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Romans 12:1-21

IV.          God's Purpose with Israel - 9:1-11:36

V.            God's Principles for Living - 12:1-15:13


a A.            The Christian and Life - 12:1-21


Here we see the spiritually organic relationship between Christian doctrine and Christian duty. From the lofty theological heights of Romans 1-11, Paul now descends into the rigorous realities of daily Christian living (cf. Eph. 1-3 and Eph. 4-6). This move from Romans 1-11 to 12-16 is a move from exposition to exhortation, from principles to practices, from doctrines to duties, from divine revelation to human responsibility, from the credenda (what we believe) to the agenda (how we behave).


Why did Paul, under inspiration of the HS, construct Romans in this fashion? Simply because all behavior, all human activity, is grounded in a reason. There is always a motive for what we do, whether for fame, fortune, fear, debt, ambition, etc. Christian obedience is always theologically motivated: we do what we do because God did what He did. If we desire to do things for God we must first know what things God has done for us. Otherwise our deeds will be self-centered, humanistic attempts to gain glory for ourselves rather than for God. Thus the ethical exhortation in Rom. 12-16 grows organically in the soil of the theological exposition in Rom. 1-11.


1.             Our Renewal - 12:1-2


a.              the motivation for obedience - v. 1a


1)             the source of Paul's appeal


What are the mercies of God? They are God's saving deeds described in Rom. 1-11: election, justification, sanctification, calling, glorification, etc. John Calvin explains:


"Paul's entreaty teaches us that men will never worship God with a sincere heart, or be roused to fear and obey Him with sufficient zeal, until they properly understand how much they are indebted to His mercy. The Papists count it enough if they extort some kind of forced obedience by fear. Paul, however, in order to bind us to God not by servile fear but by a voluntary and cheerful love of righteousness, attracts us by the sweetness of that grace in which our salvation consists. At the same time he reproaches us with ingratitude if, having had experience of so kind and liberal a father, we do not in return strive to dedicate ourselves wholly to Him" (263).


Any attempt at religious obedience that does not flow from a heart moved by divine mercy is legalism.


2)             the spirit of Paul's appeal


The spirit in which Paul issues his appeal is revealed in the two words he uses: urge and brethren. There is a sense of authoritative summons in the word urge. Paul is not so much pleading or beseeching as he is claiming in Christ's name an obedience which we are obliged to render. But there is also tenderness in the appeal, for Paul speaks as a Christian brother to other Christian brothers. This is a family affair! Paul is no less responsible than we to heed the call to holiness.


b.             the manifestation of obedience - vv. 1b-2


1)             the presentation of your life for the worship of God - v. 1b


a)             bodily sacrifice


1 -           the exhortation


For the word present, see Rom. 6:13,16,19. Here the term has more the sense of presenting or offering up a sacrifice. Cf. Lev. 1:3-17. Paul does not say "yield" or "surrender" your bodies but "present" them. Yield and surrender are biblical terms, but they imply a measure of reluctance or hesitancy. Present, on the other hand, implies a glad, happy, willing offering of oneself.


If I yield or surrender a gift to my wife, she will not be impressed by my efforts. Our presentation of our bodies to God as a sacrifice for His use, just like my presentation of a gift to my wife, is to be a joyous and spontaneous act.


2 -           the explanation


Paul's use of the term bodies is significant. It is not simply a synonym for "self" or "life" or "person". The body, together with the soul, spirit, heart, mind, indeed, all that we are, is to be dedicated wholly to be holy. See 1 Cor. 6:13,15.


How might one glorify God with his/her body? See Rom. 3:13ff. for the ways in which people dishonor God with their bodies. When we present our bodies to God, writes Stott, "our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, and perform many mundane tasks as well like cooking and cleaning, typing and mending; our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God" (322).


(What kind of sacrifice are we to be? . . . )


a -            living


"Rather than the sacrifice of the dead carcasses ('bodies') of animals, one now gives oneself wholly back to God in the form of a 'living sacrifice' (hence 'bodies'), as those 'alive' from the dead (6:11,13)" (Fee, God's Empowering Presence, 599).


b -           holy


c -            acceptable


b)             spiritual service


The word translated service is the same as that found in Rom. 9:4 = the many activities associated with worship in the temple. In other words, the presentation of our bodies is an act of worship. More specifically, this worship is said to be spiritual (lit., logikos [only in 1 Pt. 2:2] = Eng., logical). Meaning? (1) Reasonable, i.e., rendering wholehearted devotion to God is the logical or reasonable thing to do; indeed, it is the only thing in life that makes sense (in light of the mercies of God in Rom. 1-11). (2) Spiritual, as over against the merely external, mechanical or automatic (cf. Mt. 15:8-9).


Worship is "a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth" (John Piper). Worship is stunned silence and adoring awe in God's holy presence. It is brokenness and humility. It is an unquenchable thirst and desire for God. It is gladness and joy and delight in His glory and greatness.


2)             the transformation of your mind for the will of God - v. 2


a)             what?


1 -           negatively


Paul is not recommending that we break the rules or violate the customs of society. One need not be a social misfit to be a Christian. His emphasis is ethical. He is talking about values, priorities, behavior. Our lives, both internally and externally, are not to take on the shape of this present evil age.


2 -           positively


"Transformed" (metamorphosis; cf. Mt. 17:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). Note several things: 1) Paul uses the present tense: this is not an on again, off again transformation, but a continuous one; 2) the verb is passive, the implication being that the catalyst in the transformation is God; 3) the verb is imperative, indicating that we do indeed have a responsibility (cf. Phil. 2:12-13).


b)             how?


By experiencing a renewal in our minds. The key to holy living is in the mind. Cf. Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:1-4.


"The Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history. It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century Church. One cannot characterize it without having recourse to language which will sound hysterical and melodramatic. There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality. . . . But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization" (Harry Blamires).


c)             why?


The word prove (NASB) does not mean to test in order to determine if it is good or bad. Paul affirms that the will of God is the good and perfect and acceptable thing (v. 2). Rather, Paul means two things. First, as James Dunn explains, "what is in view is something more charismatically immediate than formal -- 'the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment'" (2:714). Second, he means that we learn of the perfection and purity of God's will by experience, in consequence of which we approve it for what it is: good, acceptable, perfect.


2.             Our Responsibilities - 12:3-8


a.              our individual identity - v. 3


This exhortation has two sides: Paul denounces not only sinful pride (assuming a role or position for which God has neither called or equipped you) but also false humility (the tendency to underestimate and undervalue what we can and ought to do). Humility "is not assuming the least role, or taking the lowest notch on the totem pole. Rather humility is an attitude and action which results from taking an honest look at where we best fit into the whole of God's work as He has determined by His gifts to us" (Alan Johnson, 94).


Paul does not forbid thinking about ourselves. He says, rather, that we should neither think too highly nor too lowly, but soberly or with sound judgment. That is, we are to assess the gifts and opportunities that God has graciously bestowed and respond appropriately.


The "measure of faith" allotted to each may refer to the gracious, divine enablement necessary to fulfill in the body of Christ the role God has assigned. On the other hand, Moo argues that "faith" here is "basic Christian faith as given equally by God to all." Thus the "'measure of faith' could refer to this shared faith as the standard by which Christians are to regard themselves. Our faith is the measure. On this view God has not given a different measure to each Christian but has given to each Christian the same measure" (761).


[Consider the following meditation on Romans 12:3 by John Piper:


“We read in verse 3 that God gives varying measures of faith to his people. Paul says that we ought "to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." In the context this is not a limited reference to the unique spiritual gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). For Paul says, "I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." "To each" refers back to "everyone among you." God has given all Christians varying measures of faith. This is the faith with which we receive and use our varying gifts. It is the ordinary daily faith by which we live and minister.

In the context, Paul is concerned that people were "thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think." His final remedy for this pride is to say that not only are spiritual gifts a work of God's free grace in our lives, but so also is the very faith with which we use those gifts. This means that every possible ground of boasting is taken away. How can we boast if even the qualification for receiving gifts is also a gift?

That's how important humility is in God's eyes. This is exactly the same aim of God mentioned in Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul stresses that saving faith is a gift: "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast." Faith is a gift from God, so that no one may boast. Or, as Romans 12:3 says, So that we will not think too highly of ourselves. The last bastion of pride is the belief that we are the originators of our faith.

Paul knew that the abundant grace of God was the source of his own faith. He said in 1 Timothy 1:13-14, "I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; but the grace of our Lord overflowed [for me] with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." He was an unbeliever. But then grace overflowed to him with faith.

So he knew this was the case with every other believer too. He said to the Philippians, "To you it has been given for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29). This is why he thanked God and not human resourcefulness for the faith he saw in his churches: "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged" (2 Thessalonians 1:3). We thank God for the enlargement of faith because "God has allotted to each [his own] measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).

This truth has a profound impact on how we pray. Jesus gives us the example in Luke 22:31-32. Before Peter denies him three times Jesus says to him, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Jesus prays for Peter's faith to be sustained even through sin, because he knows that God is the one who sustains faith.

So we should pray for ourselves and for others this way. Thus the man with the epileptic boy cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). This is a good prayer. It acknowledges that without God we cannot believe as we ought to believe. Similarly the apostles pray to Jesus, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5). They pray this way because Jesus is the one who can do that.

This teaching about faith being a gift of God raises many questions. God has answers for them all. Even if we don't, let us seek to put the teaching to its practical Biblical use: namely, the humbling of our pride, and the stimulation of our prayers. In other words, let us pray daily: "O Lord, thank you for my faith. Sustain it. Strengthen it. Deepen it. Don't let it fail. Make it the power of my life, so that in everything I do you get the glory as the great Giver. Amen"]

b.             our corporate identity - vv. 4-5


See 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-27 (cf. Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 4:4,12,16; 5:23; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15). Paul is emphasizing two truths: (1) There is both unity and diversity in the body of Christ. Although we differ, we do not divide. (2) We do not exist for ourselves; we are individually members one of another.


c.              our personal obligation - vv. 6-8


Several observations on the nature of the charismata or spiritual gifts:


  • A literal rendering of v. 6 is: "And since we have gifts (charismata) that differ according to the grace (charis) given to us . . ." Of the 17 occurrences of charisma in the NT, 16 are in Paul (the other being 1 Pt. 4:10). From this use of terms we may define a spiritual gift as a God-given and gracious capacity to serve the body of Christ. A spiritual gift is a divinely-empowered or energized potential to minister to the body of Christ by communicating the knowledge, power, and love of Jesus.


·          The grace for spiritual gifts is given to us according to the will of the HS (1 Cor. 12:11).


  • Spiritual gifts may be both residential or permanent and occasional or circumstantial. For example, someone may on occasion prophesy without having the gift of prophecy.


  • The primary purpose of spiritual gifts is to edify others. (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12,26; 13:4-5). Gifts are other-oriented. This is not to suggest that it is sinful or selfish to enjoy one's own gift or to be personally edified from using it. We must not confuse the immediate or direct purpose of gifts with their secondary or indirect effect. If the exercise of your gift makes you a more spiritually-minded and mature Christian, you are thereby better equipped to serve and strengthen others. The ultimate purpose of gifts, therefore, is to benefit others. But that is not their only purpose.


  • Every Christian is gifted by the HS (see vv. 3,6; if you have grace, you have a gift). A spiritual gift is not an ecclesiastical office. See also Eph. 4:7; 1 Pt. 4:10.


  • Although spiritual gifts are not to be identified with natural talent, the two may often coincide and harmonize. Cf. Ps. 139.


  • There is no reason to conclude that one receives at the moment of conversion all the gifts one will ever receive (see 1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1,12,13,39).


  • How do we harmonize the emphasis on the sovereignty of the HS in bestowing gifts (1 Cor. 12:11) with the exhortations to seek and zealously desire and pray for gifts?


  • Whereas each believer has one gift, some may have several. But no one has every gift, nor is any gift possessed by all.


  • Spiritual gifts vary in intensity, strength, accuracy. See 1 Cor. 14:18; 2 Tim. 1:6. This is also seen here in Rom. 12:6 where prophecy should be "according to the proportion of (his) faith." Paul seems to be saying that "some who had the gift of prophecy had a greater measure of faith (that is, a trust or confidence that the Holy Spirit would work or was working in them to bring a revelation which would be the basis of a prophecy)" (Grudem). In other words, there will always be greater and lesser degrees of prophetic ability and consequently greater and lesser degrees of prophetic accuracy (which, it seems reasonable to assume, may increase or decrease, depending on the circumstances of the person's life, over time). Thus, the prophet is to speak in proportion to the confidence and assurance he/she has that what he says is truly of God. He is not to speak beyond what God has revealed. He must be careful never to speak on his own authority or from his own resources. However, others have argued that "the faith" (he pistis) refers to those objective truths embodied in the gospel tradition. Thomas Gillespie (The First Theologians: A Study in Early Christian Prophecy [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994]) appeals to three other Pauline texts in which he believes pistis with the definite article points to the content of faith (although Rom. 10:8 is questionable). He concludes that "together Galatians 1:23, Romans 10:8, and Philippians 1:27 suggest that when Paul uses he pistis to denote the content of Christian belief, he has in mind the substance and structure of the gospel. This means that in Romans 12:6b prophecy is (1) drawn into the orbit of gospel proclamation, and (2) subjected to the standard provided by the content of this message" (61). However, if this were Paul's meaning, it would be an exceptionally rare usage of pistis.


  • How may we discover our spiritual gifts? a) Prayer. b) Desire. c) Confirmation. d) Fruit. e) Need.


  • What spiritual gifts are available to the church? See the list derived from Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4, 1 Pt. 4.


  • Are these all the spiritual gifts that God will ever give?


  • One final observation: "It is a striking fact . . . that Paul can so confidently take it for granted that congregations he had neither founded nor visited would be charismatic" (Dunn, 2:726). In other words, the apostle did not conceive of a church without spiritual gifts. It was not necessary for an apostle to be present either to pray or to lay hands on the people in order for such miraculous gifts as prophecy to be operative.


We need to be aware of the viewpoint expressed by Gordon Fee in his book, God's Empowering Presence: the Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Hendrickson, 1994). Fee questions whether the charismata in Romans 12:6-8 refer primarily to what we know as "spiritual gifts". He explains:


". . . it is not at all plain that Paul intended everything that he calls charismata in 12:6b-8 to be understood as special gifts of the Spirit, at least in the same way that he expressly equates this term with the Spirit's manifestations in 1 Corinthians 12. The list in vv. 6b-8 is so heterogeneous and covers such a broad range of behavior, it seems far more likely that for Paul the emphasis lies on the 'grace of God' here being worked out among them in concrete ways, rather than on the empowering of the Spirit for such behavior or on 'Spirit gifting' as such. Thus the list includes items such as prophecy, teaching, and exhorting/encouraging, which in 1 Corinthians 12 come under the purview of Spirit charismata, as well as various forms of serving others within the believing community (service, contributing to the needs of others, giving aid, and showing mercy), which are never elsewhere in Paul attributed directly to the Spirit as his gifts. These latter items move away from the idea of 'gifts' per se, at least in terms of Spirit manifestations, to proper ethical behavior, in which the fruit of love finds concrete expression in their midst. That these are indeed the outworking of the Spirit in Pauline theology need not be doubted. What is doubtful is that our translation 'gifts of the Spirit' is an adequate understanding of Pauline usage. While both enumerations are called charismata, only that in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 is tied specifically by Paul himself to the activities of the Spirit in the community" (34-35).


In other words, according to Fee, "these are concrete expressions of the grace of God at work in the life of individuals for the sake of others; but for him they would not be 'Spiritual gifts,' but gfits of God which are effectively brought into the life of the community by the Spirit" (607).


1)             the gift of prophecy


2)             the gift of service (lit., diakonia = "deacon"; although here the word is used in the broad, non-technical sense of serving)


Q: "How would one know if one had the gift of service? What is the difference between simple service and the charism of service?"


3)             the gift of teaching (the difference between teaching and prophecy is the difference between an inscripturated text and an immediate revelation.)


4)             the gift of exhortation


5)             the gift of giving (this is not simply a gift for the rich; cf. 2 Cor. 8:1ff. This gift often comes in conjunction with the gift of faith).


N.B. This person is to be careful that his motivation is single and spiritual. No desire to gain influence or secure power in the church or put people in his/her debt can energize this gift. See Mt. 6:2-4.


6)             the gift of leading/ruling (cf. the use of this term in 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17).


Fee suggests that this word refers more to "caring for others" than to authoritative government or oversight. Situated as it is between giving and showing mercy, he believes the emphasis is on the pastoral dimension which those in leadership demonstrate (604).


Q: "Is eldership a gift or an office?"


7)             the gift of showing mercy (direct, immediate, hands-on ministry to those in need).


N.B. This gift must be exercised cheerfully. Why? Because often the work of mercy is disagreeable and difficult and demanding. Our inclination is to show mercy with a frown, in a perfunctory and perhaps grudging way.


3.             Our Relationships - 12:9-21


Paul has exhorted us to present our bodies to the Lord and to be renewed in our minds (vv. 1-2). If we do, how might such transformation be expressed? Vv. 9-21 provide the answer.


a.              with our friends - vv. 9-16


Here Paul issues 18 exhortations concerning how we are to relate to one another in the body of Christ.


(1)           Let love be without hypocrisy


The word translated "without hypocrisy" is anupokritos, from which we derive the English term "hypocrisy". The noun form of this word was used of an actor in the ancient theater who, in playing a role, would employ a mask to hide his true feelings, pretending to be what he was not.


(2)           Abhor what is evil


(3)           Cling to what is good


The word translated abhor = to hate, to experience moral or ethical revulsion. The word cling, on the other hand, is derived from the word for "glue" (cf. Mt. 19:5; 1 Cor. 6:16-17). Hence, "be wedded" to the good! Cf. Phil. 1:9-10. Love must be discriminating and discerning. Universal tolerance is not a part of biblical love. Love must fasten itself on that which is righteous and good and true. Indifference toward sin and tolerance of evil are not attributes of biblical love. As Schreiner has said, “true virtue is not passive about evil but has an intense revulsion of it. Evil is not tolerated but despised as that which is injurious and wicked. ‘Where there is love, evil is abhorred, not merely lamented, much less covered up, but hated’ (Schlatter)” (664).


"The true measure of a man's love for God is the intensity with which he hates evil" (Shedd).


(4)           Be devoted to one another in brotherly love


The word for "love" here is philadelphia, a term that spoke of family affection; the passion one has for his own kin. PT: the body of Christ is a family of a higher order. Cf. Mt. 12:46-50.


(5)           Give preference to one another in honor


Cf. Phil. 2:3.


(6)           Not lagging behind in diligence


There is no room for laziness or sloth in the church! There is no room for the attitude that seeks to get by on as little effort as possible, that avoids inconvenience, that shrinks from any task that demands exertion and sacrifice.


(7)           Fervent in spirit


Lit., "with respect to the spirit, seething/boiling" (cf. its use in Acts 18:25). How could one possibly be "cool" in spirit in light of the mercies of God? Is the "spirit" here our spirit or the Holy Spirit? Moo believes it is the latter, especially in light of the parallel reference to the Lod in v. 11c. "On this view, Paul is exhorting us to allow the Holy Spirit to 'set us on fire': to open ourselves to the Spirit as he seeks to excite us about the 'rational worship' to which the Lord has called us" (778).


(8)           Serving the Lord


(9)           Rejoicing in hope


Does Paul mean we are to rejoice “by means of” hope or “because of” hope? Probably the latter. “Believers are to be filled with joy due to the hope that awaits them. Joy evaporates when hope vanishes, and thus the fires of joy can only be stoked by focusing on hope” (Schreiner, 666).


(10)        Persevering in tribulation


Tribulation and trials are as much a part of the normal Christian life as are worship (v. 1), renewal of the mind (v. 2), spiritual gifts (vv. 3-8), serving, loving, and rejoicing!


(11)        Devoted to prayer


This is the believer's immediate recourse in the case of tribulation! Paul has in mind sleepless devotion. Joseph Alleine (1634-68) would arise at 5:00 a.m. to pray. One day he heard others already on their way to work. Angry with himself, he said: "How this noise shames me. Does not my Master deserve more than theirs?"


(12)        Contributing to the needs of the saints


The word translated "contributing" is the word normally rendered "fellowshiping" (koinoneo). Giving is more than merely putting money in a plate. In giving we enter into a relationship of common purpose and spiritual intimacy with those whom we support. Cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-8.


(13)        Practicing hospitality


Lit., pursuing