Ro 12:1-21. Duties of
Believers, General and
The doctrinal teaching of this Epistle is now
followed up by a series of exhortations to practical duty. And
first, the all-comprehensive duty.
1. I beseech you therefore—in view of
all that has been advanced in the foregoing part of this Epistle.
by the mercies of God—those mercies,
whose free and unmerited nature, glorious Channel, and saving fruits
have been opened up at such length.
that ye present—See on Ro 6:13, where we have the same exhortation and the same
word there rendered "yield" (as also in Ro 12:16, 19).
your bodies—that is, "yourselves in
the body," considered as the organ of the inner life. 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. Sanctification extends to the whole man
a living sacrifice—in glorious
contrast to the legal sacrifices, which, save as they were
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
savor (Heb 13:15, 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
unto God—not as the Levitical
offerings, merely as appointed symbols of spiritual ideas, but objects,
intrinsically, of divine complacency, in their renewed character, and
endeared relationship to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.
which is your reasonable—rather,
service—in contrast, not to the
senselessness of idol-worship, but to the offering of irrational
victims under the law. In this view the presentation of ourselves, as
living monuments of redeeming mercy, is here called "our rational
service"; and surely it is the most rational and exalted occupation of
God's reasonable creatures. So 2Pe 1:5, "to offer up spiritual
sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
2. And be ye not conformed to this
world—Compare Eph 2:2; Ga 1:4, Greek.
but be ye transformed—or,
"transfigured" (as in Mt 17:2; and
by the renewing of your mind—not by a
mere outward disconformity to the ungodly world, many of whose actions
in themselves may be virtuous and praiseworthy; but by such an inward
spiritual transformation as makes the whole life new—new in its
motives and ends, even where the actions differ in nothing from those
of the world—new, considered as a whole, and in such a sense as
to be wholly unattainable save through the constraining power of the
love of Christ.
that ye may prove—that is,
experimentally. (On the word "experience" see on Ro
5:4, and compare 1Th 5:10,
where the sentiment is the same).
what is that—"the"
and perfect, will of God—We prefer
this rendering (with Calvin) to that
which many able critics [Tholuck, Meyer, De
Wette, Fritzsche, Philippi, Alford,
Hodge] adopt—"that ye may prove,"
or "discern the will of God, [even] what is good, and acceptable, and
perfect." God's will is "good," as it demands only what is
essentially and unchangeably good (Ro 7:10); it is "well pleasing," in
contrast with all that is arbitrary, as demanding only what God has
eternal complacency in (compare Mic 6:8, with Jer 9:24); and it is "perfect," as it
required 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 duty of the redeemed—SELF-CONSECRATION, in our whole spirit and soul and
body to Him who hath called us into the fellowship of His Son Jesus
Christ. Next follow specific duties, chiefly social; beginning with
Humility, the chiefest of all the graces—but here with special
reference to spiritual gifts.
3. For I say—authoritatively
through the grace given unto 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, &c.—It is impossible to convey in good English the
emphatic play, so to speak, 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" [Calvin, Alford]. This is merely a strong way of
characterizing all undue self-elevation.
according as God hath dealt to every man the
measure of faith—Faith is here viewed as the inlet to all the
other graces, and so, as the receptive faculty of the renewed
soul—that is, "as God hath given to each his particular capacity
to take in the gifts and graces which He designs for the general
4, 5. For as we have many members,
&c.—The same diversity and yet unity obtains in the body of
Christ, whereof all believers are the several members, as in the
6-8. Having then gifts differing according to the
grace given to us—Here, let it be observed, all the gifts of
believers alike are viewed as communications of mere grace.
whether—we have the gift of
prophecy—that is, of inspired teaching
(as in Ac
15:32). Anyone speaking with
divine authority—whether with reference to the past, the present,
or the future—was termed a prophet (Ex 7:1).
let us prophesy according to the
proportion of faith—rather, "of our faith." Many Romish
expositors and some Protestant (as Calvin and Bengel,
and, though, hesitatingly, Beza and
Hodge), render this "the analogy of
faith," understanding by it "the general tenor" or "rule of faith,"
divinely delivered to men for their guidance. But this is against the
context, whose object is to show 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
7. Or ministry, let us wait on—"be
our ministering—The word here used
imports any kind of service, from the dispensing of the word of life
(Ac 6:4) to the administering of the
temporal affairs of the Church (Ac 6:1-3). The latter seems intended here, being
distinguished from "prophesying," "teaching," and "exhorting."
or he that teacheth—Teachers are
expressly distinguished from prophets, and put after them, as
exercising a lower function (Ac 13:1; 1Co 12:28, 29). Probably it consisted mainly in
opening up the evangelical bearings of Old Testament Scripture; and it
was in this department apparently that Apollos showed his power and
eloquence (Ac 18:24).
8. Or he that exhorteth—Since all
preaching, whether by apostles, prophets, or teachers, was followed up
by exhortation (Ac 11:23; 14:22; 15:32, &c.), many think that no specific
class is here in view. But if liberty was given to others to exercise
themselves occasionally in exhorting 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
with simplicity—so the word probably
means. But as simplicity seems enjoined in the next clause but one of
this same verse, perhaps the meaning here is, "with liberality," as the
same word is rendered in 2Co 8:2; 9:11.
he that ruleth—whether in the Church
or his own household. See 1Ti 3:4, 5,
where the same word is applied to both.
with diligence—with earnest
he that showeth mercy, with
cheerfulness—not only without grudging either trouble or
pecuniary relief, but feeling it to be "more blessed to give than to
receive," and to help than be helped.
9. Let love be without
dissimulation—"Let your love be unfeigned" (as in 2Co 6:6;
1Pe 2:22; and see 1Jo 3:18).
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. Be, &c.—better, "In
brotherly love be affectionate one to another; in [giving, or showing]
honor, outdoing each other." The word rendered "prefer" means rather
"to go before," "take the lead," that is, "show an example." 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
thoroughly acting in the spirit of this precept.
11. not slothful in business—The word
rendered "business" means "zeal," "diligence," "purpose"; denoting the
energy of action.
serving the Lord—that is, the Lord
Jesus (see Eph 6:5-8).
Another reading—"serving the time," or "the occasion"—which
differs in form but very slightly from the received reading, has been
adopted by good critics [Luther, Olshausen, Fritzsche, Meyer].
But as manuscript authority is decidedly against it, so is internal
evidence; and comparatively few favor it. Nor is the sense which it
yields a very Christian one.
12. Rejoicing, &c.—Here it is more
lively to retain the order and the verbs of the original: "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 it 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
13. given to hospitality—that is, the
entertainment of strangers. In times of persecution, and before the
general institution of houses of entertainment, the importance of this
precept would be at once felt. In the East, where such houses are still
rare, this duty is regarded as of the most sacred character [Hodge].
14. Bless—that is, Call down by prayer a
them which persecute you, &c.—This
is taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:44), which, from the allusions made to it,
seems to have been the storehouse of Christian morality among the
15. Rejoice with them that rejoice; and
weep—the "and" should probably be omitted.
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
of the same mind one toward
another—The feeling of the common bond which binds all
Christians to each other, whatever diversity of station, cultivation,
temperament, or gifts may obtain among them, is the thing here
enjoined. This is next taken up in detail.
Mind not—"not minding"
high things—that is, Cherish not
ambitious or aspiring purposes and desires. As this springs from
selfish severance of our own interests and objects from those of our
brethren, so it is quite incompatible with the spirit inculcated in the
to men of low estate—or (as some
render the words), "inclining unto the things that be lowly." But we
prefer the former.
Be not wise in your own conceits—This
is just the application of the caution against high-mindedness to the
estimate we form of our own mental character.
&c.—(See on Ro 12:14).
in the sight of all men—The idea
(which is from Pr 3:4) 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 lieth in you—or, "dependeth
live peaceably—or, "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 best 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!
19-21. avenge not, &c.—(See on Ro 12:14).
but rather give place unto wrath—This
is usually taken to mean, "but give room or space for wrath to spend
itself." But as the context shows that the injunction is to leave
vengeance to God, "wrath" here seems to mean, not the offense,
which we are tempted to avenge, but the avenging wrath of God
24:18), which we are enjoined
to await, or give room for. (So the best interpreters).
20. if thine enemy hunger, &c.—This
is taken from Pr 25:21, 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.
in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his
head—As the heaping of "coals of fire" is in the Old
Testament the figurative expression of divine vengeance (Ps 140:10;
11:6, &c.), the true
sense of these words seems to be, "That will be the most effectual
vengeance—a vengeance under which he will be fain to bend" (So
Alford, Hodge, &c.). Ro 12:21 confirms this.
21. Be not overcome of evil—for then you
are the conquered party.
but overcome evil with good—and then
the victory is yours; you have subdued your enemy in the noblest
Note, (1) The redeeming mercy of God in Christ
is, in the souls of believers, the living spring of all holy obedience
12:1). (2) As redemption
under the Gospel is not by irrational victims, as under the law, but
"by the precious blood of Christ" (1Pe 1:18, 19), and, consequently, is not ritual but
real, so the sacrifices which believers are now called to offer are all
"living sacrifices"; and these—summed up in self-consecration to
the service of God—are "holy and acceptable to God," making up
together "our rational service" (Ro 12:1). (3) 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 corrupt faith have been taught
for ages to believe is the highest and holiest act of Christian
worship—in direct opposition to the sublimely simple teaching
which the Christians of Rome first received (Ro 12:1)—(4) Christians should not feel
themselves at liberty to be conformed to the world, if only they avoid
what is manifestly sinful; but rather, yielding themselves to the
transforming power of the truth as it is in Jesus, they should strive
to exhibit before the world an entire renovation of heart and life
12:2). (5) What God would
have men to be, in all its beauty and grandeur, is for the first time
really apprehended, when "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of
the living God, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshy tables of the
3:3 (Ro 12:2). (6) Self-sufficiency and lust of power
are peculiarly unlovely in the vessels of mercy, whose respective
graces and gifts are all a divine trust for the benefit of the common
body and of mankind at large (Ro 12:3, 4). (7) As forgetfulness of this has been
the source of innumerable and unspeakable evils in the Church of
Christ, so the faithful exercise by every Christian of his own peculiar
office and gifts, and the loving recognition of those of his brethren,
as all of equal importance in their own place, would put a new face
upon the visible Church, to the vast benefit and comfort of Christians
themselves and to the admiration of the world around them (Ro 12:6-8). (8) What would the world 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" (Ro 12:11)!
(9) 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 (Ro 12:12-21)! 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! The Lord hasten it in its time!