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 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 4:16–17 Grace toward all — faith from all

It is easy to wonder how Paul ever thought he would get Jews and Gentiles together, but Paul had a secret weapon: God. God was the one who wanted the unified worship of every nation, race and language. He did it by extending grace to all and by demanding faith from all.

Many have sought God’s favor by showing how their deeds set them apart. But God’s free act of grace in Christ means his children must share a common faith no matter what their deeds might be.

(NET) Romans 4:16–17 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants– not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed– the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.

Romans 4:16 is another of those formidable creations by Paul that is best understood by dividing it into its constituent parts. Note the switch to NET, which sticks closer to the Greek text in this verse than ESV does.

(NET) Romans 4:16a “For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace,”

The phrase for this reason points forward, not backward. We might rearrange the sentence to say: “The reason it is by faith is so that it may be by grace.” Critical to Paul’s entire argument is that being declared righteous by God involves faith on our side and grace on God’s side.

The word “it” has twice been italicized in our rearranged sentence so that we may focus our attention on determining what the prior reference might be. Thomas Schreiner says, “The subject could be God’s plan of salvation . . . or the promise . . . but ‘the promised inheritance’ is probably the most comprehensive and precise rendering.”[1]

(NET) Romans 4:16b “with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants– not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all”

Because the promise is grounded on faith, it is certain for all who, when under the law, shared the faith of Abraham, and those who, like Abraham, demonstrated their faith apart from the law. In that way, Abraham is the father of all who receive righteousness by faith. Schreiner says, “Here the intent is to say that the inheritance is available to both Jewish Christians and Gentiles who share the faith of Abraham.”[2] The words “Abraham, who is the father of us all” would have shaken Jews to the core!

John Chrysostom summarizes with great skill: “Here Paul mentions two blessings. The first is that the things which have been given are secured. The second is that they are given to all Abraham’s descendants, including the Gentiles who believe and excluding the Jews who do not.”[3]

(NET) Romans 4:17 “(as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed– the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.”

In support of his shocking assertion that Abraham is the father of all who believe (4:16b), Paul cites one of God’s promises to Abraham from Genesis 17:5. The clause “He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed” (4:17b) stresses the solemnity of the promise by reminding the reader that God spoke directly to Abraham in naming him the father of many nations.

The final clause — “the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (4:17c) — provides a marvelous double-edged meaning. In Abraham’s time, when the promise was made, God made the sexually dead Abraham alive and thus ensured the existence of his countless descendants.

The second meaning affected those to whom Paul wrote and us as well. The two present-tense verbal forms stress that God is still making the dead alive and summoning things that do not exist into reality. What things? For one he is creating a new people of God comprising all Abraham’s descendants and including both believing Jews and Gentiles. This is exactly Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:11–3:6.

What do we have in common?

In previous chapters of Romans, Paul has shown that works are wholly insufficient to achieve salvation. Today he demonstrates deeds are actually irrelevant for salvation. Because salvation is by grace through faith, all who believe come to God in exactly the same way. That commonality is the basis for unity in the church. Whatever differences make one a Jew and another a Gentile do not matter; what makes each a Christian is exactly the same!

1. Who has a right to call themselves a Christian? Who is eligible to call Abraham their spiritual father?

2. Read Ephesians 2:8–10. What role do works play after salvation?

Most of us find it alarmingly easy to focus on our differences. But the narrow gate that leads to life requires each of us to enter on the same basis ? by grace through faith.

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

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 231.

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 232.

[3] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 120.

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.