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 Gods 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 Gods 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 Gods commands is what counts, he is speaking of Christs 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 Gods law but am under Christs law (emphasis added). A great deal more about the Christians relationship to the law may be found at this link: A Theological Appraisal of Torah Observance by Christians. 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), Pauls 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 Lords freed person), consider how David Garlands analysis of a Roman freedmans 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 freedmans patron, looks after the welfare of the freedman. As Christs 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 Christs household. Thiselton says, The slaves 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 Corinths 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 Pauls 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, 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) 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 Gods favor by showing how their deeds set them apart. But Gods 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 Pauls entire argument is that being declared righteous by God involves faith on our side and grace on Gods side.

The word it has twice been italicized in my rearranged sentence so that we may focus our attention on determining what the prior reference of “it” might be. Thomas Schreiner says, The subject could be Gods 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 Abrahams 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 Gods 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 of 4:17 (the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do) provides a marvelous double-edged meaning. In Abrahams 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 Abrahams descendants and including both believing Jews and Gentiles. This is exactly Pauls 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 2:810. 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, Plano, Texas. 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. (Smile)

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 torah 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 such as the miracles of Jesus. (Smile)

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 NETs 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. NLTs “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, Plano, Texas. 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.