After having handled those things necessary for the erection of the kingdom of God, — that righteousness is to be sought from God alone, that salvation is to come to us alone from his mercy, that all blessings are laid up and daily offered to us in Christ only, — Paul now passes on, according to the best order, to show how the life is to be formed. If it be, that through the saving knowledge of God and of Christ, the soul is, as it were, regenerated into a celestial life, and that the life is in a manner formed and regulated by holy exhortations and precepts; it is then in vain that you show a desire to form the life aright, except you prove first, that the origin of all righteousness in men is in God and Christ; for this is to raise them from the dead.
And this is the main difference between the gospel and philosophy: for though the philosophers speak excellently and with great judgment on the subject of morals, yet whatever excellency shines forth in their precepts, it is, as it were, a beautiful superstructure without a foundation; for by omitting principles, they offer a mutilated doctrine, like a body without a head. Not very unlike this is the mode of teaching under the Papacy: for though they mention, by the way, faith in Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, it yet appears quite evident, that they approach heathen philosophers far nearer than Christ and his Apostles.
But as philosophers, before they lay down laws respecting morals, discourse first of the end of what is good, and inquire into the sources of virtues, from which afterwards they draw and derive all duties; so Paul lays down here the principle from which all the duties of holiness flow, even this, — that we are redeemed by the Lord for this end — that we may consecrate to him ourselves and all our members. But it may be useful to examine every part.
1.I therefore beseech you by the mercies (miserationes — compassions) of God, etc. We know that unholy men, in order to gratify the flesh, anxiously lay hold on whatever is set forth in Scripture respecting the infinite goodness of God; and hypocrites also, as far as they can, maliciously darken the knowledge of it, as though the grace of God extinguished the desire for a godly life, and opened to audacity the door of sin. But this exhortation teaches us, that until men really apprehend how much they owe to the mercy of God, they will never with a right feeling worship him, nor be effectually stimulated to fear and obey him. It is enough for the Papists, if they can extort by terror some sort of forced obedience, I know not what. But Paul, that he might bind us to God, not by servile fear, but by the voluntary and cheerful love of righteousness, allures us by the sweetness of that favor, by which our salvation is effected; and at the same time he reproaches us with ingratitude, except we, after having found a Father so kind and bountiful, do strive in our turn to dedicate ourselves wholly to him.
And what Paul says, in thus exhorting us, ought to have more power over us, inasmuch as he excels all others in setting forth the grace of God. Iron indeed must be the heart which is not kindled by the doctrine which has been laid down into love towards God, whose kindness towards itself it finds to have been so abounding. Where then are they who think that all exhortations to a holy life are nullified, if the salvation of men depends on the grace of God alone, since by no precepts, by no sanctions, is a pious mind so framed to render obedience to God, as by a serious meditation on the Divine goodness towards it?
We may also observe here the benevolence of the Apostle’s spirit, — that he preferred to deal with the faithful by admonitions and friendly exhortations rather than by strict commands; for he knew that he could prevail more with the teachable in this way than in any other.
That ye present your bodies, etc. It is then the beginning of a right course in good works, when we understand that we are consecrated to the Lord; for it hence follows, that we must cease to live to ourselves, in order that we may devote all the actions of our life to his service.
There are then two things to be considered here, — the first, that we are the Lord’s, — and secondly, that we ought on this account to be holy, for it is an indignity to God’s holiness, that anything, not first consecrated, should be offered to him. These two things being admitted, it then follows that holiness is to be practiced through life, and that we are guilty of a kind of sacrilege when we relapse into uncleanness, as it is nothing else than to profane what is consecrated.
But there is throughout a great suitableness in the expressions. He says first, that our body ought to be offered a sacrifice to God; by which he implies that we are not our own, but have entirely passed over so as to become the property of God; which cannot be, except we renounce ourselves and thus deny ourselves. Then, secondly, by adding two adjectives, he shows what sort of sacrifice this ought to be. By calling it living, he intimates, that we are sacrificed to the Lord for this end, — that our former life being destroyed in us, we may be raised up to a new life. By the term holy, he points out that which necessarily belongs to a sacrifice, already noticed; for a victim is then only approved, when it had been previously made holy. By the third word,acceptable, he reminds us, that our life is framed aright, when this sacrifice is so made as to be pleasing to God: he brings to us at the same time no common consolation; for he teaches us, that our work is pleasing and acceptable to God when we devote ourselves to purity and holiness.
By bodies he means not only our bones and skin, but the whole mass of which we are composed; and he adopted this word, that he might more fully designate all that we are: for the members of the body are the instruments by which we execute our purposes. He indeed requires from us holiness, not only as to the body, but also as to the soul and spirit, as in 1Th_5:23. In bidding us to present our bodies, he alludes to the Mosaic sacrifices, which were presented at the altar, as it were in the presence of God. But he shows, at the same time, in a striking manner, how prompt we ought to be to receive the commands of God, that we may without delay obey them.
Hence we learn, that all mortals, whose object is not to worship God, do nothing but miserably wander and go astray. We now also find what sacrifices Paul recommends to the Christian Church: for being reconciled to God through the one only true sacrifice of Christ, we are all through his grace made priests, in order that we may dedicate ourselves and all we have to the glory of God. No sacrifice of expiation is wanted; and no one can be set up, without casting a manifest reproach on the cross of Christ.
Your reasonable service This sentence, I think, was added, that he might more clearly apply and confirm the preceding exhortation, as though he had said, — “Offer yourselves a, sacrifice to God, if ye have it in your heart to serve God: for this is the right way of serving God; from which, if any depart, they are but false worshippers.” If then only God is rightly worshipped, when we observe all things according to what he has prescribed, away then with all those devised modes of worship, which he justly abominates, since he values obedience more than sacrifice. Men are indeed pleased with their own inventions, which have an empty show of wisdom, as Paul says in another place; but we learn here what the celestial Judge declares in opposition to this by the mouth of Paul; for by calling that a reasonable service which he commands, he repudiates as foolish, insipid, and presumptuous, whatever we attempt beyond the rule of his word.
I beseech you therefore, brethren – This address is probably intended both for the Jews and the Gentiles; though some suppose that the Jews are addressed in the first verse, the Gentiles in the second.
By the mercies of God! – Δια των οικτιρμων του Θεου· By the tender mercies or compassions of God, such as a tender father shows to his refractory children; who, on their humiliation, is easily persuaded to forgive their offenses. The word οικτιρμος comes from οικτος, compassion; and that from εικω, to yield; because he that has compassionate feelings is easily prevailed on to do a kindness, or remit an injury.
That ye present your bodies – A metaphor taken from bringing sacrifices to the altar of God. The person offering picked out the choicest of his flock, brought it to the altar, and presented it there as an atonement for his sin. They are exhorted to give themselves up in the spirit of sacrifice; to be as wholly the Lord’s property as the whole burnt-offering was, no part being devoted to any other use.
A living sacrifice – In opposition to those dead sacrifices which they were in the habit of offering while in their Jewish state; and that they should have the lusts of the flesh mortified, that they might live to God.
Holy – Without spot or blemish; referring still to the sacrifice required by the law.
Acceptable unto God – Ευαρεστον· The sacrifice being perfect in its kind, and the intention of the offerer being such that both can be acceptable and well pleasing to God, who searches the heart. All these phrases are sacrificial, and show that there must be a complete surrender of the person – the body, the whole man, mind and flesh, to be given to God; and that he is to consider himself no more his own, but the entire property of his Maker.
Your reasonable service – Nothing can be more consistent with reason than that the work of God should glorify its Author. We are not our own, we are the property of the Lord, by the right of creation and redemption; and it would be as unreasonable as it would be wicked not to live to his glory, in strict obedience to his will. The reasonable service, λογικην λατρειαν, of the apostle, may refer to the difference between the Jewish and Christian worship. The former religious service consisted chiefly in its sacrifices, which were δι’ αλογων, of irrational creatures, i.e. the lambs, rams, kids, bulls, goats, etc., which were offered under the law. The Christian service or worship is λογικη, rational, because performed according to the true intent and meaning of the law; the heart and soul being engaged in the service. He alone lives the life of a fool and a madman who lives the life of a sinner against God; for, in sinning against his Maker he wrongs his own soul, loves death, and rewards evil unto himself.
Reasonable service, λογικην λατρειαν, “a religious service according to reason,” one rationally performed. The Romanists make this distinction between λατρεια, and δουλεια, latreia and douleia, (or dulia, as they corruptly write it), worship and service, which they say signify two kinds of religious worship; the first proper to God, the other communicated to the creatures. But δουλεια, douleia, services, is used by the Septuagint to express the Divine worship. See Deu_13:4; Jdg_2:7; 1Sa_7:3, and 1Sa_12:10 : and in the New Testament, Mat_6:24; Luk_6:23; Rom_16:18; Col_3:24. The angel refused δουλειαν, douleia, Rev_22:7, because he was συνδουλος sundoulos, a fellow servant; and the Divine worship is more frequently expressed by this word δουλεια, douleia, service, than by λατρεια, latreia, worship. The first is thirty-nine times in the Old and New Testament ascribed unto God, the other about thirty times; and latreia, worship or service, is given unto the creatures, as in Lev_23:7, Lev_23:8, Lev_23:21; Num_28:18; yea, the word signifies cruel and base bondage, Deu_28:48 : once in the New Testament it is taken for the worship of the creatures, Rom_1:25. The worshipping of idols is forbidden under the word λατρεια, latreia, thirty-four times in the Old Testament, and once in the New, as above; and twenty-three times under the term δουλεια, douleia, in the Old Testament; and St. Paul uses δουλευειν Θεὡ, and λατρευειν Θεὡ indifferently, for the worship we owe to God. See Rom_1:9, Rom_1:25; Rom_12:1, Gal_4:8, Gal_4:9; 1Th_1:9; Mat_6:24. And Ludouicus Vives, a learned Romanist, has proved out of Suidas, Xenophon, and Volla, that these two words are usually taken the one for the other, therefore the popish distinction, that the first signifies “the religious worship due only to God,” and the second, “that which is given to angels, saints, and men,” is unlearned and false. – See Leigh’s Crit. Sacra.
I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, etc. As the sum of all that Paul had said of the justification, sanctification, and salvation of men is, that these results are to be attributed not to human merit nor to human efforts, but to the mercy of God, he brings the whole discussion to bear as a motive for devotion to God. Whatever gratitude the soul feels for pardon, purity, and the sure prospect of eternal life, is called forth to secure its consecration to that God who is the author of all these mercies.
That ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. All the expressions of this clause seem to have an obvious reference to the services of the Old Testament economy. Under that dispensation, animals free from blemish were presented and devoted to God; under the new dispensation a nobler and more spiritual service is to be rendered; not the oblation of animals, but the consecration of ourselves. The expression, your bodies, is perhaps nearly equivalent to yourselves; yet Paul probably used it with design, not only because it was appropriate to the figure, but because he wished to render the idea prominent, that the whole man, body as well as soul, was to be devoted to the service of God. “Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God, in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” 1Co_6:20. The apostle carries the figure out; the sacrifice is to be living, holy, and acceptable. The first of these epithets is generally considered as intended to express the contrast between the sacrifice here intended, and the victims which were placed lifeless upon the altar; thus believers, in 1Pe_2:5, are called “living stones,” in opposition to the senseless materials employed in a literal building. We are to present θυσίαν ζῶσαν, a sacrifice that lives. “Abominabile est, cadaver offere.” — Bengel. The word living, however, may mean perpetual, lasting, never neglected; as in the phrases, “living bread,” Joh_6:51, ‘bread which never looses its power;’“living hope,” 1Pe_1:3, ‘hope which never fails;’“living waters,” “a living way,” etc.; (see Wahl’s Lexicon, under the word ζάω.) The sacrifice then which we are to make is not a transient service, like the oblation of a victim, which was in a few moments consumed upon the altar, but it is a living or perpetual sacrifice never to be neglected or recalled. The epithet holy has probably direct reference to the frequent use of a nearly corresponding word (Mymit@f) in the Hebrew scriptures, which, when applied to sacrifices, is commonly rendered without blemish. The word holy is then in this case equivalent to immaculate, i.e. free from those defects which would cause an offering to be rejected. The term acceptable is here used in the same sense as the phrase, “for a sweet smelling savor,” Eph_5:2; Phi_4:18; Lev_1:9, i.e. grateful, well-pleasing; a sacrifice in which God delights. Τῷ Θεῷ is to be connected with εὐάρεστον and not with παραστῆσαι.
Your reasonable service. There is doubt as to the grammatical construction of this clause. The most natural and simple explanation is to consider it in opposition with the preceding member of the sentence, as has been done by our translators, who supply the words which is. This consecration of ourselves to God, which the apostle requires, is a reasonable service. The word λοτρεία does not mean an offering, but worship. It is not the thing offered that is said to be reasonable in the sense of, endowed with reason, but the nature of the service. It is rendered by the mind. The word (λογικήν) rendered reasonable, is indeed variously explained. The simplest interpretation is that which takes the word in its natural sense, viz., pertaining to the mind; it is a mental or spiritual service, in opposition to ceremonial and external observations. Compare the phrase (λογικὸν γάλα) ‘milk suited, or pertaining to the mind,’ 1Pe_2:2. Others understand these words as expressing the difference between the sacrifices under the Christian dispensation and those under the Old. Formerly animals destitute of reason (ἄλογα ζῶα) were offered unto God, but now men possessed of a rational soul. But this interpretation is neither so well suited to the meaning of the word, nor does it give a sense so consistent with the context; compare 1Pe_2:5.
I beseech you – The apostle, having finished the argument of this Epistle, proceeds now to close it with a practical or hortatory application, showing its bearing on the duties of life, and the practical influence of religion. None of the doctrines of the gospel are designed to be cold and barren speculations. They bear on the hearts and lives of people; and the apostle therefore calls on those to whom he wrote to dedicate themselves without reserve unto God.
Therefore – As the effect or result of the argument or doctrine. In other words, the whole argument of the eleven first chapters is suited to show the obligation on us to devote ourselves to God. From expressions like these, it is clear that the apostle never supposed that the tendency of the doctrines of grace was to lead to licentiousness. Many have affirmed that such was the tendency of the doctrines of justification by faith, of election and decrees, and of the perseverance of the saints. But it is plain that Paul had no such apprehensions. After having fully stated and established those doctrines, he concludes that we ought therefore to lead holy lives, and on the ground of them he exhorts people to do it.
By the mercies of God – The word “by” διὰ dia denotes here the reason why they should do it, or the ground of appeal. So great had been the mercy of God, that this constituted a reason why they should present their bodies, etc. see 1Co_1:10; Rom_15:30. The word “mercies” here denotes favor shown to the undeserving, or kindness, compassion, etc. The plural is used in imitation of the Hebrew word for mercy, which has no singular. The word is not often used in the New Testament; see 2Co_1:3, where God is called “the Father of mercies;” Phi_2:1; Col_3:12; Heb_10:28. The particular mercy to which the apostle here refers, is that shown to those whom he was addressing. He had proved that all were by nature under sin; that they had no claim on God; and that he had showed great compassion in giving his Son to die for them in this state, and in pardoning their sins. This was a ground or reason why they should devote themselves to God.
That ye present – The word used here commonly denotes the action of bringing and presenting an animal or other sacrifice before an altar. It implies that the action was a free and voluntary offering. Religion is free; and the act of devoting ourselves to God is one of the most free that we ever perform.
Your bodies – The bodies of animals were offered in sacrifice. The apostle specifies their bodies particularly in reference to that fact. Still the entire animal was devoted; and Paul evidently meant here the same as to say, present Yourselves, your entire person, to the service of God; compare 1Co_6:16; Jam_3:6. It was not customary or proper to speak of a sacrifice as an offering of a soul or spirit, in the common language of the Jews; and hence, the apostle applied their customary language of sacrifice to the offering which Christians were to make of themselves to God.
A living sacrifice – A sacrifice is an offering made to God as an atonement for sin; or any offering made to him and his service as an expression of thanksgiving or homage. It implies that he who offers it presents it entirely, releases all claim or right to it, and leaves it to be disposed of for the honor of God. In the case of an animal, it was slain, and the blood offered; in the case of any other offering, as the first-fruits, etc., it was set apart to the service of God; and he who offered it released all claim on it, and submitted it to God, to be disposed of at his will. This is the offering which the apostle entreats the Romans to make: to devote themselves to God, as if they had no longer any claim on themselves; to be disposed of by him; to suffer and bear all that he might appoint; and to promote his honor in any way which he might command. This is the nature of true religion.
Living – ζῶσυν zōsun. The expression probably means that they were to devote the vigorous, active powers of their bodies and souls to the service of God. The Jew offered his victim, slew it, and presented it dead. It could not be presented again. In opposition to this, we are to present ourselves with all our living, vital energies. Christianity does not require a service of death or inactivity. It demands vigorous and active powers in the service of God the Saviour. There is something very affecting in the view of such a sacrifice; in regarding life, with all its energies, its intellectual, and moral, and physical powers, as one long sacrifice; one continued offering unto God. An immortal being presented to him; presented voluntarily, with all his energies, from day to day, until life shall close, so that it may he said that he has lived and died an offering made freely unto God. This is religion.
Holy – This means properly without blemish or defect. No other sacrifice could be made to God. The Jews were expressly forbid to offer what was lame, or blind, or in anyway deformed; Deu_15:21; Lev_1:3, Lev_1:10; Lev_3:1; Lev_22:20; Deu_17:1; compare Mal_1:8. If offered without any of these defects, it was regarded as holy, that is, appropriately set apart, or consecrated to God. In like manner we are to consecrate to God our best faculties; the vigor of our minds, and talents, and time. Not the feebleness of sickness merely; not old age alone; not time which we cannot otherwise employ, but the first vigor and energies of the mind and body; our youth, and health, and strength. Our sacrifice to God is to be not divided, separate; but it is to be entire and complete. Many are expecting to be Christians in sickness; many in old age; thus purposing to offer unto him the blind and the lame. The sacrifice is to be free from sin. It is not to be a divided, and broken, and polluted service. It is to be with the best affections of our hearts and lives.
Acceptable unto God – They are exhorted to offer such a sacrifice as will be acceptable to God; that is, such a one as he had just specified, one that was living and holy. No sacrifice should be made which is not acceptable to God. The offerings of the pagan; the pilgrimages of the Muslims; the self-inflicted penalties of the Roman Catholics, uncommanded by God, cannot be acceptable to him. Those services will be acceptable to God, and those only, which he appoints; compare Col_2:20-23. People are not to invent services; or to make crosses; or to seek persecutions and trials; or to provoke opposition. They are to do just what God requires of them, and that will be acceptable to God. And this fact, that what we do is acceptable to God, is the highest recompense we can have. It matters little what people think of us, if God approves what we do. To please him should be our highest aim; the fact that we do please him is our highest reward.
Which is your reasonable service – The word rendered “service” λατρείαν latreian properly denotes worship, or the homage rendered to God. The word “reasonable” with us means what is “governed by reason; thinking, speaking, or acting conformably to the dictates of reason” (Webster); or what can be shown to be rational or proper. This does not express the meaning of the original. That word λογικὴν logikēn denotes what pertains to the mind, and a reasonable service means what is mental, or pertaining to reason. It stands opposed, nor to what is foolish or unreasonable, but to the external service of the Jews, and such as they relied on for salvation. The worship of the Christian is what pertains to the mind, or is spiritual; that of the Jew was external. Chrysostom renders this phrase “your spiritual ministry.” The Syriac, “That ye present your bodies, etc., by a rational ministry.”
We may learn from this verse,
(1) That the proper worship of God is the free homage of the mind. It is not forced or constrained. The offering of ourselves should be voluntary. No other can be a true offering, and none other can be acceptable.
(2) we are to offer our entire selves, all that we have and are, to God. No other offering can be such as he will approve.
(3) the character of God is such as should lead us to that. It is a character of mercy; of long-continued and patient forbearance, and it should influence us to devote ourselves to him.
(4) it should be done without delay. God is as worthy of such service now as he ever will or can be. He has every possible claim on our affections and our hearts.
2.And conform ye not to this world, etc. The term world has several significations, but here it means the sentiments and the morals of men; to which, not without cause, he forbids us to conform. For since the whole world lies in wickedness, it behooves us to put off whatever we have of the old man, if we would really put on Christ: and to remove all doubt, he explains what he means, by stating what is of a contrary nature; for he bids us to be transformed into a newness of mind. These kinds of contrast are common in Scripture; and thus a subject is more clearly set forth.
Now attend here, and see what kind of renovation is required from us: It is not that of the flesh only, or of the inferior part of the soul, as the Sorbonists explain this word; but of the mind, which is the most excellent part of us, and to which philosophers ascribe the supremacy; for they call it ἡγεμονικὸν, the leading power; and reason is imagined to be a most wise queen. But Paul pulls her down from her throne, and so reduces her to nothing by teaching us that we must be renewed in mind. For how much soever we may flatter ourselves, that declaration of Christ is still true, — that every man must be born again, who would enter into the kingdom of God; for in mind and heart we are altogether alienated from the righteousness of God.
That ye may prove, etc. Here you have the purpose for which we must put on a new mind, — that bidding adieu to our own counsels and desires, and those of all men, we may be attentive to the only will of God, the knowledge of which is true wisdom. But if the renovation of our mind is necessary, in order that we may prove what is the will of God, it is hence evident how opposed it is to God.
The epithets which are added are intended for the purpose of recommending God’s will, that we may seek to know it with greater alacrity: and in order to constrain our perverseness, it is indeed necessary that the true glory of justice and perfection should be ascribed to the will of God. The world persuades itself that those works which it has devised are good; Paul exclaims, that what is good and right must be ascertained from God’s commandments. The world praises itself, and takes delight in its own inventions; but Paul affirms, that nothing pleases God except what he has commanded. The world, in order to find perfection, slides from the word of God into its own devices; Paul, by fixing perfection in the will of God, shows, that if any one passes over that mark he is deluded by a false imagination.
And be not conformed to this world:, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, etc. Not only is God to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, as required in the preceding verse, but there must be a corresponding holiness of life. This idea is expressed in the manner most common with the sacred writers. Regarding men universally as corrupted and devoted to sin, the world is with them equivalent to the wicked; to be conformed to the world, therefore, is to be like unrenewed men in temper and in life. The word accurately rendered conformed, expresses strongly the idea of similarity in character and manners; and that rendered transformed expresses with equal strength the opposite idea. This world. The origin of this term, as used in the New Testament, is no doubt to be sought in the mode of expression so common among the Jews, who were accustomed to distinguish between the times before, and the times under the Messiah, by calling the former period this world, or this age, (עוֹלָם הַזֶה) and the latter, the world, or age to come (עוֹלָם הַבָּא). The former phrase thus naturally came to designate those who were without, and the latter those who were within the kingdom of Christ; they are equivalent to the expressions the world and the church; the mass of mankind and the people of God; compare 1Co_2:8; Eph_2:2; 2Co_4:4; Luk_20:35; Heb_2:5; Heb_6:5. There is, therefore, no necessity for supposing, as is done by many commentators, that the apostle has any special reference, in the use of this word, to the Jewish dispensation; as though his meaning were, ‘Be not conformed to the Jewish opinions and forms of worship, but be transformed and accommodated to the new spiritual economy under which ye are placed.’ The word (αἰών) here used, and the equivalent term (κόσμος) commonly translated world, are so frequently used for the mass of mankind, considered in opposition to the people of God, that there can be no good reason for departing from the common interpretation, especially as the sense which it affords is so good in itself, and so well suited to the context.
By the renewing of your mind. This phrase is intended to be explanatory of the preceding. The transformation to which Christians are exhorted, is not a mere external change, but one which results from a change of heart, an entire alteration of the state of the mind. The word νοῦς, mind, is used as it is here, frequently in the New Testament, Rom_1:28; Eph_4:17, Eph_4:23; Col_2:18, etc. In all these and in similar cases, it does not differ from the word heart, i.e. in its wide sense for the whole soul.
That ye may be able to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. The logical relation of this clause to the preceding is doubtful, as the original (εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν) admits of its being regarded as expressing either the design or the result of the change just spoken of. Our translators have adopted the former view, ‘Ye are renewed, in order that ye may be able to prove, etc.’ The other, however, gives an equally good sense, ‘Ye are renewed so that ye prove, etc.;’ such is the effect of the change in question. The word rendered to prove, signifies also to approve; the sense of this passage, therefore, may be either, ‘that ye may try or prove what is acceptable to God,’ i.e. decide upon or ascertain what is right; or, ‘that ye may approve what is good, etc.’ The words good, acceptable, and perfect, are by many considered as predicates of the word will. As, however, the expression ‘acceptable will of God’ is unnatural and unusual, the majority of modern commentators, after Erasmus, take them as substantives; ‘that ye may approve what is good, acceptable, and perfect, viz., the will of God.’ The last phrase is then in apposition with the others. The design and result then of that great change of which Paul speaks, is, that Christians should know, delight in, and practice, whatever is good and acceptable to God; compare Eph_5:10, Eph_5:17; Phi_4:8.
And be not conformed … – The word rendered “conformed” properly means to put on the form, fashion, or appearance of another. It may refer to anything pertaining to the habit, manner, dress, style of living, etc., of others.
Of this world – τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ tō aiōni toutō. The word which is commonly rendered “world,” when applied to the material universe, is κόσμος kosmos, “cosmos.” The word used here properly denotes an age, or generation of people. It may denote a particular generation, or it may be applied to the race. It is sometimes used in each of these senses. Thus, here it may mean that Christians should not conform to the maxims, habits, feelings, etc., of a wicked, luxurious, and idolatrous age, but should be conformed solely to the precepts and laws of the gospel; or the same principle may be extended to every age, and the direction may be, that Christians should not conform to the prevailing habits, style, and manners of the world, the people who know not God. They are to be governed by the laws of the Bible; to fashion their lives after the example of Christ; and to form themselves by principles different from those which prevail in the world. In the application of this rule there is much difficulty. Many may think that they are not conformed to the world, while they can easily perceive that their neighbor is. They indulge in many things which others may think to be conformity to the world, and are opposed to many things which others think innocent. The design of this passage is doubtless to produce a spirit that should not find pleasure in the pomp and vanity of the World; and which will regard all vain amusements and gaieties with disgust, and lead the mind to find pleasure in better things.
Be ye transformed – The word from which the expression here is derived means “form, habit” μορφή morphē. The direction is, “put on another form, change the form of the world for that of Christianity.” This word would properly refer to the external appearance, but the expression which the apostle immediately uses, “renewing of the mind,.” shows that he did not intend to use it with reference to that only, but to the charge of the whole man. The meaning is, do not cherish a spirit. devoted to the world, following its vain fashions and pleasures, but cultivate a spirit attached to God, and his kingdom and cause.
By the renewing – By the making new; the changing into new views and feelings. The Christian is often represented as a new creature; 2Co_5:17; Gal_6:15; Eph_4:24; 1Pe_2:2.
Your mind – The word translated “mind” properly denotes intellect, as distinguished from the will and affections. But here it seems to be used as applicable to the whole spirit as distinguished from the body, including the understanding, will, and affections. As if he had said, Let not this change appertain to the body only, but to the soul. Let it not be a mere external conformity, but let it have its seat in the spirit. All external changes, if the mind was not changed, would be useless, or would be hypocrisy. Christianity seeks to reign in the soul; and having its seat there, the external conduct and habits will be regulated accordingly.
That ye may prove – The word used here δοκιμάζω dokimazō is commonly applied to metals, to the operation of testing, or trying them by the severity of fire, etc. Hence, it also means to explore, investigate, ascertain. This is its meaning here. The sense is, that such a renewed mind is essential to a successful inquiry after the will of God. Having a disposition to obey him, the mind will be prepared to understand his precepts. There will be a correspondence between the feelings of the heart and his will; a nice tact or taste, which will admit his laws, and see the propriety and beauty of his commands. A renewed heart is the best preparation for studying Christianity; as a man who is temperate is the best suited to understand the arguments for temperance; the man who is chaste, has most clearly and forcibly the arguments for chastity, etc. A heart in love with the fashions and follies of the world is ill-suited to appreciate the arguments for humility, prayer, etc. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God,” Joh_7:17. The reason why the heart is renewed is that we may do the will of God: the heart that is renewed is best suited to appreciate and understand his will.
That good … – This part of the verse might be rendered, that ye may investigate the will of God, or ascertain the Will of God, what is good, and perfect, and acceptable. The will of God relates to his commands in regard to our conduct, his doctrines in regard to our belief, his providential dealings in relation to our external circumstances. It means what God demands of us, in whatever way it may be made known. They do not err from his ways who seek his guidance, and who, not confiding in their own wisdom, but in God, commit their way to him. “The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way,” Psa_25:9. The word “good” here is not an adjective agreeing with “will,” but a noun. “That ye may find the will of God, what is good and acceptable.” It implies that that thing which is good is his will; or that we may find his will by finding what is good and perfect. That is good which promotes the honor of God and the interests of his universe.
Perfect – Free from defect, stain, or injury. That which has all its parts complete, or which is not disproportionate. Applied to religion, it means what is consistent, which is carried out; which is evinced in all the circumstances and reactions of life.
Acceptable – That which will be pleasing to God. or which he will approve. There is scarcely a more difficult text in the Bible than this, or one that is more full of meaning. It involves the main duty of religion to be separated from the world; and expresses the way in which that duty may be performed, and in which we may live so as to ascertain and do the will of God. If all Christians would obey this, religion would be everywhere honored. If all would separate from the vices and follies, the amusements and gaieties of the world, Christ would be glorified. If all were truly renewed in their minds, they would lose their relish for such things, and seeking only to do the will of God, they would not be slow to find it.
3.For I say, through the grace, etc. If you think not the causal particle superfluous, this verse will not be unsuitably connected with the former; for since he wished that our whole study should be employed in investigating the will of God, the next thing to this was, to draw us away from vain curiosity. As however the causal particle is often used redundantly by Paul, you may take the verse as containing a simple affirmation; for thus the sense would also be very appropriate.
But before he specifies his command, he reminds them of the authority which had been given to him, so that they might not otherwise attend to his voice than if it was the voice of God himself; for his words are the same, as though he had said, “I speak not of myself; but, as God’s ambassador, I bring to you the commands which he has entrusted to me.” By “grace ” (as before) he means the Apostleship, with respect to which he exalts God’s kindness, and at the same time intimates, that he had not crept in through his own presumption, but, that he was chosen by the calling of God. Having then by this preface secured authority to himself, he laid the Romans under the necessity of obeying, unless they were prepared to despise God in the person of his minister.
Then the command follows, by which he draws us away from the investigation of those things which can bring nothing but harassment to the mind, and no edification; and he forbids every one to assume more than what his capacity and calling will allow; and at the same time he exhorts us to think and meditate on those things which may render us sober-minded and modest. For so I understand the words, rather than in the sense given by [Erasmus ] , who thus renders them, “Let no one think proudly of himself;” for this sense is somewhat remote from the words, and the other is more accordant with the context. The clause, Beyond what it behooves him to be wise, shows what he meant by the former verb ὑπερφρόνειν , to be above measure wise; that is, that we exceed the measure of wisdom, if we engage in those things concerning which it is not meet that we should be anxious. To be wise unto sobriety is to attend to the study of those things by which you may find that you learn and gain moderation.
To every one as God has distributed, etc. ( Unicuique ut divisit Deus .) There is here an inversion of words, instead of — As to every one God has distributed And here a reason is given for that sober-minded wisdom which he had mentioned; for as distribution of graces is various, so every one preserves himself within the due boundaries of wisdom, who keeps within the limits of that grace of faith bestowed on him by the Lord. Hence there is an immoderate affectation of wisdom, not only in empty things and in things useless to be known, but also in the knowledge of those things which are otherwise useful, when we regard not what has been given to us, but through rashness and presumption go beyond the measure of our knowledge; and such outrage God will not suffer to go unpunished. It is often to be seen, with what insane trifles they are led away, who, by foolish ambition, proceed beyond those bounds which are set for them.
The meaning is, that it is a part of our reasonable sacrifice to surrender ourselves, in a meek and teachable spirit, to be ruled and guided by God. And further, by setting up faith in opposition to human judgment, he restrains us from our own opinions, and at the same time specifies the due measure of it, that is, when the faithful humbly keep themselves within the limits allotted to them.
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, etc. The apostle connects with the general exhortation contained in the preceding verses, and founds upon it, an exhortation to special Christian virtues. The first virtue which he enjoins upon believers is modesty or humility. This has reference specially to the officers of the church, or at least to the recipients of spiritual gifts. It is very evident from 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, that these gifts were coveted and exercised by many of the early Christians for the purpose of self-exaltation. They, therefore, desired not those which were most useful, but those which were most attractive; and some were puffed up, while others were envious and discontented. This evil the apostle forcibly and beautifully reproved in the chapters referred to, in the same manner that he does here, and much more at length. He showed his readers that these gifts were all gratuitous, and were, therefore, occasions of gratitude, but not grounds of boasting. He reminds his readers that the design for which these gifts were bestowed, was the edification of the church, and not the exaltation of the receiver; that, however diversified in their nature, they were all manifestations of one and the same Spirit, and were as necessary to a perfect whole as the several members of the body, with their various offices, to a perfect man. Having one Spirit, and constituting one body, any exaltation of one over the other was as unnatural as the eye or ear disregarding and despising the hand or the foot. As this tendency to abuse their official and spiritual distinctions was not confined to the Corinthian Christians, we find the apostle, in this passage, giving substantially the same instructions to the Romans.
Through the grace given unto me. The word grace in this clause is by many understood to mean the apostolic office, which Paul elsewhere speaks of as a great favor. Compare Rom_1:5; Rom_15:15; Eph_3:2, Eph_3:8. But this is too limited; the word probably includes all the favor of God towards him, not merely in conferring on him the office of an apostle, but in bestowing all the gifts of the Spirit, ordinary and extraordinary, which qualified him for his duties, and gave authority to his instructions. Through, dia&, i.e. on account of, or out of regard to.
Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. The word to think is an inadequate translation of the Greek, (φρονεῖν,) in as much as the latter includes the idea of the exercise of the affections as well as of the intellect; see Rom_8:5; Col_3:2; Phi_3:19. To think of oneself too highly, is to be puffed up with an idea of our own importance and superiority.
But to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. There is in the first member of this clause a beautiful paronomasia in the original (φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν) which is lost in a translation. The word rendered soberly properly means to be of a sane mind; and then to be moderate or temperate. Paul speaks of one who over-estimates or praises himself as being beside himself; and of him who is modest and humble as being of a sane mind, i.e. as making a proper estimate of himself. “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause,” 2Co_5:13, i.e. ‘If we commend ourselves, it is that God may be honored; and if we act modestly and abstain from self-commendation, it is that you may be benefited.’ To think soberly, therefore, is to form and manifest a right estimate of ourselves, and of our gifts. A right estimate can never be other than a very humble one, since whatever there is of good in us is not of ourselves, but of God.
The expression measure or proportion of faith, is variously explained. Faith may be taken in its usual sense, and the meaning of the clause be, ‘Let every one think of himself according to the degree of faith or confidence in God which has been imparted to him, and not as though he had more than he really possesses.’ Or faith may be taken for what is believed, or for knowledge of divine truth, and the sense be, ‘according to the degree of knowledge which he has attained.’ Or it may be taken for that which is confided to any, and be equivalent to gift. The sense then is, ‘Let every one think of himself according to the nature or character of the gifts which he has received.’ This is perhaps the most generally received interpretation, although it is arrived at in different ways; many considering the word faith here as used metonymically for its effects, viz., for the various (χαρίσματα) graces, ordinary and extraordinary, of which it is the cause. This general sense is well suited to the context, as the following verses, containing a specification of the gifts of prophesying, teaching, ruling, etc., appear to be an amplification of this clause. The first mentioned interpretation is, however, most in accordance with the usual meaning of πίστις (faith).
For I say – The word “for” shows that the apostle is about to introduce some additional considerations to enforce what he had just said, or to show how we may evince a mind that is not conformed to the world.
Through the grace – Through the favor, or in virtue of the favor of the apostolic office. By the authority that is conferred on me to declare the will of God as an apostle; see the note at Rom_1:5; see also Gal_1:6, Gal_1:15; Gal_2:9; Eph_3:8; 1Ti_1:14.
Not to think … – Not to over-estimate himself, or to think more of himself than he ought to. What is the true standard by which we ought to estimate ourselves he immediately adds. This is a caution against pride; and an exhortation not to judge of ourselves by our talents, wealth, or function, but to form another standard of judging of ourselves, by our Christian character. The Romans would probably be in much danger from this quarter. The prevailing habit of judging among them was according to rank, or wealth, or eloquence, or function. While this habit of judging prevailed in the world around them, there was danger that it might also prevail in the church. And the exhortation was that they should not judge of their own characters by the usual modes among people, but by their Christian attainments. There is no sin to which people are more prone than an inordinate self-valuation and pride. Instead of judging by what constitutes true excellence of character, they pride themselves on that which is of no intrinsic value; on rank, and titles, and external accomplishments; or on talents, learning, or wealth. The only true standard of character pertains to the principles of action, or to that which constitutes the moral nature of the man; and to that the apostle calls the Roman people.
But to think soberly – Literally, “to think so as to act soberly or wisely.” So to estimate ourselves as to act or demean ourselves wisely, prudently, modestly. Those who over-estimate themselves are proud, haughty, foolish in their deportment. Those who think of themselves as they ought, are modest, sober, prudent. There is no way to maintain a wise and proper conduct so certain, as to form a humble and modest estimate of our own character.
According as God hath dealt – As God has measured to each one, or apportioned to each one. In this place the faith which Christians have, is traced to God as its giver. This act, that God has given it, will be itself one of the most effectual promoters of humility and right feeling. People commonly regard the objects on which they pride themselves as things of their own creation, or as depending on themselves. But let an object be regarded as the gift of God, and it ceases to excite pride, and the feeling is at once changed into gratitude. He, therefore, who regards God as the source of all blessings, and he only, will be an humble man.
The measure of faith – The word “faith” here is evidently put for religion, or Christianity. Faith is a main thing in religion. It constitutes its first demand, and the Christian religion, therefore, is characterized by its faith, or its confidence, in God; see Mar_16:17; compare Heb. 11; Rom. 4. We are not, therefore, to be elated in our view of ourselves; we are not to judge of our own characters by wealth, or talent, or learning, but by our attachment to God, and by the influence of faith on our minds. The meaning is, judge yourselves, or estimate yourselves, by your piety. The propriety of this rule is apparent:
(1) Because no other standard is a correct one, or one of value. Our talent, learning, rank, or wealth, is a very improper rule by which to estimate ourselves. All may be wholly unconnected with moral worth; and the worst as well as the best people may possess them.
(2) God will judge us in the day of judgment by our attachment to Christ and his cause Matt. 25; and that is the true standard by which to estimate ourselves here.
(3) nothing else will secure and promote humility but this. All other things may produce or promote pride, but this will effectually secure humility. The fact that God has given all that we have; the fact that the poor and obscure may have as true an elevation of character as ourselves; the consciousness of our own imperfections and short-comings in the Christian faith; and the certainty that we are soon to be arraigned to try this great question, whether we have evidence that we are the friends of God; will all tend to promote humbleness of mind and to bring down our usual inordinate self-estimation. If all Christians judged themselves in this way, it would remove at once no small part of the pride of station and of life from the world, and would produce deep attachment for those who are blessed with the faith of the gospel, though they may be unadorned by any of the wealth or trappings which now promote pride and distinctions among men.
4.For as in one body, etc. The very thing which he had previously said of limiting the wisdom of each according to the measure of faith, he now confirms by a reference to the vocation of the faithful; for we are called for this end, that we may unite together in one body, since Christ has ordained a fellowship and connection between the faithful similar to that which exists between the members of the human body; and as men could not of themselves come together into such an union, he himself becomes the bond of this connection. As then the case is with the human body, so it ought to be with the society of the faithful. By applying this similitude he proves how necessary it is for each to consider what is suitable to his own nature, capacity, and vocation. But though this similitude has various parts, it is yet to be chiefly thus applied to our present subject, — that as the members of the same body have distinct offices, and all of them are distinct, for no member possesses all powers, nor does it appropriate to itself the offices of others; so God has distributed various gifts to us, by which diversity he has determined the order which he would have to be observed among us, so that every one is to conduct himself according to the measure of his capacity, and not to thrust himself into what peculiarly belongs to others; nor is any one to seek to have all things himself, but to be content with his lot, and willingly to abstain from usurping the offices of others. When, however, he points out in express words the communion which is between us, he at the same time intimates, how much diligence there ought to be in all, so that they may contribute to the common good of the body according to the faculties they possess.
For – This word here denotes a further illustration or proof of what he had just before said. The duty to which he was exhorting the Romans was, not to be unduly exalted or elevated in their own estimation. In order to produce proper humility, he shows them that God has appointed certain orders or grades in the church; that all are useful in their proper place; that we should seek to discharge our duty in our appropriate sphere; and thus that due subordination and order would be observed. To show this, he introduces a beautiful comparison drawn from the human body. There are various members in the human frame; all useful and honorable in their proper place; and all designed to promote the order, and beauty, and harmony of the whole. So the church is one body, consisting of many members, and each is suited to be useful and comely in its proper place. The same comparison he uses with great beauty and force in 1Co. 12:4-31; also Eph_4:25; Eph_5:30. In that chapter the comparison is carried out to much greater length, and its influence shown with great force.
Many members – Limbs, or parts; feet, hands, eyes, ears, etc.; 1Co_12:14-15.
In one body – Constituting one body; or united in one, and making one person. Essential to the existence, beauty, and happiness of the one body or person.
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, etc. In these verses we have the same comparison that occurs more at length in 1 Corinthians 12, and for the same purpose. The object of the apostle is in both cases the same. He designs to show that the diversity of offices and gifts among Christians, so far from being inconsistent with their union as one body in Christ, is necessary to the perfection and usefulness of that body. It would be as unreasonable for all Christians to have the same gifts, as for all the members of the human frame to have the same office. This comparison is peculiarly beautiful and appropriate; because it not only clearly illustrates the particular point intended, but at the same time brings into view the important truth that the real union of Christians results from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as the union of the several members of the body is the result of their being all animated and actuated by one soul. Nothing can present in a clearer light the duty of Christian fellowship, or the sinfulness of divisions and envying among the members of Christ’s body, than the apostle’s comparison. ‘Believers, though many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.’ Οἱ πολλοὶ ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν. We, the many, are one body. In one respect we are many, in another we are one. Just as the body is many as to its members, and one in their organic connection. Believers are one body, i.e. a living organic whole, not in virtue of any external organization, but in Christ, i.e. in virtue of their common union with him. And as this union with Christ is not merely external, or by profession, or by unity of opinion and sentiment only, but vital, arising from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Christ, so, the apostle adds, the union of believers one with another, is also a vital union. They are ὁ καθ ̓ εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη, every one members one of another. The relation of believers to each other is far more intimate than that between the members of any external organization, whether civil or ecclesiastical. It is analogous to the mutual relation of the members of the same body, animated by one soul. ὁ καθ ̓ εἷς for ὁ καθ ̓ ἕνα, in the sense of εἷς ἕκαστος, is a solecism occurring only in the later Greek.
So we, being many – We who are Christians, and who are numerous as individuals.
Are one body – Are united together, constituting one society, or one people, mutually dependent, and having the same great interests at heart, though to be promoted by us according to our special talents and opportunities. As the welfare of the same body is to be promoted in one manner by the feet, in another by the eye, etc.; so the welfare of the body of Christ is to be promoted by discharging our duties in our appropriate sphere, as God has appointed us.
In Christ – One body, joined to Christ, or connected with him as the head; Eph_1:22-23, “And gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body;” compare Joh_15:1-7. This does not mean that there is any physical or literal union, or any destruction of personal identity, or any thing particularly mysterious or unintelligible. Christians acknowledge him as their head. that is, their Lawgiver; their Counsellor, Guide, and Redeemer. They are bound to him by especially tender ties of affection, gratitude, and friendship; they are united in him, that is, in acknowledging him as their common Lord and Saviour. Any other unions than this is impossible; and the sacred writers never intended that expressions like these should be explained literally. The union of Christians to Christ is the most tender and interesting of any in this world, but no more mysterious than what binds friend to friend, children to parents, or husbands to their wives; compare Eph_5:23-33. (See the supplementary note at Rom_8:17.)
And every one members one of another – Compare 1Co_12:25-26. That is, we are so united as to be mutually dependent; each one is of service to the other; and the existence and function of the one is necessary to the usefulness of the other. Thus, the members of the body may be said to be members one of another; as the feet could not, for example, perform their functions or be of use if it were not for the eye; the ear, the hand, the teeth, etc., would be useless if it were not for the other members, which go to make up the entire person. Thus, in the church, every individual is not only necessary in his place as an individual, but is needful to the proper symmetry and action of the whole. And we may learn here:
(1) That no member of the church of Christ should esteem himself to be of no importance. In his own place he may be of as much consequence as the man of learning, wealth, and talent may be in his.
(2) God designed that there should be differences of endowments of nature and of grace in the church; just as it was needful that there should be differences in the members of the human body.
(3) no one should despise or lightly esteem another. All are necessary. We can no more spare the foot or the hand than we can the eye; though the latter may be much more curious and striking as a proof of divine skill. We do not despise the hand or the foot any more than we do the eye; and in all we should acknowledge the goodness and wisdom of God. See these thoughts carried out in 1Co_12:21-25.
6.Having gifts, etc. Paul speaks not now simply of cherishing among ourselves brotherly love, but commends humility, which is the best moderator of our whole life. Every one desires to have so much himself, so as not to need any help from others; but the bond of mutual communication is this, that no one has sufficient for himself, but is constrained to borrow from others. I admit, then that the society of the godly cannot exist, except when each one is content with his own measure, and imparts to others the gifts which he has received, and allows himself by turns to be assisted by the gifts of others.
But Paul especially intended to beat down the pride which he knew to be innate in men; and that no one might be dissatisfied that all things have not been bestowed on him, he reminds us that according to the wise counsel of God every one has his own portion given to him; for it is necessary to the common benefit of the body that no one should be furnished with fullness of gifts, lest he should heedlessly despise his brethren. Here then we have the main design which the Apostle had in view, that all things do not meet in all, but that the gifts of God are so distributed that each has a limited portion, and that each ought to be so attentive in imparting his own gifts to the edification of the Church, that no one, by leaving his own function, may trespass on that of another. By this most beautiful order, and as it were symmetry, is the safety of the Church indeed preserved; that is, when every one imparts to all in common what he has received from the Lord, in such a way as not to impede others. He who inverts this order fights with God, by whose ordinance it is appointed; for the difference of gifts proceeds not from the will of man, but because it has pleased the Lord to distribute his grace in this manner.
Whether prophecy, etc. By now bringing forward some examples, he shows how every one in his place, or as it were in occupying his station, ought to be engaged. For all gifts have their own defined limits, and to depart from them is to mar the gifts themselves. But the passage appears somewhat confused; we may yet arrange it in this manner, “Let him who has prophecy, test it by the analogy of faith; let him in the ministry discharge it in teaching,” etc. They who will keep this end in view, will rightly preserve themselves within their own limits.
But this passage is variously understood. There are those who consider that by prophecy is meant the gift of predicting, which prevailed at the commencement of the gospel in the Church; as the Lord then designed in every way to commend the dignity and excellency of his Church; and they think that what is added, according to the analogy of faith, is to be applied to all the clauses. But I prefer to follow those who extend this word wider, even to the peculiar gift of revelation, by which any one skillfully and wisely performed the office of an interpreter in explaining the will of God. Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel. For in this sense it is taken by Paul when he says, “I wish that you spoke in tongues, but rather that ye prophesy,”(1Co_14:5;) “In part we know and in part we prophesy,”(1Co_13:9.)
And it does not appear that Paul intended here to mention those miraculous graces by which Christ at first rendered illustrious his gospel; but, on the contrary, we find that he refers only to ordinary gifts, such as were to continue perpetually in the Church.
Nor does it seem to me a solid objection, that the Apostle to no purpose laid this injunction on those who, having the Spirit of God, could not call Christ an anathema; for he testifies in another place that the spirit of the Prophets is subject to the Prophets; and he bids the first speaker to be silent, if anything were revealed to him who was sitting down, (1Co_14:32;) and it was for the same reason it may be that he gave this admonition to those who prophesied in the Church, that is, that they were to conform their prophecies to the rule of faith, lest in anything they should deviate from the right line. Byfaith he means the first principles of religion, and whatever doctrine is not found to correspond with these is here condemned as false.
As to the other clauses there is less difficulty. Let him who is ordained a minister, he says, execute his office in ministering; nor let him think, that he has been admitted into that degree for himself, but for others; as though he had said, “Let him fulfill his office by ministering faithfully, that he may answer to his name.” So also he immediately adds with regard to teachers; for by the word teaching, he recommends sound edification, according to this import, — “Let him who excels in teaching know that the end is, that the Church may be really instructed; and let him study this one thing, that he may render the Church more informed by his teaching:” for a teacher is he who forms and builds the Church by the word of truth. Let him also who excels in the gift of exhorting, have this in view, to render his exhortation effectual.
But these offices have much affinity and even connection; not however that they were not different. No one indeed could exhort, except by doctrine: yet he who teaches is not therefore endued with the qualification to exhort. But no one prophesies or teaches or exhorts, without at the same time ministering. But it is enough if we preserve that distinction which we find to be in God’s gifts, and which we know to be adapted to produce order in the Church.
Having therefore gifts differing according to the grace given unto us, etc. In this and the following verses we have the application of the preceding comparison to the special object in view. ‘If Christians are all members of the same body, having different offices and gifts, instead of being puffed up one above another, and instead of envying and opposing each other, they should severally discharge their respective duties diligently and humbly for the good of the whole, and not for their own advantage.’ It is a common opinion that the apostle, in specifying the various gifts to which he refers, meant to arrange them under the two heads of prophesying and administering; or that he specifies the duties of two classes of officers, the prophets and deacons (dia&κονοι). To the former would then belong prophesying, teaching, exhortation; to the latter, ministering, giving, ruling, showing mercy. This view of the passage, which is adopted by De Brais, Koppe, and others, requires that the terms prophet and deacon should be taken in their widest sense. Both are indeed frequently used with great latitude; the former being applied to any one who speaks as the mouth of God, or the explainer of his will; and the latter to any ministerial officer in the church, 1Co_3:5; Eph_3:7; Col_1:7, Col_1:23, etc. Although this interpretation is consistent with the usage of the words, and in some measure simplifies the passage, yet it is by no means necessary. There is no appearance of such a systematic arrangement; on the contrary, Paul seems to refer without any order to the various duties which the officers and even private members of the church were called upon to perform. The construction in the original is not entirely regular, and, therefore, has been variously explained. There is no interpretation more natural than that adopted by our translators, who, considering the passage as elliptical, have supplied in the several specifications the phrases which in each case the sense requires. Instead of beginning, a new sentence with Rom_12:6, many commentators connect ἔχοντες in ἐσμεν Rom_12:5, and make the following accusatives depend on it. The whole passage is then regarded as declarative, and not exhortative. ‘We are one body having gifts, prophecy according to the proportion of faith; or the gift of ministering, in the ministry, he that teacheth, in teaching,’ etc. It is plain, however, that this requires a very forced interpretation to be given to the several terms here used. Διακονία does not in the same clause mean first the gift, and then the exercise of the gift; much less can ἐν τῇ παρακλήσει, ἐν ἁπλότητι, etc., indicate the sphere within which the gifts mentioned are exercised. Others retaining the exhortatory character of the passage, still connect ἔχοντες with Rom_12:5. ‘We are having gifts, whether prophecy or ministry, let us use them aright.’ On the whole, the simplest method is to begin a new sentence with ἔχοντες, and supply the necessary verb in the several clauses, as is done in our version, and by Olshausen, Fritzsche, Phillipi. Compare 1Pe_4:11, εἴ τις λαλεῖ, ὡς λόγια Θεοῦ (sc. λαλείτω), etc.
Having therefore gifts differing according to the grace given unto us, i.e. as there are in the one body various offices and gifts, let every one act in a manner consistent with the nature and design of the particular gift which he has received. Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. The first gift specified is that of prophecy, with regard to the precise nature of which there is no little diversity of opinion. The original and proper meaning of the Hebrew word rendered prophet in the Old Testament, is interpreter, one who explains or delivers the will of another. And to this idea the Greek term also answers. It matters little whether the will or purpose of God which the prophets were called upon to deliver, had reference to present duty or to future events. They derived their Hebrew name not from predicting what was to come to pass, which was but a small part of their duty, but from being the interpreters of God, men who spoke in his name. We accordingly find the term prophet applied to all classes of religious teachers under the old dispensation. Of Abraham it is said, “He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee and thou shalt live,” Gen_20:7. The name is often applied to Moses as the great interpreter of the will of God to the Hebrews, Deu_18:18; and the writers of the historical books are also constantly so called. The passage in Exo_7:1, is peculiarly interesting, as it clearly exhibits the proper meaning of this word. “And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a God to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet,” i.e. he shall be thy interpreter. In Rom_4:16, it is said, “He shall be a mouth to thee;” and of Jeremiah, God says, “Thou shalt be as my mouth,” Jer_15:19; compare Deu_18:18. Any one, therefore, who acted as the mouth of God, no matter what was the nature of the communication, was a prophet. And this is also the sense of the word in the New Testament; it is applied to any one employed to deliver a divine message, Mat_10:41; Mat_13:57; Luk_4:24; Luk_7:26-29, “What went ye out to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger, etc.” Joh_4:19, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet,” i.e. an inspired man. Act_15:32, “And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren and confirmed them.” 1Co_12:28, “God hath set in the church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; etc.” 1Co_14:29-32, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual (inspired), let him acknowledge, etc.” From these and numerous similar passages, it appears that the prophets in the Christian church were men who spoke under the immediate influence of the Spirit of God, and delivered some divine communication relating to doctrinal truths, to present duty, to future events, etc., as the case might be. The point of distinction between them and the apostles, considered as religious teachers, appears to have been that the inspiration of the apostles was abiding, they were the infallible and authoritative messengers of Christ; whereas the inspiration of the prophets was occasional and transient. The latter differed from the teachers (διδάσκαλοι), inasmuch as these were not necessarily inspired, but taught to others what they themselves had learned from the Scriptures, or from inspired men.
Agreeably to this view of the office of the prophets, we find the sacred writers speaking of the gift of prophecy as consisting in the communication of divine truth by the Spirit of God, intended for instruction, exhortation, or consolation. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,” 1Co_13:2; “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort,” 1Co_14:3; “If all prophesy and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all, etc.,” v. 24.
The gift of which Paul here speaks, is not, therefore, the faculty of predicting future events, but that of immediate occasional inspiration, leading the recipient to deliver, as the mouth of God, the particular communication which he had received, whether designed for instruction, exhortation, or comfort. The apostle required that those who enjoyed this gift should exercise it according to the proportion of faith. This clause admits of different interpretations. The word (ἀναλογία) rendered proportion, may mean either proportion, or measure, rule, standard. Classic usage is rather in favor of the former of these meanings. The latter, however, is necessarily included in the former; and the word is defined by Hesychius, measure, canon, or rule. The choice between the two meanings of the word must depend on the sense given to the word faith, and on the context. Faith may here mean inward confidence or belief; or it may mean the gift received, i.e. that which is confided (τὸ πεπιστευμένον); or, finally, that which is believed, truths divinely revealed. If the first of these three senses be adopted, the passage means, ‘Let him prophesy according to his internal convictions; that is, he must not exceed in his communication what he honestly believes to have been divinely communicated, or allow himself to be carried away by enthusiasm, to deliver, as from God, what is really nothing but his own thoughts.’ If the second sense (of πίστις) be preferred, the clause then means, ‘Let him prophesy according to the proportion of the gifts which he has received; i.e. let every one speak according to the degree and nature of the divine influence, or the particular revelation imparted to him.’ If, however, faith here means, as it does in so many other places, the object of faith, or the truths to be believed, (see Gal_1:23; Gal_3:25; Gal_6:10; Eph_4:5; 1Th_3:5, etc.,) then according to the proportion signifies, agreeably to the rule or standard; and the apostle’s direction to the prophets is, that in all their communications they are to conform to the rule of faith, and not contradict those doctrines which had been delivered by men whose inspiration had been established by indubitable evidence. In favor of this view of the passage is the frequent use of the word faith in the sense thus assigned to it. The ordinary subjective sense of the word does not suit the passage. The amount or strength of faith does not determine either the extent to which the gift of prophecy is enjoyed, or the manner in which it is exercised. There were prophets who had no saving faith at all just as many performed miracles who were not the true disciples of Christ. “In that day,” says our Lord, “many shall say unto me, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” to whom he will say, “I never knew you.” The second sense given to πίστις, that which is confided to any one, i.e. a gift, is without any authority. The objective sense of the word, although denied by many of the strict philological interpreters, is nevertheless well established by such expressions, “obedience to the faith,” “doer of faith,” “faith once delivered to the saints,” and is perfectly familiar in ecclesiastical usage.
2. The fact that similar directions respecting those who consider themselves prophets or inspired persons, occur in other passages. Thus Paul says, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord,” 1Co_14:37. This was the standard; and no man had a right to consider himself inspired, or to require others so to regard him, who did not conform himself to the instructions of men whose inspiration was beyond doubt. Thus, too, the apostle John commands Christians, “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world,” 1Jo_4:1. And the standard by which these prophets were to be tried, he gives in 1Jo_4:6 : “We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us. Hereby we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” It was obviously necessary that Christians, in the age of immediate inspiration, should have some means of discriminating between those who were really under the influence of the Spirit of God, and those who were either enthusiasts or deceivers. And the test to which the apostles directed them was rational, and easily applied. There were inspired men to whose divine mission and authority God had born abundant testimony by “signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” As God cannot contradict himself, it follows that anything inconsistent with the teachings of these men, though proceeding from one claiming, to be a prophet, must be false, and the pretension of its author to inspiration unfounded. Accordingly, the apostle directed that while one prophet spoke, the others were to judge, i.e. decide whether he spoke according to the analogy of faith; and whether his inspiration was real, imaginary, or feigned.
3. This interpretation is also perfectly suitable to the context. Paul, after giving the general direction contained in the preceding verses, as to the light in which the gifts of the Spirit were to be viewed, and the manner in which they were to be used, in this and the following verses, gives special directions with respect to particular gifts. Those who thought themselves prophets should be careful to speak nothing but truth, to conform to the standard; those who ministered should devote themselves to their appropriate duties, etc.
Having then gifts – All the endowments which Christians have are regarded by the apostle as gifts. God has conferred them; and this fact, when properly felt, tends much to prevent our thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, Rom_12:3. For the use of the word rendered “gifts,” see Rom_1:11; Rom_5:15-16; Rom_6:23; Rom_11:29; 1Co_7:7; 1Co_12:4, 1Co_12:9,1Co_12:28, etc. It may refer to natural endowments as well as to the favors of grace; though in this place it refers doubtless to the distinctions conferred on Christians in the churches.
Differing – It was never designed that all Christians should be equal. God designed that people should have different endowments. The very nature of society supposes this. There never was a state of perfect equality in any thing; and it would be impossible that there should be, and yet preserve society. In this, God exercises a sovereignty, and bestows his favors as he pleases, injuring no one by conferring favors on others; and holding me responsible for the right use of what I have, and not for what may be conferred on my neighbor.
According to the grace – That is, the favor, the mercy that is bestowed on us. As all that we have is a matter of grace, it should keep us from pride; and it should make us willing to occupy our appropriate place in the church. True honor consists not in splendid endowments, or great wealth and function. It consists in rightly discharging the duties which God requires of us in our appropriate sphere. If all people held their talents as the gift of God; if all would find and occupy in society the place for which God designed them, it would prevent no small part of the uneasiness, the restlessness, the ambition, and misery of the world.
Whether prophecy – The apostle now proceeds to specify the different classes of gifts or endowments which Christians have, and to exhort them to discharge aright the duty which results from the rank or function which they held in the church. “The first is prophecy.” This word properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people. Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; but as those who did this were messengers of God, and as they commonly connected with such predictions, instructions, and exhortations in regard to the sins, and dangers, and duties of people, the word came to denote any who warned, or threatened, or in any way communicated the will of God; and even those who uttered devotional sentiments or praise. The name in the New Testament is commonly connected with teachers; Act_13:1, “There were in the church at Antioch certain prophets, and teachers, as Barnabas, etc.;” Act_15:32, “and Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves, etc.;” Act_21:10, “a certain prophet named Agabus.” In 1Co_12:28-29, prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles, “And God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets; thirdly teachers, etc.”
The same class of persons is again mentioned in 1Co_14:29-32, 1Co_14:39. In this place they are spoken of as being under the influence of revelation, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;” 1Co_14:39, “Covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.” In this place endowments are mentioned under the name of prophecy evidently in advance even of the power of speaking with tongues. Yet all these were to be subject to the authority of the apostle. 1Co_14:37. In Eph_4:11, they are mentioned again in the same order; “And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors, and teachers, etc.” From these passages the following things seem clear in relation to this class of persons:
(1) They were an order of teachers distinct from the apostles, and next to them in authority and rank.
(2) they were under the influence of revelation, or inspiration in a certain sense.
(3) they had power of controlling themselves, and of speaking or keeping silence as they chose. They had the power of using their prophetic gifts as we have the ordinary faculties of our minds, and of course of abusing them also. This abuse was apparent also in the case of those who had the power of speaking with tongues, 1Co_14:2, 1Co_14:4,1Co_14:6, 1Co_14:11, etc.
(4) they were subject to the apostles.
(5) they were superior to the other teachers and pastors in the church.
(6) the office or the endowment was temporary, designed for the settlement and establishment of the church; and then, like the apostolic office, having accomplished its purpose, to be disused, and to cease. From these remarks, also, will be seen the propriety of regulating this function by apostolic authority; or stating, as the apostle does here, the manner or rule by which this gift was to be exercised.
According to the proportion – This word ἀναλογίαν analogian is no where else used in the New Testament. The word properly applies to mathematics (Scheusner), and means the ratio or proportion which results from comparison of one number or magnitude with another. In a large sense, therefore, as applied to other subjects, it denotes the measure of any thing. With us it means analogy, or the congruity or resemblance discovered between one thing and another, as we say there is an analogy or resemblance between the truths taught by reason and revelation. (See Butler’s Analogy.) But this is not its meaning here. It means the measure, the amount of faith bestowed on them, for he was exhorting them to Rom_12:3. “Think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The word “faith” here means evidently, not the truths of the Bible revealed elsewhere; nor their confidence in God; nor their personal piety; but the extraordinary endowment bestowed on them by the gifts of prophecy.
They were to confine themselves strictly to that; they were not to usurp the apostolic authority, or to attempt to exercise their special function; but they were to confine themselves strictly to the functions of their office according to the measure of their faith, that is, the extraordinary endowment conferred on them. The word “faith” is thus used often to denote that extraordinary confidence in God which attended the working of miracles, etc., Mat_17:26; Mat_21:21; Luk_17:6. If this be the fair interpretation of the passage, then it is clear that the interpretation which applies it to systems of theology, and which demands that we should interpret the Bible so as to accord with the system, is one that is wholly unwarranted. It is to be referred solely to this class of religious teachers, without reference to any system of doctrine, or to any thing which had been revealed to any other class of people; or without affirming that there is any resemblance between one truth and another. All that may be true, but it is not the truth taught in this passage. And it is equally clear that the passage is not to be applied to teachers now, except as an illustration of the general principle that even those endowed with great and splendid talents are not to over-estimate them, but to regard them as the gift of God; to exercise them in subordination to his appointment and to seek to employ them in the manner, the place, and to the purpose that shall be according to his will. They are to employ them in the purpose for which God gave them; and for no other.
Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching. The terms minister and ministry (διάκονος; and διακονία, deacon and deaconship) are used in the New Testament both in a general and a restricted sense. In the former, they are employed in reference to all classes of ecclesiastical officers, even the apostles; see 1Co_3:5; 2Co_6:4; Eph_3:7; Eph_6:21; Col_1:7, Col_1:23; 1Ti_4:6; Act_1:17, Act_1:25; Act_20:24; Rom_11:13; 1Co_12:5; 2Co_4:1, etc. In the latter, they are used in reference to a particular class of officers, to whom were committed the management of the external affairs of the church, the care of the poor, attention to the sick, etc.; see Act_6:1-3; Phi_1:1; 1Ti_3:8-13, etc. It is doubtful in which of these senses the latter of the above-mentioned words is here used by the apostle, most probably in the restricted sense. The apostle exhorts different classes of officers to attend to their own peculiar vocation, and to exercise their own gifts, without intruding into the sphere of others, or envying their superior endowments. The deacons, therefore, were to attend to the poor and the sick, and not attempt to exercise the office of teachers. Luther, and many others, give the words their wide sense. “Hat jemand ein Amt, so warte er des Amtes:” If a man has an office, let him attend to it. But this would render unnecessary the specifications which follow. The apostle, in this context, refers to definite ecclesiastical offices in connection with ordinary Christian duties. That is, he exhorts both church officers and private Christians.
He that teacheth, on teaching. Teachers are elsewhere expressly distinguished from prophets, 1Co_12:28, 1Co_12:29 : “God hath set some in the church: first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?” And in this passage they are not to be confounded, nor is teaching to be regarded, in this place, as one part of prophesying. As remarked above on Rom_12:6, the teachers were distinguished from prophets, inasmuch as the former were not necessarily inspired, and were a regular and permanent class of officers. Those who had the gift of prophecy were to exercise it aright; those who were called to the office of deacons, were to devote themselves to their appropriate duties; and those who had the gift of teaching were to teach.
Or ministry – διακονίαν diakonian. This word properly means service of any kind; Luk_10:40. It is used in religion to denote the service which is rendered to Christ as the Master. It is applied to all classes of ministers in the New Testament, as denoting their being the servants of Christ; and it is used particularly to denote that class who from this word were called deacons, that is, those who had the care of the poor, who provided for the sick, and who watched over the external matters of the church. In the following places it is used to denote the ministry, or service, which Paul and the other apostles rendered in their public work; Act_1:17, Act_1:25; Act_6:4; Act_12:25; Act_20:24; Act_21:19; Rom_11:13; Rom_15:31; 2Co_5:18; 2Co_6:3; Eph_4:12; 1Ti_1:12. In a few places this word is used to denote the function which the deacons fulfilled; Act_6:1; Act_11:29; 1Co_16:15; 2Co_11:8. In this sense the word “deacon” διάκονος diakonos is most commonly used, as denoting the function which was performed in providing for the poor and administering the alms of the church. It is not easy to say in what sense it is used here. I am inclined to the opinion that he did not refer to those who were appropriately called deacons, but to those engaged in the function of the ministry of the word; whose business it was to preach, and thus to serve the churches. In this sense the word is often used in the New Testament, and the connection seems to demand the same interpretation here.
On our ministering – Let us be wholly and diligently occupied in this. Let this be our great business, and let us give entire attention to it. Particularly the connection requires us to understand this as directing those who ministered not to aspire to the office and honors of those who prophesied. Let them not think of themselves more highly than they ought, but be engaged entirely in their own appropriate work.
He that teacheth – This word denotes those who instruct, or communicate knowledge. It is clear that it is used to denote a class of persons different, in some respects, from those who prophesied and from those who exhorted. But in what this difference consisted, is not clear. Teachers are mentioned in the New Testament in the grade next to the prophets; Act_13:1; 1Co_12:28-29; Eph_4:11. Perhaps the difference between the prophets, the ministers, the teachers, and the exhorters was this, that the first spake by inspiration; the second engaged in all the functions of the ministry properly so called, including the administration of the sacraments; the teachers were employed in communicating instruction simply, teaching the doctrines of religion, but without assuming the function of ministers; and the fourth exhorted, or entreated Christians to lead a holy life, without making it a particular subject to teach, and without pretending to administer the ordinances of religion.
The fact that teachers are so often mentioned in the New Testament, shows that they were a class by themselves. It may be worthy of remark that the churches in New England had, at first, a class of people who were called teachers. One was appointed to this office in every church, distinct from the pastor, whose proper business it was to instruct the congregation in the doctrines of religion. The same thing exists substantially now in most churches, in the appointment of Sunday school teachers, whose main business it is to instruct the children in the doctrines of the Christian religion. It is an office of great importance to the church; and the exhortation of the apostle may be applied to them: that they should be assiduous, constant, diligent their teaching; that they should confine themselves to their appropriate place; and should feel that their office is of great importance in the church of God; and remember that this is his arrangement, designed to promote the edification of his people.
8.Or he who gives, let him do so in simplicity, etc. From the former clauses we have clearly seen, that he teaches us here the legitimate use of God’s gifts. By the μεταδιδούντοις, the givers, of whom he speaks here, he did not understand those who gave of their own property, but the deacons, who presided in dispensing the public charities of the Church; and by the ἐλούντοις, those who showed mercy, he meant the widows, and other ministers, who were appointed to take care of the sick, according to the custom of the ancient Church: for there were two different offices, — to provide necessaries for the poor, and to attend to their condition. But to the first he recommends simplicity, so that without fraud or respect of persons they were faithfully to administer what was entrusted to them. He required the services of the other party to be rendered with cheerfulness, lest by their peevishness (which often happens) they marred the favor conferred by them. For as nothing gives more solace to the sick or to any one otherwise distressed, than to see men cheerful and prompt in assisting them; so to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given, makes them to feel themselves despised.
Though he rightly calls those προϊστάμενους presidents, to whom was committed the government of the Church, (and they were the elders, who presided over and ruled others and exercised discipline;) yet what he says of these may be extended universally to all kinds of governors: for no small solicitude is required from those who provide for the safety of all, and no small diligence is needful for them who ought to watch day and night for the wellbeing of the whole community. Yet the state of things at that time proves that Paul does not speak of all kinds of rulers, for there were then no pious magistrates; but of the elders who were the correctors of morals.
He that exhorteth, on exhortation. The word (παρακαλέω) here used, means to invite, exhort, and to comfort. Our translators have probably selected the most appropriate sense. Teaching is addressed to the understanding; exhortation, to the conscience and feelings. There was probably no distinct class of officers called exhorters, as distinguished from teachers; but as the apostle is speaking of gifts as well as officers, (both are included in the word χαρίσματα,) his direction is, that he who had the gift of teaching, should teach; and that he who had a gift for exhortation, should be content to exhort.
He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. These directions have reference to the manner in which the duties of church officers and of private Christians ought to be performed. In this connection, the former no doubt are principally, though not exclusively intended. It is a common opinion, that giving, ruling, showing mercy, (ὁ μεταδιδούς, ὁ προΐστάμενος, ὁ ἐλεῶν), refer to different functions of the deaconate. But not only the use of μεταδιδούς instead of διαδιδούς — the former properly meaning giving, (what is one’s own,) and the latter, distributing — is opposed to this view, but the whole exhortation, which refers with equal, or greater propriety, to the state of mind and the manner in which the private duties of Christian fellowship are to be performed. There seems to be no good reason for the restriction of the directions here given to either class, officers or private members, exclusively. He that giveth, with simplicity, ἀπλότητι, singleness of mind. This direction, considered in reference to the deacons, whom, no doubt, Paul included in his exhortation, contemplates their duty of imparting or distributing to the necessity of the saints. This duty, by whomsoever performed, is to be done with simplicity, i.e. with purity of motive, free from all improper designs. This same word is rendered singleness of heart, in Eph_6:5; Col_3:22, and occurs in the same sense, in the phrase, “simplicity and godly sincerity,” 2Co_1:12. Considered in reference to private Christians, this clause may be rendered, he that giveth, with liberality; see 2Co_8:2; 2Co_9:11, 2Co_9:13.
He that ruleth, with diligence. Here again the right discharge of ecclesiasticial duties is principally intended; 1Th_5:12, “We beseech you, brethren, to know (esteem, love) them that are over you in the Lord;” 1Ti_5:17, “The elders that rule well.” There is considerable diversity of opinion as to the explanation to be here given to ὁ προΐστάμενος. The word properly means, one who is placed over, who presides, or rules. It is, however, used in a more restricted sense, for a patron, one who befriends others, and especially strangers. Hence in Rom_16:2, Phoebe is called a προστάτις, a patroness, one who befriended strangers. As what precedes and what follows, giving and showing mercy, relate to acts of kindness, the one to the poor, the other to the sick, so this word, it is urged, should be understood of showing kindness to strangers. There is certainly force in this consideration. But as there is very slight foundation for the ascription of this meaning to the word in the New Testament, and as it is elsewhere used in its ordinary sense, (see 1Th_5:12, comp. 1Ti_5:17), it is commonly understood of rulers. Some take it in reference to rulers in general, civil or ecclesiastical; others, of church-rulers or elders; others, specifically of the forestaer, or pastor, or bishop of the congregation. The objection against this restricted reference to the presiding officer of a church, is the introduction of the term in the enumeration of ordinary Christian duties. He that gives, he that acts as pastor, he that shows mercy, is rather an incongruous association. It is more common, therefore, to understand προΐστάμενος, of any one who exercises authority in the church. Those who were called to exercise the office of ruler, were required to do it (ἐν σπουδῇ) with diligence, i.e. with attention and zeal. This is opposed to inertness and carelessness. The government of the church, in collecting abuses, preventing disorders, and in the administration of discipline, calls for constant vigilance and fidelity.
He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness, (ἱλαρότης, hilarity.) As the former direction (he that giveth, with simplicity) had reference to the care of the poor, this relates to the care of the sick and afflicted. These were the two great departments of the deacons’ duties. The former was to be discharged with honesty, this with cheerfulness; not as a matter of constraint, but with alacrity and kindness. On this, the value of any service rendered to the children of sorrow mainly depends.
He that exhorteth – This word properly denotes one who urges to the practical duties of religion, in distinction from one who teaches its doctrines. One who presents the warnings and the promises of God to excite men to the discharge of their duty. It is clear that there were persons who were recognised as engaging especially in this duty, and who were known by this appellation, as distinguished from prophets and teachers. How long this was continued, there is no means of ascertaining; but it cannot be doubted that it may still be expedient, in many times and places, to have persons designated to this work. In most churches this duty is now blended with the other functions of the ministry.
He that giveth – Margin, “imparteth.” The word denotes the person whose function it was to distribute; and probably designates him who distributed the alms of the church, or him who was the deacon of the congregation. The connection requires that this meaning should be given to the passage: and the word rendered “giveth” may denote one who imparts or distributes that which has been committed to him for that purpose, as well as one who gives out of his private property. As the apostle is speaking here of offices in the church, the former is evidently what is intended. It was deemed an important matter among the early Christians to impart liberally of their substance to support the poor, and provide for the needy: Act_2:44-47; Act_4:34-37; Act_5:1-11; Gal_2:10; Rom_15:26; 2Co_8:8; 2Co_9:2, 2Co_9:12. Hence, it became necessary to appoint persons over these contributions, who should be especially charged with the management of them, and who would see that they were properly distributed; Act_6:1-6. These were the persons who were denominated deacons; Phi_1:1; 1Ti_3:8, 1Ti_3:12.
With simplicity – see Mat_6:22, “If thine eye be single,” etc.; Luk_11:34. The word “simplicity” ἁπλοτής haplotēs is used in a similar sense to denote singleness, honesty of aim, purity, integrity, without any mixture of a base, selfish, or sinister end. It requires the bestowment of a favor without seeking any personal or selfish ends; without partiality; but actuated only by the desire to bestow them in the best possible manner to promote the object for which they were given; 2Co_8:2; 2Co_9:11, 2Co_9:13; 2Co_1:12; Eph_6:5; Col_3:22. It is plain that when property was intrusted to them, there would be danger that they might be tempted to employ it for selfish and sinister ends, to promote their influence and prosperity; and hence, the apostle exhorted them to do it with a single aim to the object for which it was given. Well did he know that there was nothing more tempting than the possession of wealth, though given to be appropriated to others. And this exhortation is applicable not only to the deacons of the churches, but to all who in this day of Christian benevolence are intrusted with money to advance the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He that ruleth – This word properly designates one who is set over others, or who presides or rules, or one who attends with diligence and care to a thing. In 1Th_5:12, it is used in relation to ministers in general: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord;” 1Ti_3:4-5, 1Ti_3:12, it is applied to the head of a family, or one who diligently and faithfully performs the duty of a father: “One that ruleth well his own house;” 1Ti_5:17, it is applied to “elders” in the church: “Let the elders that rule well, etc.” It is not used elsewhere except in Tit_3:8, Tit_3:14, in a different sense, where it is translated “to maintain good works.” The prevailing sense of the word, therefore, is to rule, to preside over, or to have the management of. But to what class of persons reference is had here, and what was precisely their duty, has been made a matter of controversy, and it is not easy to determine. Whether this refers to a permanent office in the church, or to an occasional presiding in their assemblies convened for business, etc. is not settled by the use of the word. It has the idea of ruling, as in a family, or of presiding, as in a deliberate assembly; and either of these ideas would convey all that is implied in the original word; compare 1Co_12:28.
With diligence – This word properly means haste Mar_6:25; Luk_1:39; but it also denotes industry, attention, care; 2Co_7:11, “What carefulness it wrought in you;” 2Co_7:12, “That our care for you in the sight of God, etc.;” 2Co_8:7-8, (Greek) Heb_6:11. It means here that they should be attentive to the duties of their vocation, and engage with ardor in what was committed to them to do.
He that showeth mercy – It is probable, says Calvin, that this refers to those who had the care of the sick and infirm, the aged and the needy; not so much to provide for them by charity, as to attend on them in their affliction, and to take care of them. To the deacons was committed the duty of distributing alms, but to others that of personal attendance. This can hardly be called an office, in the technical sense; and yet it is not improbable that they were designated to this by the church, and requested to perform it. There were no hospitals and no almshouses. Christians felt it was their duty to show personal attention to the infirm and the sick; and so important was their function, that it was deemed worthy of notice in a general direction to the church.
With cheerfulness – The direction given to those who distributed alms was to do it with simplicity, with an honest aim to meet the purpose for which it was intrusted to them. The direction here varies according to the duty to be performed. It is to be done with cheerfulness, pleasantness, joy; with a kind, benign, and happy temper. The importance of this direction to those in this situation is apparent. Nothing tends so much to enhance the value of personal attendance on the sick and afflicted, as a kind and cheerful temper. If any where a mild, amiable, cheerful, and patient disposition is needed, it is near a sick bed, and when administering to the wants of those who are in affliction. And whenever we may be called to such a service, we should remember that this is indispensable. If moroseness, or impatience, or fretfulness is discovered in us, it will pain those whom we seek to benefit, embitter their feelings, and render our services of comparatively little value. The needy and infirm, the feeble and the aged, have enough to bear without the impatience and harshness of professed friends. It may be added that the example of the Lord Jesus Christ is the brightest which the world has furnished of this temper. Though constantly encompassed by the infirm and the afflicted, yet he was always kind, and gentle, and mild, and has left before us exactly what the apostie meant when he said, “he that showeth mercy with cheerfulness.” The example of the good Samaritan is also another instance of what is intended by this direction; compare 2Co_9:7. This direction is particularly applicable to a physician.
We have here an account of the establishment, the order, and the duties of the different members of the Christian church. The amount of it all is, that we should discharge with fidelity the duties which belong to us in the sphere of life in which we are placed; and not despise the rank which God has assigned us; not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought; but to act well our part, according to the station where we are placed, and the talents with which we are endowed. If this were done, it would put an end to discontent, ambition, and strife, and would produce the blessings of universal peace and order.
9.Let love be, etc. Proceeding now to speak of particular duties, he fitly begins with love, which is the bond of perfection. And respecting this he enjoins what is especially necessary, that all disguises are to be cast aside, and that love is to arise from pure sincerity of mind. It is indeed difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are to pretend a love which they really have not, for they not only deceive others, but impose also on themselves, while they persuade themselves that those are not loved amiss by them, whom they not only neglect, but really slight. Hence Paul declares here, that love is no other but that which is free from all dissimulation: and any one may easily be a witness to himself, whether he has anything in the recesses of his heart which is opposed to love. The words good and evil, which immediately follow in the context, have not here a general meaning; but evil is to be taken for that malicious wickedness by which an injury is done to men; and good for that kindness, by which help is rendered to them; and there is here an antithesis usual in Scripture, when vices are first forbidden and then virtues enjoined.
As to the participle, ἀποστυγούντες , I have followed neither [Erasmus ] nor the old translators, who have rendered it “hating, ”( odio habentes 😉 for in my judgment Paul intended to express something more; and the meaning of the term “turning away,” corresponds better with the opposite clause; for he not only bids us to exercise kindness, but even to cleave to it.
Let love be without dissimulation, or, love is without hypocrisy, i.e. sincere, not hypocritical, and not consisting in words merely. The love intended in this verse, is probably love to all men, and not to Christians exclusively, as in Rom_12:10, brotherly affection is particularly specified. Much less is love to God the idea meant to be expressed.
Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. There is a number of participles following this verse, to which our translators supply the imperative of the substantive verb; ‘be abhorring,’ ‘be kindly affectioned,’ etc. Others connect them all with εὐλογεῖτε in Rom_12:14; ‘abhorring evil,’ ‘being kindly affectioned,’ ‘bless those,’ etc. But these participles do not express what should qualify, or characterize, the act of blessing our persecutors; ‘hating,’ ‘loving the brethren,’ ‘bless your enemies,’ etc. It is more natural to assume that the apostle departs slightly from the regular construction, and writes as though, in Rom_12:9, he had said, ἀγαπᾶτε ἀνυποκρίτως, ἀποστυγοῦντες, κ. τ. λ. Compare 2Co_1:7, and Heb_13:5, ἀφιλάργυρος ὁ τρόπος, (for ἀφιλάργυροι περιπατεῖτε) ἀρκούμενοι τοῖς παροῦσιν. This is the explanation given by Philippi and others. The words rendered to abhor (ἀποστυγέω) and to cleave to (κολλάομαι) are peculiarly forcible, and express the highest degree of hatred on the one hand, and of persevering devotion on the other. The latter word, in the active form, properly means, to glue, and in the middle, to attach one’s self to any person or thing. The words evil and good, in this passage, may be understood of moral good and evil; and the exhortation be considered as a general direction to hate the one and love the other. But the great majority of commentators, out of regard to the context, take the terms in a restricted sense, making the former mean injurious, and the latter kind. The sense of the whole verse would then be, ‘Let love be sincere; strive to avoid what is injurious to others, and earnestly endeavor to do whatever is kind and useful.’ As the words themselves admit of either of these interpretations, the choice between them depends upon the context. The latter is, on this ground, perhaps to be preferred.
Let love – The apostle proceeds to specify the duties of Christians in general, that they might secure the beauty and order of the church. The first which he specifies is love. This word here evidently refers to benevolence, or to good-will toward all mankind. In Rom_12:10 he specifies the duty of brotherly love; and there can be no doubt that he here refers to the benevolence which we ought to cherish toward all people. A similar distinction is found in 2Pe_1:7, “And to brotherly-kindness add charity,” that is, benevolence, or good will, and kind feelings to others.
Without dissimulation – Without hypocrisy. Let it be sincere and unfeigned. Let it not consist in words or professions only, but let it be manifested in acts of kindness and in deeds of charity; 1Jo_3:18; compare 1Pe_1:22. Genuine benevolence is not what merely professes attachment, but which is evinced by acts of kindness and affection.
Abhor that which is evil – The word “abhor” means to hate; to turn from; to avoid. The word “evil” here has reference to malice, or unkindness, rather than to evil in general. The apostle is exhorting to love, or kindness; and between the direction to love all people, and the particular direction about brotherly love, he places this general direction to abhor what is evil; what is evil in relation to the subject under discussion, that is, malice or unkindness. The word “evil” is not infrequently used in this limited sense to denote some particular or special evil; Mat_5:37, Mat_5:39, etc.; compare Psa_34:14; 2Ti_2:19; Psa_97:10; 1Th_5:22.
Cleave to that which is good – The word rendered “cleave” to denotes properly the act of gluing, or uniting firmly by glue. It is then used to denote a very firm adherence to an object; to be firmly united to it. Here it means that Christians should be firmly attached to what is good, and not separate or part from it. The good here referred to is particularly what pertains to benevolence – to all people, and especially to Christians. It should not be occasional only, or irregular; but it should be constant, active, decided.
10.With brotherly love, etc. By no words could he satisfy himself in setting forth the ardor of that love, with which we ought to embrace one another: for he calls it brotherly, and its emotion στοργὴν , affection, which, among the Latins, is the mutual affection which exists between relatives; and truly such ought to be that which we should have towards the children of God. That this may be the case, he subjoins a precept very necessary for the preservation of benevolence, — that every one is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised. But if by honor you are disposed to understand every act of friendly kindness, I do not much object: I however approve more of the former interpretation. For as there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when every one honors others.
Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another. ‘As to brotherly love, be kindly affectioned one towards another. ‘This exhortation seems to have special reference to Christians. The word (φιλόστοργος) used by the apostle, expresses properly the strong natural affection between parents and children (στοργή), but is applied also to tender affection of any kind. Here, no doubt, the idea is, that Christians should love each other with the same sincerity and tenderness as if they were the nearest relatives.
In honor preferring one another. This passage, thus translated, cannot be understood otherwise than an exhortation to humility; and such is the interpretation generally given to it. But the word (προηγεῖσθαι) rendered to prefer, never occurs in that sense elsewhere. It means properly, to go before, to lead; and then, figuratively, to set an example. And the word translated honor, may mean deference, respect, and even kindness, (observantia et omnia humanitatis officia quae aliis debemus. Schleusner.) The sense of the clause may then be, ‘as to respect and kindness (τιμῇ) going before each other, or setting an example one to another.’ This interpretation, which is given by most of the recent commentators, is not only better suited to the meaning of the words, but also to the context. It is not only an injunction of politeness, but that in all acts of respect and kindness we should take the lead. Instead of waiting for others to honor us, we should be beforehand with them in the manifestation of respect.
Be kindly affectioned – The word used here occurs no where else in the New Testament. It properly denotes tender affection, such as what subsists between parents and children; and it means that Christians should have similar feelings toward each other, as belonging to the same family, and as united in the same principles and interests. The Syriac renders this, “Love your brethren, and love one another;” compare 1Pe_2:17.
With brotherly love – Or in love to the brethren. The word denotes the affection which subsists between brethren. The duty is one which is often presented in the New Testament, and which our Saviour intended should be regarded as a badge of discipleship; see the note at Joh_13:34-35, “By this shall all people know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another;” Joh_15:12, Joh_15:17; Eph_5:2; 1Th_4:9; 1Pe_1:22; 1Jo_2:7-8; 1Jo_3:11, 1Jo_3:23; 1Jo_4:20-21. The apostle Paul in this place manifests his unique manner of writing. He does not simply enjoin brotherly love, but he adds that it should be kindly affectioned. It should be with the tenderness which characterizes the most endearing natural relationship. This he expresses by a word which is made for the occasion (φιλοστοργοὶ philostorgoi), blending love with natural affection, and suffering it to be manifest in your contact with one another.
In honour – In showing or manifesting respect or honor. Not in seeking honor, or striving after respect, but in showing it to one another.
Preferring one another – The word “preferring” means going before, leading, setting an example. Thus, in showing mutual respect and honor, they were to strive to excel; not to see which could obtain most honor, but which could confer most, or manifest most respect; compare 1Pe_1:5; Eph_5:21. Thus, they were to be studious to show to each other all the respect which was due in the various relations of life; children to show proper respect to parents, parents to children, servants to their masters, etc.; and all to strive by mutual kindness to promote the happiness of the Christian community. How different this from the spirit of the world; the spirit which seeks, not to confer honor, but to obtain it; which aims, not to diffuse respect, but to attract all others to give honor to us. If this single direction were to be obeyed in society, it would put an end at once to no small part of the envy, and ambition, and heartburning, and dissatisfaction of the world. It would produce contentment, harmony, love, and order in the community; and stay the progress of crime, and annihilate the evils of strife, and discord, and malice. And especially, it would give order and beauty to the church. It would humble the ambition of those who, like Diotrephes, love to have the pre-eminence 3Jo_1:9, and make every man willing to occupy the place for which God has designed him, and rejoice that his brethren may be exalted to higher posts of responsibility and honor.
11.Not slothful in business, etc. This precept is given to us, not only because a Christian life ought to be an active life; but because it often becomes us to overlook our own benefit, and to spend our labors in behalf of our brethren. In a word, we ought in many things to forget ourselves; for except we be in earnest, and diligently strive to shake off all sloth, we shall never be rightly prepared for the service of Christ.
By adding fervent in spirit, he shows how we are to attain the former; for our flesh, like the ass, is always torpid, and has therefore need of goals; and it is only the fervency of the Spirit that can correct our slothfulness. Hence diligence in doing good requires that zeal which the Spirit of God kindles in our hearts. Why then, some one may say, does Paul exhort us to cultivate this fervency? To this I answer, — that though it be the gift of God, it is yet a duty enjoined the faithful to shake off sloth, and to cherish the flame kindled by heaven, as it for the most part happens, that the Spirit is suppressed and extinguished through our fault.
To the same purpose is the third particular, serving the time: for as the course of our life is short, the opportunity of doing good soon passes away; it hence becomes us to show more alacrity in the performance of our duty. So Paul bids us in another place to redeem the time, because the days are evil. The meaning may also be, that we ought to know how to accommodate ourselves to the time, which is a matter of great importance. But Paul seems to me to set in opposition to idleness what he commands as to the serving of time. But as κυρίῳ , the Lord, is read in many old copies, though it may seem at first sight foreign to this passage, I yet dare not wholly to reject this reading. And if it be approved, Paul, I have no doubt, meant to refer the duties to be performed towards brethren, and whatever served to cherish love, to a service done to God, that he might add greater encouragement to the faithful.
Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. The love to which the apostle exhorts his readers is not inactive or cold; on the contrary, it manifests itself in diligence, zeal, and devotion to God. The word rendered business (σπουδή) properly means haste, activity. It is the effect or outward manifestation of zeal. The exhortation has not the reference which our version would naturally suggest, viz., to the active performance of our several vocations; it refers rather to religious activity: ‘As to activity or diligence, do not grow weary or be indolent; on the contrary, be fervent in spirit.’ The word spirit is by many understood of the Holy Spirit; it most naturally refers to the mind; compare Act_18:25, where it is said of Apollos, “being fervent in spirit (i.e., zealous) he spake and taught diligently.” This clause, therefore, stands in opposition to the preceding. Instead of being inactive, we should be zealous.
Serving the Lord, i.e. doing service to the Lord; influenced in our activity and zeal by a desire to serve Christ. This member of the sentence thus understood, describes the motive from which zeal and diligence should proceed. Compare Eph_6:5-8, especially the expressions as unto Christ, as the servants of Christ, as to the Lord, etc.; and Col_3:22, Col_3:23. Instead of serving the Lord, there is another reading, according to which the passage must be rendered, serving the time, (tempori servientes. Calvin,) i.e. making the most of every opportunity (see Eph_5:16); or, as others understand it, ‘adapting your conduct to circumstances.’ Zeal is to be tempered with prudence. The common text is the best authenticated, and is generally adopted. The zeal which the apostle recommends is zeal for Christ, and not for our own advancement or interests.
Not slothful – The word rendered “slothful” refers to those who are slow, idle, destitute of promptness of mind and activity; compare Mat_25:16.
In business – τῇ σπουδῇ tē spoudē. This is the same word which in Rom_12:8 is rendered “diligence.” It properly denotes haste, intensity, ardor of mind; and hence, also it denotes industry, labor. The direction means that we should be diligently occupied in our proper employment. It does not refer to any particular occupation, but is used in general sense to denote all the labor which we may have to do; or is a direction to be faithful and industrious in the discharge of all our appropriate duties; compare Ecc_9:10. The tendency of the Christian religion is to promote industry:
(1) It teaches the value of time.
(2) presents numerous and important things to be done.
(3) it inclines people to be conscientious in the improvement of each moment.
(4) and it takes away the mind from those pleasures and pursuits which generate and promote indolence.
The Lord Jesus was constantly employed in filling up the great duties of his life, and the effect of his religion has been to promote industry wherever it has spread both among nations and individuals. An idle man and a Christian are names which do not harmonize. Every Christian has enough to do to occupy all his time; and he whose life is spent in ease and in doing nothing, should doubt altogether his religion. God has assigned us much to accomplish; and he will hold us answerable for the faithful performance of it; compare Joh_5:17; Joh_9:4; 1Th_4:11; 2Th_3:10, 2Th_3:12. All that would be needful to transform the idle, and vicious, and wretched, into sober and useful people, would be to give to them the spirit of the Christian religion; see the example of Paul, Act_20:34-35.
Fervent – This word is usually applied to water, or to metals so heated as to bubble, or boil. It hence is used to denote ardor, intensity, or as we express it, a glow, meaning intense zeal, Act_18:25.
In Spirit – In your mind or heart. The expression is used to denote a mind filled with intense ardor in whatever it is engaged. It is supposed that Christians would first find appropriate objects for their labor, and then engage in them with intense ardor and zeal.
Serving – Regarding yourselves as the servants of the Lord. This direction is to be understood as connected with the preceding, and as growing out of it. They were to be diligent and fervid, and in doing so were to regard themselves as serving the Lord, or to do it in obedience to the command of God, and to promote his glory. The propriety of this caution may easily be seen.
(1) the tendency of worldly employments is to take off the affections from God.
(2) people are prone to forget God when deeply engaged in their worldly employments. It is proper to recall their attention to him.
(3) the right discharge of our duties in the various employments of life is to be regarded as serving God. He has arranged the order of things in this life to promote employment. He has made industry essential to happiness and success; and hence, to be industrious from proper motives is to be regarded as acceptable service of God.
(4) he has required that all such employments should be conducted with reference to his will and to his honor, 1Co_10:31; Eph_6:5; Col_3:17, Col_3:22-24; 1Pe_4:11. The meaning of the whole verse is, that Christians should be industrious, should be ardently engaged in some lawful employment, and that they should pursue it with reference to the will of God, in obedience to his commands, and to his glory.
12.Rejoicing in hope, etc. Three things are here connected together, and seem in a manner to belong to the clause “serving the time;” for the person who accommodates himself best to the time, and avails himself of the opportunity of actively renewing his course, is he who derives his joy from the hope of future life, and patiently bears tribulations. However this may be, (for it matters not much whether you regard them as connected or separated,) he first; forbids us to acquiesce in present blessings, and to ground our joy on earth and on earthly things, as though our happiness were based on them; and he bids us to raise our minds up to heaven, that we may possess solid and full joy. If our joy is derived from the hope of future life, then patience will grow up in adversities; for no kind of sorrow will be able to overwhelm this joy. Hence these two things are closely connected together, that is, joy derived from hope, and patience in adversities. No man will indeed calmly and quietly submit to bear the cross, but he who has learnt to seek his happiness beyond this world, so as to mitigate and allay the bitterness of the cross with the consolation of hope.
But as both these things are far above our strength, we must be instant in prayer, and continually call on God, that he may not suffer our hearts to faint and to be pressed down, or to be broken by adverse events. But Paul not only stimulates us to prayer, but expressly requires perseverance; for we have a continual warfare, and new conflicts daily arise, to sustain which, even the strongest are not equal, unless they frequently gather new rigor. That we may not then be wearied, the best remedy is diligence in prayer.
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer. These exhortations refer to nearly related duties: Christians are to be joyful, patient, and prayerful. However adverse their circumstances, hope, patience, and prayer are not only duties, but the richest sources of consolation and support. ‘Rejoicing on account of hope, or in the joyful expectation of future good.’ This hope of salvation is the most effectual means of producing patience under present afflictions; for if we feel “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” it will not be difficult to bear them patiently. Intercourse with God, however, is necessary to the exercise of this and all other virtues, and therefore the apostle immediately adds, continuing instant in prayer. The original could hardly be better translated; as the Greek term (προσκαρτερέω, intentus sum rei) expresses the idea of perseverance and ardor in the prosecution of any object. There are no attributes of acceptable prayer more frequently presented in the Scriptures than those here referred to, viz., perseverance and fervor, which, from their nature, imply faith in the ability and willingness of God to grant us needed good, Act_1:14; Act_6:4; Eph_6:18, etc.
Rejoicing in hope – That is, in the hope of eternal life and glory which the gospel produces; see the notes at Rom_5:2-3.
Patient in tribulation – In affliction patiently enduring all that maybe appointed. Christians may be enabled to do this by the sustaining influence of their hope of future glory; of being admitted to that world where there shall be no more death, and where all tears shall be wiped away from their eyes, Rev_21:4; Rev_7:17; compare Jam_1:4. See the influence of hope in sustaining us in affliction more fully considered in the notes at Rom_8:18-28.
Continuing instant in prayer – That is, be persevering in prayer; see Col_4:2; see the notes at Luk_18:1. The meaning of this direction is, that in order to discharge aright the duties of the Christian life, and especially to maintain a joyful hope, and to be sustained in the midst of afflictions, it is necessary to cherish a spirit of prayer, and to live near to God. How often a Christian should pray, the Scriptures do not inform us. Of David we are told that he prayed seven times a day Psa_119:164; of Daniel, that he was accustomed to pray three times a day Dan_6:10; of our Saviour we have repeated instances of his praying mentioned; and the same of the apostles. The following rules, perhaps, may guide us in this.
(1) every Christian should have some time allotted for this service, and some place where he may be alone with God.
(2) it is not easy, perhaps not possible, to maintain a life of piety without regular habits of secret devotion.
(3) the morning, when we have experienced God’s protecting care, when the mind is fresh, and the thoughts are as yet clear and unoccupied with the world, when we go forth to the duties, trials, and temptations of the day; and the evening, when we have again experienced his goodness, and are about to commit ourselves to his protecting care, and when we need his pardoning mercy for the errors and follies of the day, seem to be times which commend themselves to all as appropriate seasons for private devotion.
(4) every person will also find other times when private prayer will be needful, and when he will be inclined to it. In affliction, in perplexity, in moments of despondency, in danger, and want, and disappointment, and in the loss of friends, we shall feel the propriety of drawing near to God, and of pouring out the heart before him.
(5) besides this, every Christian is probably conscious of times when he feels especially inclined to pray; he feels just like praying; he has a spirit of supplication; and nothing but prayer will meet the instinctive desires of his bosom. We are often conscious of an earnest desire to see and converse with an absent friend, to have communion with those we love; and we value such fellowship as among the happiest moments of life. So with the Christian. He may have an earnest desire to have communion with God; his heart pants for it; and he cannot resist the propensity to seek him, and pour out his desires before him. Compare the feelings expressed by David in Psa_42:1-2, “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee O God. My soul thirsteth for God for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God;” compare Psa_63:1. Such seasons should be improved; they are the “spring times” of our piety; and we should expand every sail, that we may be “filled with all the fullness of God.” They are happy, blessed moments of our life; and then devotion is sweetest and most pure; and then the soul knows what it is to have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, 1Jo_1:3.
(6) in addition to all this, Christians may be in the habit of praying to God without the formality of retirement, God locks upon the heart; and the heart may pour forth its secret desires to Him even when in business, when conversing with a friend, when walking, when alone, and when in society. Thus, the Christian may live a life of prayer; and it shall be one of the characteristics of his life that he prays! By this he shall be known; and in this he shall learn the way to possess peace in religion:
13.Communicating to the necessities, etc. He returns to the duties of love; the chief of which is to do good to those from whom we expect the least recompense. As then it commonly happens, that they are especially despised who are more than others pressed down with want and stand in need of help, (for the benefits conferred on them are regarded as lost,) God recommends them to us in an especial manner. It is indeed then only that we prove our love to be genuine, when we relieve needy brethren, for no other reason but that of exercising our benevolence. Nowhospitality is not one of the least acts of love; that is, that kindness and liberality which are shown towards strangers, for they are for the most part destitute of all things, being far away from their friends: he therefore distinctly recommends this to us. We hence see, that the more neglected any one commonly is by men, the more attentive we ought to be to his wants.
Observe also the suitableness of the expression, when he says, that we are to communicate to the necessities of the saints; by which he implies, that we ought so to relieve the wants of the brethren, as though we were relieving our own selves. And he commands us to assist especially the saints: for though our love ought to extend itself to the whole race of man, yet it ought with peculiar feeling to embrace the household of faith, who are by a closer bond united to us.
Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. These virtues are the immediate fruits of the love enjoined in Rom_12:9, Rom_12:10. The word rendered to distribute (κοινωνέω) signifies, intransitively, to become a partaker with; and, transitively, to cause others to partake with us, to communicate to. It is commonly followed by a dative of the person to whom the communication is made, Gal_6:6. In this case the construction may be the same as in the preceding verses, ‘as to the necessity of the saints, be communicative;’ or, ‘give to the necessity of the saints.’ The transitive meaning of κοινωνέω is by many denied, and is, at least, infrequent. It is, therefore, commonly taken here in its ordinary sense: ‘Taking part in the necessities of the saints; regard them as your own.’ Believers are κοινωνοί in everything, because they are all members of the body of Christ. The members of the same body have the same interests, feelings, and destiny. The joy or sorrow of one member, is the joy or sorrow of all the others. The necessities of one are, or should be, a common burden. As intimately connected with this injunction, the apostle adds, given to hospitality, as our translators aptly render the strong expression of the original. The phrase is φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες, following after hospitality; sectantes, ut hospites non modo admittatis, sed quaeratis. The value which the early Christians placed upon the virtue of hospitality is plain, from Paul’s enumerating it among the requisite qualifications of a bishop, Tit_1:8. During times of persecution, and before the general institution of houses of entertainment, there was peculiar necessity for Christians to entertain strangers. As such houses are still rarely to be met with in the East, this duty continues to be there regarded as one of the most sacred character.
Distributing – The word used here denotes having things in “common” κοινωνοῦντες koinōnountes. It means that they should be communicative, or should regard their property as so far common as to supply the needs of others. In the earliest times of the church, Christians had all things in common (Notes, Act_2:44), and felt themselves bound to meet all the needs of their brethren. One of the most striking effects of Christianity was to loosen their grasp on property, and dispose them to impart liberally to those who had need. The direction here does not mean that they should literally have all things in common; that is, to go back to a state of savage barbarity; but that they should be liberal, should partake of their good things with those who were needy; compare Gal_6:6; Rom_15:27; Phi_4:15; 1Ti_6:18.
To the necessity – To the needs. That is, distribute to them such things as they need, food, raiment, etc. This command, of course, has reference to the poor. “Of saints.” Of Christians, or the friends of God. They are called saints as being holy (ἁγιοι hagioi), or consecrated to God. This duty of rendering aid to Christians especially, does not interfere with the general love of mankind. The law of the New Testament is Gal_6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.” The Christian is indeed to love all mankind, and to do them good as far as may be in his power, Mat_5:43-44; Tit_3:8; 1Ti_6:18; Heb_13:16. But he is to show particular interest in the welfare of his brethren, and to see that the poor members of the church are provided for; for,
(1) They are our brethren; they are of the same family; they are attached to the same Lord; and to do good to them is to evince love to Christ, Mat_25:40; Mar_9:41.
(2) they are left especially to the care of the church; and if the church neglects them, we may be sure the world will also, Mat_26:11. Christians, especially in the time of the apostles, had reason to expect little compassion from the people of the world. They were persecuted and oppressed; they would be embarrassed in their business, perhaps thrown out of occupation by the opposition of their enemies; and it was therefore especially incumbent on their Brethren to aid them. To a certain extent it is always true, that the world is reluctant to aid the friends of God; and hence the poor followers of Christ are in a special manner thrown on the benefactions of the church.
(3) it is not improbable that there might be a special reason at that time for enjoining this on the attention of the Romans. It was a time of persecution, and perhaps of extensive distress. In the days of Claudius (about a.d. 50), there was a famine in Judea which produced great distress, and many of the poor and oppressed might flee to the capital for aid. We know, from other parts of the New Testament, that at that time the apostle was deeply interested in procuring aid for the poor brethren in Judea, Rom_15:25-26; compare Act_19:21; 2Co_8:1-7; 2Co_9:2-4. But the same reasons for aiding the poor followers of Christ will exist substantially in every age; and one of the most precious privileges conferred upon people is to be permitted to assist those who are the friends of God, Psa_41:1-3; Pro_14:21.
Given to hospitality – This expression means that they should readily and cheerfully entertain strangers. This is a duty which is frequently enjoined in the Scriptures, Heb_13:2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby many have entertained angels unawares;” 1Pe_4:9, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” Paul makes this especially the duty of a Christian bishop; 1Ti_3:2, “A bishop then must …be given to hospitality;” Tit_1:8. Hospitality is especially enjoined by the Saviour, and its exercise commanded; Mat_10:40, Mat_10:42, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, etc.” The waver of hospitality is one of the charges which the Judge of mankind will allege against the wicked, and on which he will condemn them; Mat_25:43, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in.” It is especially commended to us by the example of Abraham Gen_18:1-8, and of Lot Gen_19:1-2, who thus received angels unawares.
It was one of the virtues on which Job particularly commended himself, and which he had not failed to practice; Job_31:16-17, “If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof, etc.” In the time of our Saviour it was evidently practiced in the most open and frank manner; Luk_10:7, “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give.” A remarkable instance is also mentioned in Luk_11:5. This virtue is no less common in eastern nations at present than it was in the time of Christ. It is eminently the virtue of oriental nations, of their ardent and open temperament. It springs up naturally in countries thinly settled, where the sight of a stranger would be therefore especially pleasant; in countries too, where the occupation was chiefly to attend flocks, and where there was much leisure for conversation; and where the population was too sparse, and the travelers too infrequent, to justify inn-keeping as a business.
From all these causes, it has happened that there are, properly speaking, no inns or taverns in the regions around Palestine. It was customary, indeed, to erect places for lodging and shelter at suitable distances, or by the side of springs or watering places, for travelers to lodge in. But they are built at the public expense, and are unfurnished. Each traveler carries his own bed and clothes and cooking utensils, and such places are merely designed as a shelter for caravans; (see Robinson’s Calmet, art. Caravanserai.) It is still so; and hence, it becomes, in their view, a virtue of high order to entertain, at their own tables, and in their families, such strangers as may be traveling. Niebuhr says, that “the hospitality of the Arabs has always been the subject of praise; and I believe that those of the present day exercise this virtue no less than the ancients did. There are, in the villages of Tehama, houses which are public, where travelers may lodge and be entertained some days gratis, if they will be content with the fare; and they are much frequented. When the Arabs are at table, they invite those who happen to come to eat with them, whether they be Christians or Muslims, gentle or simple.” – “The primitive Christians,” says Calmet, “considered one principal part of their duty to consist in showing hospitality to strangers. They were in fact so ready in discharging this duty, that the very pagan admired them for it. They were hospitable to all strangers, but especially to those who were of the household of faith. Believers scarcely ever traveled without letters of communion, which testified the purity of their faith, and procured for them a favorable reception wherever the name of Jesus Christ was known;” (Calmet, Dict.) Calmer is also of opinion that the two minor epistles of John may be such letters of recommendation and communion; compare 2Jo_1:10.
It may be added that it would be particularly expected of Christians that they should show hospitality to the ministers of religion. They were commonly poor; they received no fixed salary; they traveled from place to place; and they would be dependent for support on the kindness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. This was particularly intended by our Saviour’s instructions on the subject, Mat_10:11-13, Mat_10:40-42. The duty of hospitality is still binding upon Christians and all people. The law of Christ is not repealed. The customs of society are indeed changed; and one evidence of advancement in commerce and in security, is furnished in the fact that inns are now provided and patronized for the traveler in all Christian lands. Still this does not lessen the obligations to show hospitality. It is demanded by the very genius of the Christian religion; it evinces proper love toward mankind; it shows that there is a feeling of brotherhood and kindness toward others, when such hospitality is shown. It unites society, creates new bonds of interest and affection, to show kindness to the stranger and to the poor. To what extent this is to be done, is one of those questions which are to be left to every man’s conscience and views of duty. No rule can be given on the subject. Many men have not the means to be extensively hospitable; and many are not placed in situations that require it. No rules could be given that should be applicable to all cases; and hence, the Bible has left the general direction, has furnished examples where it was exercised, has recommended it to mankind, and then has left every man to act on the rule, as he will answer it to God; see Mat_25:34-46.
14.Bless them, etc. I wish, once for all, to remind the reader, that he is not scrupulously to seek a precise order as to the precepts here laid down, but must be content to have short precepts, unconnected, though suited to the formation of a holy life, and such as are deduced from the principle the Apostle laid down at the beginning of the chapter.
He will presently give direction respecting the retaliation of the injuries which we may suffer: but here he requires something even more difficult, — that we are not to imprecate evils on our enemies, but to wish and to pray God to render all things prosperous to them, how much soever they may harass and cruelly treat us: and this kindness, the more difficult it is to be practiced, so with the more intense desire we ought to strive for it; for the Lord commands nothing, with respect to which he does not require our obedience; nor is any excuse to be allowed, if we are destitute of that disposition, by which the Lord would have his people to differ from the ungodly and the children of this world.
Arduous is this, I admit, and wholly opposed to the nature of man; but there is nothing too arduous to be overcome by the power of God, which shall never be wanting to us, provided we neglect not to seek for it. And though you can hardly find one who has made such advances in the law of the Lord that he fulfills this precept, yet no one can claim to be the child of God or glory in the name of a Christian, who has not in part attained this mind, and who does not daily resist the opposite disposition.
I have said that this is more difficult than to let go revenge when any one is injured: for though some restrain their hands and are not led away by the passion of doing harm, they yet wish that some calamity or loss would in some way happen to their enemies; and even when they are so pacified that they wish no evil, there is yet hardly one in a hundred who wishes well to him from whom he has received an injury; nay, most men daringly burst forth into imprecations. But God by his word not only restrains our hands from doing evil, but also subdues the bitter feelings within; and not only so, but he would have us to be solicitous for the wellbeing of those who unjustly trouble us and seek our destruction.
[Erasmus ] was mistaken in the meaning of the verb γεῖν to bless; for he did not perceive that it stands opposed to curses and maledictions: for Paul would have God in both instances to be a witness of our patience, and to see that we not only bridle in our prayers the violence of our wrath, but also show by praying for pardon that we grieve at the lot of our enemies when they willfully ruin themselves.
Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not. The exercise of love, and the discharge of the duties of benevolence, are not to be confined to the saints, or people of God; but the same spirit is to be manifested towards our enemies. The word (εὐλογέω) rendered to bless, signifies both to pray for good to anyone, and to do good. Here, from the context, the former meaning is to be preferred, as it is opposed to cursing, which signifies to imprecate evil on anyone. The command therefore is, that, so far from wishing or praying that evil may overtake our persecutors and enemies, we must sincerely desire and pray for their good. 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. How hard this is for corrupt human nature, everyone who is acquainted with his own heart well knows. Yet this is the standard of Christian temper and character exhibited in the Scriptures, Mat_5:44.
Bless them … – see the note at Mat_5:44; compare Luk_6:28.
Bless, and curse not – Bless only; or continue to bless, however long or aggravated may be the injury. Do not be provoked to anger, or to cursing, by any injury, persecution, or reviling. This is one of the most severe and difficult duties of the Christian religion; and it is a duty which nothing else but religion will enable people to perform. To curse denotes properly to devote to destruction. Where there is power to do it, it implies the destruction of the object. Thus, the fig-tree that was cursed by the Saviour soon withered away: Mar_11:21. Thus, those whom God curses will be certainly destroyed; Mat_25:41. Where there is not power to do it, to curse implies the invoking of the aid of God to devote to destruction. Hence, it means to imprecate; to implore a curse from God to rest on others; to pray that God would destroy them. In a larger sense still, it means to abuse by reproachful words; to calumniate; or to express oneself in a violent, profane, and outrageous manner. In this passage it seems to have special reference to this.
15.Rejoice with those who rejoice, etc. A general truth is in the third place laid down, — that the faithful, regarding each other with mutual affection, are to consider the condition of others as their own. He first specifies two particular things, — That they were to “rejoicewith the joyful, and to weep with the weeping.” For such is the nature of true love, that one prefers to weep with his brother, rather than to look at a distance on his grief, and to live in pleasure or ease. What is meant then is, — that we, as much as possible, ought to sympathize with one another, and that, whatever our lot may be, each should transfer to himself the feeling of another, whether of grief in adversity, or of joy in prosperity. And, doubtless, not to regard with joy the happiness of a brother is envy; and not to grieve for his misfortunes is inhumanity. Let there be such a sympathy among us as may at the same time adapt us to all kinds of feelings.
Rejoice with them … – This command grows out of the doctrine stated in Rom_12:4-5, that the church is one; that it has one interest; and therefore that there should be common sympathy in its joys and sorrows. Or, enter into the welfare of your fellow-Christians, and show your attachment to them by rejoicing that they are made happy; compare 1Co_12:26, “And whether …. one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” In this way happiness diffuses and multiplies itself. It becomes expanded over the face of the whole society; and the union of the Christian body tends to enlarge the sphere of happiness and to prolong the joy conferred by religion. God has bound the family of man together by these sympathies, and it is one of the happiest of all devices to perpetuate and extend human enjoyments.
Weep … – See the note at Joh_11:35. At the grave of Lazarus our Saviour evinced this in a most tender and affecting manner. The design of this direction is to produce mutual kindness and affection, and to divide our sorrows by the sympathies of friends. Nothing is so well suited to do this as the sympathy of those we love. All who are afflicted know how much it diminishes their sorrow to see others sympathizing with them, and especially those who evince in their sympathies the Christian spirit. How sad would be a suffering world if there were none who regarded our griefs with interest or with tears! if every sufferer were left to bear his sorrows unpitied and alone! and if all the ties of human sympathy were rudely cut at once, and people were left to suffer in solitude and unbefriended! It may be added that it is the special duty of Christians to sympathize in each other’s griefs:
(1) Because their Saviour set them the example;
(2) Because they belong to the same family;
(3) Because they are subject to similar trials and afflictions; and,
(4) Because they cannot expect the sympathy of a cold and unfeeling world.
16.Not thinking arrogantly of yourselves, etc. The Apostle employs words in Greek more significant, and more suitable to the antithesis, “Not thinking,” he says, “of high things:” by which he means, that it is not the part of a Christian ambitiously to aspire to those things by which he may excel others, nor to assume a lofty appearance, but on the contrary to exercise humility and meekness: for by these we excel before the Lord, and not by pride and contempt of the brethren. A precept is fitly added to the preceding; for nothing tends more to break that unity which has been mentioned, than when we elevate ourselves, and aspire to something higher, so that we may rise to a higher situation. I take the term humble in the neuter gender, to complete the antithesis.
Here then is condemned all ambition and that elation of mind which insinuates itself under the name of magnanimity; for the chief virtue of the faithful is moderation, or rather lowliness of mind, which ever prefers to give honor to others, rather than to take it away from them.
Closely allied to this is what is subjoined: for nothing swells the minds of men so much as a high notion of their own wisdom. His desire then was, that we should lay this aside, hear others, and regard their counsels. [Erasmus ] has rendered φρονίμους , arrogantes — arrogant; but the rendering is strained and frigid; for Paul would in this case repeat the same word without any meaning. However, the most appropriate remedy for curing arrogance is, that man should not be over-wise in his own esteem.
Be of the same mind one towards another; mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. The phrase (τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν) used by the apostle expresses the general idea of concord, unanimity; whether of opinion or feeling depends on the context; see 2Co_13:11; Phi_2:2; Rom_15:5. Here the latter idea is the prominent one. ‘Be of the same mind,’ i.e. be united in feeling, interests, and object, let there be no discord or disagreement. This idea is then amplified in the following clauses; do not be aspiring, but be humble. Ambition and contempt for lowly persons or pursuits, are the states of mind most inconsistent with that union of heart by which all Christians should be united. Erasmus and others understand this clause to mean, ‘Think of others as well as you do of yourselves’ (nemo putet alium se minorem.) But this gives too restricted a sense, and is no better suited to the context than the common interpretation given above. The command is, that we should be united; feeling towards others as we would have them feel towards us.
Mind not high things, i.e. do not aspire after them, do not desire and seek them; see the use of the Greek word here employed in Rom_8:5; Col_3:2, (τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖτε), But condescend to men of low estate. The general idea expressed by these two clauses is obviously this, ‘Be not high-minded, but humble.’ The precise meaning of the latter clause, however, is a matter of much doubt. The word (συναπάγω) rendered condescend properly means, in the passive or middle voice, to allow one’s self to be carried along with others, i.e. influenced by them, as in Gal_2:13, “In so much that Barnabas also was (allowed himself to be) carried away with their dissimulation.” And 2Pe_3:17, “Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.” “With the dative of a person, συναπάγεσθαι means to be carried along with him; with the dative of a thing, it means to be carried along by it.” Philipi. If ταπεινοῖς be here taken as masculine, one sense is, allow yourselves to be carried along with the lowly, i.e. to associate with them, and share their condition. If it be taken as neuter, to correspond with the τὰ ὑψηλά in the first clause, then the meaning is, allow yourselves to be carried along together by lowly things: i.e. instead of being concerned about high things, let lowly things occupy and control you. Most modern commentators concur in this view of the passage. In either way the general sense is the same. The thing forbidden is ambition; the thing enjoined is lowliness of mind.
Be not wise in your own conceit. This precept is intimately connected with the preceding, since ambition and contempt for lowly persons and pursuits generally arise from overweening self-estimation. No species of pride is more insidious or more injurious than the pride of intellect, or a fancied superiority to those around us, which leads to a contempt of their opinions, and a confident reliance upon ourselves. The temper which the gospel requires is that of a little child, docile, diffident, and humble; see Rom_11:25; Pro_3:7; Isa_5:21.
Be of the same mind … – This passage has been variously interpreted. “Enter into each other’s circumstances, in order to see how you would yourself feel.” Chrysostom. “Be agreed in your opinions and views.” Stuart. “Be united or agreed with each other.” Flatt; compare Phi_2:2; 2Co_13:11. A literal translation of the Greek will give somewhat a different sense, but one evidently correct. “Think of, that is, regard, or seek after the same thing for each other; that is, what you regard or seek for yourself, seek also for your brethren. Do not have divided interests; do not be pursuing different ends and aims; do not indulge counter plans and purposes; and do not seek honors, offices, for yourself which you do not seek for your brethren, so that you may still regard yourselves as brethren on a level, and aim at the same object.” The Syriac has well rendered the passage: “And what you think concerning yourselves, the same also think concerning your brethren; neither think with an elevated or ambitious mind, but accommodate yourselves to those who are of humbler condition;” compare 1Pe_3:8.
Mind not high things – Greek, Not thinking of high things. That is, not seeking them, or aspiring after them. The connection shows that the apostle had in view those things which pertained to worldly offices and honors; wealth, and state, and grandeur. They were not to seek them for themselves; nor were they to court the society or the honors of the people in an elevated rank in life. Christians were commonly of the poorer ranks, and they were to seek their companions and joys there, and not to aspire to the society of the great and the rich; compare Jer_45:5, “And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not;” Luk_12:15.
Condescend – συναπαγομενοι sunapagomenoi. Literally, “being led away by, or being conducted by.” It does not properly mean to condescend, but denotes a yielding, or being guided and led in the thoughts, feelings, plans, by humble objects. Margin, “Be contented with mean things.”
To men of low estate – In the Greek text, the word here is an adjective ταπεινοις tapeinois, and may refer either to “people” or to “things,” either in the masculine or neuter gender. The sentiment is not materially changed whichever interpretation is adopted. It means that Christians should seek the objects of interest and companionship, not among the great, the rich, and the noble, but among the humble and the obscure. They should do it because their Master did it before them; because his friends are most commonly found among those in humble life; because Christianity prompts to benevolence rather than to a fondness for pride and display; and because of the influence on the mind produced by an attempt to imitate the great, to seek the society of the rich, and to mingle with the scenes of gaiety, folly, and ambition.
Be not wise … – Compare Isa_5:21, “Wo unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight.” See the note at Rom_11:25. The meaning is, do not trust in the conceit of your own superior skill and understanding, and refuse to hearken to the counsel of others.
In your own conceits – Greek, “Among yourselves.” Syriac, “In your own opinion.” The direction here accords with that just given, and means that they should not be elated with pride above their brethren; or be headstrong and self-confident. The tendency of religion is to produce a low estimate of our own importance and attainments.
17.Repaying to no one, etc. This differs but little from what shortly after follows, except that revenge is more than the kind of repaying of which he speaks here; for we render evil for evil sometimes, even when we exact not the requiting of an injury, as when we treat unkindly those who do us no good. We are indeed wont to form an estimate of the deserts of each, or of what they merit at our hands, so that we may confer our benefits on those, by whom we have been already obliged, or from whom we expect something: and again, when any one denies help to us when we need it, we, by returning like for like, as they say, do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us. There are also other instances of the same kind, in which evil is rendered for evil, when there is no open revenge.
Providing good things, etc. I do not disapprove of the rendering of [Erasmus ] , “Providently preparing,” ( Provide parantes ) but I prefer a literal rendering. As every one is more than justly devoted to his own advantage, and provident in avoiding losses, Paul seems to require a care and an attention of another kind. What is meant is, that we ought diligently to labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected: for since it is meet that God should be glorified by our good deeds, even so much is wanting to his glory, as there is a deficiency of what is praiseworthy in us; and not only the glory of God is thus obscured, but he is branded with reproach; for whatever sin we commit, the ignorant employ it for the purpose of calumniating the gospel.
But when we are bidden to prepare good things before men, we must at the same time notice for what purpose: it is not indeed that men may admire and praise us, as this is a desire which Christ carefully forbids us to indulge, since he bids us to admit God alone as the witness of our good deeds, to the exclusion of all men; but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to the practice of righteousness, that they may, in a word, perceive the good and the sweet odor of our life, by which they may be allured to the love of God. But if we are evil spoken of for the name of Christ, we are by no means to neglect to provide good things before men: for fulfilled then shall be that saying, that we are counted as false, and are yet true. (2Co_6:8.)
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Paul having, in the preceding verses, enjoined the duties of love, condescension, and kindness towards all men, comes in this and the following passages, to forbid the indulgence of a contrary disposition, especially of a spirit of retaliation and revenge. The general direction in the first clause is, not to retaliate; which is but a lower exercise of the virtue afterward enjoined in the command to “overcome evil with good.”
Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Our translation of this clause is not very happy, as it suggests an idea foreign to the meaning of the original. Paul does not mean to direct us to make provision for ourselves or families in an honest manner, which is probably the sense commonly attached to the passage by the English reader, but to act in such a manner as to command the confidence and good opinion of men. In this view, the connection of this with the preceding member of the verse is obvious. ‘We must not recompense evil for evil, but act in such a way as to commend ourselves to the consciences of all men.’ There should not, therefore, be a period after the word evil, since this clause assigns a motive for the discharge of the duty enjoined in the first The word (προνοεῖσθαι) rendered to provide, signifies also to attend to, to care for. The sense then is, ‘Do not resent injuries, having regard to the good opinion of men,’ i.e. let a regard to the honor of religion and your own character prevent the returning of evil for evil. Thus Paul (2Co_8:20, 2Co_8:21) says of himself that he wished others to be associated with him in the distribution of the alms of the church, “having regard to what was right, (προνοούμενοι καλὰ,) not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” In Pro_3:4, we have the same exhortation, nearly in the same words as given in the lxx: προνοοῦ καλὰ ἐνώπιον κυρίου καὶ ἀνθρώπων.
Recompense – Render, give, or return; see the note at Mat_5:39. This is probably one of the most difficult precepts of Christianity; but the law of Christ on the subject is unyielding. It is a solemn demand made on all his followers, and it “must” be obeyed.
Provide – The word rendered “provide” means properly to “think” or “meditate beforehand.” Make it a matter of “previous thought,” of “settled plan,” of “design.” This direction would make it a matter of “principle” and fixed purpose to do what is right; and not to leave it to the fluctuations of feeling, or to the influence of excitement. The same direction is given in 2Co_8:21.
Things honest – Literally, things “beautiful,” or “comely.” The expression here does not refer to “property,” or to “provision” made for a family, etc. The connection requires us to understand it respecting “conduct,” and especially our conduct toward those who injure us. It requires us to evince a spirit, and to manifest a deportment in such cases, that shall be lovely and comely in the view of others; such as all people will approve and admire. And the apostle wisely cautions us to “provide” for this, that is, to think of it beforehand, to make it a matter of fixed principle and purpose, so that we shall not be overtaken and excited by passion. If left to the time when the offence shall be given, we may be excited and off our guard, and may therefore evince an improper temper. All persons who have ever been provoked by injury (and who has not been?) will see the profound wisdom of this caution to “discipline” and “guard” the temper by previous purpose, that we may not evince an improper spirit.
In the sight of all men – Such as all must approve; such that no man can blame; and, therefore, such as shall do no discredit to religion. This expression is taken from Pro_3:4. The passage shows that people may be expected to approve a mild, kind, and patient temper in the reception of injuries; and facts show that this is the case. The Christian spirit is one that the world “must” approve, however little it is disposed to act on it.
18.If it be possible, etc. Peaceableness and a life so ordered as to render us beloved by all, is no common gift in a Christian. If we desire to attain this, we must not only be endued with perfect uprightness, but also with very courteous and kind manners, which may not only conciliate the just and the good, but produce also a favorable impression on the hearts of the ungodly.
But here two cautions must be stated: We are not to seek to be in such esteem as to refuse to undergo the hatred of any for Christ, whenever it may be necessary. And indeed we see that there are some who, though they render themselves amicable to all by the sweetness of their manners and peaceableness of their minds, are yet hated even by their nearest connections on account of the gospel.
The second caution is, — that courteousness should not degenerate into compliance, so as to lead us to flatter the vices of men for the sake of preserving peace. Since then it cannot always be, that we can have peace with all men, he has annexed two particulars by way of exception, If it be possible, and, as far as you can. But we are to conclude from what piety and love require, that we are not to violate peace, except when constrained by either of these two things. For we ought, for the sake of cherishing peace, to bear many things, to pardon offenses, and kindly to remit the full rigor of the law; and yet in such a way, that we may be prepared, whenever necessity requires, to fight courageously: for it is impossible that the soldiers of Christ should have perpetual peace with the world, whose prince is Satan.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. The retaliation of injuries necessarily leads to contention and strife, while peace is the natural result of a forgiving disposition. The command in this verse, therefore, is naturally connected with that contained in Rom_12:17. So far from resenting every offense, we should do all we can to live at peace with all men. As the preservation of peace is not always within our control, Paul limits his command by saying, if it be possible, so far as lieth in you, τὸ ἐξ ὑμῶν, as to what is of you. The cause of conflict must not arise from you. Your duty is to preserve peace. From the wickedness of others, this is often impossible; and Paul’s own example shows that he was far from thinking that either truth or principle was to be sacrificed for the preservation of peace. His whole life was an active and ardent contention against error and sin. The precept, however, is plain, and the duty important. As far as it can be done consistently with higher obligations and more important interests, we must endeavor to promote peace, and for this end avoid giving offense and avenging injuries.
If it be possible – If it can be done. This expression implies that it could not always be done. Still it should be an object of desire; and we should endeavor to obtain it.
As much as lieth in you – This implies two things:
(1) We are to do our utmost endeavors to preserve peace, and to appease the anger and malice of others.
(2) we are not to “begin” or to “originate” a quarrel.
So far as “we” are concerned, we are to seek peace. But then it does not always depend on us. Others may oppose and persecute us; they will hate religion, and may slander, revile, and otherwise injure us; or they may commence an assault on our persons or property. For “their” assaults we are not answerable; but we are answerable for our conduct toward them; and on no occasion are we to commence a warfare with them. It may not be “possible” to prevent their injuring and opposing us; but it is possible not to begin a contention with them; and “when they” have commenced a strife, to seek peace, and to evince a Christian spirit. This command doubtless extends to everything connected with strife; and means that we are not to “provoke” them to controversy, or to prolong it when it is commenced; see Psa_34:14; Mat_5:9, Mat_5:39-41; Heb_12:14. If all Christians would follow this command, if they would never “provoke” to controversy, if they would injure no man by slander or by unfair dealing, if they would compel none to prosecute them in law by lack of punctuality in payment of debts or honesty in business, if they would do nothing to irritate, or to prolong a controversy when it is commenced, it would put an end to no small part of the strife that exists in the world.
19.Avenge not yourselves, etc. The evil which he corrects here, as we have reminded you, is more grievous than the preceding, which he has just stated; and yet both of them arise from the same fountain, even from an inordinate love of self and innate pride, which makes us very indulgent to our own faults and inexorable to those of others. As then this disease begets almost in all men a furious passion for revenge, whenever they are in the least degree touched, he commands here, that however grievously we may be injured, we are not to seek revenge, but to commit it to the Lord. And inasmuch as they do not easily admit the bridle, who are once seized with this wild passion, he lays, as it were, his hand upon us to restrain us, by kindly addressing us as beloved
The precept; then is, — that we are not to revenge nor seek to revenge injuries done to us. The manner is added, a place is to be given to wrath. To give place to wrath, is to commit to the Lord the right of judging, which they take away from him who attempt revenge. Hence, as it is not lawful to usurp the office of God, it is not lawful to revenge; for we thus anticipate the judgment of God, who will have this office reserved for himself. He at the same time intimates, that they shall have God as their defender, who patiently wait for his help; but that those who anticipate him leave no place for the help of God.
But he prohibits here, not only that we are not to execute revenge with our own hands, but that our hearts also are not to be influenced by a desire of this kind: it is therefore superfluous to make a distinction here between public and private revenge; for he who, with a malevolent mind and desirous of revenge, seeks the help of a magistrate, has no more excuse than when he devises means for self-revenge. Nay, revenge, as we shall presently see, is not indeed at all times to be sought from God: for if our petitions arise from a private feeling, and not from pure zeal produced by the Spirit, we do not make God so much our judge as the executioner of our depraved passion.
Hence, we do not otherwise give place to wrath, than when with quiet minds we wait for the seasonable time of deliverance, praying at the same time, that they who are now our adversaries, may by repentance become our friends.
For it is written, etc. He brings proof, taken from the song of Moses, Deu_32:35, where the Lord declares that he will be the avenger of his enemies; and God’s enemies are all who without cause oppress his servants. “He who touches you,” he says, “touches the pupil of mine eye.” With this consolation then we ought to be content, — that they shall not escape unpunished who undeservedly oppress us, — and that we, by enduring, shall not make ourselves more subject or open to the injuries of the wicked, but, on the contrary, shall give place to the Lord, who is our only judge and deliverer, to bring us help.
Though it be not indeed lawful for us to pray to God for vengeance on our enemies, but to pray for their conversion, that they may become friends; yet if they proceed in their impiety, what is to happen to the despisers of God will happen to them. But Paul quoted not this testimony to show that it is right for us to be as it were on fire as soon as we are injured, and according to the impulse of our flesh, to ask in our prayers that God may become the avenger of our injuries; but he first teaches us that it belongs not to us to revenge, except we would assume to ourselves the office of God; and secondly, he intimates, that we are not to fear that the wicked will more furiously rage when they see us bearing patiently; for God does not in vain take upon himself the office of executing vengeance.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves; but rather give place unto wrath, etc. This is a repetition and amplification of the previous injunction, not to recompense evil for evil. There are three interpretations of the phrase give place unto wrath, which deserve to be mentioned. According to the first, the wrath here intended is that of the injured party, and to give place to, is made to signify, to allow to pass, i.e. let it go, do not cherish or indulge it. But this is in direct contradiction to the common and proper meaning of the phrase in question, which signifies, give free scope to; and no example of a contrary usage is adduced. In Latin, the phrase, dare spatium irae, is frequently used in the sense of deferring the indulgence of anger, giving it space or time to cool. But spatium in these cases has reference to time, temporis spatium, a sense in which the Greek τόπος is not used. The second interpretation refers the wrath to the injurer. The meaning then is, ‘Do not avenge yourselves, but rather yield (cedite irae) or submit to the anger of your enemies.’ This is consistent with the literal meaning of the phrase to give place, i.e. to get out of the way; and Schoettgen says that the Jewish writers use the corresponding Hebrew phrase (נָתַן מָקוֹם) in the sense of avoiding; of this usage, however, there is no example in the Bible. It is certainly contrary to the uniform scriptural usage of the expression, which is never employed to convey this idea, but uniformly means, as just stated, to give room to, to allow free exercise to any person or thing; see Eph_4:27, “Neither give place to the devil.” The third interpretation, therefore, according to which it is the wrath of God that is here intended, is the only one consistent with the meaning of the phrase or with the context. ‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, leave that matter to God.’ Stand out of the way. Give scope to the wrath of God. It is his prerogative to punish. The passage, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord, is quoted from Deu_32:35, and is obviously cited to show the propriety of the command to leave vengeance to God, and not attempt to take it into our own hands. This does not imply a desire that the divine vengeance should overtake our enemies, but simply that we should not usurp the prerogative of God as the avenger.
Dearly beloved – This expression of tenderness was especially appropriate in an exhortation to peace. It reminded them of the affection and friendship which ought to subsist among them as brethren.
Avenge not yourselves – To “avenge” is to take satisfaction for an injury by inflicting punishment on the offender. To take such satisfaction for injuries done to society, is lawful and proper for a magistrate; Rom_13:4. And to take satisfaction for injuries done by sin to the universe, is the province of God. But the apostle here is addressing private individual Christians. And the command is, to avoid a spirit and purpose of revenge. But this command is not to be so understood that we may not seek for “justice” in a regular and proper way before civil tribunals. If our character is assaulted, if we are robbed and plundered, if we are oppressed contrary to the law of the land, religion does not require us to submit to such oppression and injury without seeking our rights in an orderly and regular manner. If it did, it would be to give a premium to iniquity, to countenance wickedness, and require a man, by becoming a Christian, to abandon his rights.
Besides, the magistrate is appointed for the praise of those who do well, and to punish evil-doers; 1Pe_2:14. Further, our Lord Jesus did not surrender his rights Joh_18:23; and Paul demanded that he himself should be treated according to the rights and privileges of a Roman citizen; Act_16:37. The command here “not to avenge ourselves” means, that we are not to take it out of the hands of God, or the hands of the law, and to inflict it ourselves. It is well known that where there are no laws, the business of vengeance is pursued by individuals in a barbarous and unrelenting manner. In a state of savage society, vengeance is “immediately taken,” if possible, or it is pursued for years, and the offended man is never satisfied until he has imbrued his hands in the blood of the offender. Such was eminently the case among the Indians of this country (America). But Christianity seeks the ascendancy of the laws; and in cases which do not admit or require the interference of the laws, in private assaults and quarrels, it demands that we bear injury with patience, and commit our cause unto God; see Lev_19:18.
But rather give place unto wrath – This expression has been interpreted in a great variety of ways. Its obvious design is to induce us not to attempt to avenge ourselves, but to leave it with God. To “give place,” then, is to leave it for God to come in and execute wrath or vengeance on the enemy. Do not execute wrath; leave it to God; commit all to him; leave yourself and your enemy in his hands, assured that he will vindicate you and punish him.
For it is written – Deu_32:35.
Vengeance is mine – That is, it belongs to me to inflict revenge. This expression implies that it is “improper” for people to interfere with that which properly belongs to God. When we are angry, and attempt to avenge ourselves, we should remember, therefore, that we are infringing on the prerogatives of the Almighty.
I will repay … – This is said in substance, though not in so many words, in Deu_32:35-36. Its design is to assure us that those who deserve to be punished, shall be; and that, therefore, the business of revenge may be safely left in the bands of God. Though “we” should not do it, yet if it ought to be done, it will be done. This assurance will sustain as, not in the “desire” that our enemy shall be punished, but in the belief that “God” will take the matter into his own hands; that he can administer it better than we can; and that if our enemy “ought” to be punished, he will be. “We,” therefore, should leave it all with God. That God will vindicate his people, is clearly and abundantly proved in 2Th_1:6-10; Rev_6:9-11; Deu_32:40-43.
20.If therefore, etc. He now shows how we may really fulfill the precepts of not revenging and of not repaying evil, even when we not only abstain from doing injury but when we also do good to those who have done wrong to us; for it is a kind of an indirect retaliation when we turn aside our kindness from those by whom we have been injured. Understand as included under the words meat and drink, all acts of kindness. Whatsoever then may be thine ability, in whatever business thy enemy may want either thy wealth, or thy counsel, or thy efforts, thou oughtest to help him. But he calls him our enemy, not whom we regard with hatred, but him who entertains enmity towards us. And if they are to be helped according to the flesh, much less is their salvation to be opposed by imprecating vengeance on them.
Thou shalt heap coals of fire, etc. As we are not willing to lose our toil and labor, he shows what fruit will follow, when we treat our enemies with acts of kindness. But some by coals understand the destruction which returns on the head of our enemy, when we show kindness to one unworthy, and deal with him otherwise than he deserves; for in this manner his guilt is doubled. Others prefer to take this view, that when he sees himself so kindly treated, his mind is allured to love us in return. I take a simpler view, that his mind shall be turned to one side or another; for doubtless our enemy shall either be softened by our benefits, or if he be so savage that nothing can tame him, he shall yet be burnt and tormented by the testimony of his own conscience, on finding himself overwhelmed with our kindness.
Therefore, if thine enemy hungry, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink, etc. That is, instead of avenging ourselves by returning evil for evil, we must return good for evil. The expressions, feed him and give him drink, are obviously not to be confined to their literal meaning, nor even to the discharge of the common offices of humanity; they are figurative expressions for all the duties of benevolence. It is not enough, therefore, that we preserve an enemy from perishing; we must treat him with all affection and kindness.
For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. This whole verse is taken from Pro_25:21, Pro_25:22, “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.” The common and natural meaning of the expression, to heap coals of fire upon any one, is to inflict the greatest pain upon him, to punish him most severely; see Psa_140:10, “Let burning coals fall upon them;” Psa_11:6, “Upon the wicked he shall rain coals (פַּחִים for פַּתֲמִים), fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest;” Eze_10:2; 2 Esdras 16:53, “Let not the wicked deny that he has sinned, for coals of fire shall burn upon the head of him who denies that he has sinned against the Lord God.” The most probable explanation of this figurative expression is, that the allusion is to the lightning or fire from heaven, which is the symbol of the divine vengeance. To rain fire upon any one, is to visit him with the severest and surest destruction. This explanation is much more natural than to suppose the allusion is to the practice of throwing fire-brands upon the heads of the besiegers of a city, or to the fusing of metals.
There are three leading interpretations of this interesting clause. The first, which is perhaps the oldest, and very generally received, is, that Paul means to say that our enemies will be much more severely punished if we leave them in the hands of God. than if we undertake to avenge ourselves. ‘Treat your enemy kindly, for in so doing you secure his being punished by God in the severest manner.’ The revolting character of this interpretation, which every one must feel, is mitigated by the remark, that the enemy is not to be thus treated from any wish or intention of drawing down the divine wrath upon him; it is only meant that such will be the consequence. But this remark does not meet the difficulty. This clause is so connected with the preceding, that it must be understood as assigning the motive or reason for the discharge of the duty enjoined: ‘Treat thine enemy kindly, for in so doing,’ etc. The second interpretation is, that by heaping coals of fire on his head, is meant, you will cause him pain, i.e. the pain of remorse and shame. So Tholuck, and many other commentators. The third, which seems much the most simple and natural, is, ‘for in so doing, you will take the most effectual method of subduing him.’ To heap coals of fire on any one, is a punishment which no one can bear; he must yield to it. Kindness is no less effectual; the most malignant enemy cannot always withstand it. The true and Christian method, therefore, to subdue an enemy is, to “overcome evil with good.” This interpretation, which suits so well the whole context, seems to be rendered necessary by the following verse, which is a repetition of the previous injunctions in plainer and more general terms. The sentiment which the verse thus explained expresses, is also more in harmony with the spirit of the gospel.
Therefore, if thine enemy hunger … – This verse is taken almost literally from Pro_25:21-22. Hunger and thirst here are put for want in general. If thine enemy is needy in any way, do him good, and supply his needs. This is, in spirit, the same as the command of the Lord Jesus Mat_5:44, “Do good to them that hate you,” etc.
In so doing – It does not mean that we are to do this “for the sake” of heaping coals of fire on him, but that this will be the result.
Thou shalt heap … – Coals of fire are doubtless emblematical of “pain.” But the idea here is not that in so doing we shall call down divine vengeance on the man; but the apostle is speaking of the natural effect or result of showing him kindness. Burning coals heaped on a man’s head would be expressive of intense agony. So the apostle says that the “effect” of doing good to an enemy would be to produce pain. But the pain will result from shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an apprehension of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance. To do this, is not only perfectly right, but it is desirable. If a man can be brought to reflection and true repentance, it should be done. In regard to this passage we may remark,
(1) That the way to promote “peace” is to do good even to enemies.
(2) the way to bring a man to repentance is to do him good. On this principle God is acting continually. He does good to all, even to the rebellious; and he designs that his goodness should lead people to repentance; Rom_2:4. People will resist wrath, anger, and power; but “goodness” they cannot resist; it finds its way to the heart; and the conscience does its work, and the sinner is overwhelmed at the remembrance of his crimes.
(3) if people would act on the principles of the gospel, the world would soon be at peace. No man would suffer himself many times to be overwhelmed in this way with coals of fire. It is not human nature, bad as it is; and if Christians would meet all unkindness with kindness, all malice with benevolence, and all wrong with right, peace would soon pervade the community, and even opposition to the gospel might soon die away.
21.Be not overcome by evil, etc. This sentence is laid down as a confirmation; for in this case our contest is altogether with perverseness, if we try to retaliate it, we confess that we are overcome by it; if, on the contrary, we return good for evil, by that very deed we show the invincible firmness of our mind. This is truly a most glorious kind of victory, the fruit of which is not only apprehended by the mind, but really perceived, while the Lord is giving success to their patience, than which they can wish nothing better. On the other hand, he who attempts to overcome evil with evil, may perhaps surpass his enemy in doing injury, but it is to his own ruin; for by acting thus he carries on war for the devil.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. It is only by disconnecting this verse from the preceding, and considering it as nearly independent of it, that any plausibility can be given to the first interpretation mentioned above, of Rom_12:20. That it is not thus independent of it, almost every reader must feel. ‘We are not to conquer evil by evil, but to treat our enemies with kindness. Thus we shall most effectually subdue them. Do not therefore allow yourself to be overcome of evil, (i.e., to be provoked to the indulgence of a spirit of retaliation,) but overcome evil with good; subdue your enemies by kindness, not by injuries.’
Be not overcome of evil – Be not “vanquished” or “subdued” by injury received from others. Do not suffer your temper to be excited; your Christian principles to be abandoned; your mild, amiable, kind, and benevolent temper to be ruffled by any opposition or injury which you may experience. Maintain your Christian principles amidst all opposition, and thus show the power of the gospel. They are overcome by evil who suffer their temper to be excited, who become enraged and revengeful and who engage in contention with those who injure them; Pro_16:22.
But overcome evil with good – That is, subdue or vanquish evil by doing good to others. Show them the loveliness of a better spirit; the power of kindness and benevolence; the value of an amiable, Christian deportment. So doing, you may disarm them of their rage, and be the means of bringing them to better minds.
This is the noble and grand sentiment of the Christian religion. Nothing like this is to be found in the pagan classics; and nothing like it ever existed among pagan nations. Christianity alone has brought forth this lovely and mighty principle; and one design of it is to advance the welfare of man by promoting peace, harmony, and love. The idea of “overcoming evil with good” never occurred to people until the gospel was preached. It never has been acted on except under the influences of the gospel. On this principle God shows kindness; on this principle the Saviour came, and bled, and died; and on this principle all Christians should act in treating their enemies, and in bringing a world to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. If Christians will show benevolence, if they will send forth proofs of love to the ends of the earth, the evils of the world will be overcome. Nor can the nations be converted until Christians act on this great and most important principle of their religion, “on the largest scale possible,” to “overcome evil with good.”