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Practical Response in Believers
Now Paul has completed his treatment of the subject of God's counsel in reference to salvation - counsel accomplished by a hand of mercy. What then is to be the proper effect of these upon His saints? The last five chapters give us the conduct that mercy, rightly valued, produces. Thus it is in its true place - coming after salvation, not before.
It is unspeakably blessed to mark how this is introduced. The peremptory demand of law - "Thou shalt" - has no place here. Instead, the tenderly solicitous heart of the apostle goes out toward his brethren in humble entreaty. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God." It is not, "I demand you therefore, brethren, by the law of God." Ah no! the heart that has learned the grace of God has learned also the language of grace - and how much more effective is this upon other hearts than the stern exactions of law! All is mercy at the end of Romans 11:1-36, and nothing is to becloud this blessed reality in the stirring up of the hearts of saints to a proper sense of responsibility. Indeed, mercy is to be the very basis for this. Appreciation of the mercies of God is to be the very motive spring of all our conduct. This makes the path wondrously simple. Let us freshly keep in memory "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ" - the great, pure mercy that has saved us from the dreadful guilt and ruin in which we were bound, exposed to eternal judgment, and in bitter misery. Is this much to ask? - nay rather, is it not the wholehearted desire of every saved soul, to think much and deeply upon this blessed mercy? - to think of Him who gave Himself a suffering, bleeding sacrifice for our eternal redemption?
If this is so with us, shall we for a moment shrink from His gentle request that we present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God? Is it not rather a service that appeals as fully to the intelligence as to the heart? None but He could be the dying sacrifice, presented in all the pure fragrance of His Person to God, in full, unqualified devotion. But it is the wondrous privilege and proper service of all saints to present their bodies a living sacrifice to God. Who can conceive the unutterable joy of this who has not done so? Who can find pure, quiet rest of soul, who has not bowed his shoulder to the yoke of the Lord Jesus? All other striving after a tranquil, rejoicing spirit will end in disappointment, however fair appearances may be - for nothing can substitute for this unreserved submission to Him who is Lord of all.
But, be it remembered that it is not unsaved souls who are asked to present their bodies to God: it is those who are saved - the "brethren," as Paul calls them. No unsaved soul is asked to present anything to God, but rather to receive the salvation that God presents to him. This is a vast difference indeed. ForJohn 3:16; John 3:16 is the message to the poor, lost sinner - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." There is no thought here of the sinner making a sacrifice, but he is just asked to believe in the blessed sacrifice God has made for him - the sacrifice of His own Son. This alone assures him of not perishing, but having everlasting life. Wondrous grace - pure and free, simple and plain! And it is grace for "whosoever will." If you have not, dear reader, received the Lord Jesus by faith, let no more precious time go by in neglecting your needy soul and neglecting this gracious Savior of sinners. How can you afford such serious procrastination? How can you think of having to answer to a holy God for all your sins? And above all for the sin of ignoring His own Son and His great salvation? Only receive Him, only believe Him: He will gladly save you right now.
But if already saved through faith in the Lord Jesus, and thus delivered from all fear of judgment, what can be more becoming, more intelligent than presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God? This indeed shows the effect that grace has upon us. For though assuredly it adds nothing to God's grace, yet is it a bright and sweet reflection thereof. Who would not approve such a result? Indeed how could we think of any lower response to such mercy as has saved us from eternal ruin, and has heaped upon us spiritual blessings and riches beyond the heart's conception?
How far from servile bondage is this! It is willing, rejoicing service in liberty. For the Master to whom we present our bodies is One whom we know to have our own very best interests at heart. What peace to the soul this is. For weak, ignorant, erring and unstable as we are in ourselves, we need One just such as He to take us fully in hand, to care for, guide, preserve, train, and teach us. What rest thus to be done with ourselves, and to be just clay in the Potter's hand, willing and thankful to be fashioned in His way.
Will this not have results far beyond all that our own energy, determination, or will power could even hope to attain? Indeed yes; for the resulting work will be God's work, not ours. Our hands, our feet, our lips will respond gladly to His sovereign work within us. Activity, diligence, labor for His sake will not be lacking, nor will it be mere fleshly activity. For the heart will be found delighting in the sublimely glorious truth, "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
Nor do we well to avoid the significance of that pregnant word, "sacrifice." It is the way of blessedness for our own souls - for "it is more blessed to give than to receive." But what is a little earthly loss to one who has known the riches of heavenly joys? What heart touched by the grace of God does not respond to those serious, searching words of the Lord Jesus - "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me"? (Luke 9:23). The cross here is no unwelcome trouble or sorrow (as people would feign apply it), but willing self-denial for the sake of Christ. It is the heart truly entering into the meaning of the cross of Christ, which speaks of a willing relinquishing of every natural possession or advantage, for the sake of the glory of God. O that we had more heart for gladly taking up our cross - whether as a beginning of service to our adorable Lord, or whether "daily," in the details of experience. How small a sacrifice it is after all - indeed nothing, for those who truly value the sacrifice of Himself!
Verse 2 gives us a definite application of this principle. For it is the natural deceit of our hearts to suppose ourselves obedient to God's claims, while not exercised concerning those things that are in reality contrary to Him. "This world" has its own standards, methods, and objectives. While unsaved, we doubtless partook of its character in these things. But the knowledge of Christ calls for a complete transformation. Shall we now think of conforming ourselves to a world guilty of the rejection of Christ? - a world lax in its standards, unholy in its methods, and selfish in its objectives? God is not in all its thought: the comfort and ease and indulgence of the flesh is its exclusive occupation. To be conformed to it is but weakly submitting to its fleeting vanities and folly. "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."
Verse 1 has spoken of "your bodies"; verse 2, "your minds." Let the mind be renewed by engaging itself with God's standards, ways, and objects: this is transformation. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Thoughts are clearly the spring of all conduct. While we were "of the world" our thoughts could only centre in the world: but now that we "are of God," shall we turn our thoughts back to the world again?
But this transformation is real, and accomplishes results. When thus the mind is renewed, there is the vital, experimental proving "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." It is not merely "knowing" His will, but "proving" it. Shall we not then challenge ourselves when sometimes anxious to know God's will in a certain matter?Let us go deeper, and inquire. Do we want to prove God's will in experience? Indeed, we may often be denied the absolute knowledge of His will in many cases; but at the same time be blessed in the experiencing of it. But this is only possible by means of a mind firmly set upon Him, accustomed to His presence and confident of His supreme wisdom and love. This is a complete contrast to occupation with the world.
Now from verse 3 this transformation of the mind is applied to practical service, which is the subject to the end of verse 8. The apostle speaks, not peremptorily, but "through the grace given" to him - a most gracious expression - to each individual saint, to ask that his thoughts be not haughty and self-exalting, but sober, according to the measure of faith given by God. For our thoughts mold our actions, of course, and these must ever be guarded and guided by the vital principle of faith. For if the mind acts apart from faith, all is pride and vanity - a sweeping wind that leaves no rain. And there is danger in going beyond the measure of our faith. What another may do by faith, I may not have faith for doing at all. If so, let me not attempt to imitate his action. Better to go quietly and act according to our own measure. Ephesians 4:7 speaks of "the measure of the gift of Christ." This is different, but holds the same principle for us. I shall badly fail if I try to imitate another's gift. My gift is measured out by Christ in glory, and God has given me a certain measure of faith. Let me then remember the source of all gift and power, and act as personally subject to Him. One may be decidedly limited in a certain line, another in a different line, but our limitations ought to be heeded: they are a reminder of our dependence, and should certainly keep us humble.
For it is the wisdom of God that causes this diversity. What sort of a body should we have if the functions of every member were perfectly identical? Each member must be just what it is, keep its own place, and do its own work: if so there is normality and health. "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." This is the sphere of service closest to us, of course. It is insisted that we are members one of another. This is plainly for practical purposes; the doctrine of the Church does not engage us here. But the Church is nevertheless the first field for the service of saints.
To mark the clear difference in gifts ought rather by far to encourage than discourage us - for it is proof of divine working. For God is not so limited as to have to duplicate. To thankfully use what we have is the way of faith - and to delight in the proper working of other gifts also. But grace is always given for the use of gifts, and it is only proper for us to use fully the grace given, while not surely forcing ourselves beyond our measure.
If we prophesy then, let it be according to the proportion of faith. This requires some grounding in the Word of God, for we must speak only what is pure, sober truth, and what is appropriate for the need. Faith goes together with the Word here: the soul should be simply guided of God, in simplicity, and make no pretense of more than its own capacity, for this is one of the gravest of dangers in Christian service. I cannot expect to make profitable to the soul of another what I have not myself learned personally from God.
After prophecy, we find ministry. From the context it is evident that this is not ministering in temporal things, such as is the deacon's place: it is spiritual service. It differs from prophecy, however, in this, that prophecy is the word of power from God to exercise souls, while ministry is the lowly service of meeting needs of those who are exercised. It is blessed work. Teaching is different again, in that it is primarily addressed to the intelligence, and cannot fill the place of prophecy or ministry. Exhortation is simply the stirring up of souls to act upon the truth. These four are then gifts that are occupied with the Word, and the spiritual welfare of souls.
Following this we have three gifts which certainly require no less spirituality, but are concerned more particularly with the proper temporal welfare of the saints, first, in provision, (for giving is counted a gift); secondly, in rule (and how needful the exercise of careful guidance - a firm yet gentle restraining hand - among the saints); and thirdly in protection, (for this showing mercy implies succor in time of need, when cares, trials, infirmities come in as an oppressing enemy, and defeat is threatened. It may be compared to the mercy ofHebrews 4:16; Hebrews 4:16 - "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Each of these then is in its place, and the manner of its exercise clearly given us. Giving is to be "with simplicity" - not in a hesitating, grudging, or patronizing manner, none of which savors of the grace of Christ. Ruling, or leading, must be with diligence: carelessness or half-heartedness here will have sad consequences. It must be considered a very real and solemn responsibility. And showing mercy is to be "with cheerfulness," for we are in danger of becoming weary and impatient of having to protect saints against the weakening tendencies of their cares, trials, and infirmities. How good to see a cheerful spirit engaged in such a work!
From verse 9 to the end of our chapter the prominent thought is not service, but fruitfulness, not work, but the virtues proper to every day living. It is Christ lived in every detail of life. Let us then meditate well on these simple exhortations, for they hold the secret of much blessing for our souls.
First, love is to be unfeigned: it is a root principle of all true fruit for God. Pretense of any sort has no place. This connects necessarily with abhorring evil, for love is energetic and sensitive: evil is thoroughly revolting to it. And just so, on the other side, there is to be a cleaving to what is good. Well for us to often test our souls by these two things: do we positively abhor evil, and cleave earnestly to good? This is the real activity of love, for love cannot but feel strongly against what is harmful to its object, and favorably toward what is beneficial.
Then there is the circle of "brotherly love" - the Christian circle: in this we are to be "kindly affectioned one to another." This is tender consideration as in a closely attached family. As regard honor, rather than seeking it for ourselves, let us delight in paying it to other saints - drawing attention to their virtues and work rather than our own.
Nor must this decrease our own diligent zeal, leaving us slothful, as is often a tendency when we see others honored and not ourselves. But let us rather maintain a true inward fervency of spirit that preserves from every discouragement and makes us not dependent upon the approval of men. Thus, "serving the Lord" will be a very real thing to us - no mere formal phrase or idealistic sentiment.
"Rejoicing in hope" is a practical continuance of that same joy in hope of the glory of God which filled the heart at conversion (cf. Romans 5:2). For the hope itself has not changed - in fact is nearer than when we believed: why then should our joy wane? Is tribulation sometimes the answer? "If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small." Let us consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself. This will give us patient endurance and will not decrease our joy: but intimately connected with this is persevering in prayer, for joy and endurance are dependent things really - dependent upon communion with the Lord. Good for us not to let this lag, for a little carelessness here can have direful results.
But communion with God will not leave us indifferent to the temporal necessities of saints - rather the reverse, for in His presence the heart learns to care for all His interests. Nor thus will hospitality ever become a burden to us. Not that hospitality is the indiscriminate welcome of everyone: 2 John 1:10-11 prove the need of discrimination, as do such passages asRomans 16:17; Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; Titus 3:10-11; 1 Timothy 5:22. These are plain exceptions to the general rule of a cordial welcome; and some in entertaining strangers have entertained angels unawares.
But on the other hand there may be persecution: this should be no surprise to us, but in fact an occasion of rejoicing - "for great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12). Then why ought we to curse those who are guilty of the offense? It is not God's time of cursing, but of blessing in mercy to sinners who will receive His Son. Let us bless them - speak in compassion toward them - desirous of their eternal blessing. This is to be so whether the persecution comes from unbelievers or from believers. What blessed fruit of the grace of Christ in the heart is this blessing for persecution!
Do others have cause for rejoicing? Let us rejoice with them! This may not be easy if there are thorns or sorrows in our own path, but it is true, unselfish Christian character. Or do others weep? Let us weep with them. We may not be so ready to do so if our own circumstances are pleasant, but it is a pointed test of our selfishness or unselfishness. Philippians 2:4; Philippians 2:4 is a needful reminder to us: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." Yet in this we are to have no favorites; but to have the same mind one toward another: partiality is foreign to godliness. Nor ought "high things" to engage the mind, as though our intelligence were on a higher level than average. The following phrase here is nicely expressed in the New Translation - "going along with the lowly." This is true greatness and genuine Christian grace. "Be not wise in your own eyes" is an important accompaniment of this; for seeking to impress others - perhaps specially the lowly - is a rather real danger.
From verse 17 to the end of our chapter we see what is the godly attitude toward those who wrong us. We are not to reward them in their own coin: "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" has no place here. If we do as they do to us, we are thus far making ourselves like them - and how can we dare to so lower Christian character? If others do wrong to gain their own ends, let this only make us the more purposed in heart to "provide things honest in the sight of all men." Do we fear we shall suffer if we do not resort to the same questionable methods that others do? Let God answer it: "Them that honor Me I will honor; and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."
Nor, on the other hand, are we to be contentious even concerning the dishonesty of others? If at all possible we are to live peaceably with all men - that is as much as lies in ourselves. This does not mean sacrificing righteousness or what belongs to God, but as regards our personal ways and character giving no occasion for the enmity of others. They may of course even then be full of enmity, but it is well that we do not let the fault lie at our door - nor indeed are we to feed their enmity, no matter how determined it is.
This may mean the sacrifice of personal rights, but if walking by faith we shall steadfastly refuse to avenge ourselves. Let the enemy rage if he will, but let us never rush to our own defense. "For it is written, Vengeance is Mine: I will repay, saith the Lord." Good for us to remember that only our God knows both the time and the measure of recompense that is perfectly suited. "Faith can firmly trust Him, come what may."
More than this, however, we are to show positive goodness in return for evil. This is not easy for pride. If an enemy is in need, we ought to be ready at hand for his help. This will act as coals of fire on his head, burning into the conscience. Not indeed that this supposes any kind of cringing to him; but we are to act in the same lowly dignity of faith and kindness as we would to a friend in need.
Thus we are led on to verse 21. Evil is a subtle influence always, and it has gained a victory if it finds in us a spirit of exasperation or discouragement. Let us give it no such satisfaction, but by maintaining unswerving habits of good, be ourselves the overcomers. How many victories we miss through neglect of our abundant resources of good!
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 12". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25