NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XI)
When it comes to this measure of faith that Paul is speaking about, Godet believes it is the amount of faith imparted to each believer. Paul is not speaking of faith in general. This depends on how open we are to what God has for us. This measure of faith has a special relationship to something we do because we are called to do it. This involves our calling, ministry, and the gifts given to us to perform that ministry. The capacity of our faith has a lot of bearing on how effective we are in our service to God and the body of Christ. It must be kept in mind that these gifts of the Spirit have divine limitations. There is the limitation on how much discernment the believer’s renewed mind has in knowing when and how to use this gift. Another is when to implement this gift and under what circumstances. And lastly, how far to go and when to cease the operation of this gift. We must remember, this is not for the one with the gift, but all for those who are to benefit from the gift.1
Charles Ellicott also notes Paul’s play on words here, as mentioned earlier by Henry Alford. Ellicott takes a different approach, however, in defining and describing what Paul is trying to say that will help us see this play on words. He suggests that we contrast these words as closed-mindedness with open-mindedness. To put this another way, the English words used should convey the same sense in which the Greek words are used. That is even harder to do. But again, one option is to see high-mindedness as describing thoughts and attitudes habitually focused in one direction. Then we can view sober-mindedness as constantly keeping the object or ideal towards which those thoughts and attitudes are directed in view as we decide. In today’s vernacular we might phrase it this way: Don’t keep thinking it’s the only way, keep on thinking until you find a better way.2
In F. F. Bruce’s summary of what Paul is saying here, he sees that diversity, not uniformity, is the hallmark of God’s handiwork. We observe this in nature. There is not just one kind of tree, but many. Yet, they are all trees. The same goes for flowers. This same idea can be to the Christian community. In most churches, you will find men and women with a variety of preferences, lifestyles, attitudes, and talents. Not only that but after becoming believers, God endowed them with a wide range of spiritual gifts as well. And because of, not in spite of, such diversity, they can still co-operate for the good of the whole body. Their challenge is to let whatever form of worship they lift up to God be rendered with enthusiasm and genuineness by those spiritually qualified to lead it. It doesn’t matter whether it is in prophesying, teaching, admonishing, administering, stewardship, visitation, or the performance of any other ministry.3 The United States of America has a motto on their coins that says: “E Pluribus Unum,” from the Latin meaning, “Out of many, one.” A similar motto was suggested by our Lord Jesus when He prayed, “Father, that they will all be one, just as you and I are one.”4
Karl Barth gives a wise exhortation on the subject of knowing who we really are when thinking about what we want to be. Paul’s exhorts believers to do so with forward-thinking, not staying stuck in the past. And that means to be open-minded so as not to jump to conclusions before it is thoroughly thought through. This is more than just some motivational advice or encouragement designed to promote self-righteousness. As Barth explains it: These words point towards the eternal “Moment” when before God we stand unrighteous and humiliated in order that by Him we may be justified and exalted with Him. It is at this moment a miracle may take place. The enlightenment of who God is and what He is transcends all the intelligence and thinking of this world. It is something that can only be grasped and accepted by faith. And once we assimilate this into our hearts, minds, and souls, only then can God depend on us to be light and salt in this world. And the result of such light and salt is to live holy, even as He is holy.
This makes it possible that when we are obedient to Paul’s exhortation, that the mist of arrogance, and the fog of pride, and the murkiness of intolerance, with which people of this world envelop themselves in, may be blown away. Christians have no interest in joining the world’s circus where people compete with one another to see whose performance is best on the high trapeze of human expectations. Instead, believers sit at the feet of the Master where His parables and teachings help them understand why God put them here in the first place. When that happens, then God will be glorified through the believer for all the world to see. This is the spiritual miracle Paul was looking for. But achieving it lies beyond our human competence. However, there is a level where our competence does allow us to conduct ourselves so that we never forget where He brought us from and where He plans to take us. In so doing we go from strength to strength,5 glory to glory,6 led by the Spirit of God.7
John Stott also has some thoughts on this thinking process of which Paul speaks. He joins verse 3 here with verse 16 below and points out the fourfold repetition of the Greek verb phronein, “to think,” as both “think” and “mind.” In verse 3 we must do more than just think, but to think things through. In verse 16, the thinking mentioned in verse 3 results in having a compassionate mind for others, not an arrogant mind focused only on how we can be exalted for our deeds. This means, that our thinking must be realistic so that we don’t end up over-estimating ourselves. The thinking in verse 3 relates to our measure of faith, while in verse 16 it concerns our spiritual gifts.8 In other words, as we contemplate our place in the body of Christ, and seek to evaluate the spiritual gift or gifts as God distributed them among the body, each receiving those according to the level of their faith, whatever God has endowed us with should never be seen as more important than those given to others. All gifts are appraised based on their contribution to the whole body, not the individual member.
Douglas Moo points to the necessity for all believers to think properly when it comes to their place in the body of Christ. He also notes Paul’s play on the Greek verb phroneo that means to think in such a way as to develop a particular mindset.9 Moo offers a paraphrase that attempts to highlight this wordplay in English as follows: Don’t think more highly of yourselves than it is right for you to think, but think realistically about who you are in Christ. Remember, Paul is saying this with our “renewed mind” involved (see verse 2 above). This sanctified mind can keep us from copying the self-centered mindset so typical of non-Christians. It will also enable us to look at ourselves objectively and reasonably so that we meet God’s expectations for us, not what others think we should be.
Moo continues examining the subject of who in the body of Christ should expect what spiritual gifts that will benefit the whole body. The standard used to measure this possibility is called “the measure of faith,” something God has already given each believer. So how do we explain this standard? Taking what Paul has said, it is the allotment or the amount of faith distributed to individual believers. But these amounts vary based on the person’s spiritual manners, integrity, and maturity. So Paul encourages everyone to look at themselves in light of the gifts they already have and estimate themselves accordingly. One person may have been blessed with a great deal of faith and ability, while another has less. But it is up to each believer to recognize where they stand and see if there are any other ministries available and appropriate to them.10
But one factor must always be kept in mind. A believer does not go to God and beg Him for additional spiritual gifts. This is especially true if the ones they already have lie dormant in their souls, or because they are tired of the same gift, or even disappointed that the gift they have been given is not working well for them. But other scholars suggest that we consider another way of understanding what this standard of measurement is that’s used to decide a believer’s place in the family of God. Some say that it should be the same for all believers. On this view, the standard by which the believer is measured as to their readiness to receive any spiritual gift is their faith in the Gospel and its requirements. It is hard to be a messenger of the Gospel when the Gospel message is not understood.11 Moo confesses that the decision between these two options is not easy, but he is slightly inclined to accept the second alternative as the more reasonable.12
One Jewish writer feels that Paul is issuing another warning against any boasting or arrogance on the part of the Gentiles in the Roman congregation.13 For him, the term “measure of faith” is not some sort of measured quantity. It is not a yardstick used in determining if some believers of the same spiritual age have grown tall as adults in their faith, while others have remained as babes in Christ. Since we all exist in Christ, our faith then in Him by the grace of God is what counts. Have we grown closer to Him or are we keeping our distance when it comes to our commitment and dedication to His commission and teachings?
Paul stated in another one of his letters: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Messiah.”14 In other words, believers who measure themselves by their own standards, or to other believers, show a lack of understanding. Some are just happy they are not unbelievers anymore. And as Paul alluded to in yet another letter: “We dare not count ourselves, or compare ourselves to those who commend themselves. They measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with each other, and that is not wise.”15 So it isn’t so much the spiritual gifts a believer has been given or how many. The main thing is to measure how effective they are in our serving Christ and one another.16
1 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 225
4 John 17:21
5 Psalm 84:7
6 2 Corinthians 3:18
7 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Cf. Romans 8:5
10 See, e.g., Barrett, Epistle to the Romans, p. 235; Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans, p. 215
11 See esp. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 613– 616
12 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.,
13 Reference Romans 2:8; 11:18, 25
14 Ephesians 4:7
15 2 Corinthians 10:12
16 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.