Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:11–13 At childhood’s end — Love

1 Corinthians 13:11–13

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul has just said, “when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (1 Cor. 13:10). At this point (1 Cor. 13:11) he switches to a metaphor well known in the ancient world for advancing the same idea: childhood must eventually be replaced by adulthood.

The verbs in the first half of verse 11 refer to how children speak, how they form opinions and how they assign value or evaluate things. All those actions change as we become adults, and this is common knowledge. The ways of childhood are temporary.

However, we must move from metaphor to meaning by asking questions. What is Paul referring to when he speaks of childhood? Three views have been proposed:

1. Some say that Paul is talking about the period during which we know in part and prophecy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). He may also be talking about that period which ends when prophecies cease, tongues are stilled and our partial knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8). This view makes childhood the entire church age beginning just after Christ’s death and ending with the return of Christ in power.

2. Some would suggest that Paul is denigrating the use of tongues as a sign of immaturity. David Garland discounts this view[1] based partly on Gordon Fee’s refutation: “It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider ‘mature’ our rather totally cerebral and domesticated — but bland — brand of faith, with the [associated] absence of the Spirit in terms of supernatural gifts!”[2]

3. Paul is not referring to the fact that spiritual gifts are being expressed in worship, but he is concerned with how they are expressed, what opinions are held about them, and how they are valued. This is Anthony Thiselton’s view, and he further explains, “It is time for a more mature ordering of priorities which places first the welfare of the whole [church] over the ‘rights’ of the individual” believer to express their particular spiritual gift.[3] To demonstrate their maturity, the Corinthian believers must embrace self-sacrificing love as their priority over the unchecked expression of spiritual gifts within a worship setting. In short, they must accept “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). This is the view we prefer due to its fit with Paul’s purpose.

In using the metaphor of the mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), Paul cleverly taps into two things well known among the Corinthians. First, Corinth produced good quality bronze mirrors. Second, Thiselton explains, “Common in Greco-Roman first-century thought was the use of mirror as a metaphor for indirect knowledge.”[4] Paul says that, for now, indirect knowledge is the best we can get. But when we are with Christ, “we shall see fact to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), a metaphor meaning the most intimate kind of knowledge. At that time we will not only know fully but will be fully known by God.

Paul finishes his argument about love with a surprising flourish. First he brings in faith and hope to join love (1 Cor. 13:13); these three spiritual pillars occur together in many of Paul’s letters (Rom. 5:1–5;Gal. 5:5–6). Garland explains: “Paul probably added faith and hope to love here to allow the familiar combination to balance the triad of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. The inclusion of faith and hope also allows Paul to magnify love even more.”[5]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 623.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 645, footnote 23.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1067.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1069.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 625.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1 An example to follow

1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

These concluding verses may be considered from different viewpoints. If we think about freedom or rights, Paul says positively that we should exercise that freedom to bring honor to God (1 Cor. 10:31) and negatively that we must not present any cause of stumbling, not cause any damage to the salvation of anyone (1 Cor. 10:32). These considerations limit the expression of freedom.

If we think in terms of loving others instead of seeking our own interests, verse 31 tells us that our loving actions glorify God. Any selfish action that causes others to stumble goes against Christ’s command for us and so must be totally avoided (verse 32). Gordon Fee denies that this has anything to do with hurt feelings. Instead we must not “behave in such a way as to prevent someone else from hearing the gospel, or to alienate someone who is already a brother or sister.”[1]

Since 1 Cor. 10:32 separately lists the “Jews” and “the church of God,” Anthony Thiselton observes, “The phrase ‘the church of God’ in this context calls attention … to a discontinuity, as if to imply that ‘the people of God’ are partly redefined.”[2] The church’s identity lies in union with Christ, not in Old Testament Israel. That is why we learn from the example of Israel (1 Cor. 10:6), but we do not keep the Law of Moses (1 Cor. 9:21), the old covenant.

Most English versions invite difficulty in verse 33 by using the verb “please.” NIV has Paul saying, “I try to please everyone” (1 Cor. 10:33), describing behavior that was not in Paul’s style (Gal. 1:10) and using a phrase that today is too easily misunderstood. Paul was not a people-pleaser. The standard Greek lexicon discusses this verb (Greek aresk?) by explaining that the Mediterranean world was very conscious of mutual obligations and valued people who tried to accommodate all interests.[3] For this reason, Thiselton translates 1 Cor. 10:33 this way: “In just the same way, I on my part strive to take account of all the interests of everyone, not seeking advantage of my own, but the good of the many, with a view to their salvation.”[4]

Paul’s conclusion needs no explanation: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Copyright © 2013. Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 489.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 795.

[3] BDAG-3, aresk?, accommodate, q.v.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.

 

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:1–6 The road to idolatry ends with judgment

1 Corinthians 10:1–6

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

The commentators we have relied on most in this study all agree that the block of 1 Corinthians that deals with food sacrificed to idols extends from 8:1 to 11:1.[1] In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul gave his own personal example of surrendering his rights for the sake of others. His purpose was to encourage “the strong” in Corinth to give up their participation in banquets eaten at idol temples, or even food sacrificed there, for the sake of the weak, the believers with a fragile conscience.

We do not quite get the importance of this issue because our society is much more secular than god-saturated Roman Corinth. Think how hard it was for you to find a wide variety of organic foods five years ago; that is about how hard it was in Corinth to find meat for sale that had not been associated with idol worship in some way. Christians in Corinth were struggling to understand things as basic as how to eat in the idolatrous city without offending God.

In chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul explains the seriousness with which God views the disloyalty of those who were casual about idolatry. He does so by looking back at Israel’s history depicted in the Old Testament. Garland rightly says, “He does not rehearse the past events to understand the past but to understand the [Corinthian] present.”[2]

Thiselton offers a handy biblical reference for some of the terms used in verses 1–5: “Symbols associated with the Exodus wilderness narratives include the cloud (Exod. 13:21), the sea (Exod. 14:21–22), the manna (Exod. 16:4, 14–18), the spring (Exod. 17:6), and apostasy (Exod. 32:6).”[3] In particular, it is important to understand that the cloud refers to a towering cloud — shrouding the presence of God — that led the Israelites when they were moving and stood between them and the pursuing Egyptian chariot force while they were stopped. The sea refers to the Red Sea, which was miraculously parted to allow the Israelites to escape. The manna was supernatural food provided over all the years of wandering, and the rock was a source of water  during all those same years. The apostasy was the dabbling by many Israelites with various forms of idolatry even while God was continually providing for them; disaster was the result!

When Paul speaks of “our ancestors” (1 Cor. 10:1), Thiselton says the phrase often means “spiritual ancestor in a sense which denotes not necessarily blood ties but reproduction of character.”[4] That is exactly what troubles Paul; he sees the Corinthians playing with the same idolatrous fire that consumed their spiritual ancestors!

Garland says, “Israel’s deliverance through the sea marked the beginning of their separation from Egypt and their new identity as God’s covenant community, and the term ‘baptism’ fittingly represents that experience.”[5] The word “all” is very prominent in verses 1–4, occurring five times in the Greek text. Thiselton explains: “Such is the generosity of God’s grace that ‘all’ . . . participate in the privileges and blessings of the redeemed covenant people of God. . . . Nevertheless in the face of such divine generosity, less than the ‘all’ will appropriate God’s gifts and exercise the self-discipline which will bring them safely through the tests of the wilderness journey.”[6]

In this experience the Israelites were identified with Moses and the covenant God made with them using Moses as a mediator (Heb. 3:1–5). Just as Moses had the role of deliverer for Israel, so Jesus has that role all the more with those who belong to him.

When Paul speaks of “spiritual food” (verse 3) and “spiritual drink” (verse 4), Garland says he meant that “’they were formed not according to the law of nature but by the power of God.’”[7] Paul goes beyond the teaching of the Old Testament to speak of “the spiritual rock that accompanied them” (1 Cor. 10:4) and to identify that rock as Christ. What does that mean?

 A short detour from the main argument

The Old Testament contains two accounts describing how God provided water from a rock to quench the thirst of the complaining Israelites. The first account occurs in Exod. 17:1–7, not long after the passage through the Red Sea. Forty years later, the Israelites came to Kadesh and again bitterly complained about the need for water (Num. 20:2–13). Once again Moses summoned water from the rock — at an entirely new location than before.

Water was obviously needed by the people all during the long years between the two recorded occasions. Paul now reveals that “the spiritual rock” accompanied the Israelites during the whole time; further, “that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). What the people saw was a rock gushing water, but Paul speaks of the spiritual reality behind these events. He was probably thinking of Exod. 17:6, where God says, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it.” Paul suggests that when God stood on the rock at Horeb, it was no other than Christ.[8]

 Return to Paul’s primary concern

Paul has reminded the Corinthian believers of the Exodus generation for a reason. God miraculously provided for them with food and water even while judging their rebellion during the forty-year trek in the wilderness. All the while, many craved the “meat” of Egypt (Exod. 16:3 and Num. 11:4) rather than the manna God faithfully provided every day. As we will see in our next post, the moment Moses was absent, this rebellion and craving led swiftly to idol worship (Exodus 32). Paul sees clear signs of the same progression in Corinth!

Paul plainly tells the Corinthians where this dangerous road will lead: God’s displeasure will lead to their death (1 Cor. 10:5). In verse 6, Paul explains that there is still time to learn from the example of their spiritual ancestors and to turn back from craving meat offered to idols and other evil things, which NIV translates as “setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”

Take special note that 1 Cor. 10:6 sets the stage for what comes next (1 Cor. 10:7–13). Paul signals his intention by using the idea of craving or desire twice in the Greek text, once as a noun and once as a verb. The NIV obscures this repetition by using the phrase “setting our hearts on.” We prefer the clarity of Garland’s translation for 1 Cor. 10:6: “These things happened as examples for us so that we might not become cravers of evil just as they also craved [evil].”[9] (emphasis added).

Fee summarizes forcefully: “But [Paul’s] point in all this must not be missed: just as God did not tolerate Israel’s idolatry, so he will not tolerate the Corinthians’. We deceive ourselves if we think he will tolerate ours.”[10]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 22; Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 607–612; Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 23.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 446.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 722.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 724.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 451.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 725.

[7] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 454, quoting Ambrosiaster, a church father.

[8] See NET Bible Notes for Exod. 17:6 for further information.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 447; also shown by Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 719, 733.

[10] Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 450.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:21–23 The best retirement plan of all

1 Corinthians 9:21–23

21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

In verses 21–23, Paul continues to explain his statement “I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:19). The phrase “those not having the law” (1 Cor. 9:21) is clearly a reference to the Gentiles, who do not live by the Law of Moses or the interpretation of those laws by Judaism.

Even though Paul is a Jew by birth, he has already said, “I myself am not under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20). While discussing his approach to the Gentiles, Paul adds to his previous statement by saying, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law” (1 Cor. 9:21). David Garland helps us see this change in Paul as a matter of identity when he says: “[Paul] is speaking theologically about living under grace. Previously, his self-understanding as a Jew was bound up with his obedience to the law (cf. Phil. 3:6); now it is bound up with his relationship to Christ (Phil. 3:7–11).”[1]

Gordon Fee adds some new elements when he says, “For Paul the language ‘being under (or “keeping”) the law’ has to do with being Jewish in a national-cultural-religious sense; but as a new man in Christ he also expects the Spirit to empower him (as well as all of God’s new people) to live out the ethics of the new age.”[2] For another glimpse of the phrase “the law of Christ,” Paul says in Galatians, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We who follow Jesus are to obey the “law of Christ.” As to what that means, we can look at what the apostles understood Jesus to mean as recorded in the New Testament.

In regard to the identity of “the weak,” we must exercise due diligence. In 1 Cor. 8:7–10, the phrase “the weak” refers to believers who are overly conscientious or believers who feel insecure about the exercise of their freedom in Christ. In the context of chapter 8, Paul identifies the weak as believers in 1 Cor. 8:12. However, in chapter 9, Paul seeks to save those he describes as “the weak,” and that means they are unbelievers. Anthony Thiselton describes the weak in chapter 9 by saying, “In this context the weak may mean those whose options for life and conduct were severely restricted because of their dependence on the wishes of patrons, employers, or slave owners” (emphasis his).[3] Garland agrees by saying, “The ‘weak’ in this verse represent non-Christians whom he seeks to win for the Lord.”[4]

The second half of verse 22 is famous and widely quoted. What did Paul originally mean by it? Garland says that “he is ‘explaining how in his apostleship the principle of [self-denial] — in short, the principle of the cross — operates in his own experience.’”[5] Paul could have lived in one of the finest houses in Corinth, could have been revered as one its greatest orators, and could have enjoyed its finest banquets — although held in idol temples — every night of the week. All this he could have done while being financially supported by the Corinthian believers. But, “for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23), he made sure that even the weak were not left out by working among them as a man of the cross.

Given the choice between pleasure and profit now in the ranks of the upwardly mobile Corinthians or honor and glory later with Christ in the age to come, Paul chose to share in the blessings of the gospel. He shows us the path we must choose to take.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 431.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 430.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 705.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 434.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 435, quoting D.A. Carson.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:19–20 Paul surrenders his freedom to benefit all

1 Corinthians 9:19–20

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 

Paul is continuing his plea, which started in 1 Corinthians 8:1, that the “strong” Corinthian believers should curb their freedom in order to love and protect those in the church whose consciences were weak. The original arena for this discussion was the practice of eating meat that had some prior association with idol worship. Some felt free in Christ to eat this meat without qualm, but others saw them doing so and were tempted to go beyond what their consciences would allow. So, the freedom of some was causing damage to others.

In 1 Cor. 9:1–18, Paul has firmly asserted his rights as an apostle, particularly the right to financial support from the Corinthian church. But he voluntarily gave up that right (1 Cor. 9:12, 15) so that obligations to patrons and other financial issues could not possibly hinder the gospel. He is trying to convince the Corinthians by his own example that giving up your rights for the sake of the gospel is a loving act that follows the example of Christ and also benefits those whose faith is fragile.

Because Paul had given up his rights, he was completely free to act and had no obligation to anyone (1 Cor. 9:19), except to Christ. For that reason he could offer the gospel “free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). He follows that with the remarkable statement “I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:20). David Garland says: “He exchanges his position as a free man with high status for that of a slave . . . . Slavery to Christ necessitates slavery to all (cf. 2 Cor. 4:5; Mark 10:42–45). . . . Paul does not lead from a secure position above others but from a position below them, incarnating the folly of the cross.”[1]

What Paul means by saying he made himself a “slave to everyone” becomes more apparent when he explains, “I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:19b). The Greek verb for “win” comes from the world of commerce and means to gain an asset or make a profit. By winning others to Christ, Paul brings about lasting spiritual value. Arguments about “advantage” were a common element in Greek rhetoric.

It is truly ironic for Paul to say, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20). Anthony Thiselton says, “Since Paul was in fact a Jew, this formulation shows how radically he conceives the claim that in Christ he is . . . in a position transcending all cultural allegiances.”[2] Ask yourself whether you see identification with Christ as transcending all your own cultural allegiances. If not, you need a clearer understanding of your identity in Christ.

“Those under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20) probably means “the Jews,” although it could be a reference to Gentiles who converted to Judaism. More important is Paul’s declaration “though I myself am not under the law.” Both then and now there are Christians who believe you must keep the Law of Moses — to the limited degree that is now possible — in addition to believing in Jesus, but Paul’s statement demonstrates that they are headed in the wrong direction.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 428–29.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 702, quoting R.B. Hays.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:17–31 Our status is in Christ

1 Corinthians 7:17–31

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 24 Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

As part of his instruction about marriage and divorce, Paul has said, “God has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor. 7:15). While his primary focus has been on strengthening the Corinthians’ understanding of marriage in the context of their Christian faith, Paul takes this occasion to give some other examples that involve maintaining peace: the conditions of circumcision or slavery.

The main principle Paul stresses may be found in verses 17, 20 and 24. Gordon Fee summarizes, “They should remain in whatever social setting they were at the time of their call since God’s call to be in Christ (cf. 1:9) transcends such settings so as to make them essentially irrelevant.”[1] Anthony Thiselton makes a solid, practical point when he says, “A Christian does not have to seek ‘the right situation’ in order to enjoy Christian freedom or to serve God’s call effectively.”[2]

For a new Christian to think they should divorce their spouse to serve God better makes about as much sense as the man who says that he will first clean up his life and then trust in Christ. Neither idea has any merit! Similarly, it makes no sense for every enthusiastic new Christian to think that God intends for them to throw everything aside and go to seminary or the mission field.

Unless you understand how Paul thinks of Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 7:19 can sound paradoxical or even contradictory. Circumcision was a central requirement for those under the old covenant, but the coming of Christ, and particularly his crucifixion, replaced the old covenant with the new covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20). For those who follow Jesus, everything revolves around the relationship to him and thus to what Jesus required through his own teachings and those of his apostles. When we call Jesus “Lord,” we are saying that he is God! When Paul says, “Keeping God’s commands is what counts,” he is speaking of Christ’s commands, not those contained in the Old Testament law. This is verified in 1 Cor. 9:21 where Paul says, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law” (emphasis added). A great deal more about the Christian’s relationship to the law may be found at this link:  http://wp.me/p1mupH-m. See also Galatians 6:2.

In interpreting the Bible we must also be sensitive to the fact that the Scriptures may set out a seemingly absolute principle and then follow it with one or more exceptions. Verse 20 seems quite clear and comprehensive about remaining in the situation of your calling, but in verse 21 Paul says that a person called to Christ as a slave should embrace their freedom if they are freed.

Roman slavery was no walk in the park, but it cannot be understood through the lens of former slavery in America.[3] Further, in addressing the status of slaves and freedmen (1 Cor. 7:21–23), Paul’s main objective is to warn the Corinthians against their excessive preoccupation with status-betterment, a mad scramble in achievement-oriented Corinth. Fee says, “Status of any kind is ultimately irrelevant with God.”[4]

To understand 1 Cor. 7:22a (“For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person”), consider how David Garland’s analysis of a Roman freedman’s obligations to the one who freed him compare to our relationship to Christ, who freed us:

“The freedman owed the former master lifelong obsequium [a Latin term meaning…] (eagerness to serve respectfully); a certain number of days’ work per week, month, or year (operae, enforceable by civil action); gifts (munera); and moral duty (officium). In return, the master, now the freedman’s patron, looks after the welfare of the freedman. As Christ’s freedman, the former slave takes on the name of the master, is directed by him, and owes him allegiance.”[5]

When we trust in Christ, we become members of Christ’s household. Thiselton says, “The slave’s real status is determined by his or her placement in a different household entirely: the household of Christ. . . . To be a slave of Christ (rather than of another) outranks any other status in any other household.”[6] That is exactly our status because “you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 7:23; 1 Cor. 6:20), and the price was the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross. Again we return to a focus on Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

The remainder of this section, verses 25–31, will be discussed in a brief style.

  • The “virgins” (1 Cor. 7:25) are probably unmarried yet betrothed women who would be uncertain about whether keeping the same status in which they were called (1 Cor. 7:24) might be interpreted to mean they should not marry.
  • The nature of the “present crisis” (1 Cor. 7:26)is not known, but a likely candidate would seem to be a widespread grain shortage in A.D. 51 that was so serious as to cause Rome to place one man in charge of Corinth’s supply.[7] To prevent grain shortages in Rome, the provinces were often exploited with widespread hunger as the result elsewhere.

Perhaps the most important sentence in verses 25–31 is this: “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Fee rightly says: “In Paul’s view the End has already begun [with the crucifixion of Christ]; the form of this world is already passing away. Christians do not thereby abandon the world; they are simply not to let this age dictate their present existence.”[8]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 307.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 545.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 319; Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 556.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 322.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 314.

[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 560–561.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 573.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 330.

Exposition of Romans 4:13–14 An unqualified promise requires no works

Some of us grew up around churches that had a set of rules which, if violated, meant we could be hell-bound ? so they said. The list contained things like drinking, dancing, wearing makeup, swearing, immodest dress and other such things. (Some of you may need comforting now!)

However, there were a few problems. First, the list seemed to vary a bit from church to church. Second, it was not quite clear whether we went to heaven by keeping the list or whether it only served as a signpost marking the way to hell. Questions about the list were not exactly solicited.  :)

Even more puzzling — what did all of that have to do with faith in Jesus?

(ESV) Romans 4:13-14  For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Since Christians hold ideas that are nowhere recorded in Scripture — such as the three Magi or purgatory — it is no surprise that the Jews of Paul’s day did as well. One such bogus idea was that Abraham had obeyed the Law of Moses perfectly before it had been given.[1] [In the following discussion the Hebrew word t?rah is sometimes used to refer to the Law of Moses.]

The Jews did not believe this idea on a whim; it allowed them to claim that “one could be Abraham’s child only by taking on oneself ‘the yoke of torah.’”[2] So, the claim about Abraham keeping the torah before there was one was a convenient way of tying together the patriarch who had received the promises from God and the law given through Moses over 430 years later. Yet, in Galatians, Paul argues: “The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise” (Gal. 3:17, NET).

Of course, the idea that Abraham could obey the law before there was a law has always been ridiculous. For example, Lev. 17:4 requires that a sacrifice be brought to the Tent of Meeting and given to the priest for sacrifice on that spot. But in Abraham’s time there was no Tent of Meeting, and the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established. So, how did that work? This simply shows that you should never be surprised at the creativity of theologians when they float free of the Bible; in that case they are like scientists speaking authoritatively about non-scientific matters.  :)

In a way Paul cuts through all these specious theological assumptions by returning to what God originally promised Abraham (Rom. 4:13). The Greek sentence throws the phrase “not through the law” near the beginning of the sentence to stress the incongruity of the idea that the law had anything to do with the promise. Instead, Paul says the promise came “through the righteousness of faith” (4:13b).

Now that Paul has expressed his thesis that faith was the basis of the promise to Abraham rather than the law (4:13), he next explains why this is so. Grant Osborne expands the logic of Romans 4:14 by saying: “If it were possible to be righteous and thus gain an eternal inheritance on the basis of personal achievement, then faith would be unnecessary. If works and obedience were sufficient, the need for God’s promise would be removed.”[3]

The final clause of 4:14 — “faith is null and the promise is void” (ESV) — has two Greek verbs in the perfect tense. This probably emphasizes the state of affairs that would exist if law-keeping were actually the way of attaining righteousness before God, the premise that Paul denies.[4] Basing righteousness on law-keeping simply throws faith and promise into the trash!

The final clause of 4:14 makes for an interesting study in English translations. NET probably has the most literal translation in relation to the meaning of the Greek verbs:

(NET) “faith is empty and the promise is nullified” (Rom. 4:14)

We can compare the NET’s translation to two other important English translations:

(ESV) “faith is null and the promise is void” (Rom. 4:14)

(NLT) “faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless” (Rom. 4:14)

Since the ESV and NLT have strongly different translation philosophies, it is surprising to find them using a similar approach to this clause. “Null and . . . void” has a nice idiomatic ring in English, uncommon for ESV. NLT’s “not necessary and . . . pointless” uses words that are very powerful from a pragmatic, American viewpoint. Both ESV and NLT run away from the semantic range of the Greek verbs, but they do a superb job of conveying the futility of basing righteousness on the law.

If the law does not bring righteousness, then what does it do? In 4:15 Paul explains “what the law does — ‘produces wrath’ — as opposed to what it cannot do — secure the inheritance.”[5] He will develop these ideas more fully in Romans 5:12–14 and 7:7–13. C.K. Barrett captures the essence of Paul’s point when he says, “Law, though good in itself (7:12, 14) is so closely bound up with sin and wrath that it is unthinkable that it should be the basis of the promise.”[6] Faith carries no such baggage.

The clause “where there is no law there is no transgression” (4:15) does not mean “where there is no law there is no sin.” On the contrary, the law makes sin all the more grave. Thomas Schreiner says, “Transgression of the law involves greater responsibility since the infraction is conscious and therefore involves rebellion against a known standard.”[7]

Faith and the law

The primacy of faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that the rules mentioned in the introduction of this lesson are totally without value. In a way more approximate and less authoritative than the Law of Moses, those rules at the start of this lesson were meant to motivate godly behavior, however imperfectly. The confusion sewn about keeping the rules as a way of salvation is less forgivable.

1. There is more to being a good citizen of the U.S. than keeping the laws of your state and the United States. By analogy, what does it take to be a good Christian?

2. Read Ephesians 2:8–10. How do these verses help clarify the relationship between faith and works? In what way can Ephesians 2:8 be said to constitute a promise to those who put their faith in Jesus?

The tension between grace and law is ancient. What God promises in an unqualified way will come to pass without regard to what we do. What we do truly matters, but we cannot overturn the promises of God. That is cause for rejoicing!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 227.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 273.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 114.

[4] Moo, Romans, 275, footnote 25.

[5] Moo, Romans, 276.

[6] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957) 95.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 230.