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Romans 12

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The Life of Him Who Through Faith Is Righteous (12:1–15:13)

In chapters nine through eleven, Paul has demonstrated there is no contradiction between the righteousness of faith and the promises of God; consequently, the premises of the first eight chapters stand established. God has kept His promises. Men out of every nation may be made righteous by faith in Christ (Romans 1-4). In chapter five, those who have been declared righteous by faith shall live free from wrath because they are no longer under God’s wrath. In chapter six, the justified believer lives free from sin because forgiveness has broken the power of sin. In chapter seven, the believer lives free from the law, in that law is no longer the justifying principle. In chapter eight, the believer lives free from death in that he has been forgiven and will be resurrected. The way of God and the promises of God are reconciled (Romans 9-11). Consequently, the doxology of Romans 11:33-36 puts us back to where we were after the doxology of Romans 8:35-39. The only question remaining is, practically speaking, How shall the man who is righteous on the basis of his faith in Christ live?

Paul has answered: he must live in obedience to God. In the first three chapters, he reveals all are sinners and can be justified only on the basis of faith in Christ who paid the penalty for sins. In chapter four, he articulates the nature of the faith by which one may be declared righteous—by an obedient faith as Abraham had. In chapter six, this fact becomes explicit. Throughout the book, Paul proves men are justified only by obedient faith (1:5; 16:26).

Therefore, it is natural for Paul to turn now to ethical considerations. For Paul, unlike modern theologians, there is no sharp distinction between doctrine and life. To Paul, a doctrine or a gospel that does not directly affect a man’s life and conduct is ridiculous. The purpose of both the gospel and the doctrine is to alter the direction of one’s life and conduct dramatically. By the same token, everyday life and conduct not based upon the revelation of God’s will for man cannot be Christian.

Consequently, in Romans 6:4, Paul reveals it is in baptism that the believer is incorporated into Christ and united with Him in His death and resurrection. From that premise, he draws the conclusion that believers should "walk in newness of life." Nygren calls this Paul’s "basic rule of ethics" (416) because it is always the outcome of Paul’s doctrinal passages. The doctrine expounded is always intended to be the ground from which the believer’s behavior is to spring. In Galatians 5:25, he says, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Nygren observes:

In this sense the gospel, the doctrine, is both the pattern according to which the life of the Christian is to be shaped and the power that transforms. We find the same idea in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 where Paul writes, "God calls you into his own kingdom and glory"; and there Paul exhorts Christians to "lead a life worthy of God." And when Paul turns to exhortation, in Ephesians 4:1, his first admonition is "lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." Or to give one more example, in Colossians 2:6, we read "As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him." Everywhere it is the same: God has done something for us; we have received something from His call; we have received Christ or the Spirit; so we are to live a life that is in harmony with what we have thus received (416–417).

Romans 12:1-2 marks the natural transition from the doctrinal arguments of the epistle to the practical applications of it. The opening phrases, "I beseech you therefore, brethren" and "by the mercies of God," clearly mark this change of subject matter. Chapter twelve readily divides into three sections, though there may be some crossover between sections:

1. Romans 12:1-2 establishes the christian’s responsibilities toward God.

2. Romans 12:3-16 establishes the christian’s responsibilities toward his fellow believers in Christ.

3. Romans 12:17-21 establishes the Christian’s responsibilities toward both his fellow believers and toward society at large.

In the same vein chapter thirteen divides into two sections:

1. Romans 13:1-7 establishes The Christian’s responsibilities to the civil government under which he lives.

2. Romans 13:8-14 establishes the Christian’s responsibilities toward his neighbor.

Paul begins another practical section about the interaction of two groups in the Christian community relative to matters of permission. The argument runs from Romans 14:1—15:13. The two groups are those who are "weak in the faith" (14:1) and those who are "strong in the faith (15:1). In Romans 14:1-12, Paul delineates the difference between these two groups and affirms that both groups are joined together in the Lord and should, therefore, receive one another without quarreling over such matters. In verses 13–23, Paul establishes the principles by which the freedoms of these two groups must be regulated and reminds everyone that Christian liberty should always aim at those things that bring peace and help to strengthen one another (14:19).

In Romans 15:1-13, Paul points both Jewish and Gentile believers, whether strong or weak, to the example of Jesus, reminding the Christians at Rome it is through Jesus that both Jews and Gentiles have been allowed to enjoy God’s salvation.

Romans 15:14 ushers in the last main division of this letter which details Paul’s travel plans (15:14-33), and sends greetings to those in Rome whom Paul knows personally and who can vouch for him (16:1-16). Finally, Paul closes with a few last minute instructions and admonitions (16:17-27).

Verse 1

Responsibilities Toward God

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God: "Therefore" indicates that what is about to be said rests upon what has already been said. Because God’s gracious mercy

provided salvation through Jesus, the believer should respond in a certain way. Christian obedience, of course, is the only right response to all God has done through Christ; however, it should be obedience that flows naturally from the believer’s gratitude rather than from some humanistic desire for the enhancement of self or some illusionary hope of placing God under obligation by works of merit. The "mercies of God" that support such a conclusion look back to all Paul has said since he announced his theme in Romans 1:16. Paul beseeches his readers to draw such a conclusion. "Beseech" is variously rendered as "exhort," "entreat," "appeal," "plead," and "beg" (26 Translations of the Holy Bible. Vol. 3 705). Cranfield observes of this word that:

…its most characteristic New Testament sense is "exhort" as used to denote the earnest appeal, based on the gospel, to those who are already Christians to live consistently with the gospel which they have received. When used in this sense as a technical term for Christian exhortation, it expresses urgency and earnestness but also the note of authority–the authoritative summons to obedience issued in the name of the gospel (293) (see also Bromiley, 781).

that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice: This language refers to ritual sacrifice but with a striking twist. In Old Testament days, a sacrificed animal was slain and its blood shed. It was presented once and no more. In contrast, the Christian’s body is not presented to be slain but is to be a continual sacrifice. Romans 6:13 provides the index to Paul’s meaning here:

And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (NKJV).

Another passage emphasizing the durative nature of the Christian’s sacrifice is seen in Revelation: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (2:10b). The believer is to present to God a body alive from the dead (6:4–8), for in baptism "the body of sin is destroyed." He is to keep on presenting his redeemed body as long as he lives, even to the point of death. Murray observes that when Paul instructs Christians to present their bodies he likely means the word "body" to be understood literally rather than as a reference to the whole person:

Undoubtedly there is no intent to restrict to the physical body the consecration here enjoined. But there is not good warrant for taking the word "body" as a synonym for the whole person. Paul’s usage elsewhere would indicate that he is thinking specifically of the body (cf. 6:6, 12; 8:10, 11, 23; 1 Corinthians 5:3; 1 Corinthians 6:13; 1 Corinthians 6:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:4; 1 Corinthians 7:34; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 1 Corinthians 15:44; 2 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10). A study of these passages will show how important was the body in Paul’s esteem and, particularly, how significant in the various aspects of the saving process…Hence sanctification must bring the body within its scope. There was not only a necessity for this kind of exhortation arising from depreciation of the body but also because indulgence of vice closely associated with the body was so prevalent and liable to be discounted in the assessment of ethical demands (Vol. 2 110–111).

Clearly, the Christian owes his whole life in sacrifice to God. Already he belongs to God by virtue of both creation and redemption. He is obligated now to become God’s by virtue of his own free will offering of his body in service to God. This offering is to be continual as long as he shall live.

holy, acceptable unto God: The Christian who is now continually presenting his body to God alive—walking "in newness of life"—must be dedicated to God’s service. A holy person is one who has been set aside for a special purpose—the service of God. Here, however, the meaning shades over into the concept of moral purity. Murray observes:

Holiness is contrasted with the defilement which characterizes the body of sin and with all sensual lust. Holiness is the fundamental character and to be well-pleasing to God the governing principle of a believer. These qualities have reference to his body as well as to his spirit and show how ethical character belongs to the body and to its functions. No terms could certify this more than "holy" and "well-pleasing to God" (Vol. 2 112).

The believer recognizes God to be the God He claims to be, and he recognizes that by virtue of his obedience to the gospel he belongs to God; therefore, he is under obligation to do what is in accord with God’s character. He is to live a holy life—set apart for God, belonging to God, morally upright before God. His living sacrifice is to be one that is desired by God and one God accepts. Lard comments: "This they can be only by being constantly employed in doing those things that are well-pleasing to God; in a word, by doing his will" (379).

which is your reasonable service: The popular notion of translating this phrase as "spiritual worship" (ASV, RSV, NASB) does not convey the right idea. "Reasonable" or "rational" is the more literal meaning. Pershbacher defines logikhn as "pertaining to speech; pertaining to reason; in N.T. rational, spiritual, pertaining to the mind and soul" (AGLP 259). In view of the mercies of God detailed in chapters one through eleven, the believer is to sacrifice his body—a living, holy, well-pleasing offering to God. This is his service or worship that is determined by and proceeds from his rational mind. Murray says:

The service here in view is worshipful service and the apostle characterizes it as "rational" because it is worship that derives its character as acceptable to God from the fact that it enlists our mind, our reason, our intellect. It is rational in contrast with what is mechanical and automatic. A great many of our bodily functions do not enlist volition on our part. The lesson to be derived from the term "rational" is that we are not "Spiritual" in the biblical sense except as the use of our bodies is characterized by conscious, intelligent, consecrated devotion to the service of God (Vol. 2 112).

The offering that proceeds from the rational mind of the believer includes not only his thoughts, feelings, and aspirations but also his words and deeds of obedience to God’s will.

Verse 2

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

And be not conformed to this world: Literally, Christians are to stop being fashioned according to the interests, desires, aims, and goals of this age. They are not "to conform to another’s pattern" (A.T. Robertson, Vol. 4 402). "Conformed" (susxhmati/zesqe) means "to form according to a pattern or mold, form/model after something" (BDAG 979). "Transformed" (metamorfou=sqe) means "to change inwardly in fundamental character or condition, be changed, be transformed" (BDAG 639). In this verse both "conformed" and "transformed" carry the idea of change, indicating all men change as time passes. No one is the same person he was five or ten years ago from a variety of aspects. The question is: "How have we changed? Have we continued to allow the world, motivated by the desires of the flesh and the devil, to mold and shape our lives? Or have we changed from within in order to be able to mold and shape the lives of those around us?" It is a question that calls for serious introspective contemplation.

The believer who is mindful of God’s manifold mercies as they are revealed in the gospel and who has committed his body as a sacrifice to God—a living, holy, well-pleasing offering—must not allow his life to be shaped by the forces around him. Instead he must shape them by the power of the changes he makes from within as he is transformed into the image of Christ.

but be ye transformed: The Greek word for "transformed" is metamorfou=sqe. Vine comments that:

The obligation being to undergo a complete change, which, under the power of God, will find expression in character and conduct; morphe lays stress on the inward change, schema (see the preceding verb in that verse, suschematizo) lays stress on the outward; …the present continuous tenses indicate a process (Vol. IV 148–149).

God wants his people to be changed from within. Scientists today use this same word, metamorphosis (from the Greek), to describe the changes a caterpillar undergoes in its chrysalis from which it emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Similarly, the Christian is to be changed from within rather than letting outside forces to shape his life. He is to be "metamorphosed."

by the renewing of your mind: The internal changes God desires from His people are effected by the "renewing" of their minds. This process begins with the renewing that comes through the Holy Spirit when the penitent believer submits to the washing of regeneration: baptism. The Holy Spirit renews the Christian’s mind in an ongoing daily process of transformation through the medium of God’s word (10:17; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Colossians 3:10). Paul describes this process at length in Ephesians 4:22-32.

that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God: The believer whose mind is daily being renewed by the revelation in God’s word will be able to judge what God’s will is for him in any circumstance. The key here is to determine what is meant by the expression "will of God." Is it His sovereign will or His revealed will? God’s sovereign will, which "knows the end from the beginning" and which is larger than what is revealed in His word, is unknown and unknowable to the Christian (Deuteronomy 29:29). We can take comfort from knowing that all things will work out in accordance with God’s sovereign will, but we cannot in even one instance know what it is. In other words, God has no special individual will for each believer. Rather the believer must act within the boundaries established by God’s revealed will in the scriptures (Ephesians 5:17-18; Colossians 3:16). All anyone will ever know of God’s intended will is what is recorded (John 12:48-50; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13; Ephesians 3:2-6); therefore, as we nourish and renew our minds with His word each day, we will become more effective at applying His word to our lives in the circumstances we encounter (Hebrews 5:12-13). The writer of Hebrews describes the mature Christian in these words: "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (5:14).

Lastly, Paul reminds the believer that as he considers God’s word and judges what God’s will is for him in any circumstance, his resultant action must always consist of conduct that is good within itself; that is, absolutely good or morally good (John 5:29; Acts 10:38; Romans 2:10). Not only so, but his action must be pleasing to God because it is in obedience to His word (Hebrews 5:8-9). Finally, his action must demonstrate complete dedication to loving God and loving his neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).

Verse 3

Responsibilities Toward Fellow Christians

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you: In referring to the grace God had given him, the apostle is not unmindful of the common grace bestowed upon all believers who obey the gospel (1 Timothy 1:11-16). But his reference is to the special grace of God that separated him for the work of his apostolic mission (1:5; 15:15–16; 1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:7-8; 1 Timothy 1:12). Paul is about to issue a serious charge to every member of the church; and to give it the weight it deserves, he calls to their minds his authority as an apostle. This solemn command is addressed, as Cranfield translates, "to every single member" (299). It is emphatic. Lard comments that this charge is issued to:

Every one who is among you, whether high or low, whether endowed or not, whether wise or unwise—I charge all, not one excepted. The charge is thus made universal, and yet no doubt, it was intended to have a specific bearing, a bearing upon those having spiritual gifts (382).

not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think: No member of the church, whether he has miraculous power or not, is to think of himself as superior or exalted above his fellow believers. The kind of pride that leads one to look on others as inferior or beneath notice is unacceptable in the Lord’s church. Such pride is completely contrary to the example of Jesus and must be completely subdued. Regardless of the magnitude of one’s talents, whether they are natural or miraculous, brethren in the body of Christ must not act with haughty or prideful disdain toward their less talented or differently talented fellows.

but to think soberly: Instead of thinking of himself as superior to others of his fellowship, a Christian is to think soberly, meaning he must be "fair-minded" in his judgment of things. He must neither overestimate his own gifts nor underestimate those of others (Lard 382). Whiteside says it means one must "think sensibly," determining his proper relationship with God and his fellow man. "No one should feel himself to be wise above what is written, nor feel so important as to be domineering. Neither should he, like Moses, feel he is too insignificant to do what God commands him to do" (249). Each Christian must learn to make an humble but fair-minded and sober assessment of his spiritual gifts and ethical obligations. Then he must use them to the glory of God’s name and not his own. If he pretends to possess gifts he does not have, his view of himself is over-inflated and he sins by esteeming himself beyond what he ought to. He also sins when he refuses to acknowledge the gifts God has given him and will not use them for the cause of Christ. False humility is as much a detriment to the cause as a haughty or proud look. As Whiteside says, each Christian must think sensibly about his gifts—whether natural or miraculous. (Of course, no miraculous gifts exist in the church today—Acts 8:14-18; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13—but they did when Paul wrote to Rome. Both natural and miraculous gifts are given in verses 6–8; therefore, they must be mentioned in explanation, even though no one possesses them today.)

according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith: Paul says each believer must have an equitable estimation of himself and his abilities to serve Christ and the church. But the phrase "measure of faith" is puzzling. Numerous explanations exist among commentators. The word "measure" has several meanings and shades thereof. The word "faith" also has several meanings. In addition, the grammatical construction admits of more than one possible interpretation. Therefore, it is not surprising to encounter about as many views as commentaries. Obviously, a considerable number of combinations are at least theoretically possible. The two must popular views are as follows:

1. "Measure" should be understood of a measured quantity of faith. And "faith" should be understood as standing for the faith enabling one to work miracles; as, for example, it is in 1 Corinthians 12:9 or 13:2.

2. "Measure," again, in the sense of a measured quantity is the idea. However, "faith" should be taken to refer to ordinary faith—as in faith or belief in Christ or trust in God.

Both of these views are wrong. The first one is wrong because it contradicts the earlier part of this verse. Paul’s solemn charge is applicable to every single member of the church in Rome, whereas every member of the church did not possess miraculous gifts (1:11; 1 Corinthians 12-14). Many believers in the early church had miraculous power or spiritual gifts by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18), but nowhere do the scriptures indicate that every Christian had such gifts.

Both the first and second views are wrong because they imply a Christian is to think of himself more highly than he thinks of his fellow Christian who, according to the first view, has been apportioned a smaller quantity of miracle-working faith than he has. Or, who, according to the second view, is given a lesser quantity of the basic kind of Christian faith than he has. Such an implication flies in the face of the point Paul intends to make. Such a view would hardly be consistent with Paul’s admonition in verses 4 and 5, which is intended to encourage the Roman brethren to behave in such a manner to foster, maintain, and cultivate brotherly unity. Any congregation where the members are carefully calculating their relative importance according to the quantity of faith would have virtually no chance of establishing the peaceful harmony enjoined in succeeding verses.

A much better interpretation is one supported by both Cranfield (300–301) and Whiteside (250). "Measure" should be understood in the sense of a means of measurement or standard. "Faith" should be understood in the sense of ordinary belief in Christ. The grammar should be understood so the idea conveyed by the phrase is that every member of the church, instead of thinking of himself more highly than he ought, is to think soberly of himself, measuring himself by the objective standard God has given him in the gospel. The gospel forces him to think on things in which he is on the same level with his fellow Christians rather than those things in which he may be either superior or inferior to them. Each Christian must recognize his dependence on and submission to Christ. The believer’s commitment is to Christ, and the standard by which he can measure himself is found in the word of God. By contrast, when Christians measure themselves by themselves (or by their fellow Christians or their unbelieving neighbors), they are sure to judge falsely. Either they will have too high or too low an opinion of themselves (see 2 Corinthians 10:12). But when Christians measure themselves by God’s word, then—and only then—will they arrive at a sober and true estimate of themselves. This point is reminiscent of one stated earlier in this letter: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" (1:17). The gospel reveals the system by which God makes unrighteous sinners righteous. It moves from the faith— the objective standard, the thing to be believed, the word of God—to produce faith in the heart of the sinner. This view also reminds us of the principle in chapter ten: "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (10:17).

The conclusion then is that the "measure of faith" refers to a standard by which each Christian may measure himself and think of himself in the proper way. That standard is the gospel, the New Testament, the word of God.

Verses 4-5

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: The apostle here uses the human body and the unity of its interdependent parts as an analogy of the relationship that believers working together in a congregation sustain toward one another: in the human body there are many individual members that work together to animate the body and perform its many works. These members do not all have the same function (office); yet working together at their various operations, they activate the body. This analogy is a common one in Paul’s writing (1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 4:4; Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:30; Colossians 1:24; Colossians 2:19).

So we, being many, are one body: Those who do measure themselves by the standard of God’s word will recognize that the church constitutes one body. No one member exists for himself, but all are members one of another. Apart from one another, a member can do little or nothing—in fact, members so separated will die spiritually. Working together under the authority of the body’s head, which is Christ, all members can accomplish great things for the good of the cause of Christ. Believers who measure themselves by God’s word will recognize the equality that all members share before God, whether their individual functions or gifts are more or less impressive than another’s. Cranfield observes: "Whatever other unity the Christians at Rome may have had, the unity to which Paul is appealing is the unity which they have by virtue of what God has done for them in Christ" (303).

and every one members one of another: Members of a congregation are so related to one another and their interdependence is so close that none can afford to feel proud over the others. Macknight says:

The meaning of the figure is, that Christians depend on one another for their mutual edification and comfort, as the members of the human body depend on one another for nourishment and assistance (Vol. 1 452).

Verse 6

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us: The word translated "gifts" is xarivsmata. The word means "a free favor or free gift" (AGLP 437). BDAG confirms this definition: "that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift" (1081). Only the context can determine the kind of gift under consideration. That this word can be used to designate a divine gift of miraculous power is undeniable (1:11; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:30-31; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 2 Timothy1:6). However, it is also used frequently to designate a non-miraculous gift (5:15–16; 6:23; 11:29; 1 Corinthians 7:7; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Peter 4:10). Here it seems evident from the list of gifts mentioned in verses 6–8 that both miraculous and non-miraculous gifts are under consideration.

whether prophecy: Prophecy is by nature a miraculous gift because the prophet receives directly and communicates accurately the revelation of God. Murray observes: "Prophecy refers to the function of communicating revelations of truth from God. The prophet was an organ of revelation; he was God’s spokesman" (Vol. 2 122). The prophet of God often predicted the future, but just as often his work was simply to reveal the truth of God’s will as God delivered it directly to his mind through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Obviously, miraculous power was required for the exercise of this gift.

Miraculous power might also have been required by teachers, exhorters, and rulers during the age of revelation—until the completion of the New Testament. All three of these functions, however, passed to men with natural (non-miraculous) gifts, enabling them to serve the church through knowledge gained from the written word.

The gifts of ministering, giving, and showing mercy were almost certainly non-miraculous gifts then as well as now. Macknight disagrees and can be consulted for the view that all of these gifts are miraculous (Vol. 1 432-437). In this section (verses 3–8), Paul intends to regulate the attitude with which believers exercise their gifts, whether they are natural or miraculous. Christians are not to exalt themselves regardless of their talents. Rather they are to use their gifts to exalt Christ and to provide service for their brethren in Christ. In the church it is to be as it was among Alexander Dumas’ musketeers, "All for one and one for all."

let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith: The meaning of this phrase "proportion of faith" turns, of course, on the word "proportion" (ajnalogiVan). Vine says it means:

"The right relation, the coincidence or agreement existing or demand according to the standard of the several relations, not agreement as equality," (Cremer). It is used in Romans 12:6 where "let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith…" recalls verse 3. It is a warning against going beyond what God has given and faith receives. This meaning, rather than the other rendering "according to the analogy of faith," is in keeping with the context. The word analogia is not to be rendered literally. "Proportion" here represents its true meaning (Vol. 3 225).

In Romans 12:6, a)nalogi/an means "a state of right relationship involving proportion, …in agreement with, or in proportion to" (BDAG 67). Then, if one were gifted miraculously to be a prophet by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he must prophesy the revelation exactly as God imparts it to him. Since the spirit of the prophet was subject to the prophet (1 Corinthians 14:32), there was the danger of his using his gift for self-exaltation and for brokering power in the congregation. He must not do so. Though he does not agree with this view, Murray says some interpret this phrase to mean "the criterion by which men are to judge the claims of a prophet is the canon of revelation which they possess (cf. Acts 17:11)" (Vol. 2 123). Thus, if given the miraculous gift of prophecy, a prophet had to use it for the benefit of the body of Christ. On no account could he use it to contradict or go beyond the faith already revealed by inspired men.

Verse 7

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: The word "ministry" (diakoni/an) and its cognate "ministering" (diakoni/a) are used widely in the New Testament. Perschbacher defines the word as:

Serving, service, waiting, attendance, the act of rendering friendly offices… relief, aid, commission… a commission or ministry in the service of the Gospel… service… a function, ministry or office in the church ( AGLP 92).

This lengthy definition illustrates the varied use of this word in scripture. Probably the meaning here is a range of services similar to those that might come under the province of a deacon.

The brother in Christ who is recognized as a talented servant should use his gift appropriately. He should give himself wholeheartedly and unreservedly to the accomplishment of the task to which his gift, whether natural or spiritual, enables him. He must not insist on trying to render a service for which he has no gift from God. Each believer must assess his talents in the light of the instructions in God’s word and use them accordingly for the benefit of a congregation. If his niche is that of service, he (or she) should set himself to become the best servant he can be.

or he that teacheth, on teaching: If one’s gift is the ability to teach God’s word effectively, let him use his communication and academic skills to instruct the church according to God’s word. This gift might have been a miraculous gift during the age of spiritual gifts (that is, the time before the completion of the New Testament). In 1 Corinthians 12, it is third behind the function of apostles and prophets. But it is a natural gift as well; and teachers today must apply themselves diligently to glean knowledge from God’s word and communicate it to the congregation.

This gift of teaching differed from that of prophecy in several facets. The prophet was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Not only did he reveal God’s word but also he had predictive powers. But the teacher based his teaching on the Old Testament, the words of Jesus, and the written New Testament as it became available.

Verse 8

Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: "Exhortation" (paraklh/sei) means "a calling upon, exhortation, incitement, persuasion…hortatory instruction…entreaty, importunity, earnest supplication…" (AGLP 308). The gift of exhortation is the ability to speak persuasively and to call believers to obedience. Teaching, by contrast, is concerned more with instruction, imparting information, or explaining. The two overlap, but one might be skilled at exhorting but not be capable of ferreting out the details of scripture. If so, let him work at exhorting effectively and leave teaching to those more inclined to academia.

he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity: The brother (or sister) who is particularly talented at giving should exercise his gift but he must do it with singleness—that is, without ulterior motive. Let him distribute with "no strings attached." He should not use his generosity to gain reputation or power. If the distribution under consideration is of the congregation’s treasury, then the instruction is to do it faithfully without fraud or favor and without ambitious maneuvering after some higher office. The aim of the giver here is to be single, not double (as in simplicity, meaning one aim or one focus). His attention should be directed solely to the person’s need and his relief. It is interesting that this and the next two gifts are concerned with the spirit and manner in which the gifts are exercised.

he that ruleth with diligence: The reference here is difficult to pinpoint. Is it the ruler of the congregation—that is, the elder? Or is it the person in charge of the congregation’s charitable work? Arguments for both are persuasive. In either case, the instruction is the same. This gift requires that its owner apply himself diligently to the task. Probably the reference is to the elders of a congregation. They must not exercise their rule haphazardly or casually. Instead they must be hard working servants who labor tirelessly with unswerving attention and unfaltering zeal. Their office is one of work and not prestige. Their rule is by persuasion and not by autocracy (Hebrews 13:17).

he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness: Here the reference is most likely to that person whose special function is to tend the sick, relieve the poor, or help the aged and disabled. It may be that he does this work on behalf of the congregation. Of course, all Christians have the obligation to show mercy as they are able, but Paul speaks here of those who have demonstrated a special aptitude for such work and have, consequently, been appointed by the congregation to focus on this work on behalf of the church. This work is to be marked by an especially cheerful aspect and not one marked by disdain or contempt. Lard says he should perform this work with "an air that inspires hope and brightness" (387). Cranfield says:

A particularly cheerful and agreeable disposition may well be evidence of the presence of the special gift that marks a person out for this particular service; but it is also true that an inward cheerfulness in ministering will in any case come naturally to one who knows the secret that in those needy and suffering people whom he is called to tend the Lord is Himself present (compare Matthew 25:31 ff), for he will recognize in them Christ’s gracious gift to him and to the congregation in whose name he ministers, of an opportunity to love and thank Him who can never be loved and thanked enough (307).

Cranfield also notes in conclusion that it is instructive to recognize that four of the seven gifts listed concern the practical everyday service of those who help and sympathize with the needy. "This fact by itself is a clear and eloquent indication of the importance of the place of diakoni/a| (service—AWB) in the life of the church as Paul understood it" (307–308). Rather than striving with each other for position and power, believers are to serve one another for the good of all in the congregation.

Verse 9

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

Let love be without dissimulation: The believer’s love for all men is to be without hypocrisy, a sincere love that derives from the Greek word a)ga/ph. It is to be love founded in reason rather than emotion and given without any expectation of its return. Christians are to love their fellows because they have decided to love them rather than because they like them or feel good toward them. Two other times in the New Testament believers are admonished that their love is to be genuine and constant (2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22). Murray observes:

No vice is more reprehensible than hypocrisy. No vice is more destructive of integrity because it is the contradiction of truth. Our Lord exposed its diabolical character when he said to Judas, "Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48). If love is the sum of all virtues and hypocrisy the epitome of vice, what a contradiction to bring these together! Dissembling affection! (Vol. 2 128).

There must be no pretense in our display of love whether to our family, our brethren, or simply our fellow beings.

abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good: To "abhor" (a)postugou=nte$) something is to be so disgusted by it as to shrink from it or to detest it (AGLP 49). It means to shudder from with horror or hatred (Vine, Vol. I 9). Christians are told to regard evil with instant abhorrence. Amos says, "Hate the evil, and love the good" (5:15). Jude says hate "even the garment spotted by the flesh" (23). This was a quality so characteristic of Jesus that it drew from God this high commendation:

Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows (Hebrews 1:9).

In our modern age of tolerance, where the only cardinal sin is intolerance, Christians must recapture the biblical abhorrence of sin enjoined upon God’s people. Evil must become something we shrink from with horror in absolute disgust. On the other hand, believers are to glue themselves to what is good. "Cleave" (kollw/menoi) means "to glue or weld together…to adhere to…to attach oneself to, unite with, associate with" (AGLP 243). Believers are to cling tenaciously to what is good. This same word is used to describe the bond of marriage (Matthew 19:5).

The Christian is to be totally committed in his opposition to what is morally wrong and just as devoted in the opposite direction to what is morally good.

Verse 10

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love: Toward their fellow believers, Christians are instructed not only to love (a)ga/ph) them but also to demonstrate filo/storgos or kind affection toward them. Filo/storgos means,"loving dearly… devoted to one another in brotherly love" (BDAG 1059). Christians are to develop the love of friendship among themselves and demonstrate their kind affection for one another "in brotherly love" (filadelfi/a|). Filadelfi/a| is a compound word combining the word for brother or near kinsman (a)delfos) with the word for love (filevw). Love that derives from filevw is more closely aligned with our concept of "liking" (BDAG 1056). A)ga/ph seeks the welfare of all and works no ill to any. It arises from reason and applies even to our enemies. Filevw arises from our emotional attachment to someone. Therefore, Paul instructs members of the church to learn to like their brethren, to develop friendships with them, and to feel tender and kind affection toward them, in addition to their a)ga/ph love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) for one another.

in honour preferring one another: Does this phrase mean that Christians should be examples to one another in showing esteem or respect for the believers (Lard 390)? Or is it that we should allow others to praise us rather than honoring ourselves (Murray Vol. 2 129-130)? Cranfield suggests a third view that Christians should prefer fellow believers over others because Christ is present in all Christians, whereas He is not in people of the world (310). Actually this phrase includes all three of these ideas. Christians should certainly prefer the company of one another and honor one another because of their fellowship in Christ. Equally, humble believers should allow others to esteem them in honor rather than exalting themselves. Believers should also be forward to heap praise and esteem upon their fellows. Murray observes:

That is, the thought can well be that instead of looking and waiting for praise from others we should be foremost in according them honour. We cannot be certain which thought is here present. In either case the exhortation is directed against the conceit by which we assert ourselves above others. The humility commended is not incompatible with the sober judgment commended in verse 3. We are to recognize the gifts God has bestowed on us and exercise these in the awareness that others do not possess these same gifts and therefore are not qualified to assume the functions or prerogatives which the gifts involve. Humility does not overlook the differentiation that exists in the fellowship of faith nor can it be pleaded as an excuse for indolence. Paul considered himself "less than the least of all saints" (Ephesians 3:8) but he did not allow this estimate of himself to keep him from asserting his high prerogatives as an apostle and minister of Christ. Among believers he is the noblest example of what he here commends and of the sobriety of judgment to be exercised "according as God hath dealt to each a measure of faith" (vs. 3) (Vol. 2 129–130).

Verse 11

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

These three exhortations are closely related. The first phrase is in the original "in zeal not slothful" (Marshall 470). It is negative. The believer is not to be slow in exhibiting zeal. The admonition is directed against weariness in well-doing (Galatians 6:9). The second clause is the positive counterpart to the first. In contrast to being slow to show zeal, the Christian is to be fervent or burning in his spirit, which is to be aglow with ardent zeal. The "spirit" referred to here is the human spirit and not the Holy Spirit (1:9; 1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 7:34; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). The third clause defines the service in which sloth is to be shunned and fervor practiced. The zealous diligence and fervent spirit required here are to be regulated by the believer’s position as the slave of God. Murray comments:

This reminder is the most effective antidote to weariness and incentive to ardour. When discouragement overtakes the Christian and fainting of spirit as its sequel, it is because the claims of the Lord’s service have ceased to be uppermost in our thought…It expresses that which is calculated to avert sloth, incite to constancy of devotion, and also guard against intrepid zeal which passes beyond the orbit of service to the Lord. "Serving the Lord" has this dual purpose of stirring up from sloth and regulating zeal (Vol. 2 131).

Verse 12

Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

These three phrases stand in close relation to one another. Hope lodges the believer’s heart in the future. Things that are seen and temporal must never be regarded as the boundary of his horizon. The salvation owned now by all who have obeyed the gospel is conditioned by hope; without that hope, faith would die. Earlier Paul says, "For we are saved by hope" (8:24). In Romans 5:2, the believer’s hope is "hope of the glory of God." It is important to recognize the difference between a wish and a hope. To hope for something carries with it the expectation of receiving the object hoped for. The Christian is sustained in the struggles and difficulties of life by his expectation of receiving a home in heaven, and thus he is saved by his hope. In this text, his hope is the cause or ground of his joy. When the Christian is placed under trial, his appropriate response is one of rejoicing in view of his hope of overcoming whatever afflictions life might bring. To the Christian there is comfort even in the deepest sorrow because the darkness of suffering is illumined by the hope he has in Christ. That is why Paul says to the Thessalonian believers, "ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Because of the sure ground of their hope, Christians are able to be "patient in tribulation," able to remain steadfast under tribulation. This same sequence of hope and patience has already been observed by Paul in Romans 5:3. In an effort to encourage suffering believers, Paul often cites his own afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 7:4; Ephesians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:7). As well, Paul’s teaching often takes account of afflictions his brethren in Christ must face (8:35; 2 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). Often the tribulations experienced by Christians take the form of persecution, and Paul reminds the believer "all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12; compare Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:11). He also says that it is "through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22; compare Revelation 7:14). Here, the idea is that what is needed is constancy and perseverance amidst the problems and afflictions encountered in the life of the believer.

To bolster his confidence in the hope of the glory of God and to renew his constancy under trial, the believer must naturally turn to God in prayer (compare Acts 1:14; Acts 6:4; Colossians 4:2). Prayer is the means ordained by God for the supply of grace sufficient for every situation and particularly against the faintheartedness to which affliction tempts us.

Observe the interdependence of the virtues in this trilogy. Tribulation without hope would be dismal indeed (1 Corinthians 15:19). Persecution without hope and patience conveyed to us through prayer would certainly defeat us (Psalms 28).

Verse 13

Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

Distributing to the saints: koinwnou=nte$, which is rendered "distributing," means:

to have in common, share, Hebrews 2:14; to be associated in, to become a sharer in, Romans 15:27; 1 Peter 4:13; to become implicated in, be a party to, 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 John 1:11; to associate oneself with by sympathy and assistance, to communicate with in the way of aid and relief, Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:6 (AGLP 242).

Christians are instructed here to identify themselves with the needs of the saints (that is, their fellows in Christ) and make them their own. Earlier in verse 5, Christians are counseled to be partakers of the gifts of others. Here they are to partake of the wants or needs of their brethren so that they become their own. The principle of identifying ourselves with the joy or sorrow of our brethren in verse 15 is here applied to the needs of the saints.

given to hospitality: This phrase is obviously closely related to the previous one. One of the primary ways we can share in the needs of our fellows, and thus relieve them, is by extending to them the warmth of Christian hospitality. In fact, Christians are to be "given to hospitality." The word "given" indicates that every Christian is to pursue or follow after something. We are to pursue hospitality actively, not grudgingly (1 Peter 4:9). We are to chase after opportunities to show hospitality. Murray notes:

The world was inhospitable. Therefore, hospitality was a prime example of the way in which believers were to be partakers in the needs of the saints…But even where economic and social conditions are more favourable, the practice of hospitality is not irrelevant. It is in these circumstances that the force of the verb "pursue" should be heeded. The occasions will present themselves if we are alert to the duty, privilege, and blessing (cf. Hebrews 13:2; 2 Timothy 1:16-18) (Vol. 2 134).

Verse 14

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

When Christians are persecuted, it is implied that their enemies have treated them unjustly and maliciously. When it is persecution, it is understood the believer has not provoked the mistreatment by any wrongdoing. Rather he is being persecuted for well doing (1 Peter 3:13-17). It is simply that the enemies of Christ are our enemies, too. Such maltreatment is liable to provoke resentment in the thoughts of believers, and resentment left to its own devices can all too easily boil over into a vindictive spirit and even to retaliation. This attitude cannot be among God’s people. The injunction here, however, requires not merely the restraint of retaliation or even the simple endurance of the persecution (compare 1 Peter 2:20) but a kindly disposition. Christians are to invoke God’s blessing upon their persecutors (Luke 2:34; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Hebrews 11:20–these all use the word "bless" in a similar manner). This attitude is precisely what Jesus teaches (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28). Lard says:

Now in cases of cruel persecution, where the disciples would feel themselves outraged, they would naturally become very much exasperated. The consequent temptation to imprecate evil on their enemies would be very great. But the Apostle allows nothing of the kind…On the contrary, Christians are to bless their persecutors…This, though in practice hard, is according to the high standard of Christ (392).

When Paul says we are to "bless and curse not," he does not mean we are to avoid profanity as we commonly use the word "curse" today. Though that principle is true (Ephesians 4:29), he means we are not to call for calamity to befall a person (Whiteside 253).

Verse 15

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Jealousy and envy, hatred and malice, evils to which we are so often bent, are to have no place among God’s people. Instead, when our fellows are blessed with good fortune by the grace of God, we are to rejoice with them (1 Corinthians 12:26 b). Likewise, when tragedy and heartbreak descend upon their lives, we are to weep with them (1 Corinthians 12:26 a). Murray says, "this exhortation, as much as any in this catalogue of virtues, demonstrates the transformation (cf. vs. 2) that must be wrought in those who are one body in Christ (vs. 5)" (Vol. 2 135).

Cranfield suggests there is no good reason to assume that Paul limits the requirements of this verse to faithful Christians. Rather, he says:

Very probably, Paul’s meaning is that the Christian is to take his stand beside his fellow-man (whoever he may be), to have time and room for him in those experiences in which he is most truly himself, in his real human joy and his real human sorrow, and to strive to be both with him and for him, altogether and without reserve, yet without compromising with his evil or sharing, or even pretending to share, the presuppositions of this age which is passing away, even as God himself is in Christ both "with us" (Matthew 1:23) and "for us" (8:31) all (313).

It seems more likely that Paul has in mind our fellow believers in Christ, but there is no reason to rule out Cranfield’s suggestion. The Christian should do all he can to adorn the doctrine of Christ before those in the world as well as those in the church. No better opportunity will present itself in either case than entering in appropriately to the joys and sorrows of those around us.

Verse 16

Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

Be of the same mind one toward another: Christians are told here to live in harmony together. Believers are to welcome all who will come into their fellowship with open arms. They are to extend the same respect, accord, and warm friendship to every believer in Christ regardless of his background. Lard comments:

Be of the same disposition one towards another; or have the same sentiments and feelings. Do not love one brother and hate another; do not honor one and slight another; do not wish one well and another ill. In mind be … the same to all (392).

This demand appears frequently in scripture (15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 4:2), clearly indicating this is a difficult command to obey. Nevertheless, Christians must accept all alike into the family of God.

Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate: There is some controversy over whether it is to things or to men to which Christians are to condescend. Since the contrast of the humble to which we are to condescend is with "high things," some argue that "humble things" is the intended idea. The meaning is that Christians should not put on airs of superiority but rather should be content with humble ways or things. Others argue the context is a discussion of proper relationships between people. The idea is that Christians are to accept into their fellowship readily those who are less fortunate than they, whether socially, economically, or educationally. The Greek seems to admit of both explanations; and when the original is ambiguous, we should probably leave it so. Apparently God has inspired it that way for a reason. BDAG says, "Romans 12:16 may be taken to refer to things, accommodate yourself to humble ways (Weymouth)…or to people…associate with humble folk" (965). Whatever the denotation of "lowly" is determined to be, the practical import would include both of these views for the one implies the other.

The word "condescend" has become a most unfortunate translation (though not an incorrect one) because of the negative connotation condescend carries in modern parlance. The idea is more that of simply "associate." Whiteside observes:

And so it seems that condescend is the wrong word, and that it expresses a wrong idea. The truth is, we Christians are all members of one family. One child of God does not condescend when he associates with another member of the family, and he should not feel that he does. The egotist feels that he condescends when he associates with the lowly, but the genuine Christian does not so feel (254).

The comment of Murray in this regard is worthy of note:

There is to be no aristocracy in the church, no cliques of the wealthy as over against the poor, no pedestals of unapproachable dignity for those on the higher social and economic strata or for those who are in office in the church (Vol. 2 137).

Numerous other passages convey the same thought (James 2:1-9; 1 Peter 5:3). Jesus says, "I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). Such humility should be in the heart of every child of God.

Be not wise in your own conceits: A Christian should not be wise above his fellows in his own estimation (11:25; Proverbs 3:7). This idea strikes hard at the Christian who is so sure of his superior intellect and so self-sufficient in his accomplishments that he thinks he has no need of wisdom arising from any other source than his own mind. Such a person has no regard for anyone else’s judgment and is so opinionated that he is intractable and impervious to all advice. One who persists in such an exalted frame of mind will soon reject even God’s advice and God’s way. Murray observes, "just as there is to be no social aristocracy in the church, so there is to be no intellectual autocrat" (Vol. 2 137).

Verse 17

Responsibilities Toward Society

Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

Recompense to no man evil for evil: This has long been a precept by which God’s people are to be guided. Even in the days when men were entitled in a properly adjudicated case to retaliate "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," this principle still held sway (Exodus 23:4; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15; Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:29). Here the close identity of this passage with 1 Thessalonians 5:15 and 1 Peter 3:9 indicates this was a common and settled teaching of the church—possibly even similar to the "faithful saying" of Timothy and Titus. When the Christian is treated evilly, he is not to repay in kind to the evildoer. Lard says:

Injuries received have the effect to arouse our feeling and cloud our judgments. In this condition, we are not qualified to determine either the kind or degree of punishment due our injuries. Retaliation, therefore, is wholly taken from us (393).

This passage introduces teaching that is fully developed in succeeding verses. Christians are not to be involved in any way in the punishment of evildoers. God has another institution outside of the church that is designed for the punishment of evildoers, namely, civil government. Since law and order and retribution are the province of civil authorities and since Christians are not to be involved in such actions, they must abstain from all involvement with civil governance and the punishment of lawbreakers.

Provide things honest in the sight of all men: Believers are counseled to take thought beforehand to be sure their actions are honorable in the sight of all men—even unbelievers. Numerous other passages demand similar forethought (2 Corinthians 8:21; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Timothy 3:7). It is not that unbelievers are to determine what is good but rather that the norms of behavior governing Christians are norms that even unbelievers recognize. When Christians violate these accepted standards (possibly those written on the heart of every man—the moral law), they bring reproach upon the name of Christ and His church. Whiteside says:

The Greek word for "take thought" means to pre-think—to think before you adopt a certain course of action. The Christian lowers himself in the estimation of men when he engages in things the world thinks beneath the Christian profession; he also disobeys Paul’s injunction (255).

Believers are to maintain a deportment that approves itself to men. We are to live in such a manner that is honorable in the sight of all men in the church and out, in addition to being certain it is a manner of which the Lord approves in His word.

Verse 18

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

The positive divine law here is that Christians are to live in peace with all men, believers and unbelievers (14:17, 19; Matthew 5:9; Hebrews 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:11). However, even for Christians who live according to God’s word, peace may not always be possible; therefore, Paul inserts two qualifiers into this equation that make it one that can be obeyed in all circumstances.

First, he says "if it be possible." It is not always possible for Christians to live peaceably with all men. It is not that this implied possibility has in view any inability arising from our weaknesses. A supposed inability to restrain one’s temper or resentment is no excuse acceptable to God for any lack of peace with our fellows. Such a one just needs to learn to control his anger (Ephesians 4:26; Titus 2:2-4; Titus 2:6; Titus 2:12). Rather, this "impossibility" arises objectively in cases where truth, right, and duty demand resistance to sin and error (James 3:14-16; 1 Peter 3:11; Judges 1:3). As Whiteside observes:

We should do our best, without sacrificing truth and duty, to be at peace with all men. We should not be meddlers in other men’s affairs; but if we preach the truth, rebuke and exhort, somebody will not like it. It is impossible therefore to be at peace with all men. Neither Jesus nor Paul could be at peace with the enemies of Christ (255).

Second, he says "as much as lieth in you." The Christian must not generate the strife. We are instead to exercise every power within our means and in accord with the truth to maintain peace with all men. No legitimate attachment of blame for a disruption of peace should adhere to the believer. If men despise us and refuse to live in peace with us, it must not be our fault. We must do all that holiness, truth, and right will allow to preserve peaceful relations with all men everywhere. Murray is correct:

Peaceableness of disposition and behavior is a virtue to be cultivated in our relations with all men; there is no circumstance in which our efforts to preserve and promote peace may be suspended. This is the force of "as much as in you lieth." On the other hand, we may never be at peace with sin and error. If peace means complicity with sin and error or if it encourages these, then peace must be sacrificed. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves and we may not refrain from the rebuke and dissent which may evoke his displeasure but which his highest interest requires (Vol. 2 139-140).

Verse 19

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Dearly beloved: Paul uses this tender appellation to underline the magnitude of the sacrifice called for by his subsequent words. There is no indication the church in Rome was under persecution at this time; however, persecution was not unfamiliar to first century disciples of Christ (Acts 4:3; Acts 5:17-18; Acts 5:40; Acts 7:57-58; Acts 8:1-4; Acts 12:2-3; Acts 14:19; Acts 16:22-23; Acts 21:30-33; Acts 26:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 2 Timothy 2:3; 2 Timothy 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:11; 2 Timothy 4:5).

Not only were they familiar with it but also it was likely to break out at any time (Matthew 10:16-28; Mark 10:30; John 16:2). Just a few years after this epistle was written, the persecutions of Nero fell hard upon the church. In such times, the cry for justice could hardly be squelched. Thus, Paul tenderly pleads with the brethren not to take justice into their own hands. Macknight comments:

For he who avenges himself, making himself accuser, and judge, and executioner, all in one person, runs a great hazard of injuring both himself and others by acting improperly through the influence of passion (Vol. 1 440).

avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: Christians are not to mete out punishment to those who injure them. Lard suggests the difference between this prohibition and that of verse 17 is that verse 17 prohibits personal retaliation, whereas the restriction here prohibits judicial retribution. He says:

Here we sit in judgment on our injurer, decide on the kind and degree of punishment due him, and mete it out. For this, in the circumstances we are not qualified; it is, therefore, disallowed to us. When injured, we are to meekly submit to it, declining either to retaliate or be avenged. So acted Christ; and so must we act (394).

Instead of seeking vengeance, believers are instructed to make way for God’s wrath. Punishment of evildoers is God’s prerogative, not ours. Bengel says, "that to give place to wrath is to make way for the wrath of God, which alone is just and alone deserves to be called wrath" (Vol. 2 141).

The believer in Christ must not forget that he himself was once worthy of God’s wrath before he obeyed the gospel. But Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God in his stead when He gave Himself on the cross as a sin offering. When the believer accepts the conditions of pardon revealed in the gospel and obeys them from the heart, he is declared righteous by God; therefore, he has no right to sit in judgment upon the deeds of his fellow man. The sword of vengeance has forever been taken from his hands. Cranfield observes, "When we recall what God has done for us ’when we were enemies’ (5.10), we cannot but hope that His mercy will finally embrace those who now are our enemies" (316).

for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord: It is written in Deuteronomy 32:35. Clearly from this quotation, it is God’s wrath to which we must give place. The message is that the right of punishment belongs absolutely to God. To no degree does such obligation belong to Christians. They are not to be party to meting out justice—neither at their own decision nor as a part of any vengeance-taking arm of civil government. Christians must be patient under persecution, trusting that God will avenge them in His own good time (Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 19:11 to Revelation 20:15).

Usually, when we think of God’s taking vengeance, we think of the day of judgment (John 5:28-29; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). That concept is surely included here. Less often we are reminded that in times past men have become so wicked that God has either by providence or by miracle intervened to execute judgment more immediately (Genesis 19:1-29; Acts 12:20-23). This possibility is also included in this setting. Paul, however, makes it clear that contextually he is primarily referring to God’s taking vengeance through the various civil powers that hold sway in the world (13:1–4). The point in all of this discussion is that Christians are forbidden by God’s express word from taking vengeance. Vengeance is God’s prerogative, and one way in which He exercises His right is through civil government. Christians, consequently, should not vote for or against those who run for political offices whose job titles include taking vengeance on evildoers, nor may Christians hold such offices. Furthermore, Christians are forbidden to serve as police officers or in the military. All of these functions are good for the purpose for which they were created. Nevertheless, Christians may not participate in the enforcement of civil laws—not in any country in the world. Those are functions God has left under the control and operation of unbelievers. (For more information the reader may consult: Lee Rogers’ God and Government or David Lipscomb’s Civil Government.)

Verse 20

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: This admonition is a practical application of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:44 when He instructs Christians to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you" (compare Matthew 5:45-48). The love Jesus commands Christians to have for their enemies is a)ga/ph love. It describes love founded in a reasoned decision rather than in an emotional impulse. Furthermore, it is expressed in action that always seeks the best for the object of love. It is the love Paul describes as so essential to Christian character that without it all of our devotions and feelings are worthless (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). This passage, from Proverbs 25:21-22, provides our example of how to express such love. The Christian must do more than simply restrain himself from retaliation in return for injury. He must actively seek to do good for his enemy. To withhold good when our enemy stands in need, is in itself a passive form of retaliation and must be avoided. This principle of doing good to one’s enemy is not a new one (Exodus 23:4-5; 1 Samuel 24:16-22; Proverbs 25:21-22; Luke 10:33-36). Lard says it is "God-like to feed our enemy when hungry. He does it daily, and he is our law" (395).

for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head: Some writers (including Whitby) believe that by doing good to our enemies we will bring God’s wrath upon them (Macknight Vol. 1 441). Cranfield cites others who suggest that not only will God’s wrath be caused to fall on our enemies but that it will rain on them even more intensely because of our good deeds (Cranfield 316); however, as Cranfield further observes, neither the text nor the majority of commentators support these views.

The most probable view is that by doing good to our enemies we will bring upon them the burning pangs of shame and contrition. Macknight believes:

The metaphor (that is "coals of fire"—AWB) is supposed to be taken from the melting of metals, by covering the ore with burning coals. Thus understood, the meaning will be, In so doing thou wilt mollify thine enemy and bring him to a good temper…For it belongs to God to punish the injurious, but to the injured, to overcome them by returning good for evil" (Vol. 1 441).

With this view Whiteside agrees, "…figuratively it will heap coals of fire on his head, and may entirely melt down his enmity" (256). In taking such action, the believer will cause his enemy such an inward sense of shame that either he will be brought to contrition and repentance or in rejecting the pleadings of his own conscience he will be left with continued pangs of a bad conscience.

Verse 21

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

To return evil for evil or to seek vengeance against one’s enemy is to be conquered by evil. It is to live according to the rule "might makes right" rather than according to the golden rule (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). Instead, the believer is to conquer evil first by resisting the urge to retaliate; second, by refraining from seeking vengeance; and third, by actively doing good to his enemies. Cranfield makes the following appropriate observations:

To retaliate is to be overcome both by the evil of one’s enemy and also by the evil of one’s own heart which responds to the other’s evil. Instead of allowing himself to be overcome of evil, the Christian is to overcome the evil by the good. It is, of course, much to be hoped that his victory will include the transformation of the persecutor into a friend, but it will not necessarily do so. He who in the fullest sense has overcome the world (John 16:33) has not yet turned the hatred of all his persecutors into love. The Christian’s victory over the evil consists in his refusal to become party to the promotion of evil by returning evil for evil and so becoming himself like the evil man who has injured him…Though he may not succeed in making the enemy cease to be an enemy in the sense of one who hates, he can refuse to allow him to be an enemy in the sense of one who is hated. By so doing he will be sharing in the victory of the gospel over the world…. (317).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 12". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/romans-12.html. 1993-2022.
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