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3 For, I say, through the [apostolic] grace that was given to me, to every one that is among you, not to be estimating himself beyond what he ought to estimate; but to be so estimating himself as to have a sober estimate, according as God to each one of us divided a measure of faith.
We have used here Rotherham's rendering, "estimate," instead of the common rendering, "think." It is remarkable that God crowds (in the original) this one word, "have an opinion," or "estimate," four times into this one sentence! It is also striking that this command, not to have a higher opinion of ourselves than we ought to have, is the first, the opening one of all the exhortations which follow. Let us lay this to heart!
Note what this proves:
(1) That over-estimation of one's importance among the saints is a fundamental temptation.
(2) That God has granted to each one of His saints a certain allotment, or "measure," of faith,--that is, of the ability to lay hold on the mighty operations of the Spirit of grace. And note carefully that God does not say, according to the measure of knowledge, but "of faith."
(3) That only the one who comes into a personal discernment of God's special will through surrender to Him, will come to have a "sober estimate" of his own place.
(4) That it is a distinct command of the apostle (emphasized by allusion to the mighty apostolic charge and grace given by God to him direct to us), that being surrendered to God, we come into a sober estimate of our place,--of our "measure of faith." This great verse is now to be followed by its explanation:
4 For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office:5 so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ; and as to each one, members of all the rest!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; 7 or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry: or he that teacheth, to his teaching; 8 or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting: he that giveth, let him do it with liberality; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Verses 4 and 5:
For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ; and as to each one, members of all the rest!
Here is Paul's first mention of this great doctrine of the Body of Christ, a doctrine which he alone, among the apostles, sets forth, he being the one chosen "minister of the Church" (Colossians 1:24-25),--as to its real, heavenly, corporate character. Note now the comparison:
(1) Our human bodies have many members.
(2) These members, however, constitute a unity: they are one body.
(3) Each member is a member of all the others.
(4) All our members have not the same work to do.
Even so with us in Christ:
(1) We are many, but
(2) we are one Body in Christ. "Body" is not here an illustration, but an actuality. "He that loveth his own wife, loveth himself, . . . even as Christ also the Church; because we are members of His Body. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the Church" (Ephesians 5:28-32): "The Church which is His Body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). This union is so absolute that Paul writes: "As the body [Of course there is all manner of looseness of talk by those who do not discern, hold, and continually speak in terms of the one Body of which Christ Risen is the Head. We do not have any right to use the word "body" of any but the true, mystical Body of Christ: those who have been "by the one Spirit baptized into One Body." The confusion of the Scripture doctrine of the true Church, the Body of Christ, with the Church's outward relationships, responsibilities, and testing, as the House of God on earth, has given rise to innumerable evils. The Church which is Christ's Body is the blessed company of all true believers from Pentecost to its Rapture at Christ's coming. The House of God is "the pillar and stay of the truth" upon earth, just as Israel was before the cross. But Just as there was an elect Remnant, Simeons and Annas, Zachariahs and Elizabeths,--the true Israel--in our Lord's day; while the temple, the House of God, had been invaded by all manner of corruption and merchandising, having been built up by Herod the Great, a son of Esau;--so, today, the true Church is not what you see gathering into meetings all about you, but that company of true believers known to God, all of whom have been baptized by the Spirit into One Body, and who also are indwelt by the Spirit. All others, however prominent "church members" they may be, are simply part of the "great house' of 2 Timothy 2:20, where vessels "unto dishonor" as well as those "unto honor exist; which the "house of God" set forth in 1 Timothy 3:15 has, through man's failure, become.] is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; SO ALSO IS CHRIST" (1 Corinthians 12:12). We deceive ourselves and delude others when we use the word "body" as connected with the Church of God, of any but the true, elect members of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit. And that consciousness (that is, the consciousness of the One Body of Christ of which Christ Risen in glory is the Head and they, the living, Spirit-indwelt members, are the fulness), should be held by us continually to the exclusion of anything earthly or merely local or sectarian. Thus we should find ourselves at once in fellowship with true believers everywhere, for they with us are members of Christ, and they and we are members one of another.
(3) We are individually "members one of another." Compare 1 Corinthians 12:27 : "Now ye are the Body of Christ, and individually members thereof." Being members of the Body of Christ, we necessarily are members of one another; as my right hand, being a member of my body, is a member of my left hand. Mark that Paul makes this "membership one of another," an additional (though necessary) truth to the fact of the one Body in Christ. Note carefully that Scripture never speaks of "church members," as men today do; nor of "membership" in or of a local assembly; but only of membership in the Body of Christ, and of membership one of another. We are members of the heavenly Head, Christ, and therefore members one of another by an operation of the Spirit of God, not by action of man. In local assemblies, according to Scripture, we have fellowship, as already members of Christ and of one another. The importance of seeing this is immeasurable. For the great fact that we are one, actually members of other believers, is made by the Spirit of God the basis of our love toward one another! As Paul says in Ephesians 4:25 : "Putting away falsehood, talk truth each one with his neighbor; for we are members one of another." Your right hand has never yet had a fight with the left: on the contrary, each constantly helps the other! And, as to suffering, "Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it."
And having gifts, different according to the grace that was given unto us--For each believer there is some particular "gift," to be bestowed by the already indwelling Spirit, (as those yielding themselves to God find) to make each believer a direct benefit to the Body of Christ: "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit (the whole Body) withal, . . . the Spirit dividing to each one severally even as He will." The various gifts are bestowed by the Spirit for "ministration" to the Lord Jesus, and the "working" in each case is by God Himself. Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
Now, these differing gifts are "according to the grace that was given unto us." In Romans 12:3 Paul speaks by the apostolic grace given unto him, and to each believer there is also an individual differing "grace," given to each for the particular service to which God calls him. In accordance with this "grace," there is, therefore, a "gift," by the indwelling Spirit. (This is not the gift of the person of the Spirit, but is a gift communicated by the already given Spirit.) [Of course, it will be to many, as it was to the author, a startling revelation, that the Spirit is ready to engift each believer for Divinely appointed service! Those mentioned as "unlearned" in 1 Corinthians 14:23 were evidently believers, but ungifted; or, as Alford says, "plain believers," persons unacquainted with the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12.] For the receiving and using of these gifts, there is necessary the element of faith, which is bestowed by God in exact accordance with the gift given each one. The bestowal is called, "the grace that was given to us." [Alford well says, "The measure of faith, the gift of God, is the receptive faculty for all spiritual gifts; which are, therefore, not to be boasted of, nor Pushed beyond their province, but humbly exercised within their own limits."] It will not do to say, if we find ourselves not in possession of certain gifts, "They are not for us: they belonged only to the "Early Church." This is a three-fold presumption! (1) It is excusing our own low state; and worse: (2) It is blaming the result of the failure of the Church upon God,--an awful thing! (3) It is setting up the present man-dependent, man-sufficient state of things as superior to the days when the Holy Spirit of God was known in power.
It is true that God, in His infinite grace, accepted, at the hands of the Jews, at the end of the 70 years' captivity, the temple of Zerubbabel, saying: "Build the house, and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified." It is true that our Lord called that temple (though built in its grandeur by Herod, the Edomite--descendant of Esau, not Jacob!) "My Father's house," and "My house," for He had not yet finally deserted it, (as He did at last in Matthew 23:38). But the Jews of our Lord's day gloried in that temple: though there was in it neither the Ark of the Covenant nor the Shechinah Presence of Jehovah. The glory had departed; but the Jews forgot all this, just as many Christians today, though often quite "Bible students,"--practically forget or ignore the immediate Presence of the Holy Ghost, with His all-necessary gifts: saying, "These belonged to the early days'; but we have the written Word now, and do not need the gifts, as did the Early Church."
And this self-sufficiency is leading, has led, to the same form of truth-without-power, that the Jews had in Christ's day.
We are not hereby saying, Let us bring back these gifts. But we are pleading for the self-judgment and abasement before God that recognizes our real state. The outward church today is Laodicean, "wretched, poor, miserable, blind, naked"--and knows it not! And the Philadelphian remnant have only "a little strength." Let us be honest! We have substituted for the mighty operations amongst us of the Holy Ghost, the pitiful "soulical" training of men. We look to men to train, to "prepare" preachers, and teachers, and "leaders," for a heavenly company, the Church, among whom the Holy Ghost Himself dwells as Administrator. Let us not dare to claim that the Holy Ghost is no longer willing to work in power amongst us. Because, for Him to do so is God's plan! Indeed, He is so working where not hindered. Let us confess the truth. Our powerlessness is because of unbelief,--the inheritance of the sins of our fathers, the inheritance of a grieved Spirit. It may be true that He does not work as He once did; but let us admit two things: we dare not say, He is not willing so to work; and, we dare not say it is God's plan that He does not! We can only say, We have sinned! So did Daniel (Daniel 9). So did Ezra (Ezra 9). So did they of Nehemiah's day (Nehemiah 9). Our days are days of failure, just like those. Nor will it do, (as with so many enlightened saints), merely to "see and judge the failure of the professed Church" and gather in the name of the Lord, and remember His death in the breaking of bread every Lord's day. All this is good. But we must judge ourselves if we do not have real power amongst us. And the power of the Spirit, in a day of apostasy like this, will bring us into a deep burden over the state of things, and into prayer, such as the great men of God made in the three great chapters to which we have just referred!
--Whether prophecy [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of our faith--Paul's exhortation, as we shall see, is here devoted to the believer's exercising any gifts "according to the proportion" of his God-given confidence, or "faith," in the exercise of it: not over-estimating himself, but soberly estimating, and thus proceeding. (It is taken for granted, of course, that all are fully willing to exercise any gift; and will not, through unbelief or false humility, hold back therefrom. ["An apostle was sent direct, as an architect, authorized by Christ to build His Church. Apostles were authorized, on the part of Christ, to found and to build, and to establish rules in His Church. In this sense there are no longer apostles. "But it appears to me, that in a lower sense, there may be apostles and prophets in all ages. Barnabas is termed an apostle. Junius and Andronicus are called apostles, and it is said of them that they were of note amongst the apostles' (Romans 16:7); so that there are others who were not named. "As regards the revelation of God, it is complete; as regards any authority to found the Church it no longer exists; neither the twelve nor Paul have had any successors. The foundation cannot be twice laid. But one may act under an extraordinary responsibility as sent by God. We may cite as examples, without pretending to justify all that they did, a Luther, a Calvin, a Zwingli, and perhaps others. So for prophets; although there be no new revelations of truth, there may be, as proceeding from God Himself, a power of applying to the circumstances of the church, or of the world, truths hidden in the Word; such as, in practice, might render the ministry prophetic. Moreover all those who expressed the mind of God to edification' were called prophets, or at least, prophesied.' "Prophets, who were associated with apostles as the foundation, because they revealed the mind of God, may, it appears to me, in a subordinate sense, be believed to exist,--those who not merely teach and explain ordinary and profitable doctrine,--but who by a special energy of the Spirit can unfold and communicate the mind of Christ to the Church where it is ignorant of it (though that mind he treasured up in the Scripture)--can bring truths, hidden previously from the knowledge of the Church, in the power of the testimony of the Spirit of God, to bear on the present circumstances of the Church and future prospects of the world, and thus be practically prophets (though there be no new facts revealed, but all are really in the Word already), and thus be a direct? blessing and gift of Christ to the Church for its emergency and need, though the Word be strictly adhered to, but without which the Church would not have had the power of that Word" (Darby).]
We can easily see in a Luther or a Calvin, in the sixteenth century, in a Bunyan in the seventeenth century; in a Wesley in the eighteenth, in a Moody in the nineteenth, such apostolic operation. Wesley spoke from God to all England, as did Luther to Germany. Moody, we know, was first an evangelist, loving and reaching the lost. But God, who is sovereign, gave him spiritual authority in the consciences of Christians throughout the whole world. We know what debt under God all those who have the truth today owe to Darby, through whom God recovered more truth belonging to the Church of God, than through any other man since Paul, and whose writings are today the greatest treasure of truth and safeguard against error known to instructed believers. Such men had more than an evangelist's or teacher's gift. There was spiritual authority they themselves did not seek, attending their ministry. This fact discerning believers,--those free from tradition's bias, readily see and gladly admit. Paul defines the prophetic gift in 1 Corinthians 14:3 : "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and comfort, and consolation." New Testament prophets and apostles laid the foundation of the Church,--the prophets speaking directly by inspiration from God. But while the early apostles and prophets had their peculiar ministry in a foundational way, yet both gifts remain in the Church (see Ephesians 4:11-13) along with evangelists, pastors and teachers. Now since the prophet speaks under the moving of the Spirit, he is to do so "according to His faith." Dean Alford makes the evident distinction, "The prophet spoke under immediate inspiration; the teacher (didaskalos (G1320)), under inspiration working by the secondary instruments of his will and reason and rhetorical power." We have ourselves sometimes heard those speaking in "testimony" or "praise-meetings" whose words were not, properly speaking, teaching; but yet entered in the power of the Spirit directly into the heart of the hearers, edifying, exhorting, and consoling,--a high ministry indeed, though in the "secondary character" of it, as compared to the words of the early apostles and prophets. Such an one could, of course, speak profitably only when speaking in the Spirit, and thus, "in proportion to his faith."
The remarkable foot-note above, from J. N. Darby, is a frank and explicitly plain statement of truth. Mr. D repeats over and over (seven times, at least, in the pages from which our excerpts are taken--Coll. Writ. 1, 350; III. 217-9) that the written Word is complete. No honest heart, however, knowing history, can fail to admit that God has, in mercy, raised up, from time to time, men who have administered His Word in such apostolical and prophetic power. That He will again do so, we do not doubt. For there is an ever-recurring need of these gifts. Probably, a constant need!
Or [personal] ministry, let us occupy ourselves in our ministering [to the needs of the saints]--God graciously places this word "ministering" [diakonia (G1248)] between prophesying and teaching. In Acts 6 we have the word twice, applied first to physical things: "the daily ministration" (of food to the widows); and second to spiritual things: "We will continue . . . in the ministry of the Word." But here in Romans Twelve, its being placed as it is, indicates that those who, like the house of Stephanas, in 1 Corinthians 16:15, minister to the saints' material needs, should set themselves to such ministering. It is the whole-hearted exercise of this gift, when it is given, that is urged by the apostle. Perhaps there is no gift so liable to lapse into haphazard exercise, as this Christ-like gift!
Or he that teacheth, to his teaching--Proper Christian teaching is not mere "Bible study"; but, first of all, clear explanation direct to believers' hearts, of Christ's work for us, and of the Pauline Epistles that directly concern the Church of God as the Body of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, one with Him. Proper teaching would see that the saints become familiar with the wonders of the Old Testament, and love it. The prophecies, both of the Old Testament and of the book of The Revelation should also be taught, remembering that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy"; and that every true Christian teacher should be able to say: "It was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him" (Galatians 1:16); "that in all things Christ might have the preeminence"; "that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." This is the kind of work that was done by Priscilla and Aquila, when they had heard Apollos in the Ephesian synagogue: "They took him unto them, and expounded unto him the Way of God more accurately." It is being done whenever one who knows the truth really brings another into it. Oh, for more such teaching! We leave so much unapplied,--so much that the dear saints never really enter into! [Many years ago, at the Keswick Convention, in England, I was returning, about seven o'clock, from an early morning walk. I passed the "Drill Hall," and down came MacGregor (G.H.C.) and greeted me. I said, "Your face looks pale; are you not well?" "Oh yes,--only a bit weary," said he. Then, by questioning further, I found he had just then finished with the last case left from the previous night's meeting! That was teaching indeed. He had patiently labored all night long to expound to one after another "the Way of God more perfectly!" It is our privilege just now to have beneath our roof a beloved sister in her eighty-fourth year whose energies for over forty years have been constantly used in teaching others. Although having to support herself by public school teaching, yet with a steadfastness that is deeply touching, one thing she does with every one with whom she comes in contact: she teaches each the gospel. Many people, and even preachers, have come to her for instruction, even when she was confined to her bed in sickness or infirmity. There they sat patiently listening to her words concerning Christ. Her great passion is to "make all men see" Paul's wonderful explanation of our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. [Later: Alas for us,--not for her! our beloved Mrs. S---- has gone triumphantly Home!]
Or he that exhorteth, to his exhortation--The gift of exhortation is distinct from that of. teaching (though both may be found in the same person). Exhortation is an appeal to the will; teaching, to the mind. Exhortation is a precious gift--invaluable! whereby the Holy Spirit directly persuades the hearing heart into obedience to the truth which it has heard. A true exhorter, also, must be walking the path he calls others to follow!
He that giveth, with singleness [of heart toward God]--The literal meaning of giving here is that of imparting, of sharing our substance with others; and the manner of such giving is to be without secret reluctance, for "God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7); also without false pretense, such as Ananias and Sapphira had; finally, with an eye single to God. In fact, in Ephesians 6:5 this same word "singleness" is used in the phrase "in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ."
He that ruleth, with diligence--Ruling is first a gift, then an office, like those of elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:4; 1 Timothy 3:12), who must, of course, first "rule well their own house." Just as prophesying, teaching, and exhorting were gifts by the Spirit; and as giving is a grace given of God (2 Corinthians 8:1; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 8:7); so the work of elders and deacons were offices: "If a man seek the office of a bishop"--or overseer: called also "elder," as see Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28;--as being more matured in Christian faith and experience; while the term "bishop" or "overseer" designates the duties of the office--to oversee). Dean Alford objects to interpreting "ruleth" here (Romans 12:8) of rulership in the Church, saying, (as a true churchman would), "It is hardly likely that the rulers of the Church, as such, would be introduced so low down in the list, or by so general a term, as this!" But in the enumeration of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28, we have this order: "Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helps"; and then, "governments," next to the last term in the list! Of course man, who glories in office, would want this order changed.
Gifts were a direct bestowment (charisma (G5486)) of the Spirit; moreover, they were general, while the "rulers" were confined to their own assemblies. Prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11) were that wherever they were; but an elder or deacon held his own office in his own assembly only.
The ruler was to attend, with constant diligence, to his work; not, indeed, "lording it over" the Lord's heritage, but according to Peter's direction: "The elders among you I exhort . . . tend the flock of God which is among you" (that was their business--to take care of the Lord's sheep in the assembly where they were), "exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly." They were to watch; to be ready at any sacrifice of personal comfort to look after needy sheep: "nor yet for filthy lucre." (They were not to have money in mind, although elders that "ruled well" were to be "counted worthy of double honor," especially if they were able to instruct in the Word; God would look after their financial needs): "neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock."
Truth to tell, Christ's sheep are ill-tended these days! they are "scattered upon the mountains." Elders that "rule well," with humble diligence, day and night, are desperately needed. Every believer has a right to the consciousness of being personally shepherded by Divinely raised-up elders; and cared for even in material things by faithful deacons. "And when the Chief Shepherd shall be manifested," the rulers who have ruled with godly diligence shall receive a crown of glory! (1 Peter 5:1-4.) Concerning false shepherds, see the awful words of Jeremiah 23:1-4, Ezekiel 34 --the whole chapter! and Isaiah 56:10-12. (These chapters make us tremble!)
He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness--Showing mercy is of course the bounden duty of those to whom God has shown mercy. But mercy toward others may be shown with the long, sombre face of one driven by a duty in which he is not happy. Yet the joyfulness of spirit in which one helps another is often of more real blessing than the help itself. Godet well remarks, with many others, that the words "he that showeth mercy" denote 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 "with cheerfulness" literally reads in hilarity!
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.10 In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another; 11 in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 communicating to the necessities of the saints; pursuing hospitality. 14 Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. 15 Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them. that weep. 16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but be carried away with things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits. 17 Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible,--as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. 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. 20 But 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. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Let love be without hypocrisy--The world is full of effusive expressions of affection,--and so, we fear, are many professing Christians--without real love in the heart: "Talking cream and living skim milk," as Mr. Moody phrased it. "Let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18). Abhor that which is evil--This is impossible to the unregenerate, and only intermittently possible for the carnal Christian; but to one who has obeyed the first two verses of this chapter and surrendered to God, it is a holy instinct! "Ye that love Jehovah, hate evil" (Psalms 97:10). To be a good Christian, a man must be a good hater! Cleave to that which is good--Here is not only the negative, the abhorrence of evil; but the positive, the discerning and holding fast that which is good. As Paul says in Philippians 4:8 : "Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, [in a person] take account of these things." Trust the anointing which you have received (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27) for discernment; and trust the study of the Word of God, to teach you what is really good.
In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another--Of course all Christians "love the brethren" --that is a sign of spiritual life (1 John 3:14). But to be tenderly affectioned--how few are! "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." Beloved, are we willing to be made tender? It is God's will for all believers. In honor preferring one another--How beautiful a grace! Really to prefer from your heart other believers before yourself, to be glad when others are honored above you. [For "love of the brethren," and "tenderly affectioned" there are two beautiful records in the Greek: philadelphia (G5360), and philostorgos (G5387), the latter used of the closest family ties.] Farrar well renders, "Love the brethren in the faith, as though they were brothers in blood." Vincent prefers the A.V. rendering, "kindly affectioned," perhaps properly, since our word kind was originally kinned, and "kindly affectioned" is, having the affection of kindred!
In zeal not sluggish--The words have no reference whatever to worldly "business" or affairs, but wholly to spiritual matters. Luther renders, "In regard to zeal, be not lazy," which is the meaning. Alford renders, "In zeal not remiss,"--saying, "Not business", as in the Old Version, which seems to refer it to the affairs of this life; whereas, it relates as in all these verses (11 to 13), to Christian duties as such." Satan would use the doctrine of grace, or the assurance of faith, to settle down believers into spiritual slothfulness. Watch against that. Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord--The word translated "fervent" (used of Apollos in Acts 18:25), means ardent, or burning. Be ardent in spirit in our Lord's service. It is the opposite of dignified, cold, unemotional. Christ has loved us with infinite fervency. Let us serve Him in the same spirit.
In hope rejoicing--Our hopes are bound up with our Lord's coming, in prospect of which we should constantly be filled with exultation. In tribulation remaining patient--Patience in trial is the only path to our perfecting; wherefore James says we should count "manifold trials to be all joy"; and, "let patience have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing." In prayer steadfastly continuing--So did the early Christians (Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46-47; Acts 6:4; Acts 12:5; Acts 12:12). But do not forget to watch expectantly, and to give thanks in your prayers. (Colossians 4:2.) Ten will attend Bible teaching, and one hundred Sunday preaching, to two or three who "in prayer steadfastly continue": but be thou of that two or three; for they prevail, and to them Christ reveals Himself; and they become channels of blessing to countless others.
To the needs of the saints contributing--"So to make another's necessities one's own as to relieve them."
When you obey this injunction and begin wisely to inquire about the saints' needs, you will be astonished at two things: first, at the actual pressing necessities of many saints all about you; and second, at the way God will supply your own necessities as you minister to them. When the Holy Spirit took complete possession of the early Church, "Not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common"; with the result that "neither was there among them any that lacked." Now this shows the basal spirit of Christian giving. It is not "saying in our hearts" that what we have is "our own," but holding all in stewardship to the Lord, ready to be ministered, as He shall direct. It is true that Paul, in his epistles, which give the constitution of the Church of God, does not direct those that are rich in this world's goods to "sell all that they have"; but to "do good, to be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." This passage (1 Timothy 6:17-19) should be most carefully regarded as at once the Divine protection against the awful "community of goods" of socialism and communism, because the Bible teaches constantly the rights of personal, private property; and also as the foundation principle of our giving.
Pursuing hospitality--Here the word for hospitality is literally love to strangers, "stranger-loving," and the translation "given to" is not strong enough. In its forty or fifty occurrences in the New Testament, this word is very frequently translated "pursuing," which is the literal meaning. You have it three times in Philippians 3: in verse 6, "persecuting the church"; in verse 12, "I follow after"; and in verse 14, "I press on" The meaning here, then, is, pursuing hospitality,--persecuting folks, even strangers, with kindness! What a wonderful testimony of love, hearty obedience to this simple exhortation to pursue hospitality would be! We have in Hebrews Thirteen three uses of this Greek root phil (meaning love):
(1) "Let love of the brethren (philadelphia (G5360)) continue";
(2) "Forget not to show love unto strangers" (philoxenia (G5382)); and,
(3) in verse 5, "Be free from silver-loving" (philarguros (G5366)). If you are tempted to philarguros, philadelphia and philoxenia will cure you! "Given to hospitality," then, means far more than being "willing to entertain" those who may call on you. It indicates going after this business, pursuing it, following it up! The Lord will reward some day even a cup of cold water given in His Name. Let us make "Strangers' Inns" of our homes. We are not staying here long. And the Lord may send "angels" around when we least expect! "Forget not to show love unto strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." [I doubt if the reference in "unawares" is to Abraham in Genesis 18 for he at once recognized the Lord, and knew His attendants. The statement seems rather an absolute one of inspiration, involving such a possibility for any of us!]
Of course it is taken for granted in all these exhortations that we have presented our bodies to God according to the opening verses of the Chapter; and thus by the indwelling Holy Ghost are enabled to walk in His revealed will, as those could not who were under law.
Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not--Here is a verse that needs no comment, in view of our Lord's words of Luke 6:27-28 : "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you"; and of His blessed example. But note, in our present verse it is not mere outward blessing that is commanded, but refraining from inward reservations, or private expressions, for sometimes we speak sweetly to opposers, but our after words prove that we did not allow our hearts to go out in love to those enemies. And by the way, do not stumble if you find other Christians speaking ill of you, even persecuting you. Bless them, too!
Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep--Now here is a verse that takes us out of ourselves. The literal rendering is, Rejoice with rejoicing ones, and weep with weeping ones. Believers, of course, are especially meant in both cases. There will always be some that are weeping. Blessed is he who, like the Lord at Lazarus' grave, can enter into others' sorrow even unto tears!
"Alas, there is such a phenomenon, not altogether rare, as a life whose self-surrender, in some main aspects, cannot be doubted, but which utterly fails in sympathy. A certain spiritual exaltation is allowed actually to harden, or at least to seem to harden, the consecrated heart; and the man who perhaps witnesses for God with a prophet's ardor is yet not one to whom the mourner would go for tears and prayers in his bereavement, or the child for a perfectly human smile in his play. As to the Lord Himself, the little child, the wistful parent, the widow with her mite, the poor fallen woman of the street, could lead away his blessed sympathies with a touch"--Moule.
Minding the same thing one toward another--Let us quote several comments by beloved writers: "Be of one mind amongst yourselves"--Conybeare. "The harmony which proceeds from a common object, common hopes and common desires"--Sanday. "The loving harmony when each in respect to his neighbor has one thought and endeavor"--Meyer. "Aspiring after the same aims, aiming at the same object for one another as for ourselves. Having the same solicitude for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the brother as for one's own"--Godet. "Actuated by a common and well-understood feeling of mutual allowance and kindness"--Alford. Evidently the reference is not to uniformity of thought, but to charity of attitude.
Not minding high things, but being carried away along with the lowly--This sixteenth verse is in close connection with the spirit of verse 15. It is the spirit of Philippians 2:2-5 : "Be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind [not of one opinion, but one heart-intent]; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus." "High things" are a continual temptation. Carefully read here the excellent remarks of Godet: "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." Lay these words well to heart. They are continually needed.
The word rendered "carried away with" really means the opposite of its King James rendering "condescend to." The idea of one pardoned sinner's thinking of "condescending" to another! The word really means "to be carried away along with," as has been every Bernard, Assisi, Luther, Zinzendorf, Bunyan, Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Moody. All the saints filled with the Spirit have found themselves among the lowly of this earth. For that matter, there is not, and never has been, a real assembly of God of wealthy upper class people only! "Not many mighty, not many noble are called." The rich have to come where the poor are to hear the gospel. Once received, the gospel of Christ is the blessed and only real leveler of us all. Beware always of any "religious" movement cultivating the rich!
Be not wise in your own conceits--Paul in Chapter 11:25 (Romans 11:25) used exactly the same expression, warning us as Gentile believers of the danger of being "wise in our own conceits." This searching expression, "wise in one's own eyes," or "conceit," occurs five times in the Old Testament, and two here in Romans,--seven in all. Of such a one, Solomon says, "There is more hope of a fool than of him." He is first cousin to the sluggard, and to a blind rich man; and all of these are related to "them that know not God." See Proverbs 26:5; Proverbs 26:12; Proverbs 26:16; Proverbs 28:11; Proverbs 3:7. The self-conceited are not among those who are "weeping with them that weep."
Render to no man evil for evil--This takes for granted that some will do you evil. Satan and the world hate God's saints who walk with Him; and will do them all permitted evil. Now do not lay it up against the doer, if evil has been done you. Alas, some real believers are thoughtless; some jealous, some envious, some possibly even spiteful. Put far away the expectation of "getting even" with anybody. "If any man have"--really have--"a complaint against any, even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:13). The Lord forgets, as well as forgives! (Hebrews 8:12).
Taking care by forethought for comely [or seemly] things before every one (literally, all men,--whether Christians or not)--"Before the eyes of all men taking care for what is good" (Meyer). This exhortation has no special reference to "making provision for ourselves or our families in an honest manner," as some have thought (from the Old Version). It means to take careful forethought for such a course of Christian behavior ("honorable things") as will commend itself to all--whether Christians or not. We forget, most of us, thus to view our lives as a whole, day by day, detecting and rejecting whatever in ourselves others might criticize as not honorable.
If it be possible--as much as in you lieth--be at peace with all men--Paul himself did cause trouble everywhere, as did our Lord, who said, "Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." But neither Paul nor his Lord was ever the selfish cause of trouble. It is not always possible for a Christian to be at peace with all men, but he can be a peace-lover; a peace-liver; and often a peace-maker, among men. As James says, "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace." Perhaps the most fruitful cause of trouble for a Christian is his claiming "his rights," forgetting Paul's description of us Christians throughout this dispensation:
"For Thy sake we are killed all the day long;
We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter."
[One who had visited the Chicago stock yards on a slaughter-day said to me, "Our guide took us to where the swine were being slaughtered. Here there was squealing and grunting everywhere, and the moment the men laid hold of one for slaughter, it gave a wild shriek, and the uproar was terrible. By and by we approached another building and heard no sounds; and we found that here the sheep were being slaughtered, without complaining--in silence!"]
Avenge not yourselves, beloved; but give place unto the [coming] wrath [of God]--Believers are here seen sorely tempted to seek to bring about by their own hand that righting of matters which belongs to God only. The motto of Scotland, "Nemo me impune lacessit"--"No one treads on me unpunished!"--applies to man in the flesh throughout the world. Note Paul's word, "Give place unto the wrath,"--to the coming wrath of God in the day of wrath, of Chapter 2:5 (Romans 2:5). As for "the wrath of man," we know it "worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Oh, how hard, yea, how impossible, for those who have not yielded their bodies a living sacrifice to God, to leave the visitation of wrath wholly in God's hand!
For it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto Me; I will recompense, saith the Lord--Let us not dare seek to steal from God what He so distinctly asserts to be His province alone,--vengeance, [Quaint old John Trapp says: "In reason, revenge is but justice; Aristotle commends it. The world calls it manhood; it is doghood, rather!"] --the dealing out just desert to evil action.
God's "vengeance" must require that infinite knowledge of conditions, of motives, of results upon others, which God, the just Judge, alone possesses. And He has faithfully promised to "recompense." The Greek of this word is startling: it means to pay back, personally and accurately. Both Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30 quote the passage in Deuteronomy 32:35 which prophesies the coming vengeance of God. The word is also used in 2 Thessalonians 1:6. In these shallow, sinful days, men have forgotten that there is a day of reckoning; but the saints must not forget. "Forestall not God's wrath," says Meyer, "by personal revenge, but let it have its course and its sway. The morality of this precept is based on the holiness of God. Hence, so far as wrath and love are the two poles of holiness, it does not exclude the blessing of our adversaries and intercession for them."
But 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--Here are specific directions for active love toward an enemy,--praying for him meanwhile, as Christ commanded: "Bless them that persecute you, pray for them that despitefully use you." There is no more terrible danger than that of cherished revenge; and nothing marks out so blazingly a Christian path as love toward a foe. The Indians who inhabited America when the white man came, hated one another, tribe against tribe. The war paint, the warpath, the tomahawk, the scalp lock,--and pride in it all! was the hell-mark wherewith Satan branded these poor heathen,--and where are they today? No less devilish are the ghastly family "feuds" in certain parts of America. No less significant is the kind of man admired in some regions: "He won't take a word from anybody"; "He'll fight at the drop of the hat," and the like.
Now the promise is most striking indeed, that in a deed of kindness to an enemy we shall "heap coals of fire upon his head." Of course, as always, when the literal statements of God's judgment are made, we are apt to shrink in timidity and unbelief, and seek to evade the actualities. But remember exactly what we are dealing with: we are asked to step aside from self-avenging, and "give place" to God's coming vengeance and recompense. Of course, we continue loving our enemies and praying for them, hoping they may repent. Thus we are sharing the feeling of God Himself, who "takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and would have all men to be saved." Nevertheless, we know in our hearts that many will refuse Divine mercy, and go on to that day of vengeance. And what do we read in the Scriptures about "coals of fire" at that time?
Let burning coals fall upon them;
Let them be cast into the fire,
Into deep pits, whence they shall not rise
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind shall be the portion of their cup
It is a trifling exposition that would make the "coals of fire" of Romans 12:20, quoted from Proverbs 25:21-22, a mere figure--and meaning, really, nothing!
The knowledge and constant remembrance by the saints of the coming literal doom of the wicked, is both a deep incentive to a holy walk, and a strong motive for loving and praying for them. But let us not forget that the more we are "a sweet savor of Christ unto God" as we preach the gospel, the more we become "a savor from death unto death in them that are perishing" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Paul significantly, just here, adds the words: "And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, corrupting the Word of God" (2 Corinthians 2:17). Our Lord Himself said, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin." It is a fearful thought that in our kindness to enemies--enemies of our Lord and of ourselves for the gospel's sake, we may be increasing their doom: but the responsibility is theirs; the obedient kindness, ours!
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good--"Evil" here directly connects itself with that hatefulness in others of verse 20; but it also includes all the evil in the world, through which the Christian walks as a stranger and a pilgrim. This plan of setting forth a positive path of "good" before His saints, instead of a mere negative "Thou shalt not," is the constant way of God in grace. Compare, "Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need" (Ephesians 4:28). It is not merely, Stop stealing; but, Begin giving! Just as in the following verse of Ephesians we read: "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear." Merely to stop doing wrong things will finally make a monk out of you; doing good, will put you in Paul's company. No one is "overcoming" in the sense of Romans 12:12, save those whose time is filled with good: praise, prayer, and thanksgiving towards God; and loving ministry towards men!
"There is a faith unmixed with doubt,
A love all free from fear;
A walk with Jesus, where is felt
His presence always near.
There is a rest that God bestows,
Transcending pardon's peace,
A lowly, sweet simplicity,
Where inward conflicts cease.
"There is a service God-inspired,
A zeal that tireless grows,
Where self is crucified with Christ,
And joy unceasing flows.
There is a being right with God,'
That yields to His commands
Unswerving, true fidelity,
A loyalty that stands."
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Newell, William. "Commentary on Romans 12". William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25