NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson X)
As Calvin sees it, there is sometimes an abnormal display of so-called Words of Wisdom, not only concerning things that are of no value but also of useless things people do not need to know. The same with supposed Word of Knowledge, especially when through rashness and presumption they go beyond the measure of what the person receiving it is given to know and reveal. As such, these people become spiritual soothsayers, clairvoyants, mediums, psychics, and fortune-tellers. This is an outrage God will not allow to go unchecked. Calvin notes that it is amazing how some innocent believers are led astray by such insane trivia, and some by foolish ambition. Consequently, they proceed beyond those bounds which are set for them by the Holy Spirit.1 Augustine’s advice rings true in such cases. He said that it is better not to make up our minds too soon so that we continue arguing over things we know nothing about.2
Both John Locke and Daniel Whitby accept the term here, “the measure of faith” (KJV), to mean “the measure of spiritual gifts.” Locke in his paraphrase has “spiritual gifts,” while Whitby has “ministerial gifts.” However, very few, if any, English translations have rendered it as gifts, most have “faith.” Nevertheless, Whitby points to what Peter said about ministering according to the “ability which God gives.”3 And then Paul tells the Ephesians that God’s grace is shown to us by the measure of the gifts we received through Christ.4 And then when we look down to verse 6, this is exactly what Paul seems to be saying. The point is, what good is faith if it is not put into action through the gifts?5 Yet, by and in large, most other commentators leave it as “faith,”
John Bengel believes that no Christian should present themselves as the role model by which others are judged, nor to think that others should be exactly as they are by copying everything they say and do. Bengel thinks there have been many reasons why some in the Roman church might have thought this way, that’s why Paul addresses it here.6 Then Adam Clarke adds a similar admonition to the extent that no one should value themselves as being greater than what God has created them to be. They must always keep in mind that whatever they are or have already achieved they owe all praise to God. After all, the glory belongs to the Giver of the gift, not to the receiver of the gift.7
Not only does Jonathan Edwards insist that a person must know what they are doing and why they are doing it in order to be a useful believer; they must also be aware of what their duties are and why it is important that they follow God’s instruction in performing their ministry. They must also learn how to regulate how they do what they do so as not to go out of bounds. This is not only tied to a person’s measure or proportion of faith, but also the sure conviction and commitment that whatever they do it is to the glory, honor, and praise of God through Christ.8
On the subject of every person being given an allotment of faith, Robert Haldane sees a standard being set here by God with which we may measure ourselves. On the term “faith” used here, various explanations are offered by various scholars. When we examine the Greek New Testament text, the English word “faith” is mostly a translation of the Greek word “pistis” and the words “believe” or “believed” are mostly from the Greek “pisteuō.” The main elements in faith as it relates to God is best brought out in the use of this noun pistis and the corresponding verb pisteuō. This can be a firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgment of God’s revelation or truth9 It can also be taken as a personal surrender to God’s will.10 In addition, it defines the trust or confidence inspired by such surrender.11 In other words, to have enough faith to believe in what we’re doing. The best way to choose which way the word is used is by the context surrounding it.
For Haldane, it simply means the faith by which we are united with the Savior and the faith by which all the fullness of God is imparted to us. So the measure or allotment of faith with which each believer is endowed, whether weak or strong, in the pulpit or in the pew, indicates with certainty both their real character before God and their relative standing among other believers. In other words, every believer can take a measure of their faith by comparing their beliefs with their believing. We often see that the person with the greatest amount of faith is also the one with the largest number of good deeds to the glory of God. So with this comes the understanding that not only our faith but every degree of it, is the gift from God.
Some might say then that God is responsible for the amount of faith they have. That’s what Paul said about grace, but not about faith.12 This faith Paul is talking about is that which comes with the gifts of the Spirit. It is for both of these a believer must have their own faith. Yet, Paul cautions each believer to be moderate in their estimation of the recognition they might receive based on the level of their faith. In fact, respect others before thinking highly of yourself. This will help the believer avoid any situations that may inflame their own pride, or lead to their discouragement.13
Albert Barnes believes Paul is telling the Roman believers to judge themselves or estimate themselves, based on their commitment to the faith. For him, the proper use of such a rule is apparent when they do not rank themselves based on what they see in others. Another reason for this rule is that talent, education, level of responsibility, or wealth are improper measures by which to estimate our spiritual importance. All these things may be completely lacking in moral value since they may be possessed by both the best and worst of people. Furthermore, God is the ultimate Judge who uses His own standard of excellence which is influenced by the degree to which we are attached to Christ and His cause.14 Therefore, since this is God’s measuring stick for us, why not make it our measuring stick for ourselves.
Barnes feels there are other factors involved with this measurement of faith. How much of what we do for Christ promotes humility, and how much we do for ourselves that produces pride? When we consider that God has made us what we are, and given us all that we have, this allows for those who are unseen and unheard to be at the same level as those who are well-known. And when we take into account our own imperfections and short-comings as believers it should caution us not to overrate ourselves and our importance. Especially when we realize that we may at any time be confronted with this question: Is there enough evidence to convict us of being true friends of God? This alone should promote humility of mind and humbleness of spirit. If all Christians evaluated themselves in this manner, it would remove much of the danger involved when people take too much pride in their positions and what they gain by reputation in the world. It would also help produce in us a deeper appreciation for those blessed with the faith found in the Gospel even though they may not be adorned by any trappings of the wealth or notoriety that promotes so much pride in some believers who gain distinction among the people of this world.15
Anglican scholar Henry Alford tells us there is a play on words here in the original Greek, which cannot be seen as clearly when translated into English. The first Greek verb hyperphroneō would be equivalent to our English of being – “high-minded.” We can see that in the prefix, “hyper.” The second Greek phrase is eis-sōphroneō: “at the place of entry of being sound-minded.” This involves the Greek preposition eis which means “into,” “towards,” and the Greek verb sōphroneō which means “to be of sound mind or the being in one’s right mind.” This is expressed in English as “to become sober-minded, of sound mind, or having a right mind.” Thayer, in his Lexicon, lists it in the category of, “an opinion of one’s self,” or, “what one thinks of themselves.” When these two words are put together, the sentence can read this way: Don’t let the flattery of others cause you to think that you are smarter than you are.
Charles Hodge makes an excellent point here on how we should understand the measure of spiritual gifts bestowed on any congregation. First of all, Paul has shown his readers that these charismatic gifts were all unmerited. Therefore, they became occasions for thanksgiving, not grounds for making a toast. Paul wants the church in Rome to know that God’s main purpose in bestowing these gifts of the Spirit was for the edification of the church, not the exaltation of the receiver. And while the gifts were diverse and unique, they were all manifestations of one and the same Holy Spirit.
They were also designed for the spiritual wellness of the entire body of Christ as well as the individual members of that body. While the members had various ministries and responsibilities, these gifts were matched to each person, and with each office. Since neither the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, nor the Father exalted one over the other because they constitute one entity, the Trinity, likewise, in the body of Christ the eye should not exalt itself over the foot, or the ear over the hand, etc. Paul had to address this issue in the Corinthian church,16 so he did not want to face the same thing in Rome.17
French scholar Frédéric Godet believes that this is where those who become part of the church ought to begin, the sacrifice of themselves, instead of seeking to make themselves great, as is done in the world. They should aspire to moderate and control themselves in conformity with the standard outlined for them by the will of God. Thus we see how this verse should be joined to the preceding by the word “for.” It is an application which confirms the principle that the measure of each person is defined by the words: “that which they have a right to claim.” In the believer’s case, it consists in their praying only to be that which God, through the gift committed to them, has called them to be. The gift received should be within the limits of every person’s claim and action, for it is by this that the will of God regarding them is revealed.
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 See Fathers of the Church: Augustine – On the Sermon on the Mount, Bk. II, Matthew 6-7, Ch. 19 (63)
3 1 Peter 4:11
4 Ephesians 4:7
5 Daniel Whitby: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 69
6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 340
7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 238
8 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 278).
9 See 2 Thessalonians2:11, 12
10 John 1:12
11 2 Corinthians 5:7
12 Ephesians 4:7
13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 559
14 Matthew 25
15 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 See 1 Corinthians 1:10
17 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 599