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Monday, April 22nd, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Romans 12

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

[The theme of this great Epistle is that "the righteous shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17), and its grand conclusion is that those who seek life this way find it, and all who seek it in other ways fail (Romans 9:30-33). But the popular way of seeking it was by obeying the precepts of the great moral or Mosaic law. If, then, Paul’s letter overthrows all trust in morality, of what use is morality? And what bearing has his doctrine on life? May one live as he pleases and still be saved by his faith? Such are the questions which have ever arisen in men’s minds on first acquaintance with this merciful and gracious doctrine. The carnal mind’s first impulse on hearing the publication of grace is to abuse grace (Romans 6:1 . Comp. James 2:14-26). Anticipating the questionings and tendencies of the weak and sinful natures of his readers, Paul proceeds to first define the life of faith (Romans 12:1-2). It is a sanctified, sacrificial life. He then illustrates the workings of this sanctified life in the two grand spheres of its activities, the spiritual kingdom of God or the church (Romans 12:3-8) and the civil kingdom of the world (Romans 12:9-21). But the faith-life is not defined didactically, but in an impassioned, hortatory manner, for Paul is not content that his hearers should know theoretically what it is; he wishes them to have experimental knowledge of it, to actually live it. In fact, it has been for the purpose of making the exhortation of this section that all the previous chapters have been written, for no Bible doctrine is a barren speculation, but a life-root, developed that it may bear fruit in the lives of those who read it. And here is the hortatory definition of the faith-life.] XII. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [more correctly, "logical"] service. [I entreat you, brethren, in the light of all that I have written you about this faith-life, making as the motive or ground of my appeal to you these mercies of God1 which purchased for you the privilege of this life by the death of his Son (Romans 3:23-24), which pardoned your iniquities that you might receive it (Romans 3:25-26), which cast out his chosen people that your access to it might not be hindered (Romans 11:12), etc., etc., that you continuously consecrate your lives to God as living thank and peace offerings, keeping them ever holy and acceptable to God, which is the service you should logically render in the light of the truth presented to you and comprehended by you. The word "mercies" here used (oiktermos) is a stronger word than that (eleos) used in verbal form in the eleventh chapter, expressing the tenderest compassion. God’s main mercies in the gospel are of that sort. If we are not saved by works, why is sacrifice demanded? The answer was plain to the Jew. Of the four sacrifices demanded by the law, two were offered before propitiation and to obtain it. These were the sin and trespass offerings. Christ, who is our propitiation, offered these expiatory sacrifices for believers, so that they are pardoned, justified and saved not by their own merit, no matter what their sacrifice, but are redeemed by his purchase in the offering of his priceless blood, and saved by his merit as acknowledged by the Father. If the Jewish program of sacrifices had stopped here, there would have been no Biblical symbolism showing that Christians are called upon to do anything in a sacrificial way. But there were two other sacrifices offered after propitiation and expiation. These were the burnt-offering, offered as an act of worship daily and also on occasions of joy and thanksgiving (2 Chronicles 29:31-32), and the peace-offerings, which spoke of restored fellowship and communion with God. Now, the faith-life was exempted from the expiatory or sin and trespass offerings by the cross of Christ, but it was not relieved of the burnt and peace offerings, the former of which required that the entire carcass of the victim be consumed in the flame (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-8) as a symbol of the entire consecration of the offerer or devotee to the service of God, for the life of the offering stood for his own life.2 Here, then, is the true basis or foundation principle on which the faith-life rests. Here is the supreme fundamental law which must govern its every action. Though the purposes and motives of its sacrifice may be changed so that expiation gives place to thanksgiving and communion, yet it is still essentially and intrinsically a consecrated, sacrificial life, and is as far removed from antinomianism as it was when under the Mosaic law. The force of this marvelous instruction is not weakened, but rather strengthened, by being couched in hortatory form. Let us note, in passing, the continuousness of sacrifice implied by the term "living." The animal sacrifice was over and ended when its body was consumed. If perfect and accepted as without blemish, then (Deuteronomy 15:21; Deuteronomy 17:1; Leviticus 1:3; Leviticus 1:10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:20; Malachi 1:8), it had passed all danger or possibility of future rejection at God’s hands. But not so the Christian’s sacrifice. In presenting himself he is to "reckon himself dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11-13). For the Christian’s dying leads at once to his being alive (Romans 6:2; Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:19-20; Colossians 2:20; Colossians 3:5-10; 1 Peter 2:5), and therefore, as Bengel says, "it is an abomination to offer a dead carcass." The Christian, therefore, as a living, never-to-be-recalled sacrifice, is required to keep up and perpetuate his holiness and acceptability, as "an odor of a sweet smell" (Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18; Leviticus 1:9), lest he become a castaway. For this reason Paul lays emphasis on the "body," as the corpus or substance of the sacrifice, for our fleshly nature is spoken of in Scripture as the seat of sin, which is to be transformed into a temple for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Moreover, this direct reference to the body corrects the heresy that the faith-life is purely mental or spiritual, and devoid of bodily sacrifice or works (Galatians 5:13; James 2:14-26). "How," asks Chrysostom, "can the body become a sacrifice? Let the eye look on no evil, and it is a sacrifice. Let the tongue utter nothing base, and it is an offering. Let the hand work no sin, and it is a holocaust. But more, this suffices not, but, besides, we must actively exert ourselves for good; the hand giving alms, the mouth blessing them that curse us, the ear ever at leisure for listening to God." Moreover, the sacrifice of the body includes that of mind, soul and spirit, for "bodily sacrifice is an ethical act" (Meyer). The comment of Barnes on this verse is very practical. "Men," says he, "are not to invent services; or to make crosses; or seek persecutions and trials; or provoke opposition." Romish and Mohammedan pilgrimages, Catholic and Oriental penances, thorn-beds, juggernauts, flagellations, and man-made ordinances of sacrifice, are worthless (Colossians 2:20-23). Moreover, the designs of many to wait till sickness or old age overtakes them before presenting their sacrifice are misplaced, for such conduct is analogous to presenting the maimed and halt and blind to God. Finally, it is taught elsewhere, and so it is indeed true that the Christian’s sacrifice is a "spiritual [pneumatike] service" (Philippians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:5; cf. John 4:24), but the apostle has here conveyed that idea in the word "living," and he does not repeat the thought. Hence he does not say pneumatiken service, but logiken service, or, literally, logical or rational service. Logiken links itself with "therefore" at the opening of the sentence. Therefore your logical service (the one rationally expected of you by reason of the truths revealed in this Epistle, especially chapter 6) is to present your bodies, etc. In short, the very purpose for which the apostle wrote this Epistle was to convince his readers that they must render this service, and this exhortation enforces that conclusion.]

Verse 2

And be not fashioned according to this world [or, literally, "age"]: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. [Here the apostle shows in general terms by what manner of life the demanded sacrifice is rendered or accomplished. To each soul there was presented then, as now, two models for character building, the standards of the world-life and the Christ-life, the first represented by the imperative suschematizesthai, which means to imitate the pose or attitude of any one, to conform to the outward appearance or fashion of any one. The demands of the world require no more than an outward, superficial conformity to its ways and customs. As these ways and customs are the natural actions and methods of the unregenerate life, the sacrifice-resenting, fleshly nature of the Christian has no difficulty in conforming to them, if given rein and permission. Attainment to the Christ-life is, however, represented by the imperative metamorphousthai, which demands that complete and fundamental inner change which fulfills and accomplishes regeneration, and which, in turn, is accomplished by the renewing of the mind. The natural mind, weakened, trammeled, confused and darkened by sin and Satan, can neither fully discern nor adequately appreciate the Christ model, so as to metamorphose the life to its standards. But in the regenerated man the mind once fleshly (Colossians 2:18; Romans 7:23), but now renewed by Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:21-24) and the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), and strengthened to apprehend by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-19), is able to so discern and love the Christ model as to be gradually metamorphosed into his image (Phil 3:8-16). With this recovered capacity to discern and appreciate the life which God wills us to live, as exemplified in the incarnation of his Son, we are exhorted by the apostle to set about exploring, investigating, proving or testing the excellence of the will of God in selecting such a pattern for us, that we may have experimental knowledge that his will was devised in goodness toward us, that its choice for us is really well pleasing and acceptable to us; as our minds have become enlightened to truly understand it, and that considered in all ways its purposes and ends for us are the perfection of grace and benevolence, leaving nothing more to be asked or even dreamed of by us. Thus the renewed mind tests by experience the will of God, and knows it to be indeed the will of the Holy One of Israel (John 7:17), to be admired, followed and reduced to life. It remains to be shown how the word "age" comes to be translated "world." The Jews divided time into two divisions; viz., before the Messiah, and after the advent of the Messiah. The former they called "this age"; the latter, "the age to come." Thus the term "this age" became associated with those evils, vanities and Satanic workings which the Christian now calls "this world." Both terms are used by Jesus (Matthew 12:32 . Comp. Hebrews 6:5), and the expression "this age" is commonly used after the advent of Jesus to describe the moral and spiritual conditions which then and still oppose Christ and the age which he is developing-- Matthew 13:22; Luke 16:8; Matthew 20:34; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:12].

Verse 3

[Having defined the faith-life as sacrificial and sanctified, the apostle next points out the principal virtues which it must manifest in the several spheres of its activities. The first sphere is the church, and the first virtue enjoined therein is humility.] For I say ["For" is epexigetical; i. e., it introduces matter which further explains or elucidates the nature of the required living sacrifice; viz., that the Christian must humble himself. "I say" is mildly imperative], through [by right or authority of] the grace [the apostleship in Christ-- Romans 1:5; Romans 15:15-16; Ephesians 3:7-8] that was given me, to every man that is among you [As apostle to the Gentiles, Paul divided his duties into evangelistic and didactic. In discharge of the former he founded churches, and in fulfillment of the latter we find him here instructing a church which he did not found. He addresses his instruction to each member without exception, and though his words in this section are more particularly meant for the more gifted, they also have the man with one talent in mind, and make allowance for no drones in the hive. "Among you" means "in your community"--Meyer], not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think as to think soberly [It is evident that Paul anticipated a spirit of presumption among the Christians at Rome, by reason of their spiritual gifts, like that which he rebuked at Corinth (1 Cor 12 and 14). It is well known that for the guidance, edification, etc., of the church, and for the converting of the world, spiritual gifts abounded among Christians in that age, and many of these were markedly supernatural or miraculous. These latter were well calculated to excite a false pride in the vainglorious pagans, so recently converted to Christ. As such pride is contrary to the spirit of Christ, and prompts the one yielding to it to save his life for the ends of ambition, rather than to offer it as a living sacrifice on the altar of service, Paul first sets himself to correct it, by commanding each to give to himself that sober, fair self-inspection which will correct overestimates of self and underestimates of one’s neighbor], according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith. [Here was another check to pride. Sober thought would remind the proud and puffed up that the miraculous gifts were not of their own acquiring, but were gifts of God, and were therefore matters for gratitude rather than for vainglory (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:6-7; 1 Corinthians 12:11); stewardships to be carefully and conscientiously administered for the benefit of the church and not for selfish display and aggrandizement. "Measure of faith" is an expositor’s puzzle. As saving faith is belief in testimony, it is the product of a man’s own action, and God does not deal it out, or give it to any one. If he did, how could he consistently condemn men for the lack of it (Mark 16:16), or how could he exhort men to believe (John 20:27)? But even those whose theological errors permit them to look upon faith as a gift, are still in a quandary, for Paul is evidently talking about measure of gifts, and not measure of saving faith, and the passage parallels 1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:7 . Barnes says that faith here means religion. Hodge, hitting nearer truth, says that faith is used metonymically for its effects; viz., the various graces or gifts mentioned: "that which is confided to any, and equivalent to gift." Brown declares that it is "the receptive faculty of the renewed soul, the capacity to take gifts." Godet assigns it "the capacity assigned to each man in the domain of faith." These, and many similar passages which might be quoted, show that expositors are forced to recognize that faith here is employed in a very unusual sense, which is near akin to miraculous gifts. Now, as sound exegesis compels us to distinguish between the natural, perpetual gift of the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon every penitent believer at his baptism, and that miraculous gift which descended on the apostles at Pentecost and on the house of Cornelius, which passed away in the apostolic age; so we would here distinguish between natural, saving faith which is the possession of each Christian to this present hour, and miraculous faith, or faith which had power to work miracles, which was unquestionably dealt out as here described, so that different miraculous powers were displayed by different Christians. It was of this faith that Jesus spoke at Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6; for had he meant the saving faith now possessed by us, it is evident that none of us possess a mustard-seed measure of it. This special, divinely bestowed (comp. Luke 17:5), miraculous faith also vanished with the apostolic age.]

Verse 4

For [also epexigetical. See verse 3] even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office:

Verse 5

so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. [As God gives to each member of the human body its several function for the good of the whole body, so he distributed the miraculous gifts of the Spirit to the different members of the Roman church for the good of the whole church. The gifts were intended to be held in common, so that each member should contribute to the needs of all the others, and in return receive from all the others in mutual helpfulness and interdependence. Difference in office or function, therefore, was not a matter for pride or boasting, for the gift was held in trust for service, and was a gift to the whole body, through the individual member. There is no room for comparison or pride between the related members of one living organism. This comparison of the relationship of Christians to the mutual dependence of the members of the human body is a favorite one with Paul, and he elaborates it at 1 Corinthians 12:4-31 and Ephesians 4:1-16 . See also Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 5:30]

Verse 6

And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith [It would be as unreasonable and unwise to give all Christians the same gift as it would be to give all the members of the body the same function. Since, then, the gifts had to differ, and since God dealt them out, each member was to exercise humbly and contentedly that gift which God had portioned out to him, whether, compared with others, proportionately large or small, important or unimportant, for should the ear stubbornly refuse to hear, and set up a determined effort to smell or to see, it would produce anarchy in the body. Let each Christian, therefore, retain the place and station and discharge the work which God has designated as his by the proportion of faith, a miracle-working power, assigned to him. The power of Christ, operating through the Holy Spirit, awoke in Christians talents and endowments unexampled in the world’s history. The greatest of these were bestowed upon the apostles. The next in order of importance were the gifts bestowed upon the prophet (1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:29-32; 1 Corinthians 14:39). His gift was that inspiration of the Holy Spirit which enabled him to proclaim the divine truth, and make known the will and purpose of God, etc., whether as to past, present or future events. His work was supplementary to that of the apostles, and was greatly needed in the days when the New Testament was but partly written, and when even what was written was not yet diffused among the churches. Eventually the prophet ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-9) and the Scripture took his place. In his day he was as the mouth of God (Exodus 7:1; Exodus 4:16; Jeremiah 15:19; Deuteronomy 18:18); he delivered a divine message at first-hand (Ezekiel 2:7-10; Ezekiel 3:4-11; Luke 7:26-29) and was inspired of God-- 1 Peter 1:10-12; Acts 2:2-4; 2 Peter 1:19-21];

Verse 7

or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teacheth, to his teaching [Most of the spiritual gifts of Paul’s day were either wholly supernatural or shaded into the miraculous, and, as miracles have ceased, it becomes hard for us to-day to accurately define gifts which have passed away. "Ministry" (diakonia) is derived from the Greek word for deacon, and probably described such services as deacons (Philippians 1:1; Romans 16:1) then rendered. The order, "apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, then gifts of hearings, helps, governments" (1 Corinthians 12:28), compared with the order here--viz., prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving--suggests that miracles of healing may have been part of the ministry (comp. 1 Pet 4:11), as well as caring for the poor, serving tables, etc. (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Teaching was probably much the same as that of to-day, only the teacher had to remember the verbal instruction of the apostles and prophets (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:10; 2 Tim 14) until the same was reduced to writing as we now have it in the Scriptures];

Verse 8

or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting: he that giveth, let him do it with liberality [Exhortation is addressed to the feeling as teaching is to the understanding. It is used to stir or excite people, whether of the church or not, to do their duty. As endowed or spiritually gifted Christians of that day spoke with tongues (1 Cor 12 and 14), both the teacher and the exhorter would be properly classed as among the workers of miracles. After mentioning the exhorter, Paul drops the word "or" (eite), and thus seems to make a distinction between the workers of miracles whom he has been admonishing, and the class of workers who follow, who evidently had no miraculous power whatever. "Liberality" (haplotes) 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 hand does--that is to say, without any vain going back on himself, and without any air of haughtiness" (Godet). The word may be correctly translated objectively "liberality" (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13; James 1:5); but, used subjectively and more naturally, it signifies singleness of purpose, simplicity, sincerity (Matthew 6:22; Luke 11:34; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22). The latter meaning is clearly indicated here by the context,* for Paul is rebuking ostentation (comp. Matthew 6:1-4) and enforcing humility, sober self-thought, subjective investigation, simplicity. The giving was to be with honesty of aim, without ulterior or personal or selfish motive]; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. [Whether they ruled as elders and deacons in the church, or as parents at home (1 Timothy 3:3-5; 1 Timothy 3:12), they were to do so with a spirit of zealous attention to the work entrusted to them, not with a vainglorious desire to lord it, or to exalt or enrich themselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:12; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Showing mercy is probably best defined at Matthew 25:35-36 . Paul here directs that these acts be performed with cheerfulness. The context shows that he means inward joy, not outward simulation of it; for the whole passage is subjective, not objective. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 9:7) Cheer, like love, must be without hypocrisy, for the one showing mercy has the better end of the blessing (Acts 20:35). The purpose of the entire passage is to enforce the spirit of contented humility upon Christians in all their actions, lest those having superior gifts be thereby betrayed into pride and self-exaltation, and those having inferior gifts be seduced by envy to fall into bitterness of spirit or idleness. "In the school of Christ," says Leighton, "the first lesson of all is, self-denial and humility; yea, it is written above the door, as the rule of entry or admission, ’Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.’"]

* We are decidedly averse to criticizing or correcting the text of the English Revised Version, not wishing to breed suspicious unrest in the minds of its readers. But we can not but feel that occasionally the translators yield to the strong temptation to choose the English word which can be understood at once without the aid of the commentator, whether it conveys the shade of meaning desired by the Scripture writer or not. (Compare note on "spiritual," Romans 12:1 .) In such cases we have pointed out the looseness of the translators. "Give much!" is the urgent cry of this age, and it is thoroughly Scriptural; but the Spirit, speaking through Paul, also said, "Give in simplicity"--i. e., in meekness--and the command must not be lost sight of, simply to effect an easy translation. Perhaps this age needs the latter command more than the former; for, as Caryl observes, "you must rather bring your graces to the touchstone, to try their truth, than to the balance, to weigh their measure."

Verse 9

[In the last section we were told that spiritual and remarkable gifts are to be exercised in humility. This section deals with the ordinary and natural gifts, and is therefore addressed to the whole church. It shows that these ordinary, natural gifts or faculties are to be employed in harmony with the other Christian graces and virtues, the principal or basic one of which is LOVE. Therefore we may roughly subdivide the section as follows: 1. The faith-life showing love to the friendly or Christian (Romans 12:9-16). 2. The faith-life showing love to the unfriendly or unchristian-- Romans 12:17-21] Let love be without hypocrisy. [The apostle opens this section with a call for pure, genuine love, for it is the common or fundamental element of all the virtues of which he is about to write. This love must be unfeigned (2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:18). The heart must really feel that measure of affection to which the conduct bears testimony. The Christian must not bear himself "like Judas to Christ, or Joab to Abner: a kiss and a stab"--Johnson.] Abhor [literally, "abhorring"] that which is evil; cleave [literally, "cleaving"] to that which is good. [The participles relate grammatically to "love" as their subject, and explain the two main ways in which an unfeigned love is required to operate. Love is not up to the required standard unless it abhors evil and cleaves to (literally, glues itself to) that which is good. "What a lofty tone of moral principle and feeling is here inculcated! It is not, Abstain from the one and do the other; nor, Turn away from the one and draw to the other; but, Abhor the one and cling with deepest sympathy to the other" (Brown). Objectively it must hate evil even in the character of a loved one, and not fall into Eli’s sin (1 Samuel 3:13); and it must cling to the good, even in an enemy, and rejoice to increase it. Otherwise love is mere selfishness. "There are," says Lard, "many Christians, and among them many preachers, who oppose evil, it is true, but they do it so faintly as virtually to countenance it. They will not publicly endorse evil; but they will rather go quietly home, or get out of its way, and leave it to riot unrebuked. They do not abhor it. . . . These men are not obeying Paul." Subjectively the Christian’s love will make him abhor in himself all retaliatory and revengeful promptings, all injurious and malicious mental suggestions against his enemy, and will hug to his heart every kind and generous and benevolent impulse, whether entertained toward an enemy or a friend. This general love toward all is next specialized, and love toward members in the church is thus described.]

Verse 10

In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another ["tenderly affectioned" is a word compounded of philos, loving, and stergos, which is from stergeoo, to feel natural affection, as an animal for its offspring, a parent for its child, a near relative for his close kin. Its use here indicates that the church tie should rival that of the family. Christians should love each other "as natural brethren, and more. More close are the ties of the heart than of the body. We are brethren in Adam according to the flesh, in and by Christ according to the Spirit" (Trapp). "Preferring" means going before; hence guiding, setting an example. In matters of giving reverence, respect, and causing people to be held high in public estimation, Christians are to strive to outdo each other. The idea is that each should be more eager to confer honors than to obtain them. "Nothing," says Chrysostom, "tends so much to make friends as endeavoring to overcome one’s neighbor in doing him honor." "The Talmudists," according to Bengel, "say, Whoever knows that his neighbor has been accustomed to salute him, should anticipate his salutation"];

Verse 11

in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord [These three commands refer more especially to the outward life of the Christian. In all matters of employment, whether religious or secular, be active and energetic (Ecclesiastes 9:10), let your activities be vital with enthusiasm ("fervent" means seething, boiling; hence stirring), for life-service is Christ-service; the manifestation of love toward him (Colossians 3:22-24). "Ever considering," says Clark, "that his eye is upon you, and that you are accountable to him for all that you do, and that you should do everything so as to please him. In order to do this there must be simplicity in the INTENTION, and purity in the AFFECTION." "To be cold and careless in God’s service disparages his excellency," says Burkitt];

Verse 12

rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfastly in prayer [In this triplet the apostle directs the manner in which the Christian life is to inwardly manifest its love toward God. The hopes of his begetting which make bright the future are to fill it with joy; the chastisements of his sending which make heavy the present are to be endured with loyal, unmurmuring patience, as from him (Hebrews 12:3-11), and both hope and patience are to be augmented and sustained by prayer which grants us the consolation of his presence. Persecutions added greatly to the afflictions of the church in Paul’s day, and it was often beyond expectation that the Christian should rejoice in his present circumstances, but he could always be cheered by hope. "By patience," says Burkitt, "we possess ourselves; by hope we possess God; by prayer we are enabled to possess both"];

Verse 13

communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality. ["Communicating" (koinoonountes) means, literally, to be or act as a partner. Sometimes it means to receive (Romans 15:27; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Timothy 5:22). Here, as in Galatians 6:6; it means to bestow. The wants and needs of God’s people are to be ours to the extent of our ability. This precept is obeyed by very few. "The scanty manner," says Lard, "in which the rich disciples of the present day share the wants of the poor, is a sham. From their thousands they dole out dimes; and from storehouses full, mete out handfuls. . . . Such precepts as the present will, in the day of eternity, prove the fatal reef on which many a saintly bark has stranded." "Hospitality" (philoxenia) means, literally, "love for strangers." It is often found in Biblical precept and example (Genesis 19:1-2; Job 31:16-17; Matthew 10:40; Matthew 10:42; Matthew 25:43; Luke 10:7; Luke 11:5; 1 Timothy 5:10; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9; Hebrews 13:2). In apostolic days the lack of hotels made hospitality imperative, and the journeys, missions and exiles of Christians gave the churches constant opportunities to exercise this grace. "Given" (diookontes) means to pursue. It is translated "follow after" (Romans 9:30-31; Romans 14:19). The idea is that Christ’s disciple is not to passively wait till hospitality is unavoidable, but he is to be aggressively hospitable, seeking opportunity to entertain strangers. Hospitality is not to be limited to Christians, and Biblical hospitality is not to be confused with that so-called hospitality which bestows lavish entertainment upon congenial spirits from a general love of conviviality and good fellowship, and a desire for reputation as a generous host. Biblical hospitality is born of a desire to help the poor, especially the godly poor-- Luke 1:53; Luke 14:12-14]

Verse 14

Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. ["Thus," says Johnson, "did Christ on the cross, and the martyred Stephen." The apostle here drops into the imperative because quoting from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:44: Luke 6:28). We would expect to find this command classified among duties to persons entirely outside the church, but the apostle’s life reminds us that cursings were apt to come from those inside as well as from those without (2 Corinthians 11:26). "This doubling of the exhortation (bless) shows both the difficulty of the duty, how contrary it is to corrupt nature, and also the constancy of the duty, we must ever bless and never curse" (Burkitt). Love must win this battle for our untrue brother’s sake.]

Verse 15

Rejoice with them that rejoice [1 Corinthians 12:26]; weep with them that weep. ["One might think," says Chrysostom, "it was no difficult task to rejoice with others. Put it is harder than to weep with them. For that is done even by the natural man when he beholds a friend in distress. There is need of grace, however, to enable us, not merely to abstain from envying, but even with all our hearts to rejoice at the good fortune of a friend." Love is to bind us to God’s people in full sympathy, both in their prosperity and adversity.]

Verse 16

Be of the same mind one toward another. [A general repetition of the special command just given. Enter into the mind or feeling of your brother, whether in joy or sorrow. In the mental and sentimental sphere keep the Golden Rule with him.] Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. [Luke 12:15 . This injunction also has loving concord for its object. Class distinctions, high positions, situations, social eminence, etc., are to be avoided as tending to sever your sympathies, interests and desires from your humble brethren. "The greatest enemy to concord is pride" (Tholuck). Christ was meek, and we should be like the Master. Avoid such things as lead one "to flatter the great, to court the rich, and be servile to the mighty" (Plumer). It is a question whether we should here read "lowly things," or "lowly people." Either reading is correct, and commentators are about equally divided on the point. Meyer, who favors the neuter, reads: "Yielding to that which is humble, to the claims and tasks which are presented to you by the humbler relations of life." He illustrates by Paul’s following the trade of tentmaker. Against this, Gifford says: "The adjective tapeinos (lowly) is used in the New Testament frequently of persons, never of things. It is better, therefore, to follow the same usage here, and understand it of lowly persons as in the Authorized Version." But Paul doubtless used the adjective in its fullest sense, combining both persons and things, making it, as it were, a double command; for he wished his readers to do all things needful to keep them in brotherly accord. If we keep in touch with the lowly, we must yield ourselves to be interested in their lowly affairs; and if we keep our hearts warm toward humble things, we will find ourselves in sympathy with humble people. So even if the command be made single, it will either way affect the double result of a double command, and without the double result either command would be insufficient. "Honor all your fellow-Christians, and that alike," says Chalmers, "on the ground of their common and exalted prospects. When on this high level, do not plume yourselves on the insignificant distinctions of your superior wealth or superior earthly consideration of whatever sort." Moreover, let your condescension be invisible; let it be so hid in love that no one, not even yourself, is conscious of its presence, for condescension without love is as spittle without healing-- John 9:6] Be not wise in your own conceits. [Proverbs 3:7 . Setting our hearts on high things as our proper sphere, and despising lowly things as unworthy of our lofty notice, begets in us a false idea of our own importance and wisdom, and a conceited spirit full of pride and vanity. This is the besetting sin of those having large mental endowment--those whom the world counts wise. The culmination of this self-conceit is that spirit which even cavils at God’s precepts, and lightly criticizes and rejects his revelation. The proper spirit before God is childlike, teachable (Matthew 18:1-4; Mark 10:15), and it is better to be wise in the sight of the all-wise God than to be a Solomon in your own foolish estimation. As conceit grows, love ebbs, and all loveless life is profitless (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). We now approach a sphere of duties relating to forbearance in persecution, and life-relations outside the church.]

Verse 17

Render to no man evil for evil. [Quoted from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-48). The precept bids us reject the lex talionis, and live contrary to it: it commands us to eschew both the spirit and practice of vindictiveness. "The heathen," says Burkitt, "reckoned revenge as a part of justice," but the Christian must look on justice as subservient to love.] Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. [Proverbs 3:4 LXX. Give no cause for suspicion or offense, but disarm all enmity by open, fair-minded dealing. Let your light shine (Matthew 5:16). Let men note what company you keep (Acts 4:13). "Not letting habits, talk, expenses," says Moule, "drift into inconsistency; watching with open and considerate eyes against what others may fairly think to be unchristian in you. Here is no counsel of cowardice, no recommendation of slavery to a public opinion which may be altogether wrong. It is a precept of loyal jealousy for the heavenly Master’s honor. His servant is to be nobly indifferent to the world’s thought and word when he is sure that God and the world antagonize. But he is to be sensitively attentive to the world’s observation where the world, more or less acquainted with the Christian precept or principle, and more or less conscious of its truth and right, is watching maliciously, or it may be wistfully, to see if it governs the Christian’s practice. In view of this, the man will never be content even with the satisfaction of his own conscience; he will set himself, not only to do right, but to be seen to do it. He will not only be true to a monetary trust, for example; he will take care that the proofs of his fidelity shall be open. He will not only mean well toward others; he will take care that his manner and bearing, his dealings and intercourse shall unmistakably breathe the Christian air."]

Verse 18

If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. [It takes two to live at peace. So far as the Christian is concerned, the rule of peace is absolute. He must stir up no needless opposition, he must avoid every act likely to give offense, he must harbor no resentment. But, so far as the other party is concerned, the rule is conditional, for no one knew better than Paul, out of life’s bitter experiences, that the most sacrificial efforts to keep the peace may be frustrated by the acts of enemies whom no consideration can pacify, no concession quiet. For an event after this writing see Acts 21:26-27 . Our own conduct is in our power; our neighbor’s, not. Here, too, love must do its best.]

Verse 19

Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. [The quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:35 . We may look upon verse 17 as designed to check hasty, personal retaliation, or as relating to injuries of a more personal nature. The avenging of this verse savors more of a judicial punishment--a punishment which one’s calm judgment, unbefogged by passion and unbiased by the sense of wrong, might haply mete out as absolutely just and unqualifiedly deserved. But even under such circumstances the Christian is to leave the culprit in God’s hands, for the Lord claims exclusive jurisdiction in the case, and promises to give the just recompense. We bar God’s judgments by attempting to anticipate them, and we also call down his tremendous sentence upon ourselves for the small satisfaction of executing our puny sentence upon one whom he would in time deal with if we were only patient. The wrath to which we must give place is evidently neither our own nor our enemy’s, but God’s (as appears by the context. Comp. Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:29). Waiting persuades us to forgiveness, for when we reflect on the severity and lasting nature of God’s punishment, we partake of his desire to show grace and grant pardon. But how just are the awards of his throne! His mind is clouded by no passion, biased by no prejudice, deceived by no false appearances, misled by no lying testimony, warped by no illwill. And when his judgment is formed, grace guides its course, mercy mollifies its execution, and, as far as righteousness permits, the love of a Father who pities his feeble, earth-born children transforms it into a blessing. Nevertheless, it is a judgment of God, and not of man, and the majesty of God is upheld in it. God-revealed religion bids us thus wait upon this judgment of God, but man-made religion speaks otherwise. "Mahomet’s laws," says Trapp, "run thus: Avenge yourselves of your enemies; rather do wrong than take wrong; kill the infidels, etc." In giving this command Paul uses the term "beloved." "By this title," says Bengel, "he soothes the angry." "The more difficult the duty, the more affectionately does the apostle address his readers with this word"--Tholuck.]

Verse 20

But [instead of avenging] if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. [Quoted from Proverbs 25:21-22 LXX., where the words, "And Jehovah will reward thee," are added. Simply to forbear from avenging is only half a victory. The full conquest is to return good for evil (Luke 6:27-30). In feeding enemies we are like God, who daily feeds sinners, and the conduct of God is our law (Matthew 5:44-48). Heaping coals of fire is a figure derived from the crucible, where they were heaped upon the hard metal till it softened and melted. Kindness is not utterly lost on beasts, but with man it ought always to prevail, for it heaps coals upon the head, or seat of intelligence, filling the mind with the vehement pangs and pains of conscience, the torments of shame, remorse and self-reproach. The most effectual way of subduing an enemy is by the unbearable punishment of unfailing kindness--it is God’s way. "The logic of kindness," says Johnson, "is more powerful than the logic of argument." The same thought is now repeated by the apostle without a figure.]

Verse 21

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. [Evil is the weak weapon of the sinner; goodness, the puissant, all-conquering blade of the saint. What shame, then, if the saint lose in the unequal conflict! "Thus David overcame Saul" (Trapp). "In revenge," says Basil, "he is the loser who is the victor." When evil leads us to do evil, then are we overcome of evil. When we meet evil with good, we have at least overcome the evil in ourselves, if not in our enemy.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 12". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/romans-12.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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