Exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:1–5 Accountability to Christ alone

1 Corinthians 4:1–5

1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Ben Witherington has an excellent summary of what Paul is trying to do in chapter 4:

Paul is seeking to do for the Corinthians what Plutarch [a Roman biographer] advises in another context: ‘It is your duty to reduce this man’s swollen pride and restore him to conformity with his best interests’ . . . . So Paul’s point is to change the overinflated rhetoric and self-congratulation in Corinth by holding up the example of a suffering sage [Paul] and his coworker [Apollos] so that the Corinthians will come to their senses and see what is truly to their benefit.[1]

Beyond question, some Christians in Corinth have been critical of Paul in relation to both his message (“foolish”) and his style of leadership (“weak”). Since Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, it is not surprising — except to the Corinthians — that Paul teaches the exact type of leadership within the church that Jesus commanded in Mark 10:42–45, where Jesus said “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” He has just been discussing that idea by calling himself and Apollos “servants” (1 Cor. 3:5) and “co-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9) who belong to the church (1 Cor. 3:22).

David Garland says that Paul’s leadership model “is radically different from the world’s perception of leaders as free, high-status dons bestowing benevolences on those of lesser status.”[2] That belief was certainly held in Roman Corinth, where so many aspired to fame and honor.

Paul has changed metaphors. Previously he was talking about the servant nature of their task under God, but starting in 1 Cor. 4:1 the metaphor changes to that of a household.[3] The phrase “those entrusted with” translates a Greek noun that “denotes a ‘steward’ (often a slave) who has been ‘entrusted with’ managing a household.”[4] The church is Christ’s household. Here is the point: even though Paul belongs to the Corinthians as Christ’s servant to them, he is not accountable to them. He must instead be faithful to the duties given him by Christ, and that is revealing the mystery of God, Christ crucified (1 Cor. 4:1–2).

Some forms of postmodernism in our day tend to make the individual the master of all meaning and opinion. Paul, however, discounts the opinion or judgment of the Corinthians, that of any human court or even his own opinion (1 Cor. 4:3). The only opinion that matters is the Lord’s (1 Cor. 4:4).

Paul goes so far as to command that no judgments about him and his ministry be considered final until Jesus returns (1 Cor. 4:5), because only then will secrets be brought to light and the motives of many hearts will be disclosed. The existence of secrets and hidden purposes are critical factors in rendering final human judgments suspect. But God will have everything before him in deciding what praise is awarded to each one by his grace.

Note that in 1 Cor. 5:12 and 6:5 the Corinthians will be responsible to make judgments about conduct within the church, but since Paul was sent by Christ, he is answerable only to Christ.

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


[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)136.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)126.

[3] 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) 159.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 159.

Exposition of Romans 5:18–19 Jesus used obedience to bring righteousness

We have said more than once that faith is an acceptant response to what God has said and done. Since God has said a lot about what he expects of us, including many explicit commands, it is obvious that obedience plays a central role in Christian faith. Is that not what you would expect since Christ is both Lord of lords and King of kings?

After we trust in Jesus, we still have a lifetime of choices to make about how best to obey our Lord. How will we proceed?

Romans 5:18–19  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

The parallelism built into Romans 5:18 is pervasive, as shown below:

as   one trespass                            [led to]            condemnation             for all men, } Adam

so   one act of righteousness        [leads to]         justification and life   for all men. } Christ

The square brackets [ ] indicate that the verb has been supplied to make literary English because the Greek sentence has no verbs. Different English translations have supplied different verbs:
NET (came), NLT (brings), HCSB (is), and NASB (resulted). Each of these choices is reasonable.

By dissecting 5:18 in this way, we can easily spot important points. First, each single act affected “all men,” a comprehensive expression. As to the scope of “all,” C.E.B. Cranfield says:

It will be wise to take it thoroughly seriously as really meaning ‘all,’ to understand the implication to be that what Christ has done he has really done for all men, that [“life-giving justification” HCSB] is truly offered to all, and all are to be summoned urgently to accept the proffered gift, but at the same time to allow that this clause does not foreclose the question whether in the end all will actually come to share it.[1]

Of course, we have already discussed the gift-nature of the “justification and life.” The gift was explicitly mentioned three times in Rom. 5:15–17. Not all accept the gift by faith.

Using the interpretive principles of salvation history (see Introduction), we point out that Adam’s deed came first, to the undoing of humanity’s privileged position in Eden and much more. The act of Christ came later and contained such grace as to overwhelm the damage done by Adam. James Dunn says: “The inaugurating act of the new epoch [i.e. the Age To Come] is thus presented as a counter to and cancellation of the inaugurating act of the old [i.e. The Present Age], Christ’s right turn undoing Adam’s wrong turn.”[2] Wrong turn is just another term for disobedience.

(ESV) Romans 5:19  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

Once again, Romans 5:19 has strong parallelism, but this time with actual Greek verbs:

as   by the one man’s disobedience          the many        were made      sinners, } Adam

so   by the one man’s obedience              the many        will be made   righteous. } Christ

It is clear from the parallelism that the major difference between what Adam did and what Jesus did is the difference between disobedience by Adam and obedience by Christ.

Sin wears many masks in life and in Romans, and Paul used a variety of terms to refer to it. In 5:12 we have the Greek noun hamartia meaning “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness . . . sin.”[3] In 5:15, 17, and 18 he switched to parapt?ma meaning “a violation of moral standards, offense, wrongdoing, sin.”[4] Here in 5:19 Paul switched to parako?s meaning “refusal to listen and so be disobedient, unwillingness to hear, disobedience.”[5]

We could say that hamartia means violating a revealed standard of God. The term parapt?ma is used figuratively of making a false step; think of hitting your bare toes against a chair leg and put that pain in the context of a false step in some moral situation. The word in 5:19 gives us the interesting insight that Adam failed to listen to God’s actual voice! God told him explicitly what must not be done (Gen. 2:17), and he did it anyway. Unfortunately, many people can identify!

Cranfield makes one clarification about 5:19 when he says, “The many have not been condemned for someone else’s transgression, for Adam’s sin, but because, as a result of Adam’s transgression, they have themselves been sinners.”[6]

But the good news outshines the bad news by far: Jesus obeyed to bring righteousness to all who put their faith in him! The author of Hebrews says about Jesus: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8–9, NET).

Following Jesus

Surely it is plain that to follow Jesus means we are obedient to the Father just as he was. As the old hymn says, “There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” When you think about it, trusting and obeying are very similar because trusting is faith and obeying is faithfulness.

1. How many of us have heard God’s voice about something, but, like Adam, we come to a point at which we do not listen? When have you made that error, and what did you learn from it?

2. What do you consider a difficult thing about obedience? How do you get around that obstacle?

It is no accident that Paul begins the letter to the Romans with the phrase “obedience of faith” (1:5) and ends the letter with the same phrase (16:26). There is no such thing as faith without obedience!

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) 290.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 297.

[3] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, parapt?ma, offense, q.v.

[5] BDAG-3, parako?s, unwillingness to hear, q.v.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 290.