Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
Romans 12:1-21. Duties of believers, general and particular.
The doctrinal teaching of this Epistle is now followed up by a series of exhortations to practical duty. And first, the all-comprehensive duty.
I beseech you therefore — in view of all that has been advanced in the foregoing part of this Epistle.
by the mercies of God — those mercies, whose free and unmerited nature, glorious Channel, and saving fruits have been opened up at such length.
that ye present — See on Romans 6:13, where we have the same exhortation and the same word there rendered “yield” (as also in Romans 12:16, Romans 12:19).
your bodies — that is, “yourselves in the body,” considered as the organ of the inner life. As it is through the body that all the evil that is in the unrenewed heart comes forth into palpable manifestation and action, so it is through the body that all the gracious principles and affections of believers reveal themselves in the outward life. Sanctification extends to the whole man (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Thessalonians 5:24).
a living sacrifice — in glorious contrast to the legal sacrifices, which, save as they were slain, were no sacrifices at all. The death of the one “Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world,” has swept all dead victims from off the altar of God, to make room for the redeemed themselves as “living sacrifices” to Him who made “Him to be sin for us”; while every outgoing of their grateful hearts in praise, and every act prompted by the love of Christ, is itself a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savor (Hebrews 13:15, Hebrews 13:16).
holy — As the Levitical victims, when offered without blemish to God, were regarded as holy, so believers, “yielding themselves to God as those that are alive from the dead, and their members as instruments of righteousness unto God,” are, in His estimation, not ritually but really “holy,” and so
acceptable — “well-pleasing”
unto God — not as the Levitical offerings, merely as appointed symbols of spiritual ideas, but objects, intrinsically, of divine complacency, in their renewed character, and endeared relationship to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.
which is your reasonable — rather, “rational”
service — in contrast, not to the senselessness of idol-worship, but to the offering of irrational victims under the law. In this view the presentation of ourselves, as living monuments of redeeming mercy, is here called “our rational service”; and surely it is the most rational and exalted occupation of God‘s reasonable creatures. So 2 Peter 1:5, “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
And be ye not conformed to this world — Compare Ephesians 2:2; Galatians 1:4, Greek.
but be ye transformed — or, “transfigured” (as in Matthew 17:2; and 2 Corinthians 3:18, Greek).
by the renewing of your mind — not by a mere outward disconformity to the ungodly world, many of whose actions in themselves may be virtuous and praiseworthy; but by such an inward spiritual transformation as makes the whole life new - new in its motives and ends, even where the actions differ in nothing from those of the world - new, considered as a whole, and in such a sense as to be wholly unattainable save through the constraining power of the love of Christ.
that ye may prove — that is, experimentally. (On the word “experience” see on Romans 5:4, and compare 1 Thessalonians 5:10, where the sentiment is the same).
what is that — “the”
good and acceptable — “well-pleasing”
and perfect, will of God — We prefer this rendering (with Calvin) to that which many able critics [Tholuck, Meyer, De Wette, Fritzsche, Philippi, Alford, Hodge] adopt - “that ye may prove,” or “discern the will of God, [even] what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.” God‘s will is “good,” as it demands only what is essentially and unchangeably good (Romans 7:10); it is “well pleasing,” in contrast with all that is arbitrary, as demanding only what God has eternal complacency in (compare Micah 6:8, with Jeremiah 9:24); and it is “perfect,” as it required nothing else than the perfection of God‘s reasonable creature, who, in proportion as he attains to it, reflects God‘s own perfection. Such then is the great general duty of the redeemed - SELF-CONSECRATION, in our whole spirit and soul and body to Him who hath called us into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ. Next follow specific duties, chiefly social; beginning with Humility, the chiefest of all the graces - but here with special reference to spiritual gifts.
For I say — authoritatively
through the grace given unto me — as an apostle of Jesus Christ; thus exemplifying his own precept by modestly falling back on that office which both warranted and required such plainness towards all classes.
to every man that is among you, not to think, etc. — It is impossible to convey in good English the emphatic play, so to speak, which each word here has upon another: “not to be high-minded above what he ought to be minded, but so to be minded as to be sober-minded” [Calvin, Alford]. This is merely a strong way of characterizing all undue self-elevation.
according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith — Faith is here viewed as the inlet to all the other graces, and so, as the receptive faculty of the renewed soul - that is, “as God hath given to each his particular capacity to take in the gifts and graces which He designs for the general good.”
For as we have many members, etc. — The same diversity and yet unity obtains in the body of Christ, whereof all believers are the several members, as in the natural body.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace given to us — Here, let it be observed, all the gifts of believers alike are viewed as communications of mere grace.
whether — we have the gift of
prophecy — that is, of inspired teaching (as in Acts 15:32). Anyone speaking with divine authority - whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future - was termed a prophet (Exodus 7:1).
let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith — rather, “of our faith.” Many Romish expositors and some Protestant (as Calvin and Bengel, and, though, hesitatingly, Beza and Hodge), render this “the analogy of faith,” understanding by it “the general tenor” or “rule of faith,” divinely delivered to men for their guidance. But this is against the context, whose object is to show that, as all the gifts of believers are according to their respective capacity for them, they are not to be puffed up on account of them, but to use them purely for their proper ends.
Or ministry, let us wait on — “be occupied with.”
our ministering — The word here used imports any kind of service, from the dispensing of the word of life (Acts 6:4) to the administering of the temporal affairs of the Church (Acts 6:1-3). The latter seems intended here, being distinguished from “prophesying,” “teaching,” and “exhorting.”
or he that teacheth — Teachers are expressly distinguished from prophets, and put after them, as exercising a lower function (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 12:29). Probably it consisted mainly in opening up the evangelical bearings of Old Testament Scripture; and it was in this department apparently that Apollos showed his power and eloquence (Acts 18:24).
Or he that exhorteth — Since all preaching, whether by apostles, prophets, or teachers, was followed up by exhortation (Acts 11:23; Acts 14:22; Acts 15:32, etc.), many think that no specific class is here in view. But if liberty was given to others to exercise themselves occasionally in exhorting the brethren, generally, or small parties of the less instructed, the reference may be to them.
he that giveth — in the exercise of private benevolence probably, rather than in the discharge of diaconal duty.
with simplicity — so the word probably means. But as simplicity seems enjoined in the next clause but one of this same verse, perhaps the meaning here is, “with liberality,” as the same word is rendered in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11.
he that ruleth — whether in the Church or his own household. See 1 Timothy 3:4, 1 Timothy 3:5, where the same word is applied to both.
with diligence — with earnest purpose.
he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness — not only without grudging either trouble or pecuniary relief, but feeling it to be “more blessed to give than to receive,” and to help than be helped.
Let love be without dissimulation — “Let your love be unfeigned” (as in 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 2:22; and see 1 John 3:18).
Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good — What a lofty tone of moral principle and feeling is here inculcated! It is not, Abstain from the one, and do the other; nor, Turn away from the one, and draw to the other; but, Abhor the one, and cling, with deepest sympathy, to the other.
Be, etc. — better, “In brotherly love be affectionate one to another; in [giving, or showing] honor, outdoing each other.” The word rendered “prefer” means rather “to go before,” “take the lead,” that is, “show an example.” How opposite is this to the reigning morality of the heathen world! and though Christianity has so changed the spirit of society, that a certain beautiful disinterestedness and self-sacrifice shines in the character of not a few who are but partially, if at all under the transforming power of the Gospel, it is only those whom “the love of Christ constrains to live not unto themselves,” who are capable of thoroughly acting in the spirit of this precept.
not slothful in business — The word rendered “business” means “zeal,” “diligence,” “purpose”; denoting the energy of action.
serving the Lord — that is, the Lord Jesus (see Ephesians 6:5-8). Another reading - “serving the time,” or “the occasion” - which differs in form but very slightly from the received reading, has been adopted by good critics [Luther, Olshausen, Fritzsche, Meyer]. But as manuscript authority is decidedly against it, so is internal evidence; and comparatively few favor it. Nor is the sense which it yields a very Christian one.
Rejoicing, etc. — Here it is more lively to retain the order and the verbs of the original: “In hope, rejoicing; in tribulation, enduring; in prayer, persevering.” Each of these exercises helps the other. If our “hope” of glory is so assured that it is a rejoicing hope, we shall find the spirit of “endurance in tribulation” natural and easy; but since it is “prayer” which strengthens the faith that begets hope and lifts it up into an assured and joyful expectancy, and since our patience in tribulation is fed by this, it will be seen that all depends on our “perseverance in prayer.”
given to hospitality — that is, the entertainment of strangers. In times of persecution, and before the general institution of houses of entertainment, the importance of this precept would be at once felt. In the East, where such houses are still rare, this duty is regarded as of the most sacred character [Hodge].
Bless — that is, Call down by prayer a blessing on.
them which persecute you, etc. — This is taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:44), which, from the allusions made to it, seems to have been the storehouse of Christian morality among the churches.
Rejoice with them that rejoice; and weep — the “and” should probably be omitted.
with them that weep — What a beautiful spirit of sympathy with the joys and sorrows of others is here inculcated! But it is only one charming phase of the unselfish character which belongs to all living Christianity. What a world will ours be when this shall become its reigning spirit! Of the two, however, it is more easy to sympathize with another‘s sorrows than his joys, because in the one case he needs us; in the other not. But just for this reason the latter is the more disinterested, and so the nobler.
Be — “Being”
of the same mind one toward another — The feeling of the common bond which binds all Christians to each other, whatever diversity of station, cultivation, temperament, or gifts may obtain among them, is the thing here enjoined. This is next taken up in detail.
Mind not — “not minding”
high things — that is, Cherish not ambitious or aspiring purposes and desires. As this springs from selfish severance of our own interests and objects from those of our brethren, so it is quite incompatible with the spirit inculcated in the preceding clause.
but condescend — “condescending”
to men of low estate — or (as some render the words), “inclining unto the things that be lowly.” But we prefer the former.
Be not wise in your own conceits — This is just the application of the caution against high-mindedness to the estimate we form of our own mental character.
Recompense — “Recompensing,” etc. — (See on Romans 12:14).
Provide — “Providing”
things honest — “honorable”
in the sight of all men — The idea (which is from Proverbs 3:4) is the care which Christians should take so to demean themselves as to command the respect of all men.
If it be possible — that is, If others will let you.
as much as lieth in you — or, “dependeth on you.”
live peaceably — or, “be at peace.”
with all men — The impossibility of this in some cases is hinted at, to keep up the hearts of those who, having done their best unsuccessfully to live in peace, might be tempted to think the failure was necessarily owing to themselves. But how emphatically expressed is the injunction to let nothing on our part prevent it! Would that Christians were guiltless in this respect!
avenge not, etc. — (See on Romans 12:14).
but rather give place unto wrath — This is usually taken to mean, “but give room or space for wrath to spend itself.” But as the context shows that the injunction is to leave vengeance to God, “wrath” here seems to mean, not the offense, which we are tempted to avenge, but the avenging wrath of God (see 2 Chronicles 24:18), which we are enjoined to await, or give room for. (So the best interpreters).
if thine enemy hunger, etc. — This is taken from Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22, which without doubt supplied the basis of those lofty precepts on that subject which form the culminating point of the Sermon on the Mount.
in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head — As the heaping of “coals of fire” is in the Old Testament the figurative expression of divine vengeance (Psalm 140:10; Psalm 11:6, etc.), the true sense of these words seems to be, “That will be the most effectual vengeance - a vengeance under which he will be fain to bend” (So Alford, Hodge, etc.). Romans 12:21 confirms this.
Be not overcome of evil — for then you are the conquered party.
but overcome evil with good — and then the victory is yours; you have subdued your enemy in the noblest sense.
(1) The redeeming mercy of God in Christ is, in the souls of believers, the living spring of all holy obedience (Romans 12:1).
(2) As redemption under the Gospel is not by irrational victims, as under the law, but “by the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19), and, consequently, is not ritual but real, so the sacrifices which believers are now called to offer are all “living sacrifices”; and these - summed up in self-consecration to the service of God - are “holy and acceptable to God,” making up together “our rational service” (Romans 12:1).
(3) In this light, what are we to think of the so-called “unbloody sacrifice of the mass, continually offered to God as a propitiation for the sins both of the living and the dead,” which the adherents of Rome‘s corrupt faith have been taught for ages to believe is the highest and holiest act of Christian worship - in direct opposition to the sublimely simple teaching which the Christians of Rome first received (Romans 12:1) -
(4) Christians should not feel themselves at liberty to be conformed to the world, if only they avoid what is manifestly sinful; but rather, yielding themselves to the transforming power of the truth as it is in Jesus, they should strive to exhibit before the world an entire renovation of heart and life (Romans 12:2).
(5) What God would have men to be, in all its beauty and grandeur, is for the first time really apprehended, when “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshy tables of the heart,” 2 Corinthians 3:3 (Romans 12:2).
(6) Self-sufficiency and lust of power are peculiarly unlovely in the vessels of mercy, whose respective graces and gifts are all a divine trust for the benefit of the common body and of mankind at large (Romans 12:3, Romans 12:4).
(7) As forgetfulness of this has been the source of innumerable and unspeakable evils in the Church of Christ, so the faithful exercise by every Christian of his own peculiar office and gifts, and the loving recognition of those of his brethren, as all of equal importance in their own place, would put a new face upon the visible Church, to the vast benefit and comfort of Christians themselves and to the admiration of the world around them (Romans 12:6-8).
(8) What would the world be, if it were filled with Christians having but one object in life, high above every other - to “serve the Lord” - and throwing into this service “alacrity” in the discharge of all duties, and abiding “warmth of spirit” (Romans 12:11)!
(9) Oh, how far is even the living Church from exhibiting the whole character and spirit, so beautifully portrayed in the latter verses of this chapter (Romans 12:12-21)! What need of a fresh baptism of the Spirit in order to this! And how “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” will the Church become, when at length instinct with this Spirit! The Lord hasten it in its time!
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