The Epistle to the Romans

By David Brown


CHAPTER XII—Christian Service.

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy,

2 acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that

3 good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to

4 every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one

6 members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us

7 prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching;

8 or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that

9 sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which

10 is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly

11 love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in

12 business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

13 distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

14 Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not.

15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that

16 weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not

17 wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for

18 evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will

20 repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou

21 shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

The strictly doctrinal teaching of this great Epistle being now concluded, the apostle, 'as a wise master-builder,' follows it up in this and the remaining chapters by impressing on believers the holy obligations which their new standing and life in Christ imposed upon them. In doing this he first puts clearly before them, in a couple of verses, the general character of all Christian service, and then goes at some length into a variety of details.

1, 2. Self-consecration the sum of Christian service.

1. I beseech you therefore, brethren—in view of all that has been opened up in the preceding part of this Epistle, by the mercies of God—whose free and unmerited nature, glorious Channel, and saving fruits we have now so fully seen, to present your bodies—your whole embodied selves (see on chap, vi. 12). As it is through the body that all the evil that is in the unrenewed heart comes forth into palpable manifestation and action, so it is through the body that all the gracious principles and affections of believers reveal themselves in the outward life. The Christian must never forget that as corruption extends to the whole man, so does sanctification (see i Thess. v. 23, 24). a living sacrifice—a glorious contrast to the legal sacrifices, which, save as slain, were no sacrifices at all. The death of the one 'Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world,' has swept all dead victims from off the altar of God, to make room for the redeemed themselves, as ''living sacrifices 'to Him who made "Him to be sin for us; "while every outgoing of their grateful hearts in praise, and every act prompted by the love of Christ, is itself a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour (Heb. xiii. 15, 16). holy. As the Levitical victims, when offered without blemish to God, were regarded as holy, so believers, 'yielding themselves to God as those that are alive from the dead, and their members as instruments of righteousness unto God,' are, in His estimation, not ritually but really "holy," and so acceptable (Gr. 'well-pleasing') unto God—not as the Levitical offerings were pleasing to God, merely as appointed symbols of spiritual ideas, but which, when offered by those who were void of the character which they represented, were hateful to God (Isa. i. 13-15, lxvi. 3, etc.): believers, in their renewed character and endeared relationship to God through His Son Jesus Christ, are objects of Divine complacency intrinsically, when presenting to Him their bodies a living and holy sacrifice, "which is your reasonable service. The word here rendered "service "means the service of worship, and when this is called "reasonable," the meaning probably is that this is the 'worship of the reason,' or 'spiritual worship,' in contrast with the ceremonial character of the Levitical worship: compare I Pet. ii. 2, where the same word is used (and nowhere else) for "the milk of the word,'' or 'rational milk,' in contrast with the material substance on which babes are nourished. This presentation of ourselves as living monuments of redeeming mercy, and as Divine property in the highest sense, is here called the "service of worship; "for as all believers are "priests unto God "(Rev. i. 6), so their whole Christian life is just the continuous exercise of this exalted priesthood, their "rational worship "(see 1 Pet. ii. 5, and compare John iv. 24). As redemption under the Gospel is not by the sacrifice of irrational victims, as under the law—when redemption was only in promise, and could only be held forth in type—but "by the precious blood of Christ," by which now "once in the end of the world" sin hath been put completely and for ever away (1 Pet. i. 18, 19; Heb. ix. 26), so all the sacrifices which believers are now called to offer are "living sacrifices; "and summed up, as they all are, in self-consecration to the service of God, they are "holy," they are "acceptable unto God," and they together make up 'our rational service.' In this light, what are we to think of the so-called 'unbloody sacrifice of the mass, continually offered to God as a propitiation for the sins both of the living and the dead,' which the adherents of Rome's faith have for ages been taught to believe is the highest and holiest act of Christian worship? The least that can be said of it is, that it is in flat contradiction to the teaching of this Epistle to the first Christians of Rome.

In the next verse the same great worship of self-consecration is inculcated under another aspect. The apostle had bidden us present our bodies a living sacrifice to God. But since it is by our bodies that we move about and mix in society, and come in contact with all the various phases of life, how are we to carry out our Christianity in the evil and bewitching world around us? Ver. 2 gives both a negative and positive answer to this question. 2. And be not conformed to this world. "The world"—when used in the N. T. to denote the bulk of mankind—are all who are destitute of spiritual life, and consequently have no sympathy with spiritual things, whose ambitions, interests, and tastes are all bounded by and centred in "the world "that "passeth away and the lust thereof," who "mind earthly things," and are, to use our Lord's description of them, "the children of this world." Believers are therefore charged here not to be conformed to it. For being "risen with Christ" they have new aims, and are governed by new principles, they breathe another air from that of "the world," and their sympathies and tastes are the reverse of theirs (see 2 Cor. vi. 14-18). The thing enjoined is not a mere outward disconformity to the ungodly world, many of whom may, in themselves, be virtuous and praiseworthy. But it is that tendency, through much familiarity with "the world," to sink the peculiarities of the Christian life and spirit and tone, and to slide into its views of things and ways of acting, until all difference between the two ceases to be perceptible. This, as it "grieves the Holy Spirit of God," so it blunts the edge of our spiritual feeling, makes us "forget that we have been purged from our old sins "(2 Pet. i. 9), and lays us open to much temptation, but be ye transformed (see the same word in Matt. xvii. 2, where it is rendered "transfigured; "and in 2 Cor. iii. 18, where (in the R. V.) it is rendered, as here, "transformed "). by the renewing of your mind—such an inward transformation as makes the outward actions, even when differing in nothing from those of "the world," to be wholly "new." This, after all, is the one true preservative against 'conformity to the world.' It is the lively presence and ruling power of the positive element that will alone effectually keep out of the heart the negative one. that ye may prove—experimentally, learn by proof (for this word see on chap. v. 4) what is the good and acceptable (the 'well-pleasing') and perfect will of God. This will you find by your own experience to be "good," demanding only what is essentially and unchangeably good (chap. vii. 12); it is "well-pleasing," in contrast with all that is arbitrary, demanding only what God has eternal complacency in (compare Mic. vi. 8 with Jer. ix. 24); and it is ii perfect," requiring nothing else than the perfection of God's reasonable creature, who, in proportion as he attains to it, reflects God's own perfection. Such, then, is the great general work of the Christian life—the comprehensive business of the redeemed. But to rest in generalities, however precious, is not our apostle's way in writing to the churches. He hastens, as usual, to the details of Christian duty; those specified being—

First (3-8): A modest estimate and loving exercise of our own gifts, relatively to those of our fellow- Christians.

3. For I say, through the grace that was given me—as an apostle of Jesus Christ, thus exemplifying his own precept by modestly falling back on that office which both warranted and required such plainness towards all classes, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think as to think soberly. It is impossible to convey in good English the emphatic play which each word here has upon another,—' not to be high-minded above what he ought to be minded, but so to be minded as to be sober-minded.' To be 'high-minded above what he ought to be minded 'is merely a strong way of characterizing all undue self-elevation, according as God hath dealt to every man a measure of faith. Faith is here viewed as the inlet to or seed-bed of all the other graces, and so as the receptive faculty of the renewed soul—' As God hath given to each his particular capacity to take in the gifts and graces which He designs for the general good.' 4. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: 5. so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. The same diversity in unity, which we find in the natural body, obtains in the body of Christ, whereof all believers are the several members. 6. And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us. (Note here how all the gifts of Christians are alike viewed as communications of grace. ) whether we have the gift of prophecy—that is, the gift of inspired teaching (as in Acts xv. 32). Any one speaking with Divine authority—whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future—was termed a prophet (Ex. vii. 1). The prophets of the New Testament rank next to "apostles" (1 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. ii. 20): let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith. Many excellent expositors render these words, 'according to the analogy of faith,' understanding by that 'the general tenor' or 'rule of faith,' divinely delivered to men for their guidance. But this is against the context, whose object is to shew that, as all the gifts of believers are according to their respective capacity for them, they are not to be puffed up on account of them, but to use them purely for their proper ends. 7. or ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry. The familiar word here used imports any kind of service, from the dispensing of the word of life (Acts vi. 4) to the administering of the temporal affairs of the Church (Acts vi. 1-3). The latter seems 'intended here, being distinguished from 'prophesying,' 'teaching,' and 'exhorting.' or he that teacheth, to our teaching. Teachers are expressly distinguished in the New Testament from prophets, and put after them, as exercising a lower function (Acts xiii. I; I Cor. xii. 28, 29). Probably it consisted mainly in opening up the evangelical bearings of Old Testament Scripture; and it was in this department apparently that Apollos shewed his power and learning (Acts xvii. 24). 8. or he that exhorteth. Since all preaching—whether by apostles, prophets, or teachers—was followed up by exhortation (Acts xi. 23, xiv. 22, xv. 32, etc.), many think that no specific class is here in view. But if liberty was given to others to exercise themselves occasionally in exhorting, either the brethren generally or small parties of the less instructed, the reference may be to them, he that giveth—in the exercise of private benevolence, probably, rather than in the discharge of diaconal duty, let him do it with liberality (Gr. 'singleness'), as the same word is rendered 2 Cor. viii. 2, ix. 11. he that ruleth with diligence—'earnest purpose,' whether in the Church, which perhaps is meant, or in his own household (see I Tim. iii. 4, 5): he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness—not only without grudging what he gives or the trouble it causes him, but feeling it to be "more blessed to give than to receive," and to help than be helped.

Second (9, 10): Sundry other ways of manifesting brotherly love.

9. Let love be without hypocrisy, or 'unfeigned,' as the same word is rendered in 2 Cor. vi. 6; 1 Pet. i. 22; and see 1 John iii. 18. Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good. What a lofty tone of moral principle and feeling is here inculcated! It is not, Abstain from the one, and do the other; nor, Turn away from the one, and draw to the other; but, Abhor the one, and cling, with deepest sympathy, to the other. 10. In love of the brethren he kindly affectioned one to another, in honour preferring one another. In giving or shewing honour, outdoing each other. How opposite is this to the reigning morality of the heathen world; and though Christianity has so changed the spirit of society that a certain beautiful disinterestedness and self-sacrifice shines in the character of not a few who are but partially, if at all, under the transforming power of the Gospel, it is only those whom "the love of Christ constrains to live not unto themselves," who are capable of habitually acting in the spirit of this precept.

Third (11, 12): Personal duties. As all the duties inculcated in this chapter, from ver. 3 to the end, are relative, one can hardly suppose that the six personal duties (as they are usually termed) were intended as a formal statement of all belonging to that class. They seem, therefore, to have been suggested to the apostle's mind rather as a necessary balance to the relative duties which he had just been inculcating. They are laid down in the form of two triplets, one in each of the two verses. 11. in diligence, not slothful. The word rendered "diligence" means 'zeal,' 'purposeness,' denoting energy in action, fervent ('burning') in spirit. This is exactly what is said of Apollos, Acts xviii. 25. Of evil times that were to come upon the Christian world our Lord predicted, that "because iniquity should abound, the love of many would wax cold "(Matt. xxiv. 12); the glorified Head of all the churches had this against the church of Ephesus, that they had "left their first love" (Lev. ii. 4); and of the Laodicean Church He says, "I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art neither cold or hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth "(Rev. iii. 15, 16). As the zeal of God's house consumed Himself, the Lord Jesus cannot abide a lukewarm spirit. A "fervent "or burning "spirit "is what He must seek in all who would be like Himself, serving the Lord—the Lord Jesus (compare Eph. vi. 5-8). It is one of the strangest facts in the textual criticism of the New Testament, that 'serving the time,' 'occasion,' 'opportunity'—a reading which, in the ancient mss., would hardly differ, if at all, from the reading of our version—should have found its way into the received text, in the first form of it, though not the corrected text, and been adopted in Luther's version. There is respectable MS. authority for it. But the external evidence for the reading of our version and of the R. V. is decisive. It may be difficult to account for the introduction of the ungenuine reading; but since both words, in their contracted form, were the same three letters, some transcribers, or those who dictated to them, might think that this was what the apostle meant to express. Nor need we wonder at this, when we find many still defending it. But the sense which this reading yields, if defensible at all, seems exceedingly flat in such a triplet as that of this verse; and the ground on which it is defended shews a misapprehension of the apostle's object in this clause. It is said that to exhort Christians to serve the Lord—the most general of all Christian duties—in the midst of a set of specific details, is not what the apostle would likely do. But the sense of serving the Lord here is itself specific and restricted, intended to qualify the 'diligence 'and the 'fervency 'of the preceding clause, requiring that "serving" or 'pleasing' the Lord should ever be present and uppermost as the ruling spirit of all else that they did as Christians—the atmosphere they were to breathe, whatever they were about. Nearly all critics agree in this; and de Wette's remark is not amiss, that the other reading savours more of worldly shrewdness than of Christian morality; adding, that while the Christian may and should avail himself of time and opportunity (Eph. v. 16), he may not serve it. 12. rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfast in prayer. In the original, the order of the words is, lively—"In hope, rejoicing; in tribulation, enduring; in prayer, persevering." Each of these exercises helps the other. If our hope of glory is so assured, that is, a "rejoicing hope," we shall find the spirit of 'endurance in tribulation 'natural and easy; but since it is " prayer "which strengthens the faith that begets hope, and lifts it up into an assured and joyful expectancy, and since our patience in tribulation is fed by this, it will be seen that all depends on our 'perseverance in prayer.' The apostle now returns to the other class of duties, the enumeration of which had but for a moment been interrupted in order to inculcate the personal ones just specified.

Fourth (13-21): Relative duties resumed.

13. communicating to the necessities of the saints: A corrupt and absurd reading here—which means 'imparting to the memories of saints'—is actually found not only in certain mss., but in the best copy of the Vulgate Latin Version, and some of the Fathers. It no doubt (as Meyer says) owes its existence to the reverence into which the martyrs had then grown; but it shews how the text of the N. T. was apt to get perverted, and how cautiously it must be sifted: given to (Gr. 'pursuing') hospitality—'the entertainment of strangers; 'a much needed and greatly valued duty in times of persecution. Nor are there wanting cases even still, in which the "love of the brethren "is more unmistakeably and beautifully shewn in this particular form of it than in almost any other.

14. Bless ('call down a blessing on ') them that persecute yon; bless and curse not. This precept is taken from the Sermon on the Mount, which, from the numerous allusions to it, more or less direct, in different parts of the New Testament, seems to have been the storehouse of Christian morality among the churches. 15. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. What a beautiful spirit of sympathy with the joys and sorrows of others is here inculcated! But it is only one charming phase of the unselfish character which belongs to all living Christianity. What a world will ours be when this shall become its reigning spirit! Of the two, however, it is more easy to sympathize with another's sorrows than his joys, because in the one case he needs us; in the other not. But just for this reason the latter is the more disinterested, and so the nobler. 16. Be of the same mind one toward another—cherish and manifest a lively feeling of the common bond which binds all Christians to each other, whatever diversity of station, cultivation, temperament, or gifts may obtain among them. This is finely enlarged on in the two following clauses: Mind not high things—cherish not ambitious or aspiring purposes and desires, which, as they spring from selfish severing of our own interests and objects from those of our brethren, are quite incompatible with the spirit inculcated in the preceding clause: but condescend to men of low estate. As the noun here may be either masculine or neuter, some prefer the neuter (so the R. V.), thinking it forms a more natural contrast to the preceding clause, thus: 1 Mind not high things, but incline unto the things that are lowly.' But the verb—which signifies to 'be drawn away along with,' and is used sometimes in a bad sense (as Gal. ii. 13 and 2 Pet. hi. 17)—agrees best with the masculine sense of our own version; and the word rendered "lowly" is never used in the New Testament of things, but always of persons. Be not wise in your own conceits. The caution against "high-mindedness "is here applied to the estimate we ought to form of our own mental character. 17. Return to no man evil for evil (see on ver. 14). Have a care (or 'Take thought ') for things honourable in the sight of all men. The idea here—taken from Prov. iii. 4—is the care which Christians should take so to demean themselves as to command the respect of all men. 18. If it be possible—that is, if others will let you, as much as in you lieth—'so far as depends on you,' be at peace with all men. The impossibility of this in some cases is hinted at, to keep up the hearts of those who, having done their utmost unsuccessfully to live in peace, might be tempted to think the failure was necessarily owing to themselves. But how emphatically expressed is the injunction to let nothing on our part prevent it! Would that Christians were guiltless in this respect! The next precept is evidently suggested by this one. Peace is broken, in spite of all that the Christian has done to preserve it, and wrong will be inflicted on him, which he will find it hard to bear. What then? 19. Avenge not yourselves, beloved (see on ver. 14), but give place unto wrath—the wrath of your adversary: let it spend itself. The reason for this follows: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. 20. But1 (so far from avenging yourselves) if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink. This is taken from Prov. xxv. 21, 22, which, without doubt, supplied the basis of those lofty precepts on that subject which form the culminating-point of the Sermon on the Mount, for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. This used to be understood (in Jerome's time and by the Greek fathers, as it still is by some good interpreters) in the unfavourable sense, as if the meaning were, 'that will be as effectual vengeance as if you were to heap burning coals on his head.' But far more natural is the good sense, that by returning good for an enemy's evil we may expect at length to subdue and overpower him—as burning coals consume all that is inflammable—into shame and repentance. The next verse seems decidedly to confirm this. 21. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good—and then the victory is yours: you have conquered your enemy in the noblest sense.

Note.—What a world would this be if it were filled with Christians having but one object in life, high above every other—to "serve the Lord"—and throwing into this service 'alacrity 'in the discharge of all duties, and abiding 'warmth of spirit!' (ver. 11). Oh how far is even the living Church from exhibiting the whole character and spirit so beautifully portrayed in the latter verses of this chapter! (vers. 12-21). What need of a fresh baptism of the Spirit in order to this! And how "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners," will the Church become, when at length instinct with this Spirit!


1) Such is the correct reading here.