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Romans 12

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IN the doctrinal part which we have just finished, the apostle has expounded the way of salvation. This way is no other than justification by faith, whereby the sinner is reconciled to God (chaps. 1-5), then sanctified in Christ by the communication of the Spirit (vi.-viii.); and it is precisely the refusal to follow this way which has drawn down on Israel their rejection (chaps. 9-11). What now will be the life of the justified believer life in salvation? The apostle sketches it in a general way in chaps. 12 and 13; then he applies the moral principles which he has just established to a particular circumstance peculiar to the church of Rome ( Rom 14:1 to Rom 15:13 ). We can therefore distinguish two parts in this course of practical doctrine, the one general, the other special.

General Part. Chaps. 12 and 13.

There exists in regard to these two chapters a general prejudice which has completely falsified their interpretation. They have been regarded as giving, according to the expression used even by Schultz, “a series of practical precepts,” in other words: a collection of moral exhortations without systematic order, and guided merely by more or less accidental associations of ideas. This view, especially in recent times, has brought graver consequences in its train than could have been expected. It has been asked whether those details in regard to practical life were in keeping with a whole so systematically arranged as the didactic treatise contained in the first eleven chapters. And Renan and Schultz have been led in this way to the critical hypotheses which we have summarily expounded at the end of the Introduction (I. pp. 66 and 67), and which we must now study more closely.

According to the former of these writers, chaps. 12, 13, and 14 formed no part of the Epistle as it was sent to the church of Rome. These chapters were only in the copies despatched to the churches of Ephesus and Thessalonica, and an unknown church, for whose benefit Paul is held to have composed our Epistle. The conclusion, in the copy destined for the church of Rome, was composed solely of chap. 15. Nor did chap. 16 belong to it. Here we have to do only with chaps. 12 and 13. The reasons which lead Renan to doubt the original connection of these chapters with the first eleven, in the copy sent to Rome, are the two following: (1) Paul would be departing here from his habitual principle: “Every one in his own domain;” in fact, he would be giving imperative counsels to a church which he had not founded, he who rebuked so sharply the impertinence of those who sought to build on the foundations laid by others. The first word of chap. 12, the term παρακαλῶ , I exhort, is no doubt habitual to him when he is giving a command to his disciples; but it is unsuitable here, where the apostle is addressing believers whom he did not bring to the faith. (2) The first part of chap. 15, which, according to Renan, is really addressed to the church of Rome, forbids the thought that chaps. 12, 13, and 14 were composed for the same church; for it would form a duplicate of those three chapters of which it is a simple summary, composed for Judeo-Christian readers, such as those at Rome.

The viewpoint at which Schultz places himself is somewhat different. In his eyes, we possess from chap. 12 a considerable fragment of a wholly different epistle from that which the apostle had composed for the church of Rome. This letter, of which we have not the beginning, was addressed to the church of Ephesus, and must have been written in the last period of St. Paul's life, that of his Roman captivity. To it belong the three chapters, 12, 13, and 14, as well as the first seven verses of chap. 15, then the salutations of chap. 16 ( Rom 16:3-16 ), and finally, the warning against Judaizers, Romans 16:17-20. The true conclusion of the Epistle to the Romans is to be found, according to him, in chap. 15, from Rom 15:7 to the end, adding thereto the recommendation of Phoebe, Romans 16:1-2, and the salutations of Paul's companions, Romans 16:21-24. How has the fusion of those two letters in one come about? It is rather difficult to explain, as the one went to the East, the other to the West. Schultz thinks that a copy of this Epistle to the Ephesians, written from Rome, remained without address in the archives of this church, and that the editors of the Epistle to the Romans, finding this short epistle of practical contents, and thinking that it had been written to the Romans, published it with the large one. Only they omitted the beginning, and mixed up the two conclusions.

The following are the reasons which lead Schultz to separate chaps. 12 and 13 from what precedes:

1. The exhortation to humility, at the beginning of chap. 12, would be somewhat offensive if addressed to a church which the apostle did not know.

2. The exhortation to beneficence toward the saints, and the practice of hospitality, supposes a church in connection with many other churches, which was rather the case with the church of Ephesus than with that of Rome.

3. It is impossible to connect the beginning of chap. 12 ( οὖν , therefore) naturally with chap. 11; for the mercies of God spoken of chap. Romans 12:1, are not at all identical with the mercy of God spoken of Romans 11:32.

4. The whole moral side of the gospel having been expounded in chap. 6, it was not necessary to go back on it in chap. Romans 12:5. There was no reason for reminding the Judeo-Christians of the church of Rome, as Paul does in chap. 13, of the duty of submission to the Roman authorities; for the Jews were quite happy at Rome about the year 58, during the first years of Nero's reign. Such a recommendation was much more applicable to the Jews of Asia, disposed, as the Apocalypse proves, to regard the imperial power as that of Antichrist.

Are we mistaken in saying that the reasons alleged by these two writers produce rather the impression of being painfully sought after than of having presented themselves naturally to the mind? What! Paul cannot give imperative moral counsels and use the term παρακαλεῖν , exhort, when writing to a church which he does not know? But what did he do in chaps. 6 and 8, when he said to his Roman readers: “Yield not your members as instruments unto sin;” “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die,” etc.? And as to the term which seems unsuitable to Renan, does not Paul use it, as Lacheret observes, in chap. Romans 15:30, which this writer himself supposes addressed to the church of Rome? The objection which Renan draws from the sort of pleonasm which the first part of chap. 15 would form, if it appeared in the same writing as chap. 12, will easily be resolved when we come to the passage. On the contrary, what a difficulty there would be in holding that a doctrinal treatise, composed by the apostle with a view to Gentile-Christian churches, such as Ephesus or Thessalonica, for the purpose of giving them a complete exposition of the faith, could have been addressed just as it was to a Judeo-Christian church like that of Rome (according to Renan) for the purpose of gaining it to the apostle's point of view! This consideration, says Lacheret with reason, suffices to overthrow from the foundation the whole structure of Renan. And what a factitious procedure is that which Renan invites us to witness: “the disciples of Paul occupied for several days copying this manifesto for the different churches,” and then later editors collecting at the end of the chief ( princeps) copy the parts which varied in the different copies, because they scrupled to lose anything of what dropped from the apostle's pen!

The reasons of Schultz inspire as little confidence. Paul is careful himself to explain his exhortation to humility in chap. 12, as in chap. 1, and in chap. 15 he explains his whole letter, on the ground of his apostleship, and especially his apostleship to the Gentiles, which gives him authority over the church of Rome, though he has not personally founded it: “I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you” ( Rom 12:3 ).

Why would not the exhortation to beneficence and hospitality have been in place at Rome, where the poor and strangers abounded, as well as at Ephesus?

And as to the warning relative to submission to the authorities, had it not its reason in the general position of Christians over against pagan power, without any need of special oppression to give the apostle occasion to address it to this church? Had not the Emperor Claudius not long before expelled the Jews from Rome because of their continual risings? And what church could more suitably than that of the capital receive instruction on the relation between Christians and the State?

Chap. 12 forms by no means a reduplication of chap. 6; for in the latter the apostle had merely laid down the principle of Christian sanctification, showing how it was implied in the very fact of justification, while in chap. 12 he gives the description of all the fruits into which this new life should expand. We shall immediately see what is the relation between chap. 12 and all that precedes, as well as the true meaning of the therefore in Romans 12:1.

We think, therefore, we are entitled to continue the interpretation of our Epistle, taking it as it has been transmitted to us by Christian antiquity. It would need strokes of very different power to sunder the parts of so well-compacted an edifice.

In the theme of the treatise: “The just shall live by faith,” there was a word whose whole contents had not yet been entirely developed: shall live. This word contained not only the whole matter of chaps. 6-8, but also that of chaps, xii. and xiii.; and this matter is not less systematically arranged in these chapters than that of the whole doctrinal part in the preceding eleven. The essentially logical character of Paul's mind would of itself suffice to set aside the idea of an inorganic juxtaposition of moral precepts, placed at haphazard one after the other. We no sooner examine these two chapters more closely, than we discover the idea which governed their arrangement. We are struck first of all with the contrast between the two spheres of activity in which the apostle successively places the believer, the religious sphere and the civil sphere the former in chap. 12, the latter in chap. 13. These are the two domains in which he is called to manifest the life of holiness which has been put within him; he acts in the world as a member of the church and as a member of the state. But this twofold course has one point of departure and one point of aim. The point of departure is the consecration of his body, under the direction of the renewed understanding; this is the basis of the believer's entire activity, which Paul lays down in the first two verses of chap. 12. The point of aim is the Lord's coming again constantly expected; this advent Paul causes to shine in splendor at the goal of the course in the last four verses of chap. 13. So: one point of departure, two spheres to be simultaneously traversed, one point of arrival; such, in the view of the apostle, is the system of the believer's practical life. Such are also the four sections of this general part: Romans 12:1-2, Romans 12:3-21, Romans 13:1-10, Romans 13:11-14.

This moral instruction is therefore the pendant of the doctrinal instruction It is its necessary complement. The two taken together form the apostle's complete catechism. It is because the rational relation between the different sections of this part has not been understood that it has been possible for the connection of this whole second part with the first to be so completely mistaken.

Some one will ask, perhaps, if the apostle, in thus tracing the model of Christian conduct, does not seem to distrust somewhat the sanctifying power of faith so well expounded by him in chaps. 6-8. If the state of justification produces holiness with a sort of moral necessity, why seek still to secure this object by all sorts of precepts and exhortations? Should not the tree, once planted, bear its fruits of itself? But let us not forget that moral life is subject to quite different laws from physical life. Liberty is and remains to the end one of its essential factors. It is by a series of acts of freedom that the justified man appropriates the Spirit at every moment, in order to realize with His aid the moral ideal. And who does not know that at every moment also an opposite power weighs on his will? The believer is dead unto sin, no doubt; he has broken with that perfidious friend; but sin is not dead in him, and it strives continually to restore the broken relation. By calling the believer to the conflict against it, as well as to the positive practice of Christian duty, the apostle is not relapsing into Jewish legalism. He assumes the inward consecration of the believer as an already consummated fact; and it is from this fact, implicitly contained in his faith, that he proceeds to call him to realize his Christian obligation.

Verse 1

Twenty-fourth Passage (12:1, 2). The Basis of Christian Conduct.

Vv. 1. “ I exhort you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living victim, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your rational service.

How are we to explain the οὖν , therefore, which joins this verse to what precedes? We fully concur with Schultz in holding that it is impossible to connect chap. 12 directly with the idea of chap. 11, and to identify the mercies of God ( Rom 12:1 ) with the mercy displayed in the course of salvation across the field of history ( Rom 11:32 ). The true connection with what precedes is much wider; it is nothing less than the relation between the two parts of the Epistle. Religion among the ancients was service ( cultus); and cultus had for its centre sacrifice. The Jewish service counted four kinds of sacrifice, which might be reduced to two: the first, comprising the sacrifices offered before reconciliation and to obtain it (sacrifice for sin and for trespass); the second, the sacrifices offered after the obtaining of reconciliation and serving to celebrate it (the whole burnt-offering and the peace-offering). The great division of the Epistle to the Romans to which we have come is explained by this contrast. The fundamental idea of the first part, chaps. 1-11, was that of the sacrifice offered by God for the sin and transgression of mankind; witness the central passage, Romans 3:25-26. These are the mercies of God to which Paul appeals here, and the development of which has filled the first eleven chapters. The practical part which we are beginning corresponds to the second kind of sacrifice, which was the symbol of consecration after pardon had been received (the holocaust, in which the victim was entirely burned), and of the communion re-established between Jehovah and the believer (the peace-offering, followed by a feast in the court of the temple). The sacrifice of expiation offered by God in the person of His Son should now find its response in the believer in the sacrifice of complete consecration and intimate communion.

Such is the force of these first words: “I exhort you, therefore, by the mercies of God.” This word therefore gathers up the whole doctrinal part, and includes the whole practical part. Comp. the entirely similar therefore, Ephesians 4:1. So true is it that the relation of ideas just expounded is that which fills the apostle's mind, that to designate the believer's conduct in response to the work of God he employs the expression victim and living victim, which pointedly alludes to the Jewish sacrifices.

The term παρακαλῶ , I exhort, differs from the legal commandment, in that it appeals to a sentiment already existing in the heart, faith in God's mercies. It is by this term, also, that Paul, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, Ephesians 4:1, passes from the doctrinal teaching to the practical part. And as this Epistle (notwithstanding its title) is addressed to Christians whom Paul did not know personally (Romans 1:15, Romans 3:2, Rom 4:21 ), we there find a new proof of the mistake of Renan, who thinks that this expression would be out of place addressed to others than the apostle's personal disciples.

The διά , by, gives the reader to understand that the divine mercies are the power by means of which this exhortation should take possession of his will. The word παριστάναι , to present, is the technical term to denote the presentation of victims and offerings in the Levitical cultus ( Luk 2:22 ).

The victim to be offered is the body of the believer. Many regard the body as representing the entire person. But why not in that case say ὑμᾶς αὐτούς , yourselves? comp. Romans 6:13. De Wette thought that Paul meant by the word to remind his readers that the body is the seat of sin. But this intention would suppose that the question about to be discussed was the destruction of this hostile principle, while the apostle speaks rather of the active consecration of the body. Olshausen supposes that, by recommending the sacrifice of the lower part of our being, Paul meant to say: all the more everything that is in you of a more exalted nature. But he could not have passed over all the rest in silence; comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Meyer distinguishes between the consecration of the body, Romans 12:1, and that of the mind, which, according to him, is referred to in Romans 12:2. But this contrast between the two parts of our being does not come out in the least in the sequel; and we shall see, in point of fact, that the relation between the two verses is wholly different. Let us not forget that those whom the apostle here addresses ( ἀδελφοί , brethren), and whom he exhorts, are believers already inwardly consecrated. Chap. 6 has shown how justification by faith provides the principle of sanctification. It is in the name of this finished work that Paul now invites them to lead the life of consecrated victims. Now, the indispensable instrument for this purpose is the body. And hence it is that the apostle, supposing the will already gained, does not require more than the consecration of the body.

The expression θυσία ζῶσα , living victim, refers to the animal victims which were offered in the Levitical cultus by putting them to death. The sacrifice required by Paul is the opposite of these. The victim must live to become, at every moment of his existence, the active agent of the divine will. The term living has not here, therefore, a spiritual sense, but should be taken in the strict sense. The word θυσία is often translated sacrifice. It may have this meaning; but the meaning victim better agrees with the term παραστῆσαι , to present. The epithet ἁγία , holy, might express the idea of real holiness, in opposition to the merely ritual purity of the Levitical victims. But would not Paul have said, in that sense, ὄντως or ἀληθῶς ἁγία , truly holy? He means rather to contrast the new employment of the body in the service of God with its previous use under the dominion of sin.

This body, full of life and constantly employed for good, will present a well-pleasing spectacle to the eye of God; it will be an “offering of sweet-smelling (well-pleasing) savor” in the N. T. sense. And this is what is expressed by the third epithet. Some have connected the regimen τῷ Θεῳ , to God, with the verb παραστῆσαι , to present. But this would be a tautology, and too many important words separate the two terms.

The last words of the verse certainly establish a contrast between the external service of the Old Testament and the spiritual service of the New. Hence several commentators have been led to give the word λογικήν , reasonable, the sense of spiritual; comp. 1 Peter 2:2, where, in consequence of the understood antithesis (material milk), there can be no doubt as to the meaning of this word. But why would not Paul have rather used in our passage the ordinary term πνευματικήν , spiritual? Calvin takes the epithet reasonable as opposed to the superstitious practices of the heathen; and Grotius contrasts it with the ignorance of animal victims. It seems to me that in all these explanations it is forgotten to take account of an important word, the complement ὑμῶν , of you that is to say, “of such people as you.” Is it not this pronoun which explains the choice of the word λογικήν , reasonable, of which, undoubtedly, the true meaning is this: “the service which rationally corresponds to the moral premises contained in the faith which you profess”?

It will be asked whether Paul, by requiring simply that service ( cultus) which consists of a life devoted to good, means to exclude as irrational, acts of worship properly so called. Assuredly not, a host of passages prove the contrary; comp. for example, 1 Corinthians 11-14. Only the acts of external service have no value in his eyes except as means of nourishing and stimulating the truly rational service of which he speaks here. Every act of service which does not issue in the holy consecration of him who takes part in it, is christianly illogical.

But what use is to be made of this consecrated body? Rom 12:2 proceeds to answer this question.

Verse 2

Vv. 2. “ And be not fashioned after this age, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may discern what is the will of God, that good, acceptable, and perfect will.

We have already said that we are not to seek in this verse, as Meyer does, the idea of the sanctification of the soul, as completing the consecration of the body. This idea would have been placed first, and the term soul or spirit would certainly have been used instead of νοῦς , the mind, which denotes only one of the faculties of the soul, and that the faculty of simple perception. The relation between the two verses is quite different. Paul has just pointed to the believer's body as a consecrated instrument. What remains to him to indicate, except the rule according to which the believer ought to make use of it? The καί , and, therefore signifies here: and in order to that. The T. R., with several ancient documents and the two oldest versions, reads the two verbs in the imperative: conform ye, transform ye, while the Greco-Latin MSS. read them in the infinitive. It is probable that the copyists by this latter reading meant to continue the construction of Romans 12:1, and to make these two verbs dependent on παρακαλῶ , I exhort you. The authorities speak in favor of the imperative. But even if the other reading were adopted, we should have to give to the infinitive the meaning of the imperative, as is so often the case in Greek; comp. in this very chapter, Romans 12:15. For the relation of dependence on παρακαλῶ is in any case forced.

In the use of his consecrated body, the believer has first an everywhere present model to be rejected, then a new type to be discerned and realized. The model to be rejected is that presented to him by the present world, or, as we should say, the reigning fashion, taking this word in its widest sense. The term σχῆμα denotes the manner of holding oneself, attitude, pose; and the verb σχηματίζεσθαι , derived from it, the adoption or imitation of this pose or received mode of conduct. The term (this) present world is used in the Rabbins to denote the whole state of things which precedes the epoch of the Messiah; in the N. T. it describes the course of life followed by those who have not yet undergone the renewing wrought by Christ in human life. It is this mode of living anterior to regeneration which the believer is not to imitate in the use which he makes of his body. And what is he to do? To seek a new model, a superior type, to be realized by means of a power acting within him. He is to be transformed, literally, metamorphosed. The term μορφή , form, strictly denotes, not an external pose suitable for imitation, like σχῆμα , attitude, but an organic form, the natural product of a principle of life which manifests itself thus. It is not by looking around him, to the right and left, that the believer is to learn to use his body, but by putting himself under the dominion of a new power which will by an inward necessity transform this use. It is true that Meyer, Hofmann, and others refuse to acknowledge this difference of meaning between the substantives σχῆμα and μορφή , and between the two verbs derived from them, alleging that it is not confirmed by usage. But if Php 2:5 et seq. be adduced, the example proves precisely the contrary. Etymology leads naturally to the distinction indicated, and Paul evidently contrasts the two terms of set purpose.

It should be remarked, also, that the two imperatives are in the present. The subject in question is two continuous incessant acts which take place on the basis of our consecration performed once for all (the aorist παραστῆσαι , Rom 12:1 ).

And what will be the internal principle of this metamorphosis of the believer in the use of his body? The renewing of his mind, answers St. Paul. The νοῦς , the mind, is the faculty by which the soul perceives and discerns the good and the true. But in our natural state this faculty is impaired; the reigning love of self darkens the mind, and makes it see things in a purely personal light. The natural mind, thus misled, is what Paul calls νοῦς τῆς σαρκός , the carnal mind (under the dominion of the flesh), Colossians 2:18. This is why the apostle speaks of the renewing of the mind as a condition of the organic transformation which he requires. This faculty, freed from the power of the flesh, and replaced under the power of the Spirit, must recover the capacity for discerning the new model to be realized, the most excellent and sublime type, the will of God: to appreciate (discern exactly) the will of God. The verb δοκιμάζειν does not signify here, as it has often been translated (Osterv., Seg.): to prove, to make experience of. For the experience of the excellence of the divine will would not be an affair of the mind only; the whole man would take part in it. The meaning of the word here, as usually, is to appreciate, discern. By means of his renewed mind the believer studies and recognizes in every given position the divine will toward him in the circumstances, the duty of the situation. He lifts his eyes, and, like Christ Himself ( Joh 5:19-20 ), “he sees what his Father shows him” to be done. This perception evidently requires a renewed mind. In order to it we require to be raised to the viewpoint of God Himself.

It is against the rules of grammar to translate the following words, either in the sense of: “ that the will of God is good” (Osterv., Seg.), or in the sense: “ how good it is” (Oltram.). The only possible meaning is: “ what is the good, acceptable...will of God.” It is not always easy for the Christian who lives in the world, even with a heart sincerely consecrated, to discern clearly what is the will of God concerning him, especially in regard to the externals of life. This delicate appreciation demands a continual perfecting, even of the transformed mind.

And why is the model to be studied and reproduced in the life not the present world's mode of acting, but the will of God? The apostle explains by the three epithets with which he qualifies this will; literally: the good, the acceptable, the perfect. Such, then, is the normal type to which, in all circumstances, we must seek to rise with the mind first, then with the conduct. Good: in that its directions are free from all connivance with evil, in any form whatever. Acceptable: this adjective is not accompanied here with the words to God, as in Romans 12:1; it refers, consequently, to the impression produced on men when they contemplate this will realized in the believer's life. They cannot help paying it a tribute of admiration, and finding it beautiful as well as good. Have not devotion, disinterestedness, self-forgetfulness, and self-sacrifice, a charm which subdues every human heart? Perfect: this characteristic follows from the combination of the two preceding. For perfection is goodness united to beauty. The meaning would not be very different if, with some commentators, we regarded these three adjectives as three substantives forming an apposition to the term: the will of God. “The will of God, to wit, the good, the acceptable, the perfect.” But the article τό would require to be repeated before each of the terms if they were used substantively.

The following, then, is the résumé of the apostle's thought: To the false model, presented in every age by the mundane kind of life, there is opposed a perfect type, that of the will of God, which is discerned by the renewed mind of the believer, and which he strives to realize by means of his God-consecrated body, at every moment and in all the relations of his life; thus is laid down the principle of life in salvation. This life he now proceeds to show as manifesting itself simultaneously in two spheres, that of the church, chap. 12, and that of the state, chap. 13.

Verse 3

Vv. 3. “ For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to aspire beyond that to which he ought to lay claim; but to aspire to regulate himself, according to the measure of faith which God hath allotted to every màn.

It is with this that he who forms part of the church ought to begin, the sacrifice of himself; instead of seeking to make himself great, as is done in the world, he should aspire to moderate and control himself in conformity with the standard traced for him by the new type which he consults, the will of God. Thus we see how this verse should be joined to the preceding by the word for. It is an application which confirms the principle.

The authority with which Paul traces this line of conduct rests on the grace given unto him. This grace is that of the apostleship and of the light accompanying it. In virtue of his office, he has not only the gift of teaching the way of salvation, as he has done in the doctrinal part of this Epistle (chaps. 1-9). He has also that of marking out the true direction for moral action, as he proceeds to do in this practical part.

The term λέγω , I say, I declare, has a more marked character of authority than the I exhort of Romans 12:1. Religious impulse ought to be regulated by a higher authority. 1 Corinthians 12-14 shows the necessity of apostolical direction on that very point which is about to occupy us, that of spiritual gifts. It is not without reason that Paul here calls to mind his office; comp. Romans 1:1-7. Apostle to the Gentiles, he had the task not only of founding churches among them, but also of guiding them when founded. This charge Paul had, in virtue of his apostleship also, in relation to the church of Rome.

The expression: παντὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν ὑμῖν , to every man that is among you, would be superfluous, if it were merely intended to denote the members of the church present at Rome. It is necessary to give the words: every man that is, a more special and forcible meaning: “Every man that is in office, engaged in ministry in some form or other among you; every one that plays a part int he life of the church.” See the enumeration which follows. Perhaps the apostle is led to use this expression by his own absence from Rome. He who with his apostolic gift is absent, addresses all those who, being present, can exercise an influence on the progress of the church, to say to them on what condition this influence shall be a blessed one. ῾Υπερφρονεῖν : “ to aspire beyond one's measure. ” The measure of each man is denoted by the words: ὃ δεῖ φρονεῖν , that which he has a right to claim. In the believer's case it consists in his wishing only to be that which God, by the gift committed to him, calls him to be. The gift received should be the limit of every man's claim and action, for it is thereby that the will of God regarding him is revealed ( Rom 12:2 ).

The following expression: φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν , contains a sort of play on words: “to turn the φρονεῖν , the energy of the mind, into a σωφρονεῖν , to recognize its limits and respect them.” The man of the world enters into conflict with others, to exceed his measure, to make himself prominent, to rule. The Christian enters into conflict with himself, that he may gain self-rule and self-restraint. He aspires to continue within or return to his measure. Such is a wholly new type of conduct which appears with the gospel.

The rule of this voluntary limitation ought to be the measure of faith as it is imparted to each. Paul does not mean to speak of the quantity of faith which we possess; for this measure depends in part on human freedom. The genitive: of faith, should be regarded not as a partitive complement, but as denoting quality or cause: “the capacity assigned to each man in the domain of faith; the particular form of activity for which each has been fitted as a believer; the special gift which constitutes his appanage in virtue of his faith.” This gift, the measure of the action to which we are called, is a divine limit which the Christian's renewed mind should discern, and by which he should regulate his aspirations in regard to the part he has to play in the church.

Verses 3-8

Vv. 3-8.

The natural tendency of man is to exalt himself. Here is the first point at which the will of God, discerned by the renewed mind of the believer, impresses on his conduct a completely opposite character to that of secular conduct. He recognizes the limit which God imposes on him, and modestly confines himself within it.

Verses 3-21

Twenty-fifth Passage (12:3-21). The Life of the Believer as a Member of the Church.

The notion of consecration is still the prevailing one in this passage. This consecration is realized in life: 1st, in the form of humility ( Rom 12:3-8 ); 2d, in that of love ( Rom 12:9-21 )

Verses 4-5

Vv. 4, 5. “ For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.

The organization of the human body should be an example to the believer to make him perceive the necessity of limiting himself to the function assigned him. Not only, indeed, is there a plurality of members in one body, but these members also possess special functions, varied capacities ( Rom 12:4 ). So in the church, which is the organ of Christ's life on the earth ( His body), there is not only a multiplicity of members, but also a diversity of functions, every believer having a particular gift whereby he ought to become the auxiliary of all the rest, their member. Hence it follows that every one should remain in his function, on the one hand that he may be able to render to the rest the help which he owes them, on the other that he may not disturb these in the exercise of their gift. See the same figure more completely developed, 1 Corinthians 12:0

The form καθ᾿ εἷς , instead of καθ᾿ ἕνα , occurs only in the later Greek writers.

Instead of ὁ δέ (in the Byzs.), which is the pronoun in the nominative, the Alexs. and Greco-Latins read τὸ δέ , which may be taken as an adverbial phrase: relatively to, or better, as a pronoun, in the sense: “ and that, as members of one another.

Verses 6-8

Vv. 6-8. “ Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us [let us exercise them], whether prophecy, according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, in ministering; or he that teacheth, in teaching; or he that exhorteth, in exhortation; he that giveth, with simplicity; he that ruleth, with zeal; he that doeth works of mercy, with cheerfulness.

There is no occasion for making the participle ἔχοντες , having, as De Wette and Lachmann do, the continuation of the preceding proposition: “We are one body, but that while having different gifts.” This idea of the diversity of gifts has been sufficiently explained in the previous verses. And if this participle still belonged to the previous proposition we should require to take all the subordinate clauses which immediately follow: according to the proportion...in ministering...in teaching...etc., as simple descriptive appendices, which would be tautological and superfluous. The words having then are therefore certainly the beginning of a new proposition. Paul takes up the last thought of the previous verse, to make it the point of departure for all the particular precepts which are to follow: “As, then, we have different gifts, let us exercise them every one as I proceed to tell you: confining our activity modestly within the limits of the gift itself.” As to the meaning, it is always the σωφρονεῖν , self-rule, which remains the fundamental idea. Grammatically, the principal verb should be taken from the participle having: “Having then different gifts, let us have (exercise) them by abiding simply in them, by not seeking to go out of them.”

The term χάρισμα , gift, denotes in the language of Paul a spiritual aptitude communicated to the believer with faith, and by which he can aid in the development of spiritual life in the church. Most frequently it is a natural talent which God's Spirit appropriates, increasing its power and sanctifying its exercise.

The gift which holds the first place in the enumerations of 1 Corinthians 12:0 and Ephesians 4:0 is apostleship. Paul does not mention it here; he pointed to it in Rom 12:3 fulfilling its task.

After the apostolate there comes prophecy in all these lists. The prophet is, as it were, the eye of the church to receive new revelations. In the passages, Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5, it is closely connected with the apostolate, which without this gift would be incomplete. But it may also be separate from it; and hence prophets are often spoken of as persons distinct from apostles in the primitive church, for example, Acts 13:1, and 1 Corinthians 14:0. Prophets differed from teachers, in that the latter gathered up into a consecutive body of doctrine the new truths revealed to the church by the prophets.

Wherein, then, will the voluntary limitation consist which the prophet should impose on himself in the exercise of his gift (his σωφρονεῖν )? He should prophesy according to the analogy of faith. The word ἀναλογία is a mathematical term; it signifies proportion. The prophet is not absolutely free; he ought to proportion his prophecy to faith. What faith? Many (Hofmann, for example) answer: his own. He should take care in speaking not to exceed the limit of confidence, of real hope communicated to him by the Spirit, not to let himself be carried away by self-love to mingle some human alloy with the holy emotion with which he is filled from above. But, in that case, would not the apostle have required to add the pronoun αὐτοῦ : “ his faith”? And would not the term revelation have been more suitable than that of faith? Others think it possible to give the term faith the objective meaning which it took later in ecclesiastical language, as when we speak of the evangelical faith or the Christian faith; so Philippi. The prophet in his addresses should respect the foundations of the faith already laid, the Christian facts and the truths which flow from them. But the word faith never in the N. T. denotes doctrine itself; it has always a reference to the subjective feeling of self-surrender, confidence in God, or in Christ as the revealer of God. And may not we here preserve this subjective meaning, while applying it also to the faith of the whole church? The prophet should develop the divine work of faith in the heart of believers, by starting from the point it has already reached, and humbly attaching himself to the work of his predecessors; he should not, by giving scope to his individual speculations, imprudently disturb the course of the work begun within souls already gained. In a word, the revelations which he sets forth should not tend to make himself shine, but solely to edify the church, whose present state is a sort of standard for new instructions. It is obvious how, in the exercise of this gift, it would be easy for one to let himself go beyond the measure of his revelations, and thus add heterogeneous elements to the faith and hope of the church itself. No more in the New Testament than in the Old does it belong to every prophet to recommence the whole work. Hence no doubt the judgment to be pronounced on prophesyings, mentioned 1 Corinthians 14:29.

Vv. 7. The term διακονία , which we translate by ministry, denotes generally in the N. T. a charge, an office confided to some one by the church. Such an office undoubtedly supposes a spiritual aptitude; but the holder is responsible for its discharge, not only in relation to God from whom the gift comes, but also to the church which has confided to him the office. Such is the difference between the functions denoted by this name and the ministry of the prophet, or of him who speaks with tongues. These are pure gifts, which man cannot transform into a charge. In our passage this term ministry, placed as it is between prophecy and the function of teaching, can only designate an activity of a practical nature, exerted in action, not in word. It is almost in the same sense that in 1Pe 4:11 the term διακονεῖν , serving, is opposed to λαλεῖν , speaking. We think it probable, therefore, that this term here denotes the two ecclesiastical offices of the pastorate (bishop or presbyter) and of the diaconate properly so called. Bishops or presbyters were established in the church of Jerusalem from the first times of the church, Acts 11:30. Paul instituted this office in the churches which he had just founded, Acts 14:23; comp. Philippians 1:1; 1Ti 3:1 et seq.; Tit 1:5 et seq. They presided over the assemblies of the church, and directed its course and that of its members in respect of spiritual matters; comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. Hence their title ποιμένες , pastors, Ephesians 4:11.

Deacons appear even before elders in the church of Jerusalem ( Act 6:1 et seq.). They were occupied especially with the care of the poor. This office, which emanates so directly from Christian charity, never ceased in the church; we find it again mentioned Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:12.

Each of these functionaries, says the apostle, should keep to his part, confine himself within the administration committed to him. The elder should not desire to mount the tripod of prophet, nor the deacon aspire to play the part of bishop or teacher. It is ever that voluntary limitation which the apostle had recommended, Romans 12:3-5.

In the passage from the first to the second part of this verse, we observe a slight change of construction. Instead of mentioning the gift or the office, as in the two preceding terms, Paul addresses himself directly to the man who is invested with it. This is not a real grammatical incorrectness; for, as the preceding accusatives: προφητείαν ( prophecy), διακονίαν ( ministry), were placed in apposition to the object χαρίσματα , gifts ( Rom 12:6 ), so the nominatives: ὁ διδάσκων , he that teacheth, ὁ παρακαλῶν , he that exhorteth, are in apposition to the participle ἔχοντες , having (same verse).

As to the following clauses: in teaching, in exhortation, they continue to depend on the understood verb ἔχωμεν , let us have, exercise, abide in.

He that teacheth (the teacher, ὁ διδάσκαλος ), like the prophet, exercises his gift by speech; but while the latter receives by revelations granted to him new views which enrich the faith of the church, the teacher confines himself to an orderly and clear exposition of the truths already brought to light, and to bringing out their connection with one another. He it is who, by the word of knowledge or of wisdom ( 1Co 12:8 ), shows the harmony of all the parts of the divine plan. In the enumeration, Ephesians 4:11, the teacher is at once associated with and distinguished from the pastor. In fact, the gift of teaching was not yet essentially connected with the pastorate. But more and more it appeared desirable that the pastor should be endowed with it, 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9.

Vv. 8. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, the function of exhorting is ascribed to the prophet, and the surname Barnabas, son of prophecy, Acts 4:36, is translated into Greek by υἱὸς παρακλήσεως , son of exhortation. The prophet therefore had certainly the gift of exhorting, stimulating, consoling. But it does not follow from the fact that the prophet exhorts and consoles, that, as some have sought to persuade themselves in our day, any one, man or woman, who has the gift of exhorting or consoling, is a prophet, and may claim the advantage of all that is said of the prophets in other apostolical declarations. Our passage proves clearly that the gift of exhorting may be absolutely distinct from that of prophecy. So it is also from that of teaching. The teacher acts especially on the understanding; he would be in our modern language the catechist or dogmatic theologian. He that exhorts acts on the heart, and thereby on the will; he would rather be the Christian poet. Also in 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul, bringing these two ministries together as he does here, says: “Hath any one a doctrine, hath any one a psalm?

The three last functions mentioned in this verse are no longer exercised in the assemblies of the church; they come, to a certain point, under the exercise of private virtues. It is wrong, indeed, to regard the μεταδιδούς , he that distributeth, as has been done, to indicate the official deacon, and the προι·στάμενος , he that ruleth, the elder or bishop. The verb μεταδιδόναι does not signify to make a distribution on behalf of the church (this would require διαδιδόναι , Act 4:35 ); but: to communicate to others of one's own wealth; comp. Luke 3:11; Ephesians 4:28. And as to the bishop, the position here assigned to this ministry would not be in keeping with his elevated rank in the church; and the matter in question is especially works of beneficence. The first term: he that giveth (communicateth), therefore denotes the believer, who by his fortune and a natural aptitude sanctified by faith, feels himself particularly called to succor the indigent around him. Paul recommends him to do so with simplicity. The Greek term might be translated: with generosity, with large-heartedness; such is the meaning which the word ἁπλότης (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2Co 9:13 ) often has. According to its etymological meaning, the word signifies: the disposition not to turn back on oneself; and it is obvious that from this first meaning there may follow either that of generosity, when a man gives without letting himself be arrested by any selfish calculation, or that of simplicity, when he gives without his left hand knowing what his right does that is to say, without any vain going back on himself, and without any air of haughtiness. This second meaning seems to us preferable here, because the prevailing idea throughout the entire passage is that of σωφρονεῖν , self-limiting, self-regulating.

The second term: he that ruleth, should be explained by the sense which the verb προΐστασθαι frequently has in Greek: to be at the head of; hence: to direct a business. So, in profane Greek, the term is applied to the physician who directs the treatment of a disease, to the magistrate who watches over the execution of the laws. In the Epistle to Titus, Titus 3:8, there occurs the expression: προΐστασθαι καλῶν ἔργων , to be occupied with good works; whence the term προστάτις , patroness, protectress, benefactress, used in our Epistle, Romans 16:2, to express what Phoebe had been to many believers and to Paul himself. Think of the numerous works of private charity which believers then had to found and maintain! Pagan society had neither hospitals nor orphanages, free schools or refuges, like those of our day. The church, impelled by the instinct of Christian charity, had to introduce all these institutions into the world; hence no doubt, in every community, spontaneous gatherings of devout men and women who, like our present Christian committees, took up one or other of these needful objects, and had of course at their head directors charged with the responsibility of the work. Such are the persons certainly whom the apostle has in view in our passage. Thus is explained the position of this term between the preceding: he that giveth, and the following: he that showeth mercy. The same explanation applies to the following clause ἐν σπουδῇ , with zeal. This recommendation would hardly be suitable for one presiding over an assembly. How many presidents, on the contrary, would require to have the call addressed to them: Only no zeal! But the recommendation is perfectly suitable to one who is directing a Christian work, and who ought to engage in it with a sort of exclusiveness, to personify it after a manner in himself.

The last term: ὁ ἐλεῶν , he that showeth mercy, denotes the believer who feels called to devote himself to the visiting of the sick and afflicted. There is a gift of sympathy which particularly fits for this sort of work, and which is, as it were, the key to open the heart of the sufferer. The phrase ἐν ἱλαρότητι , literally, with hilarity, denotes the joyful eagerness, the amiable grace, the affability going the length of gayety, which make the visitor, whether man or woman, a sunbeam penetrating into the sick-chamber and to the heart of the afflicted.

In the preceding enumeration, the recommendation of the apostle had in view especially humility in those who have to exercise a gift. But in the last terms we feel that his thought is already bordering on the virtue of love. It is the spectacle of this Christian virtue in full activity in the church and in the world which now fills his mind, and which he presents in the following description, Romans 12:9-21: First, self-limiting, self-possessing: this is what he has just been recommending; then self-giving: this is what he proceeds to expound.

Verses 9-10

Vv. 9, 10. “ Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good. As to brotherly love, being full of tenderness one toward another; as to honor, each making others to pass before him.

In these two verses the apostle speaks of three dispositions, and first, Romans 12:9, of the fundamental feeling, the principle of all the activity about to be described, as well as of the two characteristics which alone guarantee its sincerity: love, in the general sense of the word. There follow in Rom 12:10 two immediate manifestations of love: brotherly love and mutual respect. Without dissimulation, literally, without mask. The heart ought to feel really the whole measure of affection which it testifies. There is also here something of the σωφρονεῖν , self-ruling, the controlling idea of the preceding passage, in opposition to the ὑπερφρονεῖν , self-exalting.

The two following verbs: abhor and cleave, are in the participle in Greek: abhorring, cleaving. These participles relate grammatically to the subject of the verb love, contained in the substantive love. It follows from this construction that the two participles: “abhorring, cleaving,” are intended to qualify the love unfeigned, by reminding us of the characteristics in virtue of which it deserves the title. This is not here a commonplace recommendation to detest evil and love good. Paul means that love is not pure except when it is the declared enemy of evil, even in the person of those whom we love, and that it applies all its energy to labor for their progress in goodness. Destitute of this moral rectitude, which is the spirit of holiness, love is only a form of selfishness.

Vv. 10. The two datives: τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ , τῇ τιμῇ , which we have translated by: “ as to brotherly love,” “ as to honor,” might be regarded as datives of means: by, or in virtue of. But it is more natural to take them as a sort of headings in the catalogue of Christian virtues. They are the well-known categories forming the believer's moral catechism. The article τῇ , ( the) precisely characterizes those virtues as supposed present in the heart. The adjective and participle which follow, show how they are to be realized in the life. The word φιλόστοργος , full of tenderness, comes from the verb στέργω , which denotes the delicate attentions mutually rendered by those who cherish one another with natural affection, as parents and children, brothers and sisters, etc. The apostle, by using this term, wishes to give to the love of the members of the church to one another the tender character of a family affection.

The term τιμή denotes the feeling of respect which every believer feels for his brother, as one redeemed by Christ and a child of God, like himself.

The verb προηγεῖσθαι strictly signifies: “to put oneself at the head in order to guide.” Hence may be deduced the meanings: to give example (Meyer), or to anticipate, to be beforehand with kindness (Vulg., Luth., Osterv., Oltram., Seg.), or to surpass (Chrys.). But in all these meanings we should expect from the usage of the language to find the regimen in the genitive or dative rather than the accusative. Erasmus, Hofmann, etc., proceeding on the sense which the simple verb ἡγεῖσθαι often has: to esteem, regard ( Php 2:3 ), translate: “each esteeming others better than himself.” This meaning is evidently forced; but it may be rendered more natural by taking ἡγεῖσθαι in its primitive signification of conducting: “Conducting others before you,” that is to say, making them pass in all circumstances before yourselves.

There follows a second group of three dispositions which are naturally connected with the preceding and with one another.

Verses 9-21

Vv. 9-21.

The χαρίσματα , gifts, are different, as we have just seen. But there is a gift which is at the root of all the rest, and which ought to be common to all believers, that of all those who have no other, viz. love. The church, gained by faith in divine love, lives by love. All who believe, love. When this love is sincere, it produces in every believer a spontaneous ministry, which is carried out in his whole life by the manifold activity of love. This beneficent activity is exercised, first, toward the sympathetic elements the believer finds around him, Romans 12:9-16; then toward the hostile elements which he happens to meet, whether within the church itself or without, Romans 12:17-21.

Verse 11

Vv. 11. “ As to zeal, being not indolent; fervent in spirit; taking advantage of opportunity.

With respectful consideration, Romans 12:10, there is easily connected the disposition to render service, which is here denoted by the word: not indolent.

This in its turn, in order to overcome the resistance of selfishness, in cases where to oblige requires self-sacrifice, and must be, not a natural disposition only, but a powerful movement, due to the impulse of the Divine Spirit, and like an inner fire kept up unceasingly by action from above: fervent in spirit. The word spirit undoubtedly refers here to the spiritual element in man himself, but that as penetrated and quickened by the Divine Spirit. In reading these words, we see the believer hastening, with his heart on fire, wherever there is any good to be done.

The third proposition presents an important variant. The Alex. and Byz. documents read τῷ Κυρίῳ ( serving) the Lord. The Greco-Lat. text reads τῷ καιρῷ ( serving) the time, the season, the occasion; adapting yourselves to the opportunity. This expression is somewhat strange, but it is common enough in profane Greek; comp. the καιρῷ λατρεύειν (see Meyer), and in Latin the tempori servire (Cicero). The very fact that this phrase is without example in the N. T. may speak in favor of its authenticity. For it is far from probable that any one would have replaced so common an expression as that of serving the Lord by that of serving the time, while the opposite might easily happen, especially if abbreviations were used in writing. The context must therefore decide, and it seems to me that it decides in favor of the Greco-Latin reading. The precept: serve the Lord, is too general to find a place in a series of recommendations so particular. The only means of finding a certain suitableness for it would be to understand it thus: “While employing yourselves for men, do it always with a view to the Lord and His cause.” But it would be necessary to supply precisely the essential idea. On the contrary, the meaning: “serving the opportunity,” or “adapting yourselves to the need of the time,” admirably completes the two preceding precepts. Zeal, according to God, confines itself to espying providential occasion, and suiting our activity to them; it does not impose itself either on men or things.

There follows a third group, the three elements of which form a small well-connected whole.

Verse 12

Vv. 12. “ Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, persevering in prayer.

The fervor of devotion, referred to in Romans 12:11, has no more powerful auxiliary than joy; for joy disposes us to kindness and even to self-sacrifice. But this applies only to Christian joy, to that which is kept up in the heart by the glorious hopes of faith.

The passage, chap. Romans 5:3-4, shows the intimate bond which unites this joy of hope with the patient endurance which the believer should display in the midst of trial; comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:3.

And what are we to do to keep up in the heart the joyful spring of hope, and that firmness of endurance which holds out? Persevere in prayer, says the apostle; such is the fruitful principle of those admirable dispositions. The following is Hofmann's paraphrase of the verse: “In so far as we have cause to hope, let us be joyful; in so far as we have cause of pain, let us hold out; in so far as the door of prayer is open to us, let us continue to use it.” The force of the datives which head the three propositions could not be better rendered.

Paul came down from charity and its external manifestations to the depths of the inner life; he now returns to the practical manifestations of this feeling, and points out the blessings of active charity extending to three classes of persons: brethren, strangers, enemies.

Verses 13-14

Vv. 13, 14. “Distributing to the necessities of saints; eager to show hospitality. Bless them that persecute you;bless and curse not.”

The saints are not only the families of the church of Rome, but also all the churches whose wants come to the knowledge of the Christians of the capital. The Byz. and Alex. documents read χρείαις , the necessities; while the Greco-Latins read μνείαις , the remembrances. Would this term denote the anniversary days consecrated to the memory of martyrs? This meaning would suffice to prove the later origin of this reading. Or should the expression remembrances be applied to the pecuniary help which the churches of the Gentiles sent from time to time to the Christians of Jerusalem (Hofmann)? This meaning of μνείαις , in itself far from natural, is not at all justified by Philippians 1:3. The Received reading is the only possible one. The verb κοινωνεῖν strictly signifies to take part; then, as a consequence, to assist effectively.

There is a gradation from saints to strangers. The virtue of hospitality is frequently recommended in the N. T. (1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Timothy 5:10; Tit 1:8 ).

The term διώκειν , literally, “ pursue (hospitality),” shows that we are not to confine ourselves to according it when it is asked, but that we should even seek opportunities of exercising it.

Vv. 14. A new gradation from strangers to them that persecute. The act to be done by love becomes more and more energetic, and this is no doubt the reason why the apostle passes abruptly to the imperative, after this long series of participles. Here we have no longer a manifestation which, supposing love, is in a manner understood as a matter of course. To act as the apostle demands, requires a powerful effort of the will, which the imperative expressly intended to call forth. This is also the reason why this order is repeated, then completed in a negative form; for the persecuted one ought, as it were, to say no to the natural feeling which rises in his heart. The omission of the pronoun you in the Vatic. serves well to bring out the odiousness of persecution in itself, whoever the person may be to whom it is applied.

We do not know whether the apostle had before him the Sermon on the Mount, already published in some document; in any case, he must have known it by oral tradition, for he evidently alludes to the saying of Jesus, Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28. This discourse of Jesus is the one which has left the most marked traces in the Epistles; comp. Rom 2:19 ; 1 Corinthians 4:12-13; 1 Corinthians 6:7; 1 Corinthians 7:10; James 4:9; James 5:12; 1 Peter 3:9; 1 Peter 3:14. This recommendation, relating to love toward malevolent persons, is here an anticipation; Paul will return to it immediately.

Now comes a group of four precepts, the moral relation of which is equally manifest.

Verses 15-16

Vv. 15, 16. “ Rejoice with them that do rejoice, weep with them that weep: aspiring after the same aim for one another; not minding high things, but associating with men of low estate. Be not wise in your own eyes.

The connection between Rom 12:14-15 is the idea of self-forgetfulness. As self-forgetting is needed to bless him who hates us, we must also be freed from self to identify ourselves with the joy of others when our heart is full of grief, and with his grief when we ourselves are filled with joy. In Greek the two verbs are in the infinitive. This form is rightly explained by understanding δεῖ , it is necessary. But here we may be permitted to mark a shade of distinction; the infinitive is the indication of an accidental fact: to act thus every time that the case presents itself. It is less pressing than the imperative; it is, as it were, a virtue of the time being.

The following precept is commonly applied to good feeling between the members of the church. But in that case there would require to be ἐν ἀλλήλοις , among you, and not εἰς ἀλλήλους , in relation to one another, and the following precept would have no natural connection with this. The only possible meaning is: “aiming at the same object for one another as for yourselves;” that is to say, having each the same solicitude for the temporal and spiritual well-being of his brethren as for his own: comp. Philippians 2:4. As this common disinterested aspiration naturally connects itself with sympathy, Romans 12:15, so it is easily associated with the feeling of equality recommended in the following verse. There frequently forms in the congregations of believers an aristocratic tendency, every one striving by means of the Christian brotherhood to associate with those who, by their gifts or fortune, occupy a higher position. Hence small coteries, animated by a proud spirit, and having for their result chilling exclusiveness. The apostle knows these littlenesses, and wishes to prevent them; he recommends the members of the church to attach themselves to all alike, and if they will yield to a preference, to show it rather for the humble. The term ὑψηλά therefore denotes distinctions, high relations, ecclesiastical honors. This neuter term does not at all oblige us, as Meyer thinks, to give a neuter sense to the word ταπεινοῖς in the following proposition: “humble things; ” the inferior functions in the church. The prep. with, in the verb συναπαγόμενοι , letting yourselves be drawn with, does not admit of this meaning. The reference is to the most indigent and ignorant, and least influential in the church. It is to them the believer ought to feel most drawn.

The antipathy felt by the apostle to every sort of spiritual aristocracy, to every caste distinction within the church, breaks out again in the last word. Whence come those little coteries, if it is not from the presumptuous feeling each one has of his own wisdom? It is this feeling which leads you to seek contact especially with those who flatter you, and whose familiar intercourse does you honor.

This precept is taken from Proverbs 3:7, but it evidently borrows a more special sense from the context.

Already, in Romans 12:14, the apostle had made, as it were, an incursion into the domain of relations to the hostile elements which the believer encounters around him. He returns to this subject to treat it more thoroughly; here is the culminating point in the manifestations of love. He has in view not merely the enmity of the unbelieving world. He knew only too well from experience, that within the church itself one may meet with ill-will, injustice, jealousy, hatred. In the following verses the apostle describes to us the victory of love over malevolent feelings and practices, from whatever quarter they come, Christians or non-Christians. And first, Romans 12:17-19, in the passive form of forbearance; then, Romans 12:20-21, in the active form of generous beneficence.

Verses 17-19

Vv. 17-19. “ Recompensing to no man evil for evil; being preoccupied with good in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, living peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenging not yourselves; but give place unto wrath; for it is written: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

There is a close connection between the abnegation described in the preceding verses and the love which pardons. Hence it is that the apostle continues, in Romans 12:17, with a simple participle; for vengeance is very often the effect of wounded pride. But why add the second precept, taken from Pro 3:4 ? Probably the apostle means to contrast preoccupation with good, as an antidote, with those sombre thoughts and hostile projects which are cherished under the dominion of resentment. The clause: before all men, depends of course on the participle προνοούμενοι , preoccupying yourselves. not on the object καλά , good things, as Hofmann thinks. Paul would have the believer's inward preoccupation with good to be so manifest in his conduct, even toward his adversaries or enemies, that no one shall be able to suspect in him any working of the mind inspired by a contrary disposition. The meaning of the Hebrew is rather different from that of the Alex. version, which the apostle here follows. The original ought probably to be translated thus: “Thou shalt find favor and success before men.” The LXX. have translated: “Thou shalt find favor; and do thou consider good before all men.”

Verse 18

Vv. 18. This spirit of goodwill is necessarily pacific; not only does it not do nor mediate anything which can trouble, but it strives to remove what disunites. The first restriction: if it be possible, refers to our neighbor's conduct; for we are not master of his feelings. The second: as much as lieth in you, refers to our own; for we can exercise discipline over ourselves. If it does not depend on us to bring our neighbor to pacific dispositions toward us, it depends on us to be always disposed to make peace.

Verse 19

Vv. 19. But this notwithstanding, there is in the heart of man an ineffaceable feeling of justice which the apostle respects. He only desires to give this sentiment its true direction. Evil ought to be punished, that is certain. Only, if thou wouldest not thyself become unjust, think not thou shouldest make thyself the instrument of justice, and peacefully resign this care to God, the just Judge. The apostle knows that he is here requiring a difficult sacrifice. Hence the style of address: dearly beloved, by which he reminds his readers of the tender love which dictates this recommendation, a love which is only an emanation of that which God Himself bears to them. To give place unto wrath, is to refrain from avenging oneself, in order to give free course to the justice which God Himself will exercise when and how He thinks good. To seek to anticipate His judgment is to bar the way against it. Comp. what is said of Jesus Himself, 1 Peter 2:23. It is needless to refute explanations such as the following: “Let your wrath have time to calm down,” or: “Let the wrath of the enemy pass.” The passage quoted is Deuteronomy 32:35, but modified in conformity with the version of the LXX. The Hebrew text says: “To me belong vengeance and retribution.” The LXX. translate: “In the day of punishment I will repay.” Either they read aschallem, I will repay, instead of schillem, retribution; or they freely paraphrased the meaning of the substantive. Paul appropriates the verb: I will repay, as they introduced it; and it is remarkable that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews does exactly the same. The same form is also found in the paraphrase of Onkelos ( vaani aschallem), which seems to prove that this way of quoting the verse was common. It is impossible, therefore, to conclude anything from this analogy as concerning the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

But forbearance alone would only be a half victory. It is not enough to refrain from meeting evil with evil; the ambition of love must go the length of wishing to transform evil into good.

Verses 20-21

Vv. 20, 21. “ 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. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

The connection: But if, in the Alex., would signify: “But, far from avenging thyself, if the opportunity of doing good to thine enemy present itself, seize it.” The connection: Therefore if, in the Byzs., is somewhat more difficult to apprehend; but it is precisely this fact which speaks in its favor: “Thou oughtest not to avenge thyself; consequently, if the occasion present itself of doing good to thine enemy, seize it; for to neglect it would in itself be an act of revenge.” The Greco-Latin reading: if (simply), merely adds doing good to forbearance; it is the least probable.

The precept is taken, like so many others in this chapter, from the Book of Proverbs; comp. Proverbs 25:21-22. It is impossible to suppose that in this book the precept is an encouragement to heap benefits on the head of the evil-doer in order to aggravate the punishment with which God shall visit him (Chrys., Grot., Hengst., etc.). For we read in the same book, Proverbs 24:17: “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth; and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.” Not to be guilty of a self-contradiction, the author would therefore have required to add in our passage: “if thine enemy repent not.” In any case, Paul could not quote this saying in such a sense. For how would acting thus be “to overcome evil with good” ( Pro 24:21 )? There is here, therefore, rather a fine irony at the expense of him who would cherish in his heart a desire of vengeance: “Thou wouldst avenge thyself? Be it; and here is the way in which God permits thee to do so: Heap benefits on thine enemy; for thereby thou shalt cause him the salutary pain of shame and regret for all the evil he has done thee; and thou shalt light up in his heart the fire of gratitude instead of that of hatred.” The figure coals of fire is common among the Arabs and Hebrews to denote a vehement pain; but, as Meyer observes, it contains no allusion whatever to the idea of melting or softening the object.

Verse 21

Vv. 21. To render evil for evil, is to let evil have the victory; to confine oneself to not rendering evil is, if it may be so said, neither to be conqueror nor conquered, though in reality this also is to be conquered. The true victory over evil consists in transforming a hostile relation into one of love by the magnanimity of the benefits bestowed. Thereby it is that good has the last word, that evil itself serves it as an instrument: such is the masterpiece of love.

Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Romans 12". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/romans-12.html.
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