to form one or more of the five possible crowns that will be given to each believer at that same Bema Seat judgment.
Wood - Now, the fourth item on that list, and the first one of the second half of the list, is wood. We all know what wood is, it's value, practicality, and so on. Wood, however, just like the next two items, as you know, is flammable. Just touch a match to it, and woof, up it goes in flames, crumbling to ash, and it's gone. Wood also rots, it decays, it's technically made from the corpse of a dead tree, meaning you're basically building, handling and working with what amounts to tree bones (sorry for the rather morbid picture, but you'll get my reason for doing so in a moment) when you're interacting with anything made of wood, including paper and other such things. But, despite this, wood is a very, very useful, strong, and adaptable material
And, by itself, wood isn't that awful of a material. After all, Jesus was a carpenter. So if He was cool with it, then it does have some intrinsic value. But wood is also a disposable, and also renewable (ie, grow a tree, chop it down, use it up, grow another tree, rinse, repeat) resource, and isn't necessarily finite like the above three items. So, as long as trees continue to grow, you continue to have the ability to grow, harvest, and process wood for whatever applications you may need. You can't do that same thing with Gold, Silver and Jewels. What you see is what you get. Yes, they can be recycled in their own unique ways. However, that same ounce of gold and silver, or that same caret of jewels that your grandfather had, or even your great, great, great grandfather had, is still the same one you'll have now.
Sure, you can preserve a piece of wood and make it last for centuries (Just look at some of the wooden things they've found in caves and tombs that are millennia old), but if it decays, and wears down, is cut to pieces, etc, you can't toss it in a fire, melt it down, and remake it like you can with Gold and Silver, or simply polish it up like a precious Jewel. Sure, you can split and shatter and jewel, and turn it to tiny pieces, never to be made whole again. However, even if you do, those pieces will never rot, never decay, never burn away. They will remain as precious jewels for millennia to come, even if they do get a little scuffed up or damaged. As such, even they hold a higher place in the list than wood, both in part to their beauty, and their durability.
Hay - This material, sometimes called "Straw", although not entirely accurately (hay is mown grass, whereas straw is the stems of dead plants, usually wheat, rye and oats, that is a byproduct of the harvesting process), is both a food product for cattle (thus having a low human value), and a bedding material for those same animals (hence my comment about it being referred to as "Straw" earlier on). Essentially it's the byproduct of when you mow a field of grass, and is then put up in barns to feed hungry cattle, and other animals, during the cold winter months when food for them is scarce. In terms of value, compared to wood, hay is cheap. A typical bale of hay can come in several different sizes (I'm thinking in modern terms here, as I don't know how hay was marketed in antiquity, so this is my best point of reference for you), ranging from small square bales of 40-60lbs, large square bales of 1700-2100lbs, and round bales of 1200-1400lbs.
Each type of bale serves a different purpose, a different need, and is most often used in different applications. Straw is also stored and deployed in a similar manner, save only that straw isn't typically set out as a food stock for animals, whereas hay is. So again, while the terms tend to be used interchangeably, and both are stored in roughly the same way, their end point application varies based on application. Anyhow, in regards to hay and straw, the price of a bale varies per jurisdiction, state, country, etc, and can have various gross, wholesale and retail prices. For example, a bale of hay can range in price between $6 to $9 based on content of the hay (ie, the more alfalfa it contains, the higher the price), and size. In some places, especially when specialty blends are in play, the prices per pound (not bale) can be as much as $25lb-$40lb.
However, in comparison to wood, hay is cheap. Plus, it's single use, whereas wood can be recycled countless times per need. Hay also burns extremely well, quickly, and without even a fraction of the caloric output of wood. It's thermal generation density is abysmal, but it's ability to flare up and burn quickly, and with great heat, even if that heat is only for a brief moment, makes it a valuable fire starter in certain situations. But once used, it can't be used again. Now sure, the same is true if you burn wood, but you get far, far more out of burning wood than you do either hay or straw. Now, think about this. What's the cost of Gold and Silver? Gold is currently running around $1900 PER OUNCE. Silver around $25 per OUNCE. Hay? On the high end it's $40 per POUND. And that's the super fancy gourmet stuff. Also, the list of possible buyers for hay and stray is tiny compared to those who'd be in the market for Gold, Silver and any kind of precious stone or jewel. So it has an even lower overall value than even wood.
Stubble - This item doesn't need much of an introduction. If you have no idea what stubble is, just look at a field after a farmer has gone through and harvested the crops in the fall. It's literally the unwanted, worthless, useless parts of the now dead plants that populate the soil after all the useful materials are harvested off. The only value that stubble has is to be burned off, or often times tilled into the ground either in the fall (that's getting to be a more common practice these days), or in the spring after winter passes, and serves little purpose other than to restore some nutrients to the soil that were taken out during the growing season. Stubble literally has no marketable value, and only really a small, insignificant value to the farmer in whose field they sit.
If you need a more practical, more commonplace example of "stubble", if you live somewhere that has a fall/winter period where the trees drop their leaves, then look at the leaves. They're a kind of stubble. They fall off the trees, are often gathered into piles, mulched in some cases, but most often they are burned off and disposed of. For those in warmer climates that don't have this, think of it as the grass taken off your lawn. Same idea. Essentially it has no value, or if there is a value, it's so ridiculously minimal as to have no real economic impact or benefit to the person who possesses this. In biblical terms, when directly related to our works in this world, stubble would be those things we do that have so little value to the kingdom, if any at all, as to be worthy of ridicule and scorn.
Now, having listed out for you each of the six items listed in that verse, and their value in both practical, and biblical terms, once you look past all my long winded babbling about each one of those items that I covered, do you notice a pattern here? If you look at the six items I detailed, and in the order they appear in the verse, they are listed in their exact order of value, both to God, and to mankind as a whole. They are also listed in order of non-flammable, and flammable, as well as durable, and perishable. This list also gives you a ranking system for your works, as seen from God's perspective, and the goals to shoot for. In school terms, if you want to look at it that way, this is God's unique way of grading your deeds, as done in the flesh, on a grading scale of A to F. A, being Gold, B, being Silver, C, being the Jewels, D, being Wood, E, being Hay, and F being stubble.
Sure, E and F, for all purposes of practicality, are failing grades, even though F is a more severe failure overall than E, it's still a failure. And, while I admit that "E", in some systems, is still considered a passing grade, it's still not one you would ever want to have. Even in normal life, we all want to achieve a passing grade of C or better, and in God's view of our deeds, while He knows that we can't all have A's, or even B's, all the time, He does allow for some C's before you start getting down into the range of grading where you're either essentially failing, or actually failing. So with all things we should do, we should test our works, what we're doing, and make sure that everything we do, all day, every day, is always shooting for that A grade, in God's eyes, for each of our deeds we do.
But either way, I thought I'd present this to you guys, and show each of you, in detail, the unique revelation I came to in regards to this little verse. So, in just a single verse, in a short handful of words, God has given us both a grading scale, and a litmus test, by which we can both strive for, and grade ourselves, on how we're living for God every day, and how each of our actions are seen by God and, as such, how we should conduct ourselves every day, in order to achieve that which God wants most. Namely, that "Gold" standard, A grade, top of the line work for Him in everything we do. And, if you need help knowing how you should act, what you should do to improve yourself, improve your deeds, and make all that you do a sweet savor in the eyes of the Lord, read your bible. I mean, after all, doesn't He give us a very complete and detailed list of instructions on how to achieve that right in the very pages of His holy word? :)