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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 12 - Verse 6
Verse 6. Having then gifts. All the endowments which Christians have are regarded by the apostle as gifts. God has conferred them; and this fact, when properly felt, tends much to prevent our thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, Ro 12:3. For the use of the word rendered gifts, see Ro 1:11; 5:15,16; 6:23; 11:29; 1 Co 7:7; 12:4,9,28, etc. It may refer to natural endowments, as well as to the favours of grace; though in this place it refers doubtless to the distinctions conferred on Christians in the churches.
Differing. It was never designed that all Christians should be equal. God designed that men should have different endowments. The very nature of society supposes this. There never was a state of perfect equality in anything; and it would be impossible that there should be, and yet preserve society. In this, God exercises a sovereignty, and bestows his favours as he pleases, injuring no one by conferring favours on others; and holding me responsible for the right use of what I have, and not for what may be conferred on my neighbour.
According to the grace. That is, the favour, the mercy that is bestowed on us. As all that we have is a matter of grace, it should keep us from pride; and it should make us willing to occupy our appropriate place in the church. True honour consists not in splendid endowments, or great wealth and office. It consists in rightly discharging the duties which God requires of us in our appropriate sphere. If all men held their talents as the gift of God; if all would find and occupy in society the place for which God designed them, it would prevent no small part of the uneasiness, the restlessness, the ambition, and misery of the world.
Whether prophecy. The apostle now proceeds to specify the different classes of gifts or endowments which Christians have, and to exhort them to discharge aright the duty which results from the rank or office which they held in the church. The first is prophecy. This word properly means, to predict future events; but it also means, to declare the Divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence men. Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; but as those who did this were messengers of God, and as they commonly connected with such predictions instructions and exhortations in regard to the sins, and dangers, and duties of men, the word came to denote any who warned, or threatened, or in any way communicated the will of God; and even those who uttered devotional sentiments or praise. The name in the New Testament is commonly connected with teachers. Ac 13:1, "There were in the church at Antioch certain prophets and teachers, as Barnabas," etc.; Ac 15:32, "And Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves," etc.; Ac 21:10, "A certain prophet named Agabus." In 1 Co 12:28,29, prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles. "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers," etc. The same class of persons is again mentioned in 1 Co 14:29-32,39. In this place they are spoken of as being under the influence of revelation: "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge, if anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." 1 Co 14:39, "Covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues." In this place endowments are mentioned under the name of prophecy, evidently in advance even of the power of speaking with tongues. Yet all these were to be subject to the authority of the apostle, 1 Co 14:37. In Eph 4:11, they are mentioned again in the same order: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers," etc. From these passages the following things seem clear in relation to this class of persons:
(1.) They were an order of teachers distinct from the apostles, and next to them in authority and rank.
(2.) They were under the influence of revelation, or inspiration, in a certain sense.
(3.) They had power of controlling themselves, and of speaking or keeping silence as they chose. They had the power of using their prophetic gifts as we have the ordinary faculties of our minds; and of course of abusing them also. This abuse was apparent also in the case of those who had the power of speaking with tongues, 1 Co 14:2,4,6,11, etc.
(4.) They were subject to the apostles.
(5.) They were superior to the other teachers and pastors in the church.
(6.) The office or the endowment was temporary, designed for the settlement and establishment of the church; and then, like the apostolic office, having accomplished its purpose, to be disused, and to cease, from these remarks, also, will be seen the propriety of regulating this office by apostolic authority; or stating, as the apostle does here, the manner or rule by which this gift was to be exercised.
According to the proportion. This word (analogian) is nowhere else used in the New Testament. The word properly applies to mathematics, (Schleusner,) and means the ratio or proportion which results from comparison of one number or magnitude with another. In a large sense, therefore, as applied to other subjects, it denotes the measure of anything. With us it means analogy, or the congruity or resemblance discovered between one thing and another, as we say there is an analogy or resemblance between the truths taught by reason and revelation. (See Butler's Analogy.) But this is not its meaning here, It means the measure, the amount of faith bestowed on them; for he was exhorting them to Ro 12:3 "think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." The word faith here means, evidently, not the truths of the Bible elsewhere revealed; nor their confidence in God; nor their personal piety; but the extraordinary endowment bestowed on them by the gifts of prophecy. They were to confine themselves strictly to that; they were not to usurp the apostolic authority, or to attempt to exercise their peculiar office; but they were to confine themselves strictly to the functions of their office according to the measure of their faith, i.e. the extraordinary endowment conferred on them. The word faith is thus used often to denote that extraordinary confidence in God which attended the working of miracles, etc., Mt 17:20; 21:21; Lu 17:6.
If this be the fair interpretation of the passage, then it is clear that the interpretation, which applies it to systems of theology, and which demands that we should interpret the Bible so as to accord with the system, is one that is wholly unwarranted. It is to be referred solely to this class of religious teachers, without reference to any system of doctrine, or to anything which had been revealed to any other class of men; or without affirming that there is any resemblance between one truth and another. All that may be true, but it is not the truth taught in this passage. And it is equally clear that the passage is not to be applied to teachers now, except as an illustration of the general principle that even those endowed with great and splendid talents are not to over-estimate them, but to regard them as the gift of God; to exercise them in subordination to his appointment; and to seek to employ them in the manner, the place, and to the purpose that shall be according to his will. They are to employ them in the purpose for which God gave them; AND FOR NO OTHER.
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