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 5:3–5 Our hearts have the Holy Spirit

It is one thing to praise God when you cruise in sunny skies with a fair breeze, but what about during life’s storms? The vital point is that God has not left us to muddle though trouble on our own.

Only God can bless his own in the midst of trouble. How does he do it?

(ESV) Romans 5:3-5  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

If the previous section (5:1–2) boasted of our having God’s approval in the context of grace and peace, the present section (5:3–5) boasts about God’s loving purpose in the context of suffering. It is certainly paradoxical to boast “in our sufferings,” but Paul assures believers that even there we may expect to triumph because of “the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5:5).

The initial phrase “more than that” (5:3) adds the context of trouble to the previous context of blessing (5:1–2). Because of what Christ has done for us, we have a reason to boast — again, not “rejoice” — no matter what our circumstances may be. The Greek noun which ESV translates as “sufferings” is thlipsis, which here (5:3) means “trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation.”[1] This can be just about anything that puts pressure on a person; indeed, the ANLEX lexicon says thlipsis means “literally pressure.”[2]

For the unbeliever consider that trouble produces nothing but misery. The reason a believer may boast is that even suffering is used by God for good in that person’s life (5:3). So, we get the famous sequence: trouble to endurance to character to hope (5:4). It is plain that Paul is expressing a constructive, supernatural process that could not arise naturally from trouble. He next explains how this surprising uplift is possible.

The reason that a Christian may gain benefit even during trouble is because God is intervening in both the believer and the events. So, “hope does not put us to shame” (5:4) because biblical hope is an “expectation”[3] backed by God. “Hope” is so iffy in English usage that it presents problems.

The NET Bible does a good job on Rom. 5:5 by saying “hope does not disappoint.” If you live by faith, the eventual outcome when you stand before God will reward you. That is extremely significant to a Christian’s motivation since the Christian life involves sacrifice and service (Luke 9:23–24; Mark 10:45), and such sacrifice and service often involve trouble.

Finally we get to the cause of the uplift-within-trouble: the Holy Spirit within us is the expression of God’s love (5:5). Love has not previously been mentioned in Romans. Grant Osborne eloquently speaks of its significance:

First, this love is poured out into our hearts, meaning we realize God’s love as an inner, spiritual experience at the deepest level of our being. Second, the means by which we experience this is the Holy Spirit whom he has given us. . . . The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift that makes it possible for us to know the gift of God’s love.[4]

The verb “has been poured” is a Greek perfect tense, which Daniel Wallace says emphasizes the act of outpouring the Spirit into our hearts; the perfect also has that special idea of the present state emerging from that past action.[5] God gave us a matchless gift, the Holy Spirit who gets us through our trouble.

God gives inner strength

Some of us live blissfully unaware of how common trouble is in human experience. The ubiquity of trouble makes it vital for Christians to know how God will use it in their lives.

1. What have you been through that you did not initially think you could handle? How did God use that pressure to produce endurance?

2. What has been your own experience of endurance producing character? It is said that trouble makes us or breaks us: how does God use each outcome?

Jesus was not given a pass on trouble. “During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered.” (Heb. 5:7–8, NET). Jesus understands how to use the trouble we face to build us up!

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

[1] BDAG-3, thlipsis, trouble, q.v.

[2] ANLEX, thlipsis, trouble, q.v.

[3] BDAG-3, elpis, expectation, q.v.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 131-132.

[5] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 577.

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.

Exposition of Romans 4:6–8 Only God can offer total amnesty

One of our foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence, declares that we have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Unfortunately, those things are not that easy to come by. Happiness in particular has proven elusive for many.

In the final analysis, happiness — blessedness in the language of our Scripture passage — only comes from God, and it is based on not having our sins counted against us. Are you blessed?

(ESV) Romans 4:6–8  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

As we follow Paul’s argument in support of justification by faith apart from works of the law, we should note that he relies on the interpretation of OT revelation to make his point. All sound theology is based primarily on biblical revelation, not unguided human opinion or even traditional interpretations of the Bible.

Paul is also sensitive to the traditions of those who are his Jewish theological opponents. Jewish scholars had certain techniques they used for interpreting the OT. One such technique consisted of first locating two verses which contained the same word and then interpreting each verse in light of the other. Paul has been using Genesis 15:6 and the Greek verb logizomai (reckon or calculate), and he clearly set out to find another verse containing logizomai that also mentions forgiveness of sins. He found what he wanted in Psalm 32:1–2a, which says:

 (ESV) Psalm 32:1–2a  “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,”

Paul also scores another point ? according to the methods of his time ? for getting his primary reference from the Pentateuch (Genesis 15:6) and a secondary reference from the prophets and the writings (Psalm 32:1–2a).[1] In the bargain Paul adds the voice of David to the example of Abraham. To his contemporaries, this was skillful argument!

Since we are studying Romans, you may wonder why I am telling you about Paul’s methodology. The reason is that you will run into Bible passages where you may not understand why the author ? here Paul ? chooses the words that he does. You should take away the lesson that there is always a reason, even if we do not always know it. And you should recall that this letter was not written in the first instance to us, even though its principles may be applied to us.

In Romans 4:6–8, Paul demonstrates another reason that justification must be found apart from works; too many of our works are actually sins! Grant Osborne explains: “The particular ‘works’ mentioned in the psalm are ‘transgressions’ and ‘sins.’ Not only can they not produce righteousness; they must also be ‘forgiven’ and covered.’ Thus the flip side of God’s crediting righteousness is God’s not crediting sin to one’s account.”[2]

Paul speaks of the negative acts in two ways (4:7): ‘lawless deeds’ (Greek anomia) and ‘sins’ (Greek hamartia). The first term, anomia, refers to those lawless things done by people who care nothing for what God wants; the noun means here “the product of a lawless disposition, a lawless deed.”[3] The second term, hamartia, deals with those people who are mindful of God’s standards but fail to meet them; the noun means here “a departure from . . . divine standards of uprightness.”[4]

When he speaks of how God deals with these different types of people and violations, Paul says God forgives the lawless deeds and covers the sins. The only way God can forgive lawless deeds is “by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23, NET). God has dealt with the sins by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, whom “God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Rom. 3:25). In Israel the blood of the atoning sacrifice was poured by the high priest on the mercy seat, which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is our mercy seat, and his death supplies the blood that covers our sins (Rom. 3:25). He resolved God’s wrath against us.

Because he has dealt with our sins through the death of Christ, we are blessed (4:8) because the Lord will “not count” (logizomai) our sins against us!

How to obtain happiness

The Bible reveals God’s thinking, so its conclusions do not agree with those defined by culture. The good news is that to be happy or blessed, you do not need to be rich, powerful, young, beautiful, educated or born into the right nation or family. All blessedness comes from God! To be happy, relate to God through faith in Jesus Christ and then devote yourself to strengthening that relationship.

1. How does society deal with sins and lawless deeds? How effective are those methods and how do they compare to God’s methods?

2. Through Christ there is a way to be forgiven before God and to have a fruitful relationship. In what ways do we or do we not provide ways for forgiveness between ourselves and other family members or among our friends?

Since God and God alone is the source of both amnesty for our sins and happiness based on faith in his Son, what possible reason could lead someone to neglect the opportunity?

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

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 265.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 110.

[3] BDAG-3, anomia, lawless deeds, q.v.

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