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I beseech you - The apostle, having finished the argument of this Epistle, proceeds now to close it with a practical or hortatory application, showing its bearing on the duties of life, and the practical influence of religion. None of the doctrines of the gospel are designed to be cold and barren speculations. They bear on the hearts and lives of people; and the apostle therefore calls on those to whom he wrote to dedicate themselves without reserve unto God.
Therefore - As the effect or result of the argument or doctrine. In other words, the whole argument of the eleven first chapters is suited to show the obligation on us to devote ourselves to God. From expressions like these, it is clear that the apostle never supposed that the tendency of the doctrines of grace was to lead to licentiousness. Many have affirmed that such was the tendency of the doctrines of justification by faith, of election and decrees, and of the perseverance of the saints. But it is plain that Paul had no such apprehensions. After having fully stated and established those doctrines, he concludes that we ought therefore to lead holy lives, and on the ground of them he exhorts people to do it.
By the mercies of God - The word “by” διὰ dia denotes here the reason why they should do it, or the ground of appeal. So great had been the mercy of God, that this constituted a reason why they should present their bodies, etc. see 1 Corinthians 1:10; Romans 15:30. The word “mercies” here denotes favor shown to the undeserving, or kindness, compassion, etc. The plural is used in imitation of the Hebrew word for mercy, which has no singular. The word is not often used in the New Testament; see 2 Corinthians 1:3, where God is called “the Father of mercies;” Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 10:28. The particular mercy to which the apostle here refers, is that shown to those whom he was addressing. He had proved that all were by nature under sin; that they had no claim on God; and that he had showed great compassion in giving his Son to die for them in this state, and in pardoning their sins. This was a ground or reason why they should devote themselves to God.
That ye present - The word used here commonly denotes the action of bringing and presenting an animal or other sacrifice before an altar. It implies that the action was a free and voluntary offering. Religion is free; and the act of devoting ourselves to God is one of the most free that we ever perform.
Your bodies - The bodies of animals were offered in sacrifice. The apostle specifies their bodies particularly in reference to that fact. Still the entire animal was devoted; and Paul evidently meant here the same as to say, present Yourselves, your entire person, to the service of God; compare 1 Corinthians 6:16; James 3:6. It was not customary or proper to speak of a sacrifice as an offering of a soul or spirit, in the common language of the Jews; and hence, the apostle applied their customary language of sacrifice to the offering which Christians were to make of themselves to God.
A living sacrifice - A sacrifice is an offering made to God as an atonement for sin; or any offering made to him and his service as an expression of thanksgiving or homage. It implies that he who offers it presents it entirely, releases all claim or right to it, and leaves it to be disposed of for the honor of God. In the case of an animal, it was slain, and the blood offered; in the case of any other offering, as the first-fruits, etc., it was set apart to the service of God; and he who offered it released all claim on it, and submitted it to God, to be disposed of at his will. This is the offering which the apostle entreats the Romans to make: to devote themselves to God, as if they had no longer any claim on themselves; to be disposed of by him; to suffer and bear all that he might appoint; and to promote his honor in any way which he might command. This is the nature of true religion.
Living - ζῶσυν zōsun. The expression probably means that they were to devote the vigorous, active powers of their bodies and souls to the service of God. The Jew offered his victim, slew it, and presented it dead. It could not be presented again. In opposition to this, we are to present ourselves with all our living, vital energies. Christianity does not require a service of death or inactivity. It demands vigorous and active powers in the service of God the Saviour. There is something very affecting in the view of such a sacrifice; in regarding life, with all its energies, its intellectual, and moral, and physical powers, as one long sacrifice; one continued offering unto God. An immortal being presented to him; presented voluntarily, with all his energies, from day to day, until life shall close, so that it may he said that he has lived and died an offering made freely unto God. This is religion.
Holy - This means properly without blemish or defect. No other sacrifice could be made to God. The Jews were expressly forbid to offer what was lame, or blind, or in anyway deformed; Deuteronomy 15:21; Leviticus 1:3, Leviticus 1:10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:20; Deuteronomy 17:1; compare Malachi 1:8. If offered without any of these defects, it was regarded as holy, that is, appropriately set apart, or consecrated to God. In like manner we are to consecrate to God our best faculties; the vigor of our minds, and talents, and time. Not the feebleness of sickness merely; not old age alone; not time which we cannot otherwise employ, but the first vigor and energies of the mind and body; our youth, and health, and strength. Our sacrifice to God is to be not divided, separate; but it is to be entire and complete. Many are expecting to be Christians in sickness; many in old age; thus purposing to offer unto him the blind and the lame. The sacrifice is to be free from sin. It is not to be a divided, and broken, and polluted service. It is to be with the best affections of our hearts and lives.
Acceptable unto God - They are exhorted to offer such a sacrifice as will be acceptable to God; that is, such a one as he had just specified, one that was living and holy. No sacrifice should be made which is not acceptable to God. The offerings of the pagan; the pilgrimages of the Muslims; the self-inflicted penalties of the Roman Catholics, uncommanded by God, cannot be acceptable to him. Those services will be acceptable to God, and those only, which he appoints; compare Colossians 2:20-23. People are not to invent services; or to make crosses; or to seek persecutions and trials; or to provoke opposition. They are to do just what God requires of them, and that will be acceptable to God. And this fact, that what we do is acceptable to God, is the highest recompense we can have. It matters little what people think of us, if God approves what we do. To please him should be our highest aim; the fact that we do please him is our highest reward.
Which is your reasonable service - The word rendered “service” λατρείαν latreian properly denotes worship, or the homage rendered to God. The word “reasonable” with us means what is “governed by reason; thinking, speaking, or acting conformably to the dictates of reason” (Webster); or what can be shown to be rational or proper. This does not express the meaning of the original. That word λογικὴν logikēn denotes what pertains to the mind, and a reasonable service means what is mental, or pertaining to reason. It stands opposed, nor to what is foolish or unreasonable, but to the external service of the Jews, and such as they relied on for salvation. The worship of the Christian is what pertains to the mind, or is spiritual; that of the Jew was external. Chrysostom renders this phrase “your spiritual ministry.” The Syriac, “That ye present your bodies, etc., by a rational ministry.”
We may learn from this verse,
- That the proper worship of God is the free homage of the mind. It is not forced or constrained. The offering of ourselves should be voluntary. No other can be a true offering, and none other can be acceptable.
(2)We are to offer our entire selves, all that we have and are, to God. No other offering can be such as he will approve.
(3)The character of God is such as should lead us to that. It is a character of mercy; of long-continued and patient forbearance, and it should influence us to devote ourselves to him.
(4)It should be done without delay. God is as worthy of such service now as he ever will or can be. He has every possible claim on our affections and our hearts.
And be not conformed ... - The word rendered “conformed” properly means to put on the form, fashion, or appearance of another. It may refer to anything pertaining to the habit, manner, dress, style of living, etc., of others.
Of this world - τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ tō aiōni toutō. The word which is commonly rendered “world,” when applied to the material universe, is κόσμος kosmos, “cosmos.” The word used here properly denotes an age, or generation of people. It may denote a particular generation, or it may be applied to the race. It is sometimes used in each of these senses. Thus, here it may mean that Christians should not conform to the maxims, habits, feelings, etc., of a wicked, luxurious, and idolatrous age, but should be conformed solely to the precepts and laws of the gospel; or the same principle may be extended to every age, and the direction may be, that Christians should not conform to the prevailing habits, style, and manners of the world, the people who know not God. They are to be governed by the laws of the Bible; to fashion their lives after the example of Christ; and to form themselves by principles different from those which prevail in the world. In the application of this rule there is much difficulty. Many may think that they are not conformed to the world, while they can easily perceive that their neighbor is. They indulge in many things which others may think to be conformity to the world, and are opposed to many things which others think innocent. The design of this passage is doubtless to produce a spirit that should not find pleasure in the pomp and vanity of the World; and which will regard all vain amusements and gaieties with disgust, and lead the mind to find pleasure in better things.
Be ye transformed - The word from which the expression here is derived means “form, habit” μορφή morphē. The direction is, “put on another form, change the form of the world for that of Christianity.” This word would properly refer to the external appearance, but the expression which the apostle immediately uses, “renewing of the mind,.” shows that he did not intend to use it with reference to that only, but to the charge of the whole man. The meaning is, do not cherish a spirit. devoted to the world, following its vain fashions and pleasures, but cultivate a spirit attached to God, and his kingdom and cause.
By the renewing - By the making new; the changing into new views and feelings. The Christian is often represented as a new creature; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:24; 1 Peter 2:2.
Your mind - The word translated “mind” properly denotes intellect, as distinguished from the will and affections. But here it seems to be used as applicable to the whole spirit as distinguished from the body, including the understanding, will, and affections. As if he had said, Let not this change appertain to the body only, but to the soul. Let it not be a mere external conformity, but let it have its seat in the spirit. All external changes, if the mind was not changed, would be useless, or would be hypocrisy. Christianity seeks to reign in the soul; and having its seat there, the external conduct and habits will be regulated accordingly.
That ye may prove - The word used here δοκιμάζω dokimazō is commonly applied to metals, to the operation of testing, or trying them by the severity of fire, etc. Hence, it also means to explore, investigate, ascertain. This is its meaning here. The sense is, that such a renewed mind is essential to a successful inquiry after the will of God. Having a disposition to obey him, the mind will be prepared to understand his precepts. There will be a correspondence between the feelings of the heart and his will; a nice tact or taste, which will admit his laws, and see the propriety and beauty of his commands. A renewed heart is the best preparation for studying Christianity; as a man who is temperate is the best suited to understand the arguments for temperance; the man who is chaste, has most clearly and forcibly the arguments for chastity, etc. A heart in love with the fashions and follies of the world is ill-suited to appreciate the arguments for humility, prayer, etc. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God,” John 7:17. The reason why the heart is renewed is that we may do the will of God: the heart that is renewed is best suited to appreciate and understand his will.
That good ... - This part of the verse might be rendered, that ye may investigate the will of God, or ascertain the Will of God, what is good, and perfect, and acceptable. The will of God relates to his commands in regard to our conduct, his doctrines in regard to our belief, his providential dealings in relation to our external circumstances. It means what God demands of us, in whatever way it may be made known. They do not err from his ways who seek his guidance, and who, not confiding in their own wisdom, but in God, commit their way to him. “The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way,” Psalms 25:9. The word “good” here is not an adjective agreeing with “will,” but a noun. “That ye may find the will of God, what is good and acceptable.” It implies that that thing which is good is his will; or that we may find his will by finding what is good and perfect. That is good which promotes the honor of God and the interests of his universe.
Perfect - Free from defect, stain, or injury. That which has all its parts complete, or which is not disproportionate. Applied to religion, it means what is consistent, which is carried out; which is evinced in all the circumstances and reactions of life.
Acceptable - That which will be pleasing to God. or which he will approve. There is scarcely a more difficult text in the Bible than this, or one that is more full of meaning. It involves the main duty of religion to be separated from the world; and expresses the way in which that duty may be performed, and in which we may live so as to ascertain and do the will of God. If all Christians would obey this, religion would be everywhere honored. If all would separate from the vices and follies, the amusements and gaieties of the world, Christ would be glorified. If all were truly renewed in their minds, they would lose their relish for such things, and seeking only to do the will of God, they would not be slow to find it.
For I say - The word “for” shows that the apostle is about to introduce some additional considerations to enforce what he had just said, or to show how we may evince a mind that is not conformed to the world.
Through the grace - Through the favor, or in virtue of the favor of the apostolic office. By the authority that is conferred on me to declare the will of God as an apostle; see the note at Romans 1:5; see also Galatians 1:6, Galatians 1:15; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:14.
Not to think ... - Not to over-estimate himself, or to think more of himself than he ought to. What is the true standard by which we ought to estimate ourselves he immediately adds. This is a caution against pride; and an exhortation not to judge of ourselves by our talents, wealth, or function, but to form another standard of judging of ourselves, by our Christian character. The Romans would probably be in much danger from this quarter. The prevailing habit of judging among them was according to rank, or wealth, or eloquence, or function. While this habit of judging prevailed in the world around them, there was danger that it might also prevail in the church. And the exhortation was that they should not judge of their own characters by the usual modes among people, but by their Christian attainments. There is no sin to which people are more prone than an inordinate self-valuation and pride. Instead of judging by what constitutes true excellence of character, they pride themselves on that which is of no intrinsic value; on rank, and titles, and external accomplishments; or on talents, learning, or wealth. The only true standard of character pertains to the principles of action, or to that which constitutes the moral nature of the man; and to that the apostle calls the Roman people.
But to think soberly - Literally, “to think so as to act soberly or wisely.” So to estimate ourselves as to act or demean ourselves wisely, prudently, modestly. Those who over-estimate themselves are proud, haughty, foolish in their deportment. Those who think of themselves as they ought, are modest, sober, prudent. There is no way to maintain a wise and proper conduct so certain, as to form a humble and modest estimate of our own character.
According as God hath dealt - As God has measured to each one, or apportioned to each one. In this place the faith which Christians have, is traced to God as its giver. This act, that God has given it, will be itself one of the most effectual promoters of humility and right feeling. People commonly regard the objects on which they pride themselves as things of their own creation, or as depending on themselves. But let an object be regarded as the gift of God, and it ceases to excite pride, and the feeling is at once changed into gratitude. He, therefore, who regards God as the source of all blessings, and he only, will be an humble man.
The measure of faith - The word “faith” here is evidently put for religion, or Christianity. Faith is a main thing in religion. It constitutes its first demand, and the Christian religion, therefore, is characterized by its faith, or its confidence, in God; see Mark 16:17; compare Hebrews 11:0; Romans 4:0. We are not, therefore, to be elated in our view of ourselves; we are not to judge of our own characters by wealth, or talent, or learning, but by our attachment to God, and by the influence of faith on our minds. The meaning is, judge yourselves, or estimate yourselves, by your piety. The propriety of this rule is apparent:
(1) Because no other standard is a correct one, or one of value. Our talent, learning, rank, or wealth, is a very improper rule by which to estimate ourselves. All may be wholly unconnected with moral worth; and the worst as well as the best people may possess them.
(2) God will judge us in the day of judgment by our attachment to Christ and his cause Matthew 25:0; and that is the true standard by which to estimate ourselves here.
(3) Nothing else will secure and promote humility but this. All other things may produce or promote pride, but this will effectually secure humility. The fact that God has given all that we have; the fact that the poor and obscure may have as true an elevation of character as ourselves; the consciousness of our own imperfections and short-comings in the Christian faith; and the certainty that we are soon to be arraigned to try this great question, whether we have evidence that we are the friends of God; will all tend to promote humbleness of mind and to bring down our usual inordinate self-estimation. If all Christians judged themselves in this way, it would remove at once no small part of the pride of station and of life from the world, and would produce deep attachment for those who are blessed with the faith of the gospel, though they may be unadorned by any of the wealth or trappings which now promote pride and distinctions among men.
For - This word here denotes a further illustration or proof of what he had just before said. The duty to which he was exhorting the Romans was, not to be unduly exalted or elevated in their own estimation. In order to produce proper humility, he shows them that God has appointed certain orders or grades in the church; that all are useful in their proper place; that we should seek to discharge our duty in our appropriate sphere; and thus that due subordination and order would be observed. To show this, he introduces a beautiful comparison drawn from the human body. There are various members in the human frame; all useful and honorable in their proper place; and all designed to promote the order, and beauty, and harmony of the whole. So the church is one body, consisting of many members, and each is suited to be useful and comely in its proper place. The same comparison he uses with great beauty and force in 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; also Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 5:30. In that chapter the comparison is carried out to much greater length, and its influence shown with great force.
Many members - Limbs, or parts; feet, hands, eyes, ears, etc.; 1 Corinthians 12:14-15.
In one body - Constituting one body; or united in one, and making one person. Essential to the existence, beauty, and happiness of the one body or person.
The same office - The same use or design; not all appointed for the same thing; one is to see, another to hear, a third to walk with, etc.; 1 Corinthians 12:14-23.
So we, being many - We who are Christians, and who are numerous as individuals.
Are one body - Are united together, constituting one society, or one people, mutually dependent, and having the same great interests at heart, though to be promoted by us according to our special talents and opportunities. As the welfare of the same body is to be promoted in one manner by the feet, in another by the eye, etc.; so the welfare of the body of Christ is to be promoted by discharging our duties in our appropriate sphere, as God has appointed us.
In Christ - One body, joined to Christ, or connected with him as the head; Ephesians 1:22-23, “And gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body;” compare John 15:1-7. This does not mean that there is any physical or literal union, or any destruction of personal identity, or any thing particularly mysterious or unintelligible. Christians acknowledge him as their head. that is, their Lawgiver; their Counsellor, Guide, and Redeemer. They are bound to him by especially tender ties of affection, gratitude, and friendship; they are united in him, that is, in acknowledging him as their common Lord and Saviour. Any other unions than this is impossible; and the sacred writers never intended that expressions like these should be explained literally. The union of Christians to Christ is the most tender and interesting of any in this world, but no more mysterious than what binds friend to friend, children to parents, or husbands to their wives; compare Ephesians 5:23-33. (See the supplementary note at Romans 8:17.)
And every one members one of another - Compare 1 Corinthians 12:25-26. That is, we are so united as to be mutually dependent; each one is of service to the other; and the existence and function of the one is necessary to the usefulness of the other. Thus, the members of the body may be said to be members one of another; as the feet could not, for example, perform their functions or be of use if it were not for the eye; the ear, the hand, the teeth, etc., would be useless if it were not for the other members, which go to make up the entire person. Thus, in the church, every individual is not only necessary in his place as an individual, but is needful to the proper symmetry and action of the whole. And we may learn here:
(1) That no member of the church of Christ should esteem himself to be of no importance. In his own place he may be of as much consequence as the man of learning, wealth, and talent may be in his.
(2) God designed that there should be differences of endowments of nature and of grace in the church; just as it was needful that there should be differences in the members of the human body.
(3) No one should despise or lightly esteem another. All are necessary. We can no more spare the foot or the hand than we can the eye; though the latter may be much more curious and striking as a proof of divine skill. We do not despise the hand or the foot any more than we do the eye; and in all we should acknowledge the goodness and wisdom of God. See these thoughts carried out in 1 Corinthians 12:21-25.
Having then gifts - All the endowments which Christians have are regarded by the apostle as gifts. God has conferred them; and this fact, when properly felt, tends much to prevent our thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, Romans 12:3. For the use of the word rendered “gifts,” see Romans 1:11; Romans 5:15-16; Romans 6:23; Romans 11:29; 1Co 7:7; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:9,1 Corinthians 12:28, etc. It may refer to natural endowments as well as to the favors of grace; though in this place it refers doubtless to the distinctions conferred on Christians in the churches.
Differing - It was never designed that all Christians should be equal. God designed that people should have different endowments. The very nature of society supposes this. There never was a state of perfect equality in any thing; and it would be impossible that there should be, and yet preserve society. In this, God exercises a sovereignty, and bestows his favors as he pleases, injuring no one by conferring favors on others; and holding me responsible for the right use of what I have, and not for what may be conferred on my neighbor.
According to the grace - That is, the favor, the mercy that is bestowed on us. As all that we have is a matter of grace, it should keep us from pride; and it should make us willing to occupy our appropriate place in the church. True honor consists not in splendid endowments, or great wealth and function. It consists in rightly discharging the duties which God requires of us in our appropriate sphere. If all people held their talents as the gift of God; if all would find and occupy in society the place for which God designed them, it would prevent no small part of the uneasiness, the restlessness, the ambition, and misery of the world.
Whether prophecy - The apostle now proceeds to specify the different classes of gifts or endowments which Christians have, and to exhort them to discharge aright the duty which results from the rank or function which they held in the church. “The first is prophecy.” This word properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people. Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; but as those who did this were messengers of God, and as they commonly connected with such predictions, instructions, and exhortations in regard to the sins, and dangers, and duties of people, the word came to denote any who warned, or threatened, or in any way communicated the will of God; and even those who uttered devotional sentiments or praise. The name in the New Testament is commonly connected with teachers; Acts 13:1, “There were in the church at Antioch certain prophets, and teachers, as Barnabas, etc.;” Acts 15:32, “and Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves, etc.;” Acts 21:10, “a certain prophet named Agabus.” In 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles, “And God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets; thirdly teachers, etc.”
The same class of persons is again mentioned in 1Co 14:29-32, 1 Corinthians 14:39. In this place they are spoken of as being under the influence of revelation, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;” 1 Corinthians 14:39, “Covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.” In this place endowments are mentioned under the name of prophecy evidently in advance even of the power of speaking with tongues. Yet all these were to be subject to the authority of the apostle. 1 Corinthians 14:37. In Ephesians 4:11, they are mentioned again in the same order; “And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors, and teachers, etc.” From these passages the following things seem clear in relation to this class of persons:
(1) They were an order of teachers distinct from the apostles, and next to them in authority and rank.
(2) They were under the influence of revelation, or inspiration in a certain sense.
(3) They had power of controlling themselves, and of speaking or keeping silence as they chose. They had the power of using their prophetic gifts as we have the ordinary faculties of our minds, and of course of abusing them also. This abuse was apparent also in the case of those who had the power of speaking with tongues, 1 Corinthians 14:2, 1 Corinthians 14:4,1Co 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:11, etc.
(4) They were subject to the apostles.
(5) They were superior to the other teachers and pastors in the church.
(6) The office or the endowment was temporary, designed for the settlement and establishment of the church; and then, like the apostolic office, having accomplished its purpose, to be disused, and to cease. From these remarks, also, will be seen the propriety of regulating this function by apostolic authority; or stating, as the apostle does here, the manner or rule by which this gift was to be exercised.
According to the proportion - This word ἀναλογίαν analogian is no where else used in the New Testament. The word properly applies to mathematics (Scheusner), and means the ratio or proportion which results from comparison of one number or magnitude with another. In a large sense, therefore, as applied to other subjects, it denotes the measure of any thing. With us it means analogy, or the congruity or resemblance discovered between one thing and another, as we say there is an analogy or resemblance between the truths taught by reason and revelation. (See Butler’s Analogy.) But this is not its meaning here. It means the measure, the amount of faith bestowed on them, for he was exhorting them to Romans 12:3. “Think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The word “faith” here means evidently, not the truths of the Bible revealed elsewhere; nor their confidence in God; nor their personal piety; but the extraordinary endowment bestowed on them by the gifts of prophecy.
They were to confine themselves strictly to that; they were not to usurp the apostolic authority, or to attempt to exercise their special function; but they were to confine themselves strictly to the functions of their office according to the measure of their faith, that is, the extraordinary endowment conferred on them. The word “faith” is thus used often to denote that extraordinary confidence in God which attended the working of miracles, etc., Matthew 17:26; Matthew 21:21; Luke 17:6. If this be the fair interpretation of the passage, then it is clear that the interpretation which applies it to systems of theology, and which demands that we should interpret the Bible so as to accord with the system, is one that is wholly unwarranted. It is to be referred solely to this class of religious teachers, without reference to any system of doctrine, or to any thing which had been revealed to any other class of people; or without affirming that there is any resemblance between one truth and another. All that may be true, but it is not the truth taught in this passage. And it is equally clear that the passage is not to be applied to teachers now, except as an illustration of the general principle that even those endowed with great and splendid talents are not to over-estimate them, but to regard them as the gift of God; to exercise them in subordination to his appointment and to seek to employ them in the manner, the place, and to the purpose that shall be according to his will. They are to employ them in the purpose for which God gave them; and for no other.
Or ministry - διακονίαν diakonian. This word properly means service of any kind; Luke 10:40. It is used in religion to denote the service which is rendered to Christ as the Master. It is applied to all classes of ministers in the New Testament, as denoting their being the servants of Christ; and it is used particularly to denote that class who from this word were called deacons, that is, those who had the care of the poor, who provided for the sick, and who watched over the external matters of the church. In the following places it is used to denote the ministry, or service, which Paul and the other apostles rendered in their public work; Acts 1:17, Acts 1:25; Acts 6:4; Acts 12:25; Acts 20:24; Acts 21:19; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:31; 2Co 5:18; 2 Corinthians 6:3; Eph 4:12; 1 Timothy 1:12. In a few places this word is used to denote the function which the deacons fulfilled; Acts 6:1; Acts 11:29; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 11:8. In this sense the word “deacon” διάκονος diakonos is most commonly used, as denoting the function which was performed in providing for the poor and administering the alms of the church. It is not easy to say in what sense it is used here. I am inclined to the opinion that he did not refer to those who were appropriately called deacons, but to those engaged in the function of the ministry of the word; whose business it was to preach, and thus to serve the churches. In this sense the word is often used in the New Testament, and the connection seems to demand the same interpretation here.
On our ministering - Let us be wholly and diligently occupied in this. Let this be our great business, and let us give entire attention to it. Particularly the connection requires us to understand this as directing those who ministered not to aspire to the office and honors of those who prophesied. Let them not think of themselves more highly than they ought, but be engaged entirely in their own appropriate work.
He that teacheth - This word denotes those who instruct, or communicate knowledge. It is clear that it is used to denote a class of persons different, in some respects, from those who prophesied and from those who exhorted. But in what this difference consisted, is not clear. Teachers are mentioned in the New Testament in the grade next to the prophets; Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11. Perhaps the difference between the prophets, the ministers, the teachers, and the exhorters was this, that the first spake by inspiration; the second engaged in all the functions of the ministry properly so called, including the administration of the sacraments; the teachers were employed in communicating instruction simply, teaching the doctrines of religion, but without assuming the function of ministers; and the fourth exhorted, or entreated Christians to lead a holy life, without making it a particular subject to teach, and without pretending to administer the ordinances of religion.
The fact that teachers are so often mentioned in the New Testament, shows that they were a class by themselves. It may be worthy of remark that the churches in New England had, at first, a class of people who were called teachers. One was appointed to this office in every church, distinct from the pastor, whose proper business it was to instruct the congregation in the doctrines of religion. The same thing exists substantially now in most churches, in the appointment of Sunday school teachers, whose main business it is to instruct the children in the doctrines of the Christian religion. It is an office of great importance to the church; and the exhortation of the apostle may be applied to them: that they should be assiduous, constant, diligent their teaching; that they should confine themselves to their appropriate place; and should feel that their office is of great importance in the church of God; and remember that this is his arrangement, designed to promote the edification of his people.
He that exhorteth - This word properly denotes one who urges to the practical duties of religion, in distinction from one who teaches its doctrines. One who presents the warnings and the promises of God to excite men to the discharge of their duty. It is clear that there were persons who were recognised as engaging especially in this duty, and who were known by this appellation, as distinguished from prophets and teachers. How long this was continued, there is no means of ascertaining; but it cannot be doubted that it may still be expedient, in many times and places, to have persons designated to this work. In most churches this duty is now blended with the other functions of the ministry.
He that giveth - Margin, “imparteth.” The word denotes the person whose function it was to distribute; and probably designates him who distributed the alms of the church, or him who was the deacon of the congregation. The connection requires that this meaning should be given to the passage: and the word rendered “giveth” may denote one who imparts or distributes that which has been committed to him for that purpose, as well as one who gives out of his private property. As the apostle is speaking here of offices in the church, the former is evidently what is intended. It was deemed an important matter among the early Christians to impart liberally of their substance to support the poor, and provide for the needy: Acts 2:44-47; Acts 4:34-37; Acts 5:1-11; Galatians 2:10; Rom 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:8; 2Co 9:2, 2 Corinthians 9:12. Hence, it became necessary to appoint persons over these contributions, who should be especially charged with the management of them, and who would see that they were properly distributed; Acts 6:1-6. These were the persons who were denominated deacons; Phi 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 3:12.
With simplicity - see Matthew 6:22, “If thine eye be single,” etc.; Luke 11:34. The word “simplicity” ἁπλοτής haplotēs is used in a similar sense to denote singleness, honesty of aim, purity, integrity, without any mixture of a base, selfish, or sinister end. It requires the bestowment of a favor without seeking any personal or selfish ends; without partiality; but actuated only by the desire to bestow them in the best possible manner to promote the object for which they were given; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2Co 9:11, 2 Corinthians 9:13; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22. It is plain that when property was intrusted to them, there would be danger that they might be tempted to employ it for selfish and sinister ends, to promote their influence and prosperity; and hence, the apostle exhorted them to do it with a single aim to the object for which it was given. Well did he know that there was nothing more tempting than the possession of wealth, though given to be appropriated to others. And this exhortation is applicable not only to the deacons of the churches, but to all who in this day of Christian benevolence are intrusted with money to advance the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He that ruleth - This word properly designates one who is set over others, or who presides or rules, or one who attends with diligence and care to a thing. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12, it is used in relation to ministers in general: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord;” 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 1 Timothy 3:12, it is applied to the head of a family, or one who diligently and faithfully performs the duty of a father: “One that ruleth well his own house;” 1 Timothy 5:17, it is applied to “elders” in the church: “Let the elders that rule well, etc.” It is not used elsewhere except in Titus 3:8, Titus 3:14, in a different sense, where it is translated “to maintain good works.” The prevailing sense of the word, therefore, is to rule, to preside over, or to have the management of. But to what class of persons reference is had here, and what was precisely their duty, has been made a matter of controversy, and it is not easy to determine. Whether this refers to a permanent office in the church, or to an occasional presiding in their assemblies convened for business, etc. is not settled by the use of the word. It has the idea of ruling, as in a family, or of presiding, as in a deliberate assembly; and either of these ideas would convey all that is implied in the original word; compare 1 Corinthians 12:28.
With diligence - This word properly means haste Mark 6:25; Luke 1:39; but it also denotes industry, attention, care; 2 Corinthians 7:11, “What carefulness it wrought in you;” 2 Corinthians 7:12, “That our care for you in the sight of God, etc.;” 2 Corinthians 8:7-8, (Greek) Hebrews 6:11. It means here that they should be attentive to the duties of their vocation, and engage with ardor in what was committed to them to do.
He that showeth mercy - It is probable, says Calvin, that this refers to those who had the care of the sick and infirm, the aged and the needy; not so much to provide for them by charity, as to attend on them in their affliction, and to take care of them. To the deacons was committed the duty of distributing alms, but to others that of personal attendance. This can hardly be called an office, in the technical sense; and yet it is not improbable that they were designated to this by the church, and requested to perform it. There were no hospitals and no almshouses. Christians felt it was their duty to show personal attention to the infirm and the sick; and so important was their function, that it was deemed worthy of notice in a general direction to the church.
With cheerfulness - The direction given to those who distributed alms was to do it with simplicity, with an honest aim to meet the purpose for which it was intrusted to them. The direction here varies according to the duty to be performed. It is to be done with cheerfulness, pleasantness, joy; with a kind, benign, and happy temper. The importance of this direction to those in this situation is apparent. Nothing tends so much to enhance the value of personal attendance on the sick and afflicted, as a kind and cheerful temper. If any where a mild, amiable, cheerful, and patient disposition is needed, it is near a sick bed, and when administering to the wants of those who are in affliction. And whenever we may be called to such a service, we should remember that this is indispensable. If moroseness, or impatience, or fretfulness is discovered in us, it will pain those whom we seek to benefit, embitter their feelings, and render our services of comparatively little value. The needy and infirm, the feeble and the aged, have enough to bear without the impatience and harshness of professed friends. It may be added that the example of the Lord Jesus Christ is the brightest which the world has furnished of this temper. Though constantly encompassed by the infirm and the afflicted, yet he was always kind, and gentle, and mild, and has left before us exactly what the apostie meant when he said, “he that showeth mercy with cheerfulness.” The example of the good Samaritan is also another instance of what is intended by this direction; compare 2 Corinthians 9:7. This direction is particularly applicable to a physician.
We have here an account of the establishment, the order, and the duties of the different members of the Christian church. The amount of it all is, that we should discharge with fidelity the duties which belong to us in the sphere of life in which we are placed; and not despise the rank which God has assigned us; not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought; but to act well our part, according to the station where we are placed, and the talents with which we are endowed. If this were done, it would put an end to discontent, ambition, and strife, and would produce the blessings of universal peace and order.
Let love - The apostle proceeds to specify the duties of Christians in general, that they might secure the beauty and order of the church. The first which he specifies is love. This word here evidently refers to benevolence, or to good-will toward all mankind. In Romans 12:10 he specifies the duty of brotherly love; and there can be no doubt that he here refers to the benevolence which we ought to cherish toward all people. A similar distinction is found in 2 Peter 1:7, “And to brotherly-kindness add charity,” that is, benevolence, or good will, and kind feelings to others.
Without dissimulation - Without hypocrisy. Let it be sincere and unfeigned. Let it not consist in words or professions only, but let it be manifested in acts of kindness and in deeds of charity; 1 John 3:18; compare 1 Peter 1:22. Genuine benevolence is not what merely professes attachment, but which is evinced by acts of kindness and affection.
Abhor that which is evil - The word “abhor” means to hate; to turn from; to avoid. The word “evil” here has reference to malice, or unkindness, rather than to evil in general. The apostle is exhorting to love, or kindness; and between the direction to love all people, and the particular direction about brotherly love, he places this general direction to abhor what is evil; what is evil in relation to the subject under discussion, that is, malice or unkindness. The word “evil” is not infrequently used in this limited sense to denote some particular or special evil; Matthew 5:37, Matthew 5:39, etc.; compare Psalms 34:14; 2 Timothy 2:19; Psalms 97:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:22.
Cleave to that which is good - The word rendered “cleave” to denotes properly the act of gluing, or uniting firmly by glue. It is then used to denote a very firm adherence to an object; to be firmly united to it. Here it means that Christians should be firmly attached to what is good, and not separate or part from it. The good here referred to is particularly what pertains to benevolence - to all people, and especially to Christians. It should not be occasional only, or irregular; but it should be constant, active, decided.
Be kindly affectioned - The word used here occurs no where else in the New Testament. It properly denotes tender affection, such as what subsists between parents and children; and it means that Christians should have similar feelings toward each other, as belonging to the same family, and as united in the same principles and interests. The Syriac renders this, “Love your brethren, and love one another;” compare 1 Peter 2:17.
With brotherly love - Or in love to the brethren. The word denotes the affection which subsists between brethren. The duty is one which is often presented in the New Testament, and which our Saviour intended should be regarded as a badge of discipleship; see the note at John 13:34-35, “By this shall all people know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another;” John 15:12, John 15:17; Ephesians 5:2; 1Th 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 2:7-8; 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:20-21. The apostle Paul in this place manifests his unique manner of writing. He does not simply enjoin brotherly love, but he adds that it should be kindly affectioned. It should be with the tenderness which characterizes the most endearing natural relationship. This he expresses by a word which is made for the occasion (φιλοστοργοὶ philostorgoi), blending love with natural affection, and suffering it to be manifest in your contact with one another.
In honour - In showing or manifesting respect or honor. Not in seeking honor, or striving after respect, but in showing it to one another.
Preferring one another - The word “preferring” means going before, leading, setting an example. Thus, in showing mutual respect and honor, they were to strive to excel; not to see which could obtain most honor, but which could confer most, or manifest most respect; compare 1 Peter 1:5; Ephesians 5:21. Thus, they were to be studious to show to each other all the respect which was due in the various relations of life; children to show proper respect to parents, parents to children, servants to their masters, etc.; and all to strive by mutual kindness to promote the happiness of the Christian community. How different this from the spirit of the world; the spirit which seeks, not to confer honor, but to obtain it; which aims, not to diffuse respect, but to attract all others to give honor to us. If this single direction were to be obeyed in society, it would put an end at once to no small part of the envy, and ambition, and heartburning, and dissatisfaction of the world. It would produce contentment, harmony, love, and order in the community; and stay the progress of crime, and annihilate the evils of strife, and discord, and malice. And especially, it would give order and beauty to the church. It would humble the ambition of those who, like Diotrephes, love to have the pre-eminence 3 John 1:9, and make every man willing to occupy the place for which God has designed him, and rejoice that his brethren may be exalted to higher posts of responsibility and honor.
Not slothful - The word rendered “slothful” refers to those who are slow, idle, destitute of promptness of mind and activity; compare Matthew 25:16.
In business - τῇ σπουδῇ tē spoudē. This is the same word which in Romans 12:8 is rendered “diligence.” It properly denotes haste, intensity, ardor of mind; and hence, also it denotes industry, labor. The direction means that we should be diligently occupied in our proper employment. It does not refer to any particular occupation, but is used in general sense to denote all the labor which we may have to do; or is a direction to be faithful and industrious in the discharge of all our appropriate duties; compare Ecclesiastes 9:10. The tendency of the Christian religion is to promote industry:
(1) It teaches the value of time.
(2) Presents numerous and important things to be done.
(3) It inclines people to be conscientious in the improvement of each moment.
(4) And it takes away the mind from those pleasures and pursuits which generate and promote indolence.
The Lord Jesus was constantly employed in filling up the great duties of his life, and the effect of his religion has been to promote industry wherever it has spread both among nations and individuals. An idle man and a Christian are names which do not harmonize. Every Christian has enough to do to occupy all his time; and he whose life is spent in ease and in doing nothing, should doubt altogether his religion. God has assigned us much to accomplish; and he will hold us answerable for the faithful performance of it; compare John 5:17; John 9:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2Th 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:12. All that would be needful to transform the idle, and vicious, and wretched, into sober and useful people, would be to give to them the spirit of the Christian religion; see the example of Paul, Acts 20:34-35.
Fervent - This word is usually applied to water, or to metals so heated as to bubble, or boil. It hence is used to denote ardor, intensity, or as we express it, a glow, meaning intense zeal, Acts 18:25.
In Spirit - In your mind or heart. The expression is used to denote a mind filled with intense ardor in whatever it is engaged. It is supposed that Christians would first find appropriate objects for their labor, and then engage in them with intense ardor and zeal.
Serving - Regarding yourselves as the servants of the Lord. This direction is to be understood as connected with the preceding, and as growing out of it. They were to be diligent and fervid, and in doing so were to regard themselves as serving the Lord, or to do it in obedience to the command of God, and to promote his glory. The propriety of this caution may easily be seen.
(1) The tendency of worldly employments is to take off the affections from God.
(2) People are prone to forget God when deeply engaged in their worldly employments. It is proper to recall their attention to him.
(3) The right discharge of our duties in the various employments of life is to be regarded as serving God. He has arranged the order of things in this life to promote employment. He has made industry essential to happiness and success; and hence, to be industrious from proper motives is to be regarded as acceptable service of God.
(4) He has required that all such employments should be conducted with reference to his will and to his honor, 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:17, Colossians 3:22-24; 1 Peter 4:11. The meaning of the whole verse is, that Christians should be industrious, should be ardently engaged in some lawful employment, and that they should pursue it with reference to the will of God, in obedience to his commands, and to his glory.
Rejoicing in hope - That is, in the hope of eternal life and glory which the gospel produces; see the notes at Romans 5:2-3.
Patient in tribulation - In affliction patiently enduring all that maybe appointed. Christians may be enabled to do this by the sustaining influence of their hope of future glory; of being admitted to that world where there shall be no more death, and where all tears shall be wiped away from their eyes, Revelation 21:4; Revelation 7:17; compare James 1:4. See the influence of hope in sustaining us in affliction more fully considered in the notes at Romans 8:18-28.
Continuing instant in prayer - That is, be persevering in prayer; see Colossians 4:2; see the notes at Luke 18:1. The meaning of this direction is, that in order to discharge aright the duties of the Christian life, and especially to maintain a joyful hope, and to be sustained in the midst of afflictions, it is necessary to cherish a spirit of prayer, and to live near to God. How often a Christian should pray, the Scriptures do not inform us. Of David we are told that he prayed seven times a day Psalms 119:164; of Daniel, that he was accustomed to pray three times a day Daniel 6:10; of our Saviour we have repeated instances of his praying mentioned; and the same of the apostles. The following rules, perhaps, may guide us in this.
(1) Every Christian should have some time allotted for this service, and some place where he may be alone with God.
(2) It is not easy, perhaps not possible, to maintain a life of piety without regular habits of secret devotion.
(3) The morning, when we have experienced God’s protecting care, when the mind is fresh, and the thoughts are as yet clear and unoccupied with the world, when we go forth to the duties, trials, and temptations of the day; and the evening, when we have again experienced his goodness, and are about to commit ourselves to his protecting care, and when we need his pardoning mercy for the errors and follies of the day, seem to be times which commend themselves to all as appropriate seasons for private devotion.
(4) Every person will also find other times when private prayer will be needful, and when he will be inclined to it. In affliction, in perplexity, in moments of despondency, in danger, and want, and disappointment, and in the loss of friends, we shall feel the propriety of drawing near to God, and of pouring out the heart before him.
(5) Besides this, every Christian is probably conscious of times when he feels especially inclined to pray; he feels just like praying; he has a spirit of supplication; and nothing but prayer will meet the instinctive desires of his bosom. We are often conscious of an earnest desire to see and converse with an absent friend, to have communion with those we love; and we value such fellowship as among the happiest moments of life. So with the Christian. He may have an earnest desire to have communion with God; his heart pants for it; and he cannot resist the propensity to seek him, and pour out his desires before him. Compare the feelings expressed by David in Psalms 42:1-2, “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee O God. My soul thirsteth for God for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God;” compare Psalms 63:1. Such seasons should be improved; they are the “spring times” of our piety; and we should expand every sail, that we may be “filled with all the fullness of God.” They are happy, blessed moments of our life; and then devotion is sweetest and most pure; and then the soul knows what it is to have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, 1 John 1:3.
(6) In addition to all this, Christians may be in the habit of praying to God without the formality of retirement, God locks upon the heart; and the heart may pour forth its secret desires to Him even when in business, when conversing with a friend, when walking, when alone, and when in society. Thus, the Christian may live a life of prayer; and it shall be one of the characteristics of his life that he prays! By this he shall be known; and in this he shall learn the way to possess peace in religion:
“In every joy that crowns my days,
In every pain I bear.
My heart shall find delight in praise,
Or seek relief in prayer.
“When gladness wings my favou’d hour,
Thy love my thoughts shall fill,
Resign’d when storms of sorrow lower,
My soul shall meet thy will,
“My lifted eye, without a tear.
The gathering storm shall see.
My steadfast heart shall know no fear,
That heart shall rest on thee.”
Distributing - The word used here denotes having things in “common” κοινωνοῦντες koinōnountes. It means that they should be communicative, or should regard their property as so far common as to supply the needs of others. In the earliest times of the church, Christians had all things in common (Notes, Acts 2:44), and felt themselves bound to meet all the needs of their brethren. One of the most striking effects of Christianity was to loosen their grasp on property, and dispose them to impart liberally to those who had need. The direction here does not mean that they should literally have all things in common; that is, to go back to a state of savage barbarity; but that they should be liberal, should partake of their good things with those who were needy; compare Galatians 6:6; Romans 15:27; Phi 4:15; 1 Timothy 6:18.
To the necessity - To the needs. That is, distribute to them such things as they need, food, raiment, etc. This command, of course, has reference to the poor. “Of saints.” Of Christians, or the friends of God. They are called saints as being holy (ἁγιοι hagioi), or consecrated to God. This duty of rendering aid to Christians especially, does not interfere with the general love of mankind. The law of the New Testament is Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.” The Christian is indeed to love all mankind, and to do them good as far as may be in his power, Matthew 5:43-44; Tit 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:18; Hebrews 13:16. But he is to show particular interest in the welfare of his brethren, and to see that the poor members of the church are provided for; for,
(1) They are our brethren; they are of the same family; they are attached to the same Lord; and to do good to them is to evince love to Christ, Matthew 25:40; Mark 9:41.
(2) They are left especially to the care of the church; and if the church neglects them, we may be sure the world will also, Matthew 26:11. Christians, especially in the time of the apostles, had reason to expect little compassion from the people of the world. They were persecuted and oppressed; they would be embarrassed in their business, perhaps thrown out of occupation by the opposition of their enemies; and it was therefore especially incumbent on their Brethren to aid them. To a certain extent it is always true, that the world is reluctant to aid the friends of God; and hence the poor followers of Christ are in a special manner thrown on the benefactions of the church.
(3) It is not improbable that there might be a special reason at that time for enjoining this on the attention of the Romans. It was a time of persecution, and perhaps of extensive distress. In the days of Claudius (about a.d. 50), there was a famine in Judea which produced great distress, and many of the poor and oppressed might flee to the capital for aid. We know, from other parts of the New Testament, that at that time the apostle was deeply interested in procuring aid for the poor brethren in Judea, Romans 15:25-26; compare Acts 19:21; 2Co 8:1-7; 2 Corinthians 9:2-4. But the same reasons for aiding the poor followers of Christ will exist substantially in every age; and one of the most precious privileges conferred upon people is to be permitted to assist those who are the friends of God, Psalms 41:1-3; Proverbs 14:21.
Given to hospitality - This expression means that they should readily and cheerfully entertain strangers. This is a duty which is frequently enjoined in the Scriptures, Hebrews 13:2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby many have entertained angels unawares;” 1 Peter 4:9, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” Paul makes this especially the duty of a Christian bishop; 1 Timothy 3:2, “A bishop then must ...be given to hospitality;” Titus 1:8. Hospitality is especially enjoined by the Saviour, and its exercise commanded; Matthew 10:40, Matthew 10:42, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, etc.” The waver of hospitality is one of the charges which the Judge of mankind will allege against the wicked, and on which he will condemn them; Matthew 25:43, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in.” It is especially commended to us by the example of Abraham Genesis 18:1-8, and of Lot Genesis 19:1-2, who thus received angels unawares.
It was one of the virtues on which Job particularly commended himself, and which he had not failed to practice; Job 31:16-17, “If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof, etc.” In the time of our Saviour it was evidently practiced in the most open and frank manner; Luke 10:7, “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give.” A remarkable instance is also mentioned in Luke 11:5. This virtue is no less common in eastern nations at present than it was in the time of Christ. It is eminently the virtue of oriental nations, of their ardent and open temperament. It springs up naturally in countries thinly settled, where the sight of a stranger would be therefore especially pleasant; in countries too, where the occupation was chiefly to attend flocks, and where there was much leisure for conversation; and where the population was too sparse, and the travelers too infrequent, to justify inn-keeping as a business.
From all these causes, it has happened that there are, properly speaking, no inns or taverns in the regions around Palestine. It was customary, indeed, to erect places for lodging and shelter at suitable distances, or by the side of springs or watering places, for travelers to lodge in. But they are built at the public expense, and are unfurnished. Each traveler carries his own bed and clothes and cooking utensils, and such places are merely designed as a shelter for caravans; (see Robinson’s Calmet, art. Caravanserai.) It is still so; and hence, it becomes, in their view, a virtue of high order to entertain, at their own tables, and in their families, such strangers as may be traveling. Niebuhr says, that “the hospitality of the Arabs has always been the subject of praise; and I believe that those of the present day exercise this virtue no less than the ancients did. There are, in the villages of Tehama, houses which are public, where travelers may lodge and be entertained some days gratis, if they will be content with the fare; and they are much frequented. When the Arabs are at table, they invite those who happen to come to eat with them, whether they be Christians or Muslims, gentle or simple.” - “The primitive Christians,” says Calmet, “considered one principal part of their duty to consist in showing hospitality to strangers. They were in fact so ready in discharging this duty, that the very pagan admired them for it. They were hospitable to all strangers, but especially to those who were of the household of faith. Believers scarcely ever traveled without letters of communion, which testified the purity of their faith, and procured for them a favorable reception wherever the name of Jesus Christ was known;” (Calmet, Dict.) Calmer is also of opinion that the two minor epistles of John may be such letters of recommendation and communion; compare 2 John 1:10.
It may be added that it would be particularly expected of Christians that they should show hospitality to the ministers of religion. They were commonly poor; they received no fixed salary; they traveled from place to place; and they would be dependent for support on the kindness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. This was particularly intended by our Saviour’s instructions on the subject, Matthew 10:11-13, Matthew 10:40-42. The duty of hospitality is still binding upon Christians and all people. The law of Christ is not repealed. The customs of society are indeed changed; and one evidence of advancement in commerce and in security, is furnished in the fact that inns are now provided and patronized for the traveler in all Christian lands. Still this does not lessen the obligations to show hospitality. It is demanded by the very genius of the Christian religion; it evinces proper love toward mankind; it shows that there is a feeling of brotherhood and kindness toward others, when such hospitality is shown. It unites society, creates new bonds of interest and affection, to show kindness to the stranger and to the poor. To what extent this is to be done, is one of those questions which are to be left to every man’s conscience and views of duty. No rule can be given on the subject. Many men have not the means to be extensively hospitable; and many are not placed in situations that require it. No rules could be given that should be applicable to all cases; and hence, the Bible has left the general direction, has furnished examples where it was exercised, has recommended it to mankind, and then has left every man to act on the rule, as he will answer it to God; see Matthew 25:34-46.
Bless them ... - see the note at Matthew 5:44; compare Luke 6:28.
Bless, and curse not - Bless only; or continue to bless, however long or aggravated may be the injury. Do not be provoked to anger, or to cursing, by any injury, persecution, or reviling. This is one of the most severe and difficult duties of the Christian religion; and it is a duty which nothing else but religion will enable people to perform. To curse denotes properly to devote to destruction. Where there is power to do it, it implies the destruction of the object. Thus, the fig-tree that was cursed by the Saviour soon withered away: Mark 11:21. Thus, those whom God curses will be certainly destroyed; Matthew 25:41. Where there is not power to do it, to curse implies the invoking of the aid of God to devote to destruction. Hence, it means to imprecate; to implore a curse from God to rest on others; to pray that God would destroy them. In a larger sense still, it means to abuse by reproachful words; to calumniate; or to express oneself in a violent, profane, and outrageous manner. In this passage it seems to have special reference to this.
Rejoice with them ... - This command grows out of the doctrine stated in Romans 12:4-5, that the church is one; that it has one interest; and therefore that there should be common sympathy in its joys and sorrows. Or, enter into the welfare of your fellow-Christians, and show your attachment to them by rejoicing that they are made happy; compare 1 Corinthians 12:26, “And whether .... one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” In this way happiness diffuses and multiplies itself. It becomes expanded over the face of the whole society; and the union of the Christian body tends to enlarge the sphere of happiness and to prolong the joy conferred by religion. God has bound the family of man together by these sympathies, and it is one of the happiest of all devices to perpetuate and extend human enjoyments.
Weep ... - See the note at John 11:35. At the grave of Lazarus our Saviour evinced this in a most tender and affecting manner. The design of this direction is to produce mutual kindness and affection, and to divide our sorrows by the sympathies of friends. Nothing is so well suited to do this as the sympathy of those we love. All who are afflicted know how much it diminishes their sorrow to see others sympathizing with them, and especially those who evince in their sympathies the Christian spirit. How sad would be a suffering world if there were none who regarded our griefs with interest or with tears! if every sufferer were left to bear his sorrows unpitied and alone! and if all the ties of human sympathy were rudely cut at once, and people were left to suffer in solitude and unbefriended! It may be added that it is the special duty of Christians to sympathize in each other’s griefs:
- Because their Saviour set them the example;
- Because they belong to the same family;
- Because they are subject to similar trials and afflictions; and,
- Because they cannot expect the sympathy of a cold and unfeeling world.
Be of the same mind ... - This passage has been variously interpreted. “Enter into each other’s circumstances, in order to see how you would yourself feel.” Chrysostom. “Be agreed in your opinions and views.” Stuart. “Be united or agreed with each other.” Flatt; compare Philippians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 13:11. A literal translation of the Greek will give somewhat a different sense, but one evidently correct. “Think of, that is, regard, or seek after the same thing for each other; that is, what you regard or seek for yourself, seek also for your brethren. Do not have divided interests; do not be pursuing different ends and aims; do not indulge counter plans and purposes; and do not seek honors, offices, for yourself which you do not seek for your brethren, so that you may still regard yourselves as brethren on a level, and aim at the same object.” The Syriac has well rendered the passage: “And what you think concerning yourselves, the same also think concerning your brethren; neither think with an elevated or ambitious mind, but accommodate yourselves to those who are of humbler condition;” compare 1 Peter 3:8.
Mind not high things - Greek, Not thinking of high things. That is, not seeking them, or aspiring after them. The connection shows that the apostle had in view those things which pertained to worldly offices and honors; wealth, and state, and grandeur. They were not to seek them for themselves; nor were they to court the society or the honors of the people in an elevated rank in life. Christians were commonly of the poorer ranks, and they were to seek their companions and joys there, and not to aspire to the society of the great and the rich; compare Jeremiah 45:5, “And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not;” Luke 12:15.
Condescend - συναπαγομενοι sunapagomenoi. Literally, “being led away by, or being conducted by.” It does not properly mean to condescend, but denotes a yielding, or being guided and led in the thoughts, feelings, plans, by humble objects. Margin, “Be contented with mean things.”
To men of low estate - In the Greek text, the word here is an adjective ταπεινοις tapeinois, and may refer either to “people” or to “things,” either in the masculine or neuter gender. The sentiment is not materially changed whichever interpretation is adopted. It means that Christians should seek the objects of interest and companionship, not among the great, the rich, and the noble, but among the humble and the obscure. They should do it because their Master did it before them; because his friends are most commonly found among those in humble life; because Christianity prompts to benevolence rather than to a fondness for pride and display; and because of the influence on the mind produced by an attempt to imitate the great, to seek the society of the rich, and to mingle with the scenes of gaiety, folly, and ambition.
Be not wise ... - Compare Isaiah 5:21, “Wo unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.” See the note at Romans 11:25. The meaning is, do not trust in the conceit of your own superior skill and understanding, and refuse to hearken to the counsel of others.
In your own conceits - Greek, “Among yourselves.” Syriac, “In your own opinion.” The direction here accords with that just given, and means that they should not be elated with pride above their brethren; or be headstrong and self-confident. The tendency of religion is to produce a low estimate of our own importance and attainments.
Recompense - Render, give, or return; see the note at Matthew 5:39. This is probably one of the most difficult precepts of Christianity; but the law of Christ on the subject is unyielding. It is a solemn demand made on all his followers, and it “must” be obeyed.
Provide - The word rendered “provide” means properly to “think” or “meditate beforehand.” Make it a matter of “previous thought,” of “settled plan,” of “design.” This direction would make it a matter of “principle” and fixed purpose to do what is right; and not to leave it to the fluctuations of feeling, or to the influence of excitement. The same direction is given in 2 Corinthians 8:21.
Things honest - Literally, things “beautiful,” or “comely.” The expression here does not refer to “property,” or to “provision” made for a family, etc. The connection requires us to understand it respecting “conduct,” and especially our conduct toward those who injure us. It requires us to evince a spirit, and to manifest a deportment in such cases, that shall be lovely and comely in the view of others; such as all people will approve and admire. And the apostle wisely cautions us to “provide” for this, that is, to think of it beforehand, to make it a matter of fixed principle and purpose, so that we shall not be overtaken and excited by passion. If left to the time when the offence shall be given, we may be excited and off our guard, and may therefore evince an improper temper. All persons who have ever been provoked by injury (and who has not been?) will see the profound wisdom of this caution to “discipline” and “guard” the temper by previous purpose, that we may not evince an improper spirit.
In the sight of all men - Such as all must approve; such that no man can blame; and, therefore, such as shall do no discredit to religion. This expression is taken from Proverbs 3:4. The passage shows that people may be expected to approve a mild, kind, and patient temper in the reception of injuries; and facts show that this is the case. The Christian spirit is one that the world “must” approve, however little it is disposed to act on it.
If it be possible - If it can be done. This expression implies that it could not always be done. Still it should be an object of desire; and we should endeavor to obtain it.
As much as lieth in you - This implies two things:
(1) We are to do our utmost endeavors to preserve peace, and to appease the anger and malice of others.
(2) We are not to “begin” or to “originate” a quarrel.
So far as “we” are concerned, we are to seek peace. But then it does not always depend on us. Others may oppose and persecute us; they will hate religion, and may slander, revile, and otherwise injure us; or they may commence an assault on our persons or property. For “their” assaults we are not answerable; but we are answerable for our conduct toward them; and on no occasion are we to commence a warfare with them. It may not be “possible” to prevent their injuring and opposing us; but it is possible not to begin a contention with them; and “when they” have commenced a strife, to seek peace, and to evince a Christian spirit. This command doubtless extends to everything connected with strife; and means that we are not to “provoke” them to controversy, or to prolong it when it is commenced; see Psalms 34:14; Matthew 5:9, Matthew 5:39-41; Hebrews 12:14. If all Christians would follow this command, if they would never “provoke” to controversy, if they would injure no man by slander or by unfair dealing, if they would compel none to prosecute them in law by lack of punctuality in payment of debts or honesty in business, if they would do nothing to irritate, or to prolong a controversy when it is commenced, it would put an end to no small part of the strife that exists in the world.
Dearly beloved - This expression of tenderness was especially appropriate in an exhortation to peace. It reminded them of the affection and friendship which ought to subsist among them as brethren.
Avenge not yourselves - To “avenge” is to take satisfaction for an injury by inflicting punishment on the offender. To take such satisfaction for injuries done to society, is lawful and proper for a magistrate; Romans 13:4. And to take satisfaction for injuries done by sin to the universe, is the province of God. But the apostle here is addressing private individual Christians. And the command is, to avoid a spirit and purpose of revenge. But this command is not to be so understood that we may not seek for “justice” in a regular and proper way before civil tribunals. If our character is assaulted, if we are robbed and plundered, if we are oppressed contrary to the law of the land, religion does not require us to submit to such oppression and injury without seeking our rights in an orderly and regular manner. If it did, it would be to give a premium to iniquity, to countenance wickedness, and require a man, by becoming a Christian, to abandon his rights.
Besides, the magistrate is appointed for the praise of those who do well, and to punish evil-doers; 1 Peter 2:14. Further, our Lord Jesus did not surrender his rights John 18:23; and Paul demanded that he himself should be treated according to the rights and privileges of a Roman citizen; Acts 16:37. The command here “not to avenge ourselves” means, that we are not to take it out of the hands of God, or the hands of the law, and to inflict it ourselves. It is well known that where there are no laws, the business of vengeance is pursued by individuals in a barbarous and unrelenting manner. In a state of savage society, vengeance is “immediately taken,” if possible, or it is pursued for years, and the offended man is never satisfied until he has imbrued his hands in the blood of the offender. Such was eminently the case among the Indians of this country (America). But Christianity seeks the ascendancy of the laws; and in cases which do not admit or require the interference of the laws, in private assaults and quarrels, it demands that we bear injury with patience, and commit our cause unto God; see Leviticus 19:18.
But rather give place unto wrath - This expression has been interpreted in a great variety of ways. Its obvious design is to induce us not to attempt to avenge ourselves, but to leave it with God. To “give place,” then, is to leave it for God to come in and execute wrath or vengeance on the enemy. Do not execute wrath; leave it to God; commit all to him; leave yourself and your enemy in his hands, assured that he will vindicate you and punish him.
For it is written - Deuteronomy 32:35.
Vengeance is mine - That is, it belongs to me to inflict revenge. This expression implies that it is “improper” for people to interfere with that which properly belongs to God. When we are angry, and attempt to avenge ourselves, we should remember, therefore, that we are infringing on the prerogatives of the Almighty.
I will repay ... - This is said in substance, though not in so many words, in Deuteronomy 32:35-36. Its design is to assure us that those who deserve to be punished, shall be; and that, therefore, the business of revenge may be safely left in the bands of God. Though “we” should not do it, yet if it ought to be done, it will be done. This assurance will sustain as, not in the “desire” that our enemy shall be punished, but in the belief that “God” will take the matter into his own hands; that he can administer it better than we can; and that if our enemy “ought” to be punished, he will be. “We,” therefore, should leave it all with God. That God will vindicate his people, is clearly and abundantly proved in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 6:9-11; Deuteronomy 32:40-43.
Therefore, if thine enemy hunger ... - This verse is taken almost literally from Proverbs 25:21-22. Hunger and thirst here are put for want in general. If thine enemy is needy in any way, do him good, and supply his needs. This is, in spirit, the same as the command of the Lord Jesus Matthew 5:44, “Do good to them that hate you,” etc.
In so doing - It does not mean that we are to do this “for the sake” of heaping coals of fire on him, but that this will be the result.
Thou shalt heap ... - Coals of fire are doubtless emblematical of “pain.” But the idea here is not that in so doing we shall call down divine vengeance on the man; but the apostle is speaking of the natural effect or result of showing him kindness. Burning coals heaped on a man’s head would be expressive of intense agony. So the apostle says that the “effect” of doing good to an enemy would be to produce pain. But the pain will result from shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an apprehension of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance. To do this, is not only perfectly right, but it is desirable. If a man can be brought to reflection and true repentance, it should be done. In regard to this passage we may remark,
(1) That the way to promote “peace” is to do good even to enemies.
(2) The way to bring a man to repentance is to do him good. On this principle God is acting continually. He does good to all, even to the rebellious; and he designs that his goodness should lead people to repentance; Romans 2:4. People will resist wrath, anger, and power; but “goodness” they cannot resist; it finds its way to the heart; and the conscience does its work, and the sinner is overwhelmed at the remembrance of his crimes.
(3) If people would act on the principles of the gospel, the world would soon be at peace. No man would suffer himself many times to be overwhelmed in this way with coals of fire. It is not human nature, bad as it is; and if Christians would meet all unkindness with kindness, all malice with benevolence, and all wrong with right, peace would soon pervade the community, and even opposition to the gospel might soon die away.
Be not overcome of evil - Be not “vanquished” or “subdued” by injury received from others. Do not suffer your temper to be excited; your Christian principles to be abandoned; your mild, amiable, kind, and benevolent temper to be ruffled by any opposition or injury which you may experience. Maintain your Christian principles amidst all opposition, and thus show the power of the gospel. They are overcome by evil who suffer their temper to be excited, who become enraged and revengeful and who engage in contention with those who injure them; Proverbs 16:22.
But overcome evil with good - That is, subdue or vanquish evil by doing good to others. Show them the loveliness of a better spirit; the power of kindness and benevolence; the value of an amiable, Christian deportment. So doing, you may disarm them of their rage, and be the means of bringing them to better minds.
This is the noble and grand sentiment of the Christian religion. Nothing like this is to be found in the pagan classics; and nothing like it ever existed among pagan nations. Christianity alone has brought forth this lovely and mighty principle; and one design of it is to advance the welfare of man by promoting peace, harmony, and love. The idea of “overcoming evil with good” never occurred to people until the gospel was preached. It never has been acted on except under the influences of the gospel. On this principle God shows kindness; on this principle the Saviour came, and bled, and died; and on this principle all Christians should act in treating their enemies, and in bringing a world to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. If Christians will show benevolence, if they will send forth proofs of love to the ends of the earth, the evils of the world will be overcome. Nor can the nations be converted until Christians act on this great and most important principle of their religion, “on the largest scale possible,” to “overcome evil with good.”
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25