Christian’s Life a Reasonable Service to God. Rom. 12, l-21.
The fundamental exhortation: V.1. I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. V.2. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Paul has finished the first part of his letter to the Romans, the doctrinal section. He has described the manifold and varied manifestations of divine compassion and mercy to men, of God’s searching love in the midst of disobedience and ungratefulness. On the basis of this manifestation of God’s love the apostle now adds the practical part of his epistle. Now, or, therefore, I beseech you. His entire exhortation is based upon the facts contained in the exposition of his thesis, chap. 1, 16. 17, upon the facts of man’s justification, sanctification, salvation. He does not write: I command you, but: I beseech, call upon, ask, admonish, beg you. His is evangelical exhortation, not the demanding of the Law. The matters which he discusses are such as bring the Christian’s life into conformity with the holy will of God, but not in the sense that the works, in themselves, merit salvation. He calls the Christians at Rome brethren, as children with him of the same heavenly Father and therefore under willing obligation to Him at all times and in all things. Through the mercies of God the apostle admonishes and beseeches. What he had written till now had been a proclamation, a praise of the many evidences and manifestations of the mercy of God, of His grace in Christ Jesus. This unmerited grace of God, His unsearchable riches of mercy which the readers have experienced in their own hearts and lives, that is the proper motive and incentive for a Christian mode of living. “He does not say: I command you; for he preaches to them that are already Christians and pious through faith in the new man, that are not to be forced with commandments, but to be admonished willingly to do what is to be done with the sinful old man. For whosoever does not do it willingly, on the basis of kind admonition only, is no Christian: and he that forces it with laws out of those that are unwilling is even then no longer a Christian preacher or ruler, but a worldly jailer.... Who, therefore, does not permit himself to be incited and coaxed with such sweet and lovely words of the mercy of God, given to us in Christ in such an immeasurable quantity, that he also do thus with desire and love, to the honor of God and for the good of his neighbor, is nothing, and everything is lost in his case.... It is not the mercy of men, but God’s mercy that is given us, and which St. Paul wants to have us regard, to incite and to move us.” 20)
The apostle admonishes the Christians, first of all, to set forth, to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. Cp. chap. 6, 12. 13. 19. Their bodies, their physical organism with all its members, are to be devoted to the service of God. The Christians offer their bodies as a sacrifice to God if they do not look upon them as their own property to use or abuse as they see fit, but always consider them as the instruments of God’s holy will. In this way the bodies of the Christians are living sacrifices, their whole life is spent in the service of the Lord, and all the acts of all their members are to be good works. And therefore these sacrifices are also holy, separated unto God, devoted to God, having the hallowing of His name as their object, and acceptable, well-pleasing to God, who takes a great delight in them. And incidentally the entire offering of this sacrifice, throughout the life of a Christian, is a reasonable service, a cult, or worship, of God, seeking His honor only, made with the spirit or mind, as controlled by the Spirit of God. Thus the service which a Christian offers to God in yielding all his members to do the holy will of God is not a dead and formal ritualism, but is a cult, a worship of the spirit, the mind being ceaselessly active in planning and thinking how the body with all its members may live for the honor of God.
The same thought is now offered from another side: And be not conformed to this world, but assume a different form through the renewing of your mind, that ye seek to find out what is the will of God, what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. The Christian’s habit, behavior, his entire way of comporting himself, must not agree with the present world, with the behavior of people that live for this world only, Gal. 1, 4; Eph. 2, 1; 2 Cor. 4, 4. Believers will under no circumstances accommodate themselves to the evil customs, habits, practices that are in use in the world. Because they have been, so far as their inner man, their heart and soul, is concerned, removed from the world, because they are no longer of the world, though still living in the world, therefore they will assume a different character and appearance in the world. This they will do through the renewal of their mind, through the change in their hearts, which begins in conversion and continues through their whole life, since the battle between flesh and spirit must be carried on without intermission. The change in the external character and habit of a man is the result of the inner change. And so the Christian’s unceasing concern is to examine carefully, to try to find out always what the will of God is, that is, what is good and well-pleasing and perfect in His eyes. Natural man has only one idea and concern, namely, to do that which pleases his sinful flesh. But a Christian, in spite of the fact that his ability and his performance do not measure up to his willingness, yet is active, indefatigable in making a study of the will of God from the revelation in Scriptures, and then in practicing the knowledge thus gained in all conditions of life, under all, circumstances, toward every person in the world. Such conduct and behavior is the real character of the Christians, helping them to attain the real end and purpose of their being in the world.
The proper use of God’s gifts of mercy: V.3. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. V.4. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, v.5. so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. V.6. Having, then, gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; v.7. or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; v.8. or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. The general exhortation of the first verses St. Paul now carries out in detail by specializing and applying its content to actual situations in the lives of the believers. In this section he speaks of the special gifts of grace which find their application in congregational life. Every Christian having received some such gift, it is the will of Cod that he apply it, that he give practical proof of it in the business of the Church. Paul makes this admonition through the grace which had been given him, by virtue of his apostleship, chap. 15, 15; Eph. 3, 7. 8, which enables him to speak with authority; the ordinary and extraordinary gifts which he had thus received qualified him for his duties and gave authority to his instructions.
And his very first instruction concerns a very grievous nuisance and sin which was often found, and is found today, in such as possess certain gifts in the Church: That he should not think more of himself than he ought to think, but to think with the object of being modest. And this the apostle says to every one of them, to each one as God dealt out the measure of faith. The special gifts of grace which God at all times has given to the members of His Church in some measure, such as executive ability, fitness and skill in teaching, an aptitude for simple and clear exposition of Scriptures, and others, have ever been coveted and exercised by some Christians for purposes of self-exaltation. And therefore Paul says to every one of them, no matter who he is and what position he may hold, that he should not hold an opinion of himself which exceeded the measure of Christian modesty. A Christian may be partly or fully conscious of some gift in the Church which the Lord has given him. But this consciousness must not result in self glorification. Simple, sane modesty and humility must characterize the Christian’s judgment of his abilities and of his work in the kingdom of God. And this he should do, because, in the first place, his special gift comes from God, is a free present of His grace; and, secondly, this gift is connected with faith, since God has dealt out to every Christian his measure of faith, of firmness, trust, confidence in God, 1 Cor. 12,9. If a Christian is to apply his special gift of grace properly, then a certain measure of confidence is necessary, the conviction that God requires certain work of him, that he must serve God and the congregation of God with his gift, and that he possesses the proper cheerfulness to this end. The apostle, of course, does not speak of the strange self-delusions, according to which people imagine themselves to be called for positions for which they have neither fitness nor ability, and rely entirely upon their own perverted judgment. He expressly warns against such delusions and self-exaltation.
This warning against high-mindedness and his admonition to modest-mindedness the apostle now substantiates with the fact: For just as we in one body have many members, but all the members have not the same function, thus we, being many, have one body in Christ, but every one members of another, vv. 4. 5. Cp. 1 Cor. 12, 12; Eph. 4, 15. 16; Col. 1, 18. The human organism has many members; but these are not all alike, differing, rather, very decidedly in function or business, and yet serving the body, each in his own sphere and in his own special way. And in the same way we many, all we Christians together, form the body of Christ, the communion of saints, but individually, so far as our individual relation is concerned, we are members one of another, and can therefore serve the body properly only by working in unison, guided by the mind and Spirit of God. The apostle thus, in this figure, intends to show that the diversity of offices and gifts among Christians, far from being inconsistent with their union as one body in Christ, rather is necessary to the perfection and usefulness of the body. In supplementing and serving one another, all the believers are serving Christ.
The apostle now continues his thought by showing that we, who have such varied gifts, should now also use them in accordance with the purpose of God, in a way agreeing with His will. The gifts of grace found in the Christians are many and various, but their end and object is the same, to serve the Lord, not to serve their own advantage. If one has the gift of prophecy, let him use it according to the analogy of faith. If we take prophecy to mean here the special gift of the apostolic age, as an extraordinary exposition of divine truth, then the admonition of the apostle means to say that all such exposition must agree with the inspired Word and bring out the confidence of faith. But since prophecy in this passage probably refers to the explanation of Scripture at all times, with the gifts as they have been given to many members of the New Testament Church, the words could be transcribed: All exposition of Scriptures at all times must follow the analogy of faith, of saving faith. As this faith is based entirely and alone upon the inspired Word of God, and never follows reason or philosophy, so Bible explanation which really merits the name never goes at its task with preconceived notions and ideas, with a system of doctrine to which the Scripture-passages must be fitted by hook or by crook, but it draws the truth out of Scriptures, it rests upon the Bible alone, 1 Cor. 2, 13.
The apostle continues: If we have a service or office, let us pay attention to that service. All offices in the Church are tributary to the great service of the preaching of the Word, but there are many forms of this service. No matter, however, what peculiar vocation any person might have in the church, or congregation, no matter for what special work he may have received endowments, he should attend to it gladly, modestly, without intruding into the sphere of others or envying them their superior endowments. This applies first to such as hold the office of teachers in the congregation, no matter in what form: If one is a teacher, let him attend to his teaching. If God has called any person to be a preacher for the public proclamation of the Word, or a teacher for the instruction of the children and youth in the way of salvation, then the work of that office should engage his attention, herein he should be active and accomplish something under the blessing of God, for the benefit of the congregation and of all the members. If any one is an exhorter, let him attend to his exhorting. If any Christian has received the special gift of applying the Word of God in the various circumstances of life, the meeting of the congregation or that of any body in the service of the congregation will give him plenty of opportunity to make use of this talent and thus to be of service to the Lord. And, in general, the apostle writes: If one gives, imparts, some of his richer blessings to the poorer in this world’s goods or to such as are in need or want, let him do so in sincerity, with the single and undivided purpose to be of service, and not to raise a monument to himself or to get praise and honor from men. If any one rules, occupies a position of distinction as a leader or superintendent of any church-work, he should perform his work with zeal, never debase it by treating it as a sinecure, and by being given to inertness and carelessness, but always devoting to it full attention. If any one shows mercy, let him do so with a prompt mind. The sick and afflicted among the brethren and sisters should be given the mercy, the active sympathy of the others, not with grudging uncharitableness, but in the spirit which rejoices in the opportunity of being able to help others, which always shows a compassionate, smiling countenance at the prospect of alleviating suffering of every kind.
The Christian’s conduct in his personal relations: V.9. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. V.10. Be kindly affectioned one to an other with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another; v.11. not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; v.12 rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; v.13. distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. V.14. Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not. V.15. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. V.16. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. The apostle now speaks in general of the Christian’s relation to his fellow-Christians and to his fellowmen. Of love in general he says that it should not be dissimulated, consisting not merely in words, but in sincere deeds; it should come from the heart and truly desire the welfare of one’s neighbor. It is a feature of such true love that it will not hesitate to rebuke every form of sin and trespass, and likewise to acknowledge and further the good which it finds in one’s neighbor. This admonition is incidentally a summary of all the exhortations now following. So far as brotherly love is concerned, your love toward each other and toward one another as children in the one great family of God should be tenderly affectioned. The relation of believers toward one another, as members of the one body of Christ, as possessors of the same faith in the redemption of their Savior, is, in a way, more intimate than that of blood relation between members of a family. And therefore it should be tender and affectionate in its manifestations. And with this love should be connected mutual respect: through honor preferring one another, going before each other in giving honor. There should be a friendly rivalry between Christians to outdo one another in every form of kindly reverence as partakers of the same grace of the heavenly Father. A mere passive feeling, however, is not sufficient, according to the apostle’s admonition: In zeal or willingness not lazy, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. When it comes to the question of serving one’s brother or neighbor in any way, there should be no hesitating, laggard steps, and we should not grow indolent or weary. Rather, should our spirit be fervent with eagerness, we should be interested in his welfare with persevering enthusiasm. And, with a decent regard for the exigencies of the various circumstances of life, the Christian should nevertheless never forget that his activity and zeal is actuated and governed by the desire to serve Christ, a factor which will tend also to keep down any thought of self-exaltation and pride in the performance of our duties. The thought that the Christians in all the works of their calling are in the service of the Lord will have a further beneficial effect: As to hope, full of gladness; they will rejoice inasmuch as they are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that they may also become partakers of His glory, 1 Pet. 4, 13. As to oppression, distress, misery, tribulation of every kind, patient; remembering always that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed, chap. 8, 18. In prayer, be intent and persevering; the Christians should apply themselves to this indication and manifestation of their spiritual life with all ardor and importunity, as the Lord so often admonishes them, not with conventional deadness, but with the zeal which grows from firm trust in His fatherly goodness.
Having thus shown just how the feeling of personal service toward God will influence the Christian’s personal conduct, the apostle again turns to his relation toward his neighbor, vv. 13-16. Take part in the needs of the saints, let them be your earnest concern as well as those with which you have to battle, make their necessity your own and act accordingly. And this is further explained: Following after hospitality. Because believers are members of the body of Christ, they will naturally share their sorrows as well as their joys. During times of persecution, such as often came upon the early Christians, there was great need for the believers to entertain the strangers of the household of faith, as they were driven from their homes by tyrants. But in the midst of such persecutions the Christians were not to forget the example and the command of their Lord as to their enemies: Bless those that persecute you; bless, and do not curse. For the sake of emphasis the apostle repeats his admonition that the believers must be active in blessing their enemies. Even if persecution rises to unbearable heights, Christians must cultivate the habit of wishing well to their persecutors. “It is not sufficient to avoid returning evil for evil, nor even to banish vindictive feelings; we must be able sincerely to desire their happiness.” (Hodge.) And in cultivating this state of mind, we shall find ourselves all the better able to heed the admonition that again concerns chiefly the brethren: to be glad with those that are glad, to weep with those that weep. The interest of a Christian brother or sister enhances their joy over any blessing of the Lord; and their sympathy relieves any heavy burden, especially if their words are not the conventional, stereotyped phrases of so-called polite society, but the words of heartfelt compassion dictated by the love of Christ. That same love will also effect this, that Christians think the same thing toward one another; a feeling of concord, or harmony, of unanimity governs their actions, Phil. 2, 2; 4, 2; 2 Cor. 13, 11. Because the love of the Christian for his fellow Christian will always cause him to place himself in the position of the other, therefore he will be able to combat discord and disharmony. All the better will he succeed in this by following the injunction: Not having in mind, not setting your thoughts upon high things, but be willing to be drawn along with the lowly; be not wise in your own estimation. All pride of self is out of harmony with the demands of Christian love; not to be aspiring, but to be humble must be the character of every follower of the lowly Nazarene. Inordinate ambition, which despises all those that have not received equal intellectual or spiritual gifts, on the one hand, together with a contempt for their lowly persons or pursuits, are absolutely inconsistent with the idea of perfect Christian unity which the Lord at all times had in mind. The lowliness of mind which was found in Christ Jesus, who consorted with publicans and sinners, with the very outcasts of society, because they had accepted His message of salvation, must be found in all His true servants. But if any one becomes puffed up by his pride of intellect, by a fancied superiority to others, then he deliberately disrupts the harmony which should characterize the Christian community, and cannot properly lay claim to the spirit that lives in the Master.
The Christian's relation to his enemies: V.17. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. V.18. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. V.19. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. V.20. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. V.21. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. The relation toward his fellow Christians demands a great deal from the true disciple of Christ, and he is obliged daily to learn humility and service from Him who is our model for all time. But, in a way, the relation of a Christian toward those that are not of the household of faith requires still more, because he may expect nothing but enmity and bitter persecution from them. Therefore St. Paul writes: To no one return evil for evil; no matter how great the provocation on the part of their enemies, the Christians should not pay back in kind; retaliation and revenge must be foreign to their nature. We should rather endeavor to attain to that which is excellent before all men, we should at all times conduct ourselves so as to command the confidence and respect of all men, to commend ourselves to them as honorable, straightforward, clean in all our dealings] letting no spot stain our characters in the sight of the world. Cp. Prov. 3, 4. This includes another manifestation of Christian character: If it is possible, so far as you are concerned, keep peace with all men. Christians never pick quarrels, neither are they defenders of the peace-at-any-price slogan. There are times when a quarrel is forced upon the Christians, when truth, right, justice, duty demand that they defend themselves, just as the Lord did in the palace of the high priest. But as long as it is possible with a good conscience, the Christians will maintain peace with all men; they are never the cause of dissension and strife in the sense that the guilt actually rests with them. And this includes a further thought: Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but give way to wrath. These words contain a further application and amplification of the last thought. The idea of revenge must be foreign to the hearts of believers, to those that are the beloved of the Lord, that are rejoicing in the fullness of His love and mercy. And when carnal anger wants to come into their hearts, when it comes along like a wild beast to take possession of the mind, then we should give it a wide berth and not let it gain its object, for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God, Jas. 1, 19. 20; Col. 3, 8. On the contrary, we should remember what is written Deut. 32, 35: To Me belongs vengeance; I will repay, saith the Lord. In the hands of the Lord we should therefore leave the punishing of evil and not attempt to take it into our own hands. The prerogative of God as a revenger of evil upon those that do evil must not be usurped by any man. A Christian that is actually imbued with the spirit of Christ will rather follow what St. Paul urges: Rather, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in doing this thou wilt heap coals of fire upon his head. The apostle here speaks in words of the Old Testament, Prov. 25, 21 ff., and follows the earnest admonition of the Lord, Matt. 5, 44. The fiery coals fitly represent the uneasiness of conscience which is bound to follow in the case of kindness shown under the circumstances assumed in the context. Instead of taking advantage of his enemy’s misfortune, no matter what form it may take, the Christian takes the opportunity to show him every kindness. And this repaying good for evil in most cases will so deeply affect his enemy that he will be gained, or, at least, that his heart must acknowledge his own inferiority in the face of such treatment. And so the apostle concludes: Be not conquered by the evil that thy enemy may show thee, do not let this incite thee to thoughts of enmity and revenge under any circumstances; rather conquer the evil by doing good. Subdue your enemies by kindness, not by meanness. For doing good is the sphere in which we believers should move at all times, and this must exert its influence in the case of our enemies. Many a bitter enemy has been overcome by Christian magnanimity and has become the friend of the Christian cause.
The apostle admonishes the Christians to serve faithfully in the
and to show true Christian love toward the brethren and to all men.