Romans 12:1-2 - EXEGESIS:
ROMANS 12:1-2. PRESENT YOUR BODIES A LIVING SACRIFICE
1 Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable (Greek: euareston-well-pleasing) to God, which is your spiritual (Greek: logiken-rational, genuine, true) service (Greek: latreian-service). 2 Don't be conformed to this world (Greek: aioni-age), but be transformed (Greek: metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove (Greek: dokimazein-prove, test) what is the good, well-pleasing (Greek: euareston-well-pleasing), and perfect will of God.
These verses are densely packed, and require that we examine them phrase-by-phrase. If we will do that, this passage will reward us with one unexpected treasure after another-as if we were pulling a beautiful silk scarf from its container only to find another one behind it-and another, and another.
"Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God" (v. 1a). The word, "therefore," links this chapter to what went before-namely, Paul's treatise regarding God's grace and our faith. The reader might have assumed that faith is the only required response to God's mercy, although chapter 6 should have dispelled that notion. In that chapter Paul said, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?" (6:1-2). "Paul...does not know, and has also never approved of a justification which does not introduce and lead to a life of righteousness" (Peter Stuhlmacher, quoted in Talbert, 281). Now Paul re-emphasizes that our faith should issue forth in holy lives-that faith and faithfulness are forever linked. In this chapter, Paul offers practical counsel regarding faithful discipleship.
"to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable (euareston-well-pleasing) to God" (v. 1b). There are two Greek words for body: (1) Sarx, often translated "flesh"and (2) soma. While the two are similar, sarx is the external, physical body that was seen as worldly and opposed to God. Soma is similar to sarx in many ways (physical, mortal, weak), but as Paul uses it in his epistles soma is not external to the person but is rather one aspect of the person, who is inited as body and spirit. This understanding reflects Paul's Jewish background, which viewed the person holistically.
So Paul said, "Don't let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts" (6:12). In his view, there is nothing incompatible in body and spirit. Both are important. Both are sacred. Both are essential to human life, and both are compatible with Christian discipleship and our relationship to God.
This understanding of the body is quite different from that of Greek dualism, influenced by Plato, which separated the world into its visible (physical, material) and invisible (spiritual) aspects. For the Greeks, the physical, material world was something to be endured until the soul could be freed of it. Greek dualists could never have suggested offering our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, because such an offering would be inherently unworthy of God.
Gnosticism was a form of Greek dualism that bedeviled the early church. Gnostics took Greek dualism one further step, saying that the physical material world was evil. They accordingly denied the incarnation and deity of Jesus.
"a living sacrifice" (v. 1b). Torah law required Jews to observe a complex system of animal sacrifices to atone for sin and to remind the people of the significance of their sins. Only animals without blemish were acceptable offerings (Leviticus 23:18).
The Christians in Rome to whom Paul is writing this epistle are for the most part Gentiles, and feel no obligation to offer animal sacrifices. Paul says, however, that they have a sacrificial obligation that, in fact, surpasses that of the animal sacrifices required by Torah law. Christians are not allowed to substitute an animal's life for their own, but are instead required to sacrifice their own lives. The requirement, however, is no longer ritual slaughter, but is instead the presentation of the living person to God-a living sacrifice-a life dedicated to the service of God-a life committed to doing God's will-a life lived in faith and lived out in faithfulness. They are to present their bodies for God's purposes on Sunday in worship and on Monday in the workplace. There is no moment or circumstance in which the obligation does not apply. This is "the true sacrificial worship to which the cult of the Jerusalem Temple had all along pointed. Romans 12:1 does with temple worship, in other words, what 2:25-29 did with circumcision" (Wright, 704).
This living self-sacrifice, Paul declares, is "holy, acceptable (euareston well-pleasing) to God" (v. 1). Animal sacrifices were holy, because they required taking something precious (a life) and offering it to God. In our antiseptic world, where we buy meat shrink-wrapped from a refrigerated case, we must stretch to imagine what it must be like to raise an animal from birth-and then to see that animal slaughtered-and then to eat a portion of the meat as an act of worship. It had to be sobering-wrenching. To watch an animal die violently is repulsive, and the rendering process is even more so.
The slaughter of the animal reminded the person that, apart from the grace of God, it would be his/her life required on the altar. Now Paul tells Roman Christians that it is indeed their lives that are required, but not on the temple altar. Instead, they are to offer themselves as living sacrifices. Such sacrifices are holy and pleasing to God, even as animal sacrifices, offered in the right spirit, were holy and pleasing to God. Living sacrifices are holy in that they represent lives lived in accord with the will of God.
"which is your spiritual (logiken-rational, genuine, true) service" (latreian-service) (v. 1). The wordlogiken has a variety of meanings, and it would seem that Paul chose it for its breadth. To present our bodies to God as living sacrifices is, indeed, a spiritual act. To live lives dedicated to God's service, whether as clergy or laity, is genuine worship-the logical outcome of a decision to follow Christ.
"Don't be conformed to this world (aioni-age), but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind" (v. 2). The word that is translated "conformed" has to do with conformation that is malleable-that can change from day to day or year to year. The person who is "conformed to this world (aioni)" is free to embrace the next popular philosophy or fad at will. Being "conformed to this world" is rather like being a leaf blown by the wind, never knowing exactly where you are going next-or why.
The word that is translated "transformed," however, is quite different, and involves transformation at the core of one's being (Barclay, 157-158 and Dunn). If being "conformed" would leave us adrift like a leaf, being "transformed" leaves us with feet on the ground-anchored-steady. Paul is calling us not to be caught up in every fad or wafted by every breeze, but instead to let the Spirit transform us at our core so that we can have a faith strong enough to maintain course in spite the winds of popular opinion.
What are the things of this age that mold and shape masses of people? They include popular culture, such as motion pictures, movies, music, and sports. They include popular philosophies, such as New Age and PC thinking. They include incentives to succeed, even at the expense of vulnerable people. They include racism, nationalism, sectarianism, and denominationalism-forces that teach that our tribe is good and other tribes are bad. There are surely many other examples of the things of this age that would mold us into shapes not suited for the kingdom of God. Meditate and see what comes to mind.
"but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind" (v. 2b). In verse 1, Paul called us to give God our bodies. Now he calls us to give God our minds.
Metamorphousthe is the word from which we get our English word, metamorphosis. The example of metamorphosis that comes to mind is the caterpillar, which is transformed into a butterfly. For a time, it is one thing, but then it becomes, by the grace of God, a wholly different thing. The caterpillar is not beautiful, but the butterfly is. The caterpillar crawls, but the butterfly flies on gossamer wings. Gardeners don't like caterpillars, but plant special plants to attract butterflies. So it is by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit that we who were one thing (conformed to this age) can be transformed (metamorphosized) into something wholly different-people who are Godly and holy.
"but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind" (v. 2b). Today, we would be more likely to speak of a "change of heart" than a renewal of the mind. Paul, however, calls us to permit the Spirit to transform our minds, knowing that the person who learns to think Godly thoughts will soon experience a changed heart as well. Godly thoughts transform every aspect of our being. As an example, the person who adopts Godly thinking often enjoys improved health, because he/she learns to regard his/her body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is therefore more likely to treat his/her body with new respect. That is not to say that Christians do not engage in unhealthy practices, but the more Godly our thinking, the less likely we are to become victims of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, tobacco, promiscuous sex, workaholism, worry, and other unhealthy practices.
"so that you may prove (dokimazein-prove, test) what is the good, well-pleasing (euareston-well-pleasing), and perfect will of God " (v. 2c). The renewing of our minds enables us to "discern the will of God" (v. 2). The world is full of people who assume that God's will mirrors their own-people who try to force God into the mold of their own thinking. Republicans and Democrats alike assume that God endorses their respective party platforms. Denominations often assume that their particular slice of the church has discovered truths that make them superior to other Christians. But these are examples of the ways that we allow this age (aioni) to shape our thinking. If we are to discern God's will, it will not be by trying to remake God in our own image-by having God conform to our prejudices-but by allowing the Spirit to renew our thinking-by becoming putty in God's hands, so to speak-by allowing God to shape our thinking and our lives.
ROMANS 12:9-13. LET LOVE BE WITHOUT HYPOCRISY
9 Let love (Greek: agape) be without hypocrisy (Greek: anupokritos). Abhor (Greek: apostugountes) that which is evil. Cling (Greek: kollomenoi-from kollao) to that which is good. 10 In love (Greek:philostorgoi) of the brother be tenderly affectionate one to another (Greek: philadelphia); in honor preferring one another; 11 not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving (Greek: douleuontes-from douleuo) the Lord. 12 rejoicing in hope; enduring (Greek: hypomenontes-persevere) in troubles; continuing steadfastly (Greek: proskarterountes-be constantly diligent) in prayer; 13 contributing to the needs of the saints; given (Greek: diokontes) to hospitality.
In these five verses, Paul lists thirteen behaviors that the Christian should adopt. The list begins with love.
"Let love (agape) be without hypocrisy" (anupokritos) (v. 9a). There are four words for love in Greek-agape,
philos, eros, and storge. Agape is a high form of love, often used to describe God's love for people (5:5, 8; 8:39). Paul uses it here to describe our love for each other. Anupokritos means genuine-sincere-not hypocritical-the opposite of the actor (hypokritos-from which we get our word "hypocrite") who hides behind a mask and expresses feelings that come from a script instead of from the heart.
Genuine agape is love without a selfish agenda-love that seeks what is good for the beloved. Much of what the world calls love is self-serving. Consider how much romantic love is oriented to fulfilling one's personal needs (sex, security, etc.) rather than the needs of the other. Consider the salesperson who feigns interest in a person's family as a way of gaining trust and selling product. Even the pastor is tempted to give too high a priority to filling pews and meeting budgets.
Paul lists love first among the thirteen desired behaviors, and love is more than first among equals. Love sets the tone, and the other dozen desired behaviors grow out of love-are natural expressions of love.
"Abhor (apostugountes) that which is evil" (v. 9b). Apostugountes is a strong word meaning to dislike, to abhor, or to have a horror of (Thayer, 68). The proper Christian response to evil is not simply to avoid it, but to be viscerally repelled by it.
However, living as we do in a kosmos-world-a world opposed to God-it is difficult to keep the edge on our moral sense. The kosmos-world grinds us down and softens us our concern for the spiritual-pulls us into its sticky web-demands that we agree with the prevailing culture, no matter how far removed that culture is from Godly values.
If we are to "abhor that which is evil," we must practice the spiritual disciplines of scripture reading, prayer, and Christian fellowship. To "abhor that which is evil" requires daily re-grounding in the faith so that we can accurately discern the line between good and evil.
It is easier to be repelled by some evils than by others. We find it easy to hate genocide, terrorism, and child molestation. We find it easy to abhor our daughter's casual dalliance with a young man not of our liking. We find it easy to have a horror of our son's drug addiction. We find it less easy to hate those evils that tempt us personally, whether sex, alcohol, money, ambition, narcissism, self-indulgence, or passivity in the face of evil.
Paul calls us to hate all evil-to hate it in all its forms-to hate each instance of it-to hate the evil within us as well as the evil within our neighbor-to hate evil as the firefighter hates the hidden ember that threatens to undo his/her work-to hate evil as a mother hates the drugs that she finds in her son's bedroom-to consider evil the enemy-to hate it passionately-to oppose it-to search it out and eliminate it-to practice tough love against it-to engage in a lifelong war against evil.
There is a tension between "Let love be without hypocrisy" (v. 9a) and "Abhor that which is evil" (v. 9b). We must hate the sin while loving the sinner-a tough balancing act-but evil-hating is one of the ways that we demonstrate genuine-loving. We hate evil, because evil has the potential to destroy the beloved.
"Cling (kollomenoi-from kollao) to that which is good" (v. 9c). Kollao is the Greek word meaning to glue together (Thayer, 353), and is the word from which we get our English word collagen, the fibrous protein found in bones, skin, tendons, and cartilage (Encarta). What Paul is calling us to do here, then, is to glue ourselves "to that which is good"-to connect ourselves "to what is good" as inseparably as tendons bind bone to muscle. When we injure a tendon, disconnecting bone from muscle, the injury is physically crippling. So, also, is any rupture of our bond "to that which is good" spiritually crippling.
Verses 10-13 are composed of ten injunctions bracketed by three forms of the Greek philos love-word-philadelphia and philostorgoi-brotherly love and family love (v. 10) and philoxenian-family love (v. 13). If we allow the Spirit to guide us to observe these behaviors, we will find our overwhelming concern to be for others rather than self.
"In love (philostorgoi) of the brother be tenderly affectionate one to another" (philadelphia) (v. 10a). Paul shifts here from the agape love-word to the storge and philos love-words. Storge is the Greek for family love (Barclay, 164), and philos is the Greek for brotherly love. In his call for us to love one another, then, Paul pulls out all the stops-uses all the Greek love words (except eros, sexual love, which is appropriate in some relationships but not in others).
Family love is special, because the family is special. Members of healthy families know each other's warts, but love each other anyway. The healthy family is a place where family members can speak frankly about their most intimate concerns. When trouble looms, the family is a refuge and strength second only to God.
Christians are members of their nuclear families (father, mother, brothers, sisters), but are also members of their Christian family. Sharing philostorgoi (family love) and philadelphia (brotherly/sisterly love) with other Christians is a great source of comfort and strength to the Christian. We talk about pillars of the church, by which we mean Christians who contribute a great deal to the church's work, but we might also consider another pillar metaphor-i.e., Christians standing together as family are like closely placed pillars under a roof-strong-unshakable.
"in honor preferring one another" (v. 10b). When love is absent, we want to outdo other people in the sense that we win and they lose. We want to defeat them-to win the prize-to snatch away the promotion. We want to win, in part, so that we can feel better about ourselves and, in part, to have people admire us. At its core, much ambition-behavior is an attempt to win approval so that we might feel valued and loved. But ambition-behavior drives wedges between people. The person who wins the prize often does so at the cost of the admiration that he/she would like to win. The winner must often settle for second prize-being feared instead of being loved.
Paul calls us to different kind of ambition-behavior. He calls us to "be tenderly affectionate one to another in honor"-to focus on satisfying the other person's need for approval-to facilitate the other person's victory-in sports lingo, to make an "assist" instead of a goal. There are many ways to accomplish this: remembering birthdays-saying thanks-telling other people that they did a good job-encouraging them to understand that they have important gifts-helping them to get the job done-making it possible for them to further their education-listening-participating in an activity that they enjoy.
Some of us find it difficult to praise people. Fathers, in particular, find it difficult to praise their sons-fearing, perhaps, that the son might feel that he has accomplished enough and can let down his guard. The opposite, however, is usually true-praise encourages people to run harder.
I once heard Ken Blanchard of the Hershey-Blanchard management team tell senior executives to praise subordinates as a way of getting the best from them. He told us to maintain a ten-to-one ratio of praise to criticism-to give at least ten praises for each criticism. He told us to look for opportunities to give honest praise so that we could occasionally offer criticism without getting the praise/criticism ratio out of kilter. Blanchard's perspective was practical rather than theological. Working with many excellent and not-so-excellent companies, he had learned that excellent companies encourage employees with awards, praise, and promotions while not-so-excellent companies fail to do so. Mr. Blanchard received a high fee-many thousands of dollars-for that lecture. We can save ourselves a basketful of money and learn the same thing by taking Romans 12:10 seriously.
"not lagging in diligence" (v. 11a)-literally "in zeal not lazy or slothful"-or perhaps "in zeal not burned out." That is a challenge for pastors and other Christian leaders. We say, "A woman's work is never done," and that is true. It is also true that a pastor's work is never done. There is always more church work than willing hands. The willing are always in danger of being consumed by their efforts and discouraged by the lack of clear results. We must be on guard against burnout. While there is no certain burnout preventative, certain principles apply:
"fervent in spirit" (v. 11b)-literally, "in spirit burning or boiling." It is difficult to overestimate the importance of enthusiasm in ministry. I have heard many an otherwise good sermon fall flat because the preacher failed to convey passion-enthusiasm-conviction.
"serving (douleuontes-from douleuo) the Lord" (v. 11c). Douleuo speaks of slave-like service-service under bondage. As Christians, we serve under obligation.
There is a textual problem with verse 11c. Some manuscripts read, "serve the Lord" (kurios), while others read, "serve the time" (kairos). Either is possible, and both make sense. Most scholars prefer "serve the Lord."
"rejoicing in hope" (v. 12a). Both joy and hope are frequent themes in the New Testament, even though life for early Christians was anything but easy. People looking at the church from the outside today are often puzzled by the joy and hope that they find there. They sometimes assume that Christians are putting on an act, because joyful, hopeful Christians often lack the things (money, power, prestige) that, in the eyes of the world, produce joy and hope.
The irony is that many people who possess money, power, and prestige are nevertheless quite miserable-always moving from deal to deal, conquest to conquest, marriage to marriage, and psychiatrist to psychiatrist in an attempt to find the joy that eludes them. They might experience joy with each new deal or conquest, but the joy fades quickly, leaving them as restless as ever.
Christians, however, have one foot planted in this world (where we do, indeed, need food, clothing, shelter, and a host of other material things) and the other foot planted in the kingdom of God. We find joy and hope in the assurance that our "heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" and that, if we "seek first God's Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:32-33). We also find joy and hope in the assurance that our lives count, not just now, but also for eternity.
"enduring (hypomenontes-persevere) in troubles" (v. 12b). The word, "patient" may give the wrong impression. Hypomenontes has to do with tough endurance-perseverance. Paul is not calling us to hunker down and accept the tyrant's blows, but is instead calling us to keep the faith, even though suffering.
"continuing steadfastly (proskarterountes-be constantly diligent) in prayer" (v. 12c). The thought here is much like Paul's earlier admonition to the church at Thessalonica, "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is a channel through which the Christian receives strength. First century Christians, suffering persecution, required constant prayer to gain the strength to keep the faith. So do we.
"contributing to the needs of the saints" (v. 13a). Early Christians took seriously the needs of widows and other vulnerable people, particularly within the church (Acts 6:1; 2 Corinthians 8:13-14; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:3-16; James 1:27).
"given (diokontes) to hospitality" (v. 13b). Diokontes is a strong word, having the sense of pursuing or pressing forward. Paul is advocating that we actively look for opportunities to provide hospitality.
Abraham was the model for hospitality because he entertained three visitors so graciously (Genesis 18). The author of Hebrews alludes to Abraham's hospitality when he says: "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).
The New Testament also emphasizes hospitality. Jesus emphasized the importance of hospitality to those in need (those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison), and warned that failure to show hospitality will have eternal consequences (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul includes hospitality among the qualifications for a bishop (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Peter says, "Be hospitable to one another without complaining" (1 Peter 4:9). John highly commends Christians who show hospitality to visiting Christians, saying "for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth" (3 John 1:7-8).
ROMANS 12:14-16. BLESS, REJOICE, BE OF THE SAME MIND
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don't curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Don't set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don't be wise in your own conceits.
"Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don't curse" (v. 14). The really terrible Roman persecution had not yet started, but Paul's counsel is useful even in gentler circumstances. Devoted Christians will often attract opponents, and some opponents will be violent. Paul calls us to meet violence, not with violence, but with blessing-a startling idea, but not original with Paul:
The idea of blessing has its roots in the OT, where blessings were treated as having great substance-great value (Gen. 27:30 ff.). In that context, the person bestowing a blessing was, in a sense, asking God to bless the other person. In the NT, "blessing" translates the Greek makarios, which conveys the idea of fortunate or happy. To meet persecution with blessing turns "eye for eye" legalism on its head (see Exodus 21:24; Matthew 5:38-41).
"Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep" (v. 15). Our text began, "Let love (agape) be without hypocrisy" (v. 9). Agape love desires what is good for the beloved, so it would follow that we would rejoice or weep with the beloved. Such is often not the case, however, because we find ourselves jealous of other people's good fortune and judgmental about their bad fortune. To "rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep" requires a high degree of discipleship-something to which we can aspire and for which we must pray.
"Be of the same mind one toward another" (v. 16a)-to auto eis allelous phronountes-literally, "thinking the same thing toward one another." While this does not require us to agree at every point, it does require us to be agreeable.
"Don't set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble" (v. 16b). The central thesis of this epistle is that we are all sinners (3:9) and are saved by the grace of God rather than by anything that we have done (3:24). We are, therefore, equals under God's grace.
"Don't be wise in your own conceits" (v. 16c). This is good advice for every human relationship. Humility draws people near, but conceit repels. Quiet competence trumps loud semi-competence-perhaps not immediately, but certainly in the long run.
ROMANS 12:17-21. REPAY NO ONE EVIL FOR EVIL
17 Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. 19 Don't seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God's wrath. For it is written, "Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord." 20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head." 21 Don't be overcome (Greek: niko-be conquered) by evil, but overcome (Greek: nika-conquer) evil with good.
"Repay no one evil for evil" (v. 17a) is similar in meaning to "Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don't curse" (v. 14).
"Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men" (v. 17b). We must be careful, not only about proper conduct, but also about appearances. I understand that Billy Graham asked that the door to the dining room remain open when he had lunch at the White House with Hillary Clinton. He explained that he had for many years observed the rule that he should never be alone behind closed doors with any woman other than his wife-one of many rules that he followed for the sake of his reputation. Whether that story is true or apocryphal, it illustrates the care with which Christians must "respect what is honorable in the sight of all men" (v. 17b). The more visible our position, the more careful we must be.
"If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men" (v. 18). Throughout this text, Paul has given short, to-the-point commands without qualification-i.e., "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good" (v. 9). However, when he calls us to "be at peace with all men," he inserts two qualifications-"If it is possible" and "as much as it is up to you". There are, unfortunately, people who will not allow us to live in peace, and Paul does not require that we be at peace with them. He requires only that we do our part to establish peaceful relationships. He doesn't hold us responsible for the other person's response to our efforts. After all, we can't control the other person. We can control only ourselves.
"Don't seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God's wrath. For it is written, 'Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord'" (v. 19). This is the third time in a handful of verses (see vv. 14, 17) that Paul tells us that we should not seek vengeance. The reason is simple-we can trust God to do the right thing. If a person deserves punishment, God will take care of it, whether now or in the Day of Judgment. Leaving the matter in God's hands solves a host of problems. For one thing, God is a perfect judge, and will not make a mistake. For another, God is in a position to insure that justice is served, whereas we might put ourselves in physical or legal jeopardy by seeking vengeance. When Paul says, "Vengeance is mine," he is quoting Deuteronomy 32:35.
"Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head'" (v. 20). Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 almost exactly (see also Hebrews 10:30), except that he leaves out the last half of 25:22, "and Yahweh will reward you"-perhaps to avoid any suggestion that he is advocating self-serving behavior.
When Paul tells us to feed and to give drink to our enemy, he is using food and drink as metaphors for any kind of needed help. If we were to see our enemy stuck in a ditch, this verse would call us to lend a helping hand.
"you will heap coals of fire on his head" (v. 20c). There have been any number of interpretations of this phrase, but most scholars agree that it means that the recipient of our grace will burn with shame at having treated us badly, and might therefore become our friend. The best way to conquer an enemy is to make him/her our friend.
"Don't be overcome (niko-be conquered) by evil, but overcome (nika-conquer) evil with good" (v. 21). Does the end justify the means? This verse says that it doesn't. If we use evil means to achieve a worthwhile end, our evil means will compromise both our character and our witness. If we are to accomplish what Christ has called us to do, we must accomplish it through the ultimate Christian virtue, love.
Rom.12:1-2. 9-18 - Richison Commentary
v. 1 - I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Ending the intercalation of vindicating God's character (chapters 9 to 11), Paul now turned to charging all believers with applied instruction. Chapter 12 begins the practical section of Romans (chapters 12 to 16).
The first two verses set forth what is necessary for the believer to live the Christian life-a life set apart unto God.
v. 1a - I appeal to you, Paul began the practical section of Romans with an appeal to a principle that is the foundation for applying truth to experience-presenting ourselves to God. An "appeal" is not a demand but a request. The word "appeal" strikes a note of entreaty, not command. It is on the basis of the finished work of Christ that Paul invited the Romans to become a sacrifice.
PRINCIPLE: The law commands but grace urges.
APPLICATION: God appeals to the believer on the basis of a loving relationship. The law commands but grace urges. The decision is that of the believer. We cannot force people into a walk with God. We live in fellowship with Him because of what he has done for us. Conduct should be done in view of what God has done. Christians are believer-priests under the authority of the Great High Priest. We serve the Lord because of gratitude for His divine provision of finished and operating assets.
v. 1b - therefore, "Therefore" is a transition word. The "therefore" indicates a deduction from the doctrinal section of Romans (chapters 1 to 11). This verse is a great dividing point in the book, a fork in the road. To this point God has done things for us, now we do things for Him. "Therefore" is a hinge to the book and points back to the doctrinal section of Romans and forward to the practical. Paul was about to give the practical outworking of the belief system he had built to this point. Chapters 12 to 15 form a necessary effect to chapters 1 to 11. It is a natural conclusion to respond to God's provisions in grace for us. There is consequence to believing certain things. The practical of the New Testament is never divorced from the doctrinal. If God did not provide in grace for us, then there would be no compelling reason to serve Him. Biblical ethics always arise out of truth and the principles of God's Word. That is why chapters 1 to 11 precede chapters 12 to 16.
The sequence of Romans is first doctrine then duty; first revelation then responsibility; first principle then practice; first prerogative then precepts. God never introduced doctrine simply to be known.
v. 1b2 - brothers, Paul's appeal was to his "brothers" in the family of God, not to his servants.
PRINCIPLE: Christian ethics do not stand alone but upon what God provides in grace.
APPLICATION: Christian ethics emerge from doctrine. Doctrine does not stand alone in barren, unadulterated intellectualism apart from practice. The sequence is doctrine then practice, but both merge in dynamic interrelationship. Doctrine requires understanding. Unless we think through what we believe, we cannot live out what we ponder. We live in a generation that does not think. We want to experience Christianity without grasping what it means. Mindless Christianity results in vacuous living.
Christians today live impoverished spiritual lives just like the unbeliever. There is very little difference today between the Christian and non-Christian. No wonder there is very little appeal among non-believers to become Christians. Christians today live in the mold of the non-Christian. That is why God says in the next verse "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed... "The only way to be transformed is to think God's thoughts after Him in the Word of God.
v. 1c - by the mercies of God, The "by" in this phrase gives the ground of presenting ourselves to God. The basis of our giving ourselves to the Lord is what He has done for us. The phrase "mercies of God" here refers to all of God's provisions in the first 11 chapters of Romans. "Mercies" are various compassions from God toward us, such as justification, our eternal status before God in Christ, glorification, provision of the Holy Spirit, the grace concept, and so on. "Mercies" is in the plural indicating a wealth of mercy from God. God lavishes His mercy on believers. He has plenty of mercy-His compassions never fail. The plural indicates the different instances of God's mercy throughout Romans 1 to 11.
PRINCIPLE: We serve God because of His compassion toward us.
APPLICATION: "Mercy" is an aspect of grace whereby God gives to the disgraceful and shameful. It is God's action toward the miserable. Basic motivation for living before God comes from His compassion for us.
v. 1d - to present [offer], The Greek word "present" means offer, to place before, to put at one's disposal. Jesus' parents presented him "to the Lord" in the temple (Lu 2:22). Literally, "present" comes from two words: to stand and before. When we "present" ourselves to the Lord, we stand before Him saying, "I am yours." The Greek word was used in the ancient world for presenting a sacrifice at an altar. Presenting is the language of sacrifice. This was especially true also in the Old Testament usage; it was used for offering a sacrifice at the temple. In this case we present the sacrifice of ourselves. We yield ourselves to God for whatever He wants.
v. 1d2 - your bodies, The body of the believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19-20). The body in this context is the totality of our life and activity, the total person, not the physical body. Christian living does not consist essentially in religious observances, holidays, or sacred acts. It is life (body and soul) dedicated to God in the secular sphere. Assembling together for worship and mutual edification is proper; however, it is only a small dimension of Christian living. The victim to be offered is our bodies, the entire person.
PRINCIPLE: The Christian offers the sacrifice of his life because of the divine operating assets God offers in grace.
APPLICATION: The idea of presenting is based on God's grace and flows from His grace. It is an obligation of the Christian to think about God's mercies toward us. Otherwise, we live our spiritual lives in
v. 1e - as a living sacrifice, Paul employed sacrificial language for our walk with God. This sacrifice to God should be "living"; that is, the spiritual state of the believer. Normally we would think of a sacrifice that would die, but here the idea is that the sacrifice would live. Many people offered sacrifices that would die on the altar, but the Christian is to offer himself or herself as an ongoing sacrifice. In the Old Testament believers made sacrifices, but in the New Testament the believer is to be a sacrifice. The Old Testament sacrifice was killed; the New Testament sacrifice is alive, a life lived for God. Paul used "sacrifice" in a figurative sense because the church no longer brings physical sacrifices to God. The final sacrifice of Christ put an end to any other sacrifice. This sacrifice lives and is not dead. We were dead in sins but are now alive to God, available to be presented to God.
PRINCIPLE: By presenting ourselves to God, we become the active agent for God's will.
APPLICATION: When Christians present themselves to God, they become a living sacrifice for Him. When an Israelite brought a sacrifice to the altar, he relinquished his right to what he offered. If Christians presents themselves to the Lord, they relinquish their rights to themselves.
v. 12f - holy, The word "holy" means set apart. Believers are to set their lives apart for God. This is how we operate as a "living sacrifice." The idea of being "holy" is that we are God's for His exclusive use.
PRINCIPLE: A holy life is a life set apart for God for His exclusive use.
APPLICATION: We have been branded by the Lord of glory. A holy life is like marriage; we are devoted to one mate, marriage is for keeps, and it is for the exclusive prerogative of each partner. A holy life is for God's exclusive use.
v. 12g - and acceptable [pleasing] to God, Such dedication as described in the earlier part of this verse pleases God; it is worthy of His acceptance. It is a satisfying thing to bring pleasure to God. "Acceptable" is a compound word made up of two words: pleasing or approved and good or well. It is something well approved, eminently satisfactory to God.
PRINCIPLE: The goal of the believer is to please God.
APPLICATION: Some sacrifices in the Old Testament were not acceptable to God because they were ceremonially unclean. The goal of the Christian is to live a life for God that pleases Him. God is satisfied with such a life
v. 12g - which is your spiritual [reasonable] worship., The word "spiritual" is a term connoting logic (reasonable), carrying the idea of what is appropriate. There is a logic to worshipping God by presenting ourselves to Him because He has done so much for us in grace (chapters 9 to 11). It stands to reason that we serve the Lord because of all that He has done for us. "Worship" is ministry to God in the same way priests of the Old Testament served. However, this particular verse does not refer to public worship but to worship by an individual.
PRINCIPLE: It stands to reason that we dedicate ourselves to God, who has done so much for us.
APPLICATION: Christian worship is a logical commitment. It is not worship based on unadulterated emotion or experience. This worship rests on clear reasoning. We clearly understand the logic of justification and positional truth, among other doctrines.
v. 2 - Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Verse two states the special effects that should be the result of Christians offering themselves as a sacrifice to the Lord (v.1). The result is transformation of character.
Verse one is the what-present yourselves to the Lord. Verse two is the how-do not be conformed but be transformed. Both of these entities come at the believer. In one case the believer is to not allow something to happen to him, and in the other he is to allow it to happen. Verse one deals with committing ourselves to the Lord, and verse two deals with sustaining it.
The present tenses of "conformed" and "transformed" indicate that we are to have an ongoing presentation of ourselves to the Lord (v. 1). Our yieldedness to Him is to be fleshed out by not habitually conforming to the age about us. Instead, we should constantly transform and renew our mind.
v. 2b - Do not be conformed [be fashioned], Cultural norms and traditions influence us, but we have the power to overcome them. The phrases "do not be conformed" and "be transformed" in the Greek indicate that it is our decision to reject the influence of these norms and traditions, and choose a transformed life over them (present imperatives). Christians can acquiesce or resist them. Literally the Greek of "be conformed" says that we are not to "allow" outside influences to influence us (passive voice). "Conformed" refers to assuming something from the outside. It does not come from inner conviction. This person allows outside influences to control him. Something fashioned from the outside is fleeting and belongs to the accidental and to the circumstantial. The ways of the world are both false and fleeting. Conformation to the world is superficial; however, transformation changes the essence of the person from within. The world demands no more than the outward, superficial accommodation to its values.
PRINCIPLE: The Christian marches to a different drummer than the values of this age.
APPLICATION: At any point we are either being conformed to the world or to Christ. People are naturally conformists. It is tempting to go along with the crowd. God, however, asks the believer to march to a different drummer no matter what the cost. He does this by transforming us so that we operate under an entirely different structure for living. The caterpillar changes to a butterfly; the believer operates on an entirely different system of values. Most North American Christians are secular in their core values; they operate as if this world is all that there is. All that matters is the now. We cannot conform to this thinking, otherwise we will lose the eternal point of view on our lives. This leads to deification of self and a disregard for the things of God. Because man is the center, this makes everything relative; there are no absolutes. It is amazing how many Christians cannot withstand the milieu of opinions of their generation. They yield to and conform to the pressures of the prevailing age's values. God demands that His people be different than the crowd. Christians are in hostile territory. Many things in the world are legitimate but some are not. This age glorifies lust, pride, and cruelty. There is a gravitational pull of sin in our lives
v. 2b - to this world [age], The "world" or age in which we live is everything around us that is from the satanic system. Christians are not to live according to the values of the age in which they live. The "age" is everything that goes on during a period of time, such as maxims, speculations, aims, aspirations, and opinions. This is the milieu of values of a given time. Paul's call is not to abandon culture in general but the anti-Christian values of culture. The contrast in this verse is between two models of values by which we can change our lives.
PRINCIPLE: The Christian is not to allow the world system to squeeze him into its mold of values.
APPLICATION: It is important to distinguish the worldly aspects of the present age from many good things that creation has to offer. The world in biblical terms is not the world of flowers, birds, or individuals, but is a system of belief organized by the devil into a schemata of values. Art and science are good but they can be used by evil. Many of us are like liquid jelly; we fit into whatever is around us. Our character forms according to the mold of the world. Whatever cools my love for God is worldliness. It is the effort of man to satisfy his needs apart from God. God created us to have fellowship with Him, but Satan wants to break that fellowship.
v. 12c - but [strong contrast], The strong contrast of "but" indicates that there is a difference between outward conformity and inward transformation. There is here a sharp contrast between being conformed to this world and being transformed by God.
v. 12c1 - be transformed , The English word "transform" comes from two words: (1) trans-across-and (2) form. Transformation is to go across a form. Our character crosses to an entirely different form.The Greek says, "Keep on being transformed by the renewing of your mind." The Greek word for "transformed" is the word from which we get the English word "metamorphosis." Transformation is a total change that works from the inside out.
The alternative to conforming to the values of this age is to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. Worldliness or conforming to this age is not primarily behavioral but changing a way of thinking. Transformation is a change from the prevailing worldview. Today, most North Americans hold to the same worldview as non-Christians. It is one thing to get the world out of the believer, but it is another thing to get the believer out of the world. I do not mean one should move into a monastery to avoid the influence of the world. That is unwholesome isolationism. That is to give up the battle. The Christian is to change his thinking to the biblical viewpoint.
It is also important for the believer to let himself to be transformed (passive voice). God will not force us to follow Him; true change comes from within. Dead leaves fall off the tree because new leaves form on the branch from within. In the natural realm the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. That is fundamental change. Christians must experience vital change if they are going to walk with God. A transformed life makes everything different. This is a progressive dynamic.
PRINCIPLE: Biblical transformation is not change effected from without but a radical realignment within the heart.
APPLICATION: We need both a negative and positive on a battery or we would not get any juice. We need both the negative of "not conformed" and the positive "be transformed." We need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, a power from without, for fundamental change in our lives. Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. The believer's responsibility is to let himself be transformed. Our task is to co-operate with the Spirit in His work on our lives.
v. 12d - by the renewal of your mind, Transformation comes through the mind, the "renewal" of the mind. The "mind" here is the center of our thoughts, emotions, will, and attitudes. Our minds need "renewal." It is not enough to think about God's values occasionally. The mind is the inner direction of thought and will. "Renewal" indicates that fundamental values must change in the believer. This is more than mere outward disconformity to the world system; it is an inward transformation.
PRINCIPLE: To think biblically is not only to observe Christian truths but also to think in a Christian way about all of life.
APPLICATION: Sin makes us look at the will of God with colored glasses. Satan's strategy is to occupy our minds with anything but the will of God. When this happens, we look at life through dark glasses. To think biblically is not only to observe Christian truths but also to think in a Christian way about all of life. God is not pleased until we show some evidence of likeness to Christ. Conformation into the image of Christ is the only conformation that Christianity knows anything about. Christians are in the world but not of the world in their way of thinking.
We cannot fully fulfill "do not be conformed" until we comply with "be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
v. 2e - that [purpose] by testing [for approval] you may discern, Ascertaining the will of God-distinguishing it from our will-is a process. This takes a critical approval of values we may choose. The renewal of the mind enables the believer to distinguish what is the good, acceptable, and complete will of God. The renewed mind is bent on the will of God; it learns by experience what the will of God is.
v. 2e1 - what is the will of God, We need to know three things about the nature of the will of God-that it is good, acceptable, and perfect. The will of God is no mystery; it is simply what God has revealed about Himself in the Word of God. We can know what is in the Bible; however, knowing the will of God takes effort and study. It is impossible to do the will of God without knowing it.
v. 2e2 - what is good, The "good" here is intrinsic good. God's will has a beneficial effect. It is "good" because knowing and doing the will of God brings spiritual growth. No matter how much people might oppose the will of God, it remains "good" because it accords with God's nature.
v. 2e3 - and acceptable, God's will is "acceptable" to Him because it also accords with His nature. If we walk in God's will, it will please God. It pleases God that our lives were not and are not a waste. God is not well pleased until there is some transformation, some resemblance to the family of God. God has taken an oath that every single solitary Christian will ultimately be conformed into the image of Christ. He will not wait until eternity to do this. If we harden to this process, then God will step into our situation. He will make us malleable or discipline us.
v. 2e3 - and perfect [complete]., The will of God is "perfect" or complete because it fleshes out a life oriented to God's philosophy of life. Something "perfect" achieves its full destiny; it is complete. Mature believers know and apply the will of God to their lives.
PRINCIPLE: We can know the mind and will of God for us.
APPLICATION: When a person chooses to reject the world system but decides for the will of God instead, this shows that his or her life is yielded to God. A constantly yielded life produces a mature life centered in the will of God.
v. 9 - Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
After showing how gifts work in assembly together, now Paul set forth specific exhortations of how Christians are to operate in church (12:9-21). In these verses there are 25 rapid-fire exhortations.
The biblical format is first doctrine then deed, first creed then conduct, first belief then behavior, and first revelation then responsibility. Without principle, exhortations would be simple platitudes. We are now in a section dealing with Christian ethics (Ro 12-16).
v. 9a - Let love be genuine.. Christian love should be "genuine." Literally, "genuine" means without hypocrisy ordeception. Christian love should have no pretense but demonstrate real or true care for other believers. True believers do not play at love by acting behind a mask of something else. There is no place for deceit in Christian love. Neither is love sentimentality; rather, genuine love deals harshly with evil. It is easy to counterfeitlove. What looks like love often is not genuine love. Many times people have an ulterior motive in their apparent love toward us.
PRINCIPLE: Biblical love requires objectivity.
APPLICATION: Biblical love is not sentimentality that has no standards. True love requires believers to give to others. We need to be genuine with people. Making a pretense of what we are or hiding what we are violates biblical love. Pretending to love someone when we actually serve ourselves is unadulterated deception. We are to love as God loves, caring more for others than for ourselves. Christians are obligated to love every believer. This does not mean that we have to agree with them or even like them.
PRINCIPLE: It is important to hate some things.
APPLICATION: Some things the believer should shrink back from. Is anything abhorrent to Christians anymore? Some things should be repulsive to us and we should hate them. There are things we need to thoroughly hate. Before we became Christians we loved sin and its entire culture. Now we hate the things we loved. The more we grow in grace the more we will hate sin
v. 9c - hold fast [unite] to what is good., It is not enough to hate what is evil without the counter balance of "hold fast to what is good." Otherwise, we would be negative oriented. It takes the effort of "cleaving" to the good; it is not sufficient to loosely hold onto the good. True Christian virtue has an active dimension; he is not passive about what is good but takes proactive steps to persist in the good. This value clings to the good no matter what the cost may be. The Christians glue to the good is not casual approval but a commitment to the good. The Christian is to unite what is good or cling to something in close relation.
PRINCIPLE: True love discriminates between evil and good.
APPLICATION: It is possible to be kind and even nice yet want genuine love. True biblical love distinguishes between good and evil. There is no neutrality in God's principles. Where there is true biblical love evil is not tolerated but is viewed as injuring those who participate in it. Love that does not discern between good and evil is pure sentimentality. True love hates evil. To exercise that kind of love we must operate on strict objectivity as to what is evil and what is good. In our culture Christians are conditioned to tolerate deviant behavior. It is amazing how many Christians do not deem that homosexuality is wrong even with overwhelming biblical evidence against it.
v. 10 - Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
v. 10a - Love one another with brotherly affection., The Greek word for "love" in this verse is different from that of the previous verse. The word here is reciprocallove of natural affection, fraternal and familial love. Christians are to love members of the family of God like they would their own physical families.
v. 10b - Outdo one another [of the same kind] in showing honor., This sentence is an explanation of the first sentence. Believers are to give respect to otherChristians rather than seeking to put themselves first. Our natural tendency is to seek glory for ourselves. "Honor" is value, deference, or respect. To "outdo" is literally to go before, to lead. Christians are to be leaders when it comes to respecting or showing deference to one another. This is not flattery but genuine recognition of the value of fellow believers.
PRINCIPLE: Honor is due from each believer to all Christians.
APPLICATION: Christians should give due recognition to others in the family of God. We should keep this in the forefront of our thinking because our natural tendency is to think of ourselves first and foremost. Our personal status in the Christian community should not be our primary concern.
Many Christians are jealous of other believers. They resent the praise or recognition that the church gives others. Churches have been ruined by this attitude. Instead of outdoing others to gain the ascendancy, we should outdo one another in honoring fellow believers.
v. 11 - Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
The central thought of this verse is "serve the Lord." The first two clauses show how we are to serve the Lord.
v. 11a - Do not be slothful in zeal, The believer's zeal should not wane. The word "zeal" means diligence. True service should never come from a cold heart but from a passionate heart that loves the Lord.be fervent [aglow] in spirit, "Fervent" means to boil. Christian service should be one of enthusiasmand diligence. It is difficult at times to keep our spiritual fervor at a high level. There are periods of discouragement in ministry. Dynamic Christianity has burning passion about it. This is not emotionalism but burning conviction about something. A Christian touched by the Spirit cannot be anything but excited about serving the Lord.
v. 11b - serve the Lord., The phrase "serve the Lord" refers to thoroughgoing devotionto the Lord Jesus. He is the inspiring motivefor service. Service is putting ourselves at the disposal of the Lord. There is nothing half-hearted in this service. Zeal and fervency are not an end in themselves; they have a goal to serve the Lord to whom we owe so much.
PRINCIPLE: Lethargy brings debilitating results to the Christian mission.
APPLICATION: It takes great energy and effort to serve the Lord. Church ministry should never be slipshod. The Christian should not flag in his service to the Lord. Many believers are indolent about serving Him. The standard is that we should put our whole heart and soul into serving the sovereign Son of God. There is no drudgery in this. Christian service is exciting, not because it is a self-induced emotion, but because of the truth that is at its basis.
v. 12 - Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
We now come to three more exhortations for the church: Confidence in the future, 12:12a, Consistence under pressure, 12:12b, and Constance in prayer, 12:12c.
PRINCIPLE: Hope rests on God's promises.
APPLICATION: Jesus is the basis for our "hope of glory." Christians have confidence in their future salvation because of Him. This sets us apart from those without Christ. The prospect of death is not as daunting to believers. Hope in itself is not the object of our joy; it is what Christ has done for us that gives us joy. We have a "living hope" because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. When things get dark for us, we can obtain a greater perspective on life. Biblical hope lifts us out of our present circumstances. The dimension of certainty is at the heart of the believer's confidence.
v. 12b - be patient [remain under] in tribulation [pressure], Christians are to hang in there when it comes to trials. The translation "patience" is too weak. The Greek word for "patience" means to remain under. We remain under the difficulty with bulldog tenacity. We do not try to sublimate our bad situation with something other than Christian principles. During times of pressure it is important to maintain stabilityand steadfastness. It is important not to give up or cave in. We are to hold our ground when problems arise. Proper orientation to suffering will carry the Christian through his troubles.
PRINCIPLE: Christians do not need to let troubles get them down.
APPLICATION: There is a need for constant perseverance in the Christian life in a God-honoring manner. We must give our constant attention to this, otherwise the trials of life will overwhelm us. There is no escape from trials down here. However, when our earthly situation is dark, it is at that point the believer rises above the problems and clearly sees what is ahead. Many of us will not look up until we are laid low. Pain is part of God's plan for us. Biblical patience is not a passive acquiescence to fate. Rather, it is an attitude that adjusts to tribulation with proper biblical perspective. A person with this attitude can take a great deal of stress. There is no need for this kind of Christian to escape into some form of sublimation such as drink, drugs, or overeating. The believer can do this because he is confident in God's sovereign guidance on his circumstances.
v. 12c - be constant [persevere] in prayer., Believers should never lose sight of the importance of prayer. We need to keep an open line with God because prayer is centralto the life of the church. The word "constant" carries the idea of not only persistence in prayer but also the effort necessary for habitual praying. Prayer requires habit.
PRINCIPLE: Prayer requires constant attention.
APPLICATION: Persistent prayer is fundamental to Christian living. Many Christians have difficulty in maintaining a habitual prayer life. Satan will attempt to keep us from prayer if he can. God ordained prayer in His sovereign plan. He chose to do some things because of prayer. Some things never happen because the saints never prayed for it. There is power in prevailing prayer.
v. 13 - Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
This verse shows that Christians have a responsibility to share what God has given them in two ways:
(1) Financially support Christians in need and (2) Pursue opportunities to show hospitality.
v. 13a - Contribute to the needs of the saints , There are times when Christians face financial difficulties. There is a point where it is important for fellow believers not only to share their spiritual blessings but also their material blessings (Ro 15:27).
v. 13b - and seek [aspire] to show hospitality., The ideas of contributing to the needs of the saints and showing hospitality are closely linked-both involve giving to those in need. In the ancient world hospitality was an important social dimension. Travel was dangerous, so people needed a safe place to lodge, especially itinerate evangelists and Bible teachers. Inns were few and far between and carried an image of ill repute. The issue in hospitality is not social interaction among friends but facilitating people in ministry. We are to "seek" this opportunity to serve others; that is, take initiative in this matter. The word "seek" is a very strong Greek word-to pursue.
PRINCIPLE: God expects us to share our resources.
APPLICATION: Many people today view hospitality as an inconvenience. However, God wants us to use our resources and homes as places of support. We are to take initiative in this pursuit.
v. 14 - Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Verses 14 to 16 show six exhortations regarding how Christians are to react to others in different situations.
v. 14a - Bless [speak good upon] those who persecute you;
To "bless" is to call on God to bestow His grace on someone. This is a standard of character that transcends natural norms. To bless is a step far beyond non-retaliation. Christians are to actively seek the best for their persecutors. To call unadulterated blessing on our enemies requires a definite action of the will.
v. 14b1 - bless, Paul repeats the word "bless" for emphasis. Passive acceptance of those who persecute us is not sufficient. It is not enough to simply withhold retaliation. We must take the proactive step of blessing them.
v. 14b2 - and do not curse them., "Curse" is more than an insult; it is a wish that God would sentence our enemies to punishment of some sort. They might view us as having a malicious tongue. The spirit of refusing reconciliation is not a Christian attitude. If we keep this approach, it will result in vicious retaliatory cycles. There is a temptation to respond in kind to people who give us trouble. It is natural to resent ill treatment from others. The normal reaction is to take vengeance against them. The Greek indicates that the Romans were already cursing their persecutors; "do not curse them" is properly rendered "stop cursing them."
PRINCIPLE: God's standard is no mere absence of retaliation towards reviled Christians; we are to take the further step of blessing them.
APPLICATION: The Christian attitude is not a mixture of blessing and cursing on our enemies but is strictly a positive blessing. We invoke God's blessing on them. Christians are to call for God's blessing on people who give us trouble. True love desires the best for others, no matter who or what they may be. This is against our natural inclination. Our natural reaction is to retaliate against people who hurt us.
v. 15 - Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
This verse deals with the subject of Christian empathy, not sympathy. Sympathy is subjective emotionalism,
whereas empathy is the ability to objectively relate to another person's situation. Empathy is the ability to identify with people in their problems. To love with empathy is to put oneself in the place of another. It is the ability to project oneself into the needs of another person.
v. 15a - Rejoice with those who rejoice, When we are jealous of another's success, we cannot rejoice with him because we are in the business of comparing ourselves as being more favorable than he is. A loving person takes pleasure in another's success. It is more difficult to emphasize with a person's joys than his sorrows; in the first case the other person needs us, and in the other case he does not.
v. 15b - weep with those who weep., A hard heart has no compassion for those who sorrow. A loving person is not glad at the calamity of others.
PRINCIPLE: The true Christian cannot be selfishly indifferent to others.
APPLICATION: Both rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep are indications of Christian love. Envy and rivalry do not emphasize with others because those sins are self-centered. That attitude is "me against the world." True biblical attitude is other centered.
v. 16 - Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Verse 16 shows us how to get along together in church.
v. 16a - Live in harmony with one another., This phrase reads as "having the same attitude toward one another." Harmony among people begins with attitudes. Mutual understanding is at the heart of harmonious relationships.
v. 16b - Do not be haughty, Pride makes empathy difficult. The literal rendering is "not thinking high things." Spiritual Christians do not think too highly of themselves. The ambition of self-seeking glory fosters selfishness and disregards the interests of others. A "haughty" mind grasps after position and power in relation to others. Haughtiness seeks unadulterated ambition, disregarding the interests of others.
v. 16c - but associate with the lowly., Spiritual Christians accommodate themselves to humble people. Both masters and slaves attended the church at Rome. Both are leveled by sin and brought to the cross at a common meeting place. All are equal at the cross. "Lowly" refers to things of no great consequence in the opinion of the world. Lowly people, viewed by others as small and insignificant, are valued by the Christian. There is no place for the elite in the local l church.
v. 16c - Never be wise in your own sight [estimation]., People who are wise in their own eyes are conceited. Others might not have the same view of ourselves as we do. Overestimation of our ability is an evidence of weakness. Harmony among Christians is impossible until believers have a proper view of themselves. Conceit destroys harmony.
PRINCIPLE: Pride plows seeds of discord among Christians.
APPLICATION: Why should we deem ourselves worthy of preferential treatment? Conflict will come out of this attitude. God does not expect uniformity among Christians but unanimity. We do not have to like how other people operate or what they prefer, but we do need to be attitudinally in unity with them.
v. 17 - Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
The exhortations of verses 17 to 21 relate to the believer's relationship to both Christians and non-Christians.
v. 17a - Repay no one evil for evil, The Old Testament principle was "an eye for an eye" in a national theocracy. But the New Testament principle is non-retaliation in terms of individual persons. Retaliation only escalates conflict into a vicious cycle of revenge. Revenge then is a double-edged sword. A vindictive person is not noble but ugly. The words "no one" indicate that there are no exceptions to the principle.
v. 17b - but give thought [think beforehand] to do what is honorable [right, noble], The believer is to be proactive (think beforehand) about doing what is right in God's system of values rather than thinking first of what is evil. Christians are to think ahead about the implications of their actions and what kind of effect they will have on others, knowing that everything they do has an influence on those who are watching. Will they see a noble life or a worthless life that is just like everyone else's? We owe people a different kind of life because we know and represent Christ on earth. "Honorable" is what is beautiful or noble. A vindictive person is not noble but ugly.
v. 17c - in the sight of all., We need to take into consideration how others view us rather than running roughshod over them. "All" includes non-Christians as well as Christians. We owe everyone, even our enemies, a demonstration of a life influenced by Christ.
PRINCIPLE: Return good for evil rather than evil for evil.
APPLICATION: The inclination to retaliate against those who treat us unjustly is a very powerful impulse we all have. To harbor resentment and retaliation boomerangs on the person who holds it. Vengeance is nothing but wounded pride. When we retaliate we hold the deep-seated belief that someone must pay. The attitude of rancor and reprisal is at the heart of this. Deterioration of disposition will be the result. But the principle of getting even with those who hurt us is anti-Christian. We need to take proactive action against this tendency. If we do yield to vengeance, then evil has won. The desire to get even is outside the will of God. Vindictiveness destroys the distinctive Christian virtue of doing what is best for others. Excellent food should be set on a beautiful platter.
v. 18 - If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Paul here presented a double qualification for living in harmony with others, because doing that might not always be possible.
v. 18a - If possible, It is not possible to live peacefully with everyone. There are some knuckleheads who will not reconcile with others. There is a limit to the challenge here.
v. 18b - so far as it depends on you, Since there are people with whom we cannot live peacefully, we need to make sure that we are not the cause of the problem. The onus rests upon the Christian to take initiative in reconciliation. This requires self-examination.
v. 18c - live peaceably with all., Peacemaking is a biblical priority. Any ministry, whether it is a church or a parachurch organization, must have harmony for their ministries to be most effective.
PRINCIPLE: Harmony among believers is a priority of God.
APPLICATION: Some Christians have an unrealistic ideal that they can resolve problems with anyone no matter how unreasonable they may be. The truth is that there are those who will not be reconciled. We have no control over the will of others. God never asks the believer to seek peace at the cost of truth. That would be an unworthy accommodation to something other than biblical principles.
Peacemaking is a biblical priority: Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
He 12:14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:
Ja 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.