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Romans 12

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4064. A.D. 60.

The apostle, having now finished the doctrinal part of his epistle, here enters on a series of most admirable practical exhortations and directions, some of which are of universal and perpetual obligation, and others of them were suited to the circumstances of the brethren at the time they were written. In them all, he labours to persuade his Christian readers to act in a manner worthy of that gospel, the excellence of which he had been illustrating. In this chapter,

(1,) He urges on them an entire consecration of themselves to God, and a care to glorify him in their respective stations, by a faithful improvement of their various talents, Romans 12:1-8 .

(2,) He exhorts them to the exercise of sundry Christian graces and virtues, as of love, zeal, hope, patience, prayer, liberality, hospitality, meekness, sympathy, and condescension, Romans 12:9-16 .

(3,) Presses them to manifest a peaceable, forgiving spirit, and becoming conduct toward all men, together with forbearance and kindness toward injurious enemies, Romans 12:17-21 .

Verse 1

Romans 12:1. I beseech you therefore, brethren Paul uses to suit his exhortations to the doctrines he has been delivering. So here the general exhortation to universal holiness, grounded on, and inferred from, the whole of the preceding part of the epistle, is contained in the first and second verses. Particular advices and precepts follow from the third verse to the end of the epistle. By the mercies Δια των οικτιρμων , the bowels of mercies, or tender mercies of God The whole sentiment is derived from chap. 1.-5.; the expression itself is particularly opposed to the wrath of God, Romans 1:18. It has a reference here to the entire gospel, to the whole economy of grace or mercy, delivering us from the wrath of God, and exciting us to all duty. “The love,” says Macknight, “which God hath expressed in our redemption by Christ, and in making us [true] members of his church, is the most winning of all considerations to engage us to obey God; especially as his commands are calculated to make us capable of the blessings he proposes to bestow on us in the next life. We should therefore habitually recollect this powerful motive, and particularly when any difficult duty is to be performed.” That Instead of the animal victims, whose slaughtered bodies you have been accustomed to offer, either to the true God, or to idols, you would now present As it were, at his spiritual altar; your own bodies That is, yourselves, as he expresses himself, Romans 6:13, a part being put for the whole; and the rather, as in the ancient sacrifices of beasts, to which he alludes, the body was the whole. These also are particularly named, in opposition to the abominable abuse of their bodies, of which the heathen were guilty, mentioned Romans 1:24. And several other expressions follow, which have likewise a direct reference to other expressions in the same chapter. To this we may add, that having taught, Romans 7:5; Romans 7:18; Romans 7:23, that the body, with its lusts, is the source and seat of sin, he exhorted the Romans, very properly, to present their bodies to God a sacrifice, by putting the lusts and appetites thereof to death. It may be proper to observe, also, that the word παραστησαι , here rendered to present, is the word by which the bringing of an animal to the altar to be sacrificed was expressed. A sacrifice Dedicated to God entirely and irrevocably; (for in the ancient sacrifices, the animals were wholly given, and were not taken back again;) made dead to the world and sin, being slain by the commandment, (Romans 7:9,) or by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and is quick and powerful to effect this death, (Hebrews 4:12,) and living by that life which is mentioned Romans 1:17; Romans 6:4, &c.; that is, by faith in the gospel, the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus; and thus made a living sacrifice indeed; holy A sacrifice such as the holy law requires, and the Holy Spirit produces. This is spoken in allusion to the sacrifices under the law being required to be without blemish. Acceptable A sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour. The sum is, Let your whole souls, with all their faculties, and your bodies, with all their members, being sanctified and animated by divine grace, be dedicated to, and employed in the service of him to whom you are under such immense obligations. Which is your reasonable service Such a sacrifice is reasonable, not merely because, as Beza observes, it is the sacrifice of a rational creature; whereas the sacrifices of birds and beasts, &c, were sacrifices, αλογων ζωων , of irrational animals; but because the whole worship and service is highly, nay, infinitely reasonable, being the worship and service of faith, love, and obedience, the objects of which are divine truth and love, and wise, just, holy, and kind commands: or, in other words, affections and dispositions, words and actions, suited to the divine perfections, and the relations subsisting between us and God, as our Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, Saviour, friend, and father in Christ Jesus. And as the sacrifice is thus reasonable, it is equally reasonable that we should offer it, being under indispensable, yea, infinite obligations so to do. So that in offering this sacrifice, and in all things, a Christian acts by the highest reason, from the mercy of God inferring his own duty.

Verse 2

Romans 12:2. And be not conformed Neither in judgment, spirit, nor behaviour; to this vain and sinful world Which, neglecting the will of God, entirely follows its own; but be ye transformed Regenerated and created anew; by the renewing of your minds Of your understandings, wills, and affections, through the influence of the Spirit of God, Titus 3:5. Thus, Ephesians 4:22-25, the new man is described as renewed in the spirit of his mind; that is, in all his faculties; in his affections and will, as well as in his understanding: in consequence whereof his whole conduct becomes holy and virtuous. That ye may prove May be enabled to discern, approve, and know, not merely speculatively, but experimentally and practically, and by sure trial; what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God The will of God is here to be understood of all the preceptive part of Christianity, which is in itself so excellently good, so acceptable to God, and so perfective of our nature: and it is here “set in opposition, on the one hand, to the idolatrous rites of worship practised by the heathen, which in their own nature were extremely bad; and, on the other, to the unprofitable ceremonies and sacrifices of the law of Moses, concerning which God himself declared that he had no pleasure in them, Hebrews 10:5-9. The rites of Moses, therefore, in which the Jews gloried, were no longer acceptable to God. Whereas the duties recommended by the apostle are of eternal obligation, and separate the people of God from the wicked in a more excellent manner than the Jews had been separated from idolaters by the rites of Moses.” Macknight.

Verse 3

Romans 12:3. For I say As if he had said, You must be renewed, in order that you may walk as it is your indispensable duty and great privilege to do. He proceeds to show what that will of God is, which he had just spoken of: through the grace which is given to me He chiefly means, given him as an inspired apostle, whereby he was qualified and authorized to direct the believers at Rome, in their duty in general, and in the exercise of their gifts, and the execution of their offices in particular. And he modestly mentions the grace of God as the source of his authority and qualifications for this office, lest he should seem to forget his own direction; to every one that is among you To all and each of you, who profess Christianity at Rome: well would it have been if the Christians there had always remembered his advice! Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think On account of any special gift conferred on him, or any public office assigned him in the church; not to be lifted up with pride on account of it, or of his own wisdom or understanding, so as to arrogate to himself, or take upon him, more authority than he ought. But to think soberly To think of himself, of his gifts or office, with modesty and humility; according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith From which all other gifts and graces flow. And surely, as if he had said, When you consider it is God who hath given all, there will appear little reason to magnify yourselves on any distinguishing share of his bounty, which any one may have received; especially when you remember that this distribution is made not only, or chiefly, for your own sakes, but out of regard to the good of the whole. From the apostolic caution and advice here given, we may infer that “irregularities in the exercise of spiritual gifts had taken place, or were likely to take place, at Rome as at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 12:14, at Philippi, Philippians 2:3, and Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20. These the apostle endeavoured to correct, or prevent, by the excellent rules prescribed in this passage.”

Verses 4-8

Romans 12:4-8. For as we have many members The apostle proceeds to illustrate his advice by a comparison taken from the members of the human body. All members have not the same office But different members are appointed to different purposes. So we Several believers, having different gifts and offices; are one body All make up one body under Christ the head; and members one of another Closely connected together, and nearly related to one another, and so bound to be helpful to one another. Having then gifts differing In their nature, design, and use, although the ultimate tendency of all is the same; according to the grace that is given to us Gifts are various, but grace is one; and grace, free grace, is the spring and origin of all the gifts which are given to men. It is grace that appoints the offices, calls and qualifies persons to fill them, and works in them both to will and to do. But by grace here the apostle seems chiefly to intend the favour which God manifested, in different respects and degrees, in bestowing gifts upon men. In the primitive church there were divers extraordinary gifts, as that of tongues, that of discerning of spirits, that of healing, with some others mentioned 1 Corinthians 12:4-10. But the apostle speaks here chiefly, if not only, of those that are ordinary. Whether prophecy This, considered as an extraordinary gift, is that whereby things to come are foretold, or heavenly mysteries are declared to men. But it seems here to signify the ordinary gift of interpreting the Scriptures, and preaching the word of God, which is also the meaning of the expression, 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:3. Let us prophesy according to the proportion, or analogy rather, of faith. Or, as Peter expresses it, 1 Peter 4:11, as the oracles of God; according to the general tenor of them; according to that grand scheme of doctrine which is delivered therein, touching the original and fallen state of man, the person and offices, the deity and atonement of Christ, justification by faith, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, inward and outward holiness, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, a general judgment, and an eternal state of happiness or misery. There is a wonderful analogy between all these doctrines, and a close and intimate connection between the chief heads of that faith which was once delivered to the saints. Every article, therefore, concerning which there is any question, should be determined by this rule: every doubtful scripture interpreted according to the grand truths which run through the whole. Macknight, however, thinks that “the extent and energy of inspiration which was bestowed on some of the believers, is rather intended here, called the measure of faith, Romans 12:3; and that the meaning of the apostle’s direction is, that such as enjoyed the prophetic inspiration were not to imagine, that because some things were revealed to them, they might speak of every thing; but that in prophesying, they were to confine themselves to what was revealed to them.” Or ministry Although every office performed for the edification of the church was called διακονια , ministry, (see Ephesians 4:12,) and hence the word is applied to the apostleship itself, Acts 1:17; Acts 1:25; Acts 6:4; and to the evangelist’s office, 2 Timothy 4:5; yet, as the ministry here spoken of is joined with teaching, exhorting, distributing, and showing mercy, which were all stated offices in the church, it is probable that it was also a stated office, and most probably that of deacons, appointed to superintend the temporal affairs of the Christian societies: concerning whom see note on Acts 6:2-3. Let us wait on our ministering Let a man employ himself actively and faithfully in his ministration; or he that teacheth The ignorant, who is appointed to instruct the catechumens, and to fit them for the communion of the church; let him attend to his office of teaching with humility, tenderness, patience, and diligence; or he that exhorteth

Whose peculiar business it was to urge Christians to perform their duty, or to comfort them in their trials, let him continue in his exhortation. He that giveth Any thing to a charitable use; let him do it with simplicity Namely, of intention, and unfeigned liberality: neither seeking the applause of men, nor having any other sinister end in view, which he could desire to conceal. Let him act with disinterestedness and impartiality. He that ruleth or presideth, (Greek, προισταμενος ,) that hath the care of a flock, (see 1 Timothy 5:17,) or presideth in the distribution of charities, which sense the preceding and following clauses appear rather to favour: or, that is appointed to see that they do their duty in any department, (Romans 16:2,) with diligence Let him perform his office faithfully. He that showeth mercy In any instance, particularly in relieving the poor and afflicted; with cheerfulness Rejoicing that he has such an opportunity of being useful to his fellow-creatures.

Verses 9-11

Romans 12:9-11. Having spoken of faith and its fruits, Romans 12:3, he comes now to speak of love. Let love be without dissimulation Not in pretence, but in reality; not in word and tongue only, but in deed and in truth, 1 John 3:18. In consequence of loving God because he hath first loved you, sincerely love and desire the temporal and eternal welfare of all mankind; and let all your expressions of mutual friendship be as free as possible from base flattery and vain compliment. Abhor that which is evil In every instance; and cleave to that which is good Both inwardly and outwardly, whatever ill-will or danger may follow: practise benevolence and every other virtue with the greatest determination and perseverance of mind. Be kindly affectioned one to another Or, as the very expressive words of the original, τη φιλαδελφια , εις αλληλους φιλοστοργοι , may be rendered, In love to one another, as brethren in Christ, show that kindness of affection which near relations bear to one another. So Macknight, who justly observes, “the force of the word φιλοστοργοι , can hardly be reached in any translation.” It is compounded of a word signifying that affection which animals, by instinct, bear to their young; and so teaches us, that Christian charity must be warm and strong, like that, and joined with delight, which the word also implies. In honour preferring one another That is, let each, in his turn, be ready to think better of his brethren than of himself, which he will do, if he habitually consider what is good and excellent in others, and what is evil or weak in himself. It may imply also the preventing others in every office of respect and kindness; and, out of regard to their advantage, giving up, with as good a grace as possible, any thing in which our own honour or personal interest may be concerned. The original words, however, τη τιμη αλληλους προηγουμενοι , are interpreted by some, In every honourable action going before, and leading on one another. Not slothful in business That is, being diligent and industrious in your particular callings; or in your endeavours to advance the glory of God, and the good, especially the spiritual good, of one another, as the singular phraseology of the original, τη σπουδη μη οκνηροι , is thought by many to imply: “not slothful in the concerns of God and one another,” says Dr. Whitby; “in care for each other be not slothful,” Macknight; “perform not your duty slothfully, unwillingly, and heavily, but diligently,” Baxter; “whatsoever you do, do it with your might,” Wesley. Although it is proper that Christians should attend to, and be diligent in prosecuting their temporal business, yet it does not appear that was the chief thing the apostle had in view in this passage. Fervent in spirit Zealous and earnest, especially in all the duties of religion, and in every business diligently and fervently serving the Lord; doing all to God, and not to man; making God’s will your rule, and his glory your end, in all your actions.

Verses 12-18

Romans 12:12-18 . Rejoicing in hope Of perfect holiness and everlasting happiness; or of the glory of God; (Romans 5:2;) and of eternal life, Titus 1:2; patient in tribulation To which you may be exposed for the cause of Christ, or in whatever you may be called to suffer, according to the wise disposals of God’s gracious providence; continuing instant in prayer That you may stand firm in the faith, and have a seasonable deliverance from your trouble. Distributing to the necessities of the saints As far as is in your power; accounting nothing your own which their relief requires you to communicate. It is remarkable that the apostle, treating expressly of the duties flowing from the communion of saints, yet never says one word about the dead. Given to, διωκοντες , pursuing hospitality Not only embracing those that offer, but seeking opportunities to exercise it: a precept this, which the present circumstances of Christians rendered peculiarly proper, and indeed necessary; especially toward those strangers that were exiles from their own country, or were travelling in the cause of Christianity. To which we may add, that the want of public inns, (which were much less common than among us,) rendered it difficult for strangers to get accommodations. Bless That is, wish well to, and pray for, them which persecute you That pursue you with evil intentions, and find means to bring upon you the greatest sufferings. Bless, and curse not No, not in your hearts, whatever provocations you may have to do so. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, &c. Maintain a constant sympathy with your Christian brethren, as the relation in which you stand to them, as members of the same body, requires. Be of the same mind one toward another Desire for others the same good which you wish for yourselves. Or, “let each condescend to the rest, and agree with them as far as he fairly and honourably can: and where you must differ, do not by any means quarrel about it, but allow the same liberty of sentiments you would claim.” So Doddridge. Mind not high things Desire not riches, honour, or the company of the great; but condescend to men of low estate To the meanest concerns of the meanest Christians, and stoop to all offices of Christian kindness toward them. Be not wise in your own conceits So as to think you do not need the guidance of the divine wisdom, or the advice and counsel of your Christian brethren, Proverbs 3:5; Proverbs 3:7. Recompense to no man evil for evil Nor imagine that any man’s injurious treatment of you will warrant your returning the injury. Provide things honest in the sight of all men Think beforehand: contrive to give as little offence as may be to any. Take care that you do only such things as are justifiable and unexceptionable; such as may be above the need of excuse, and may appear, at the first view, fair and reputable. The word προνοουμενοι , rendered provide, signifies, to think of the proper method of doing a thing, before we proceed to action. If it be possible That is, so far as it may be done, 1st. Without dishonouring God; 2d, With a good conscience; 3d, If men’s abuses be not insufferable; that is, as far as is consistent with duty, honour, and conscience; live peaceably with all men Even with heathen and unbelievers, with whom you have any dealings.

Verses 19-20

Romans 12:19-20. Dearly beloved So he softens the rugged spirit; avenge not yourselves On those that have injured you, whatever wrongs you may receive; but rather give place unto wrath Yield to the wrath of the enemy: for it is written, Vengeance is mine It properly belongs to me; and I will repay The deserved punishment; saith the Lord Or perhaps the original expression, δοτε τοπον τη οργη , might be more properly rendered, leave room for wrath; that is, the wrath of God, to whom vengeance properly belongs. “This precept,” says Macknight, “is founded, as in religion, so in right reason, and in the good of society. For he who avenges himself, making himself accuser, and judge, and executioner, all in one person, runs a great hazard of injuring both himself and others, by acting improperly, through the influence of passion.” Therefore Instead of bearing any thoughts of hurting them that abuse you, however unkindly and unjustly; if thine enemy hunger, feed him

Even with your own hand: yea, if it be needful, put bread into his mouth: if he thirst, &c. That is, on the whole, do him all the good in thy power: for in so doing As Solomon urges, (Proverbs 25:21,) thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head Thou wilt touch him so sensibly, that he will no more be able to stand against such a conduct, than to bear on his head burning coals; but will rather submit to seek thy friendship, and endeavour, by future kindness, to overbalance the injury. “The metaphor is supposed to be taken from the melting of metals, by covering the ore with burning coals. Thus understood, the meaning will be, In so doing, thou wilt mollify thine enemy, and bring him to a good temper. This, no doubt, is the best method of treating enemies: for it belongs to God to punish the injurious, but to the injured to overcome them, by returning good for evil.

“So artists melt the sullen ore of lead, By heaping coals of fire upon its head:

In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow, And, pure from dross, the silver runs below.”

That the expression is used here in this sense, seems evident from the following verse, where we are commanded to overcome evil with good.

Verse 21

Romans 12:21. Be not overcome of evil As all are who avenge themselves; but Even if you see no present fruit, yet persevere; and overcome evil with good Conquer your enemies with kindness and patience, which is the most glorious victory, and a victory which may certainly be obtained, if you have the courage to adhere to that which, being good, is always in its own nature, on the whole, invincible, to whatever present disadvantage it may seem obnoxious. Blackwall, after having praised the language in which this precept is delivered, adds, “This is a noble strain of Christian courage, prudence, and goodness, that nothing in Epictetus, Plutarch, or Antonine, can vie with. The moralists and heroes of paganism could not write and act to the height of this.”

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 12". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/romans-12.html. 1857.
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