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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 12 - Verse 13
Verse 13. Distributing. The word used here denotes having things in common, (koinwnountev). It means, that they should be communicative, or should regard their property as so far common as to supply the wants of others. In the earliest times of the church, Christians had all things in common, See Barnes "Ac 2:44"
and felt themselves bound to meet all the wants of their brethren. One of the most striking effects of Christianity was to loosen their grasp on property, and dispose them to impart liberally to those who had need. The direction here does not mean that they should literally have all things in common; that is, to go back to a state of savage barbarity; but that they should be liberal, should partake of their good things with those who were needy. Comp. Ga 6:6; Ro 15:27; Php 4:15; 1 Ti 6:18.
To the necessity. To the wants. That is, distribute to them such things as they need—food, raiment, etc. This command, of course, has reference to the poor.
Of saints. Of Christians, or the friends of God. They are called saints as being holy, (agioi) or consecrated to God. This duty of rendering aid to Christians especially, does not interfere with the general love of mankind. The law of the New Testament is, (Ga 6:10) "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith." The Christian is indeed to love all mankind, and to do them good as far as may be in his power, Mt 5:43,44; Tit 3:8; 1 Ti 6:18; Heb 13:16.
But he is to show particular interest in the welfare of his brethren, and to see that the poor members of the church are provided for; for
(2.) They are left especially to the care of the church; and if the church neglects them, we may be sure the world will also, Mt 26:11. Christians, especially in the time of the apostles, had reason to expect little compassion from the men of the world. They were persecuted and oppressed; they would be embarrassed in their business, perhaps thrown out of occupation, by the opposition of their enemies: and it was therefore peculiarly incumbent on their brethren to aid them. To a certain extent it is always true, that the world is reluctant to aid the friends of God; and hence the poor followers of Christ are in a peculiar manner thrown on the benefactions of the church,
(3.) It is not improbable that there might be a peculiar reason at that time for enjoining this on the attention of the Romans. It was a time of persecution, and perhaps of extensive distress. In the days of Claudius, (about A.D. 50,) there was a famine in Judea which produced great distress, and many of the poor and oppressed might flee to the capital for aid. We know, from other parts of the New Testament, that at that time the apostle was deeply interested in procuring aid for the poor brethren in Judea, Ro 15:25,26. Comp. Ac 19:21; 2 Co 8:1-7; 2 Co 9:2-4. But the same reasons for aiding the poor followers of Christ will exist substantially in every age; and one of the most precious privileges conferred on men, is to be permitted to assist those who are the friends of God, Ps 41:1-3; Pr 14:21.
Given to hospitality. This expression means that they should readily and cheerfully entertain strangers. This is a duty which is frequently enjoined in the Scriptures. Heb 13:2, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." 1 Pe 4:9, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." Paul makes this especially the duty of a Christian bishop: 1 Ti 3:2, "A bishop then must—be given to hospitality;" Tit 1:8. Hospitality is especially enjoined by the Saviour, and its exercise commanded: Mt 10:40,42, "He that receiveth you receiveth me," etc. The want of hospitality is one of the charges which the Judge of mankind will allege against the wicked, and on which he will condemn them: Mt 25:43, "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in." It is especially commended to us by the example of Abraham, (Ge 18:1-8,) and of Lot, (Ge 19:1,2,) who thus received angels unawares. It was one of the virtues on which Job particularly commended himself, and which he had not failed to practise. Job 31:16,17, "If I have withheld the poor from theft desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof," etc. In the time of our Saviour it was, evidently practised in the most open and frank manner. Lu 10:7, "And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give." A remarkable instance is also mentioned in Lu 11:5. This virtue is no less common in eastern nations at present than it was in the time of Christ. It is eminently the virtue of oriental nations, of their ardent and open temperament. It springs up naturally in countries thinly settled, where the sight of a stranger would be therefore peculiarly pleasant; in countries, too, where the occupation was chiefly to attend flocks, and where there was much leisure for conversation; and where the population was too sparse, and the travellers too infrequent, to justify inn-keeping as a business. From all these causes, it has happened that there are, properly speaking, no inns or taverns in the regions around Palestine. It was customary, indeed, to erect places for lodging and shelter at suitable distances, or by the side of springs or watering-places, for travellers to lodge in. But they are built at the public expense, and are unfurnished. Each traveller carries his own bed and clothes and cooking utensils, and such places are merely designed as a shelter for caravans. (See Robinson's Calmet, Art. Caravanserai.) It is still so; and hence it becomes, in their view, a virtue of high order to entertain, at their own tables, and in their families, such strangers as may be travelling. Niebuhr says, that "the hospitality of the Arabs has always been the subject of promise; and I believe that those of the present day exercise this virtue no less than the ancients did. There are, in the villages of Tehama, houses which are public, where travellers may lodge and be entertained some days gratis, if they will be content with the fare; and they are much frequented. When the Arabs are at table, they invite those who happen to come to eat with them, whether they be Christians or Mohammedans, gentle or simple." "The primitive Christians," says Calmet, "considered one principle part of their duty to consist in showing hospitality to strangers. They were, in fact, so ready in discharging this duty, that the very heathen admired them for it. They were hospitable to all strangers, but especially to those who were of the household of faith. Believers scarcely ever travelled without letters of communion, which testified the purity of their faith, and procured for them a favourable reception wherever the name of Jesus Christ was known." (Calmet, Dict.) Calmet is also of opinion that the two minor epistles of John may be such letters of recommendation and communion. Comp. 2 Jo 1:10. It may be added, that it would be particularly expected of Christians that they should show hospitality to the ministers of religion. They were commonly poor; they received no fixed salary; they travelled from place to place; and they would be dependent for support on the kindness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. This was particularly intended by our Saviour's instructions on the subject, Mt 10:11-13,40-42.
The duty of hospitality is still binding on Christians and all men. The law of Christ is not repealed. The customs of society are indeed changed; and one evidence of advancement in commerce and in security is furnished in the fact that inns are now provided and patronized for the traveller in all Christian lands. Still this does not lessen the obligations to show hospitality. It is demanded by the very genius of the Christian religion; it evinces proper love towards mankind; it shows that there is a feeling of brotherhood and kindness towards others, when such hospitality is shown. It unites society, creates new bonds of interest and affection, to show kindness to the stranger and to the poor. To what extent this is to be done, is one of those questions which are to be left to every man's conscience and views of duty. No rule can be given on the subject. Many men have not the means to be extensively hospitable; and many are not placed in situations that require it. No rules could be given that should be applicable to all cases; and hence the Bible has left the general direction, has furnished examples where it was exercised, has recommended it to mankind, and then has left every man to act on the rule, as he will answer it to God. See Mt 25:34-46.
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