NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XII)
Verses 4-5: Each one of us has a body, but that body has many parts. These parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, we are many believers, but in Christ, we are all one body. We are the parts of that body, and it takes each part working together to make up that one body.
Paul now expounds on why individualism is not part of the body of Christ. As we noted before, while there are different kinds of gifts, it is one and the same Holy Spirit who dispenses them.1 He then uses the human body to illustrate how one object may consist of many parts.2 And since the church is seen as the body of Christ, Paul tells the Ephesians: “We are to grow up and be more like Christ. He is the leader of the church. Christ has put each part of the church in its right place. Each part helps other parts. This is what is needed to keep the whole body together. In this way, the whole body grows strong in love.”3
Paul also likens this E Pluribus Unum factor with holy communion. He tells the Corinthians: “There is one bread, and many of us Christians make up the body of Christ. All of us eat from that bread.”4 He goes on to make a point about how all members should concentrate on their individual gifts and how they benefit the whole body: “The body is not one part, but many parts. If the foot should say, ‘I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,’ that would not stop it from being a part of the body. If the ear should say, ‘I am not a part of the body because I am not an eye,’ that would not stop it from being a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye how would it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how would it smell? But God has put all the parts into the body just as He wants to have them. If all the parts were the same, it could not be a body.”5
Paul emphasized to the Ephesians how this unity should affect and control our attitudes and ethics with one another: “Stop saying things that are not true about each other. Tell the truth to your fellow believer. We all belong to the same body.”6 Also, be ready to help and care for one another as joint members of the body of Christ because in so doing Christ is honored.7 Not only that, but Paul also equated all the sufferings and disadvantages he had been through as a continuation of the passion of Christ.8 He also admonished the members of the church in Colossae not to allow those who considered themselves as spiritual know-it-alls to bring disharmony to the body by telling everyone what they should eat or drink, how to spend their time and energy. Said Paul: “Such people do not represent Christ. Christ alone is the Head. We Christians make up His body. We are joined together as a body is held together. Our strength to grow comes from Christ.”9
When it comes to the subject of all God’s children being members of one organism, early church scholar Origen says that when one believer gives all their energy to understand the wisdom of God and the teaching of the Word; they are an eye for the whole body. One other is wholly dedicated to looking after the needs of the brethren and of the poor; they are the body’s hand. Then another is an attentive listener seeking to discern the voice of God through His Word, they are the body’s ear. And yet another is busy taking the Gospel to those who’ve never heard while healing the sick along the way, they are without any doubt a foot of the church body. Each of these has their special calling, but the body can function properly without the others.10”11
Then several other early church teachers offer their insights. For instance, Ambrosiaster thinks that by using the example of the human body Paul teaches that it is impossible for anyone to do anything useful when not attached to the body. Furthermore, they are all tied together by reason that they share one heart and are energized by the same blood. But most of all, there is but one head and that is Jesus Christ. For this reason, believers ought to behave kindly toward one another with care, because they need each other’s gifts12.13 Also, Chrysostom makes the point that Paul does not say that one person received more and another less of God’s spiritual gifts but only that they are varied. We all have different functions, yet we are all part of one and the same body.14
Then Pelagius sees Paul’s reason for this was to promote harmony so that they could work together to accomplish a single goal with each one making their individual contribution through the spiritual gifts given to them. Everyone knows that most people identify one of the hands and one of the feet as the dominant member. That’s why we refer to someone as being left-handed or right-handed. The same with the body of Christ. There may be two in the body that serve as the hands, but it would be easy to see which one was dominant. Pelagius also notes that as individual members, no one should claim all the spiritual gifts. This might have an intimidating effect on the others so that they remain quiet and let one member assume total control.15
But that’s not all. Other early church leaders express their concern that as one body, members should always take notice of others in the operation of the body. Clement of Alexandria was concerned because he saw divisions among some congregations where members were tearing each other to pieces. All this did was make the body lame and inefficient. Had they forgotten that they were all members with one another in one body16?17 Ambrosiaster also contends that since we are one body we are to love each other as we love Christ. This was one of our Lord’s commands.18 So instead of criticizing each other we should encourage and support one another. That way, the body of Christ is made more efficient because its members work in harmony.19 Then another scholar makes the point that the bond that holds us together cannot be depended upon to hold us together unless we are bound together with love. A healthy body is a unified body. Each member making their contribution so that the body reaches its goal and accomplishes its mission20.21
John Calvin says here that the very thing which Paul had previously said of the distribution of spiritual gifts according to each person’s measure of faith, he now confirms by making reference to the believer’s vocation to which they are called. The whole purpose of such calling is that they may unite together in one body. That’s why Christ has ordained a fellowship and connection between the faithful similar to that which exists between the members of the human body. Calvin says that believers cannot unite together into such a union on their own. Rather, they themselves become the bond for such unity. In other words, just because believers meet together in one place and sing the same hymn in unison does not mean they are a united body of Christ. Only when individual spiritual gifts operate in harmony do they become one body.
Calvin goes on to point out that by applying this spiritual likeness Paul proves how necessary it is for each person to accept what is suitable to their own attitude, ability, and calling. But although this similarity has various parts, we must focus on the overall objective – since the members of the same body have distinct offices and all of them are different, let no one assume that they possess all powers needed for the body by claiming the offices of others for themselves. This is why although God distributed a variety of gifts to us, it is He alone who determines the order in which He wants those gifts to operate. That’s why everyone must conduct themselves according to the measure of their faith and not to thrust themselves into what belongs solely to others. Let no one seek to possess all the gifts for themselves; let them be content with their portion and willingly abstain from meddling in the offices of others. When the Holy Spirit brings us into such harmony, He will also make us aware of our fellow believers and the gifts they have to contribute to the common good of the body22.23
When it comes to explaining how we are all members of one body in Christ, Robert Haldane rejects the idea of this being the sole possession of one church, such as the church at Rome to which this letter was written. The body of Christ is the church which embraces people of all ages, and of all countries. The feeblest disciple who has yet to learn all about his Master’s will still have a useful place in the body. Whatever church refuses to receive any Christians from other churches because they don’t believe exactly the way they do, are putting their doctrines ahead of the teachings of Christ. Haldane believes that not only is it wrong to refuse admission to the one’s Christ knows as His people, but to admit those of whom He said, “I do not know you.”24 All those who are united with Christ are also united with each other. Members who live in the most remote places on earth are united with other members around the world by their union with the body of Christ.
That’s why Christians ought to love those of another group of believers as though they belong to their group. The Apostle says no man ever hated his own body and still loved his wife. For by loving his wife he loves himself.25 For the same reasoning, when Christians love each other they are loving themselves. That’s why Christians in the body of Christ who are looked at individually are also accepted as part of the worldwide congregation of believers. After all, the same sacrifice redeemed them from sin, the same blood washed them clean of sin, the same Spirit made them alive in Christ, and on the day of resurrection, they will all be called out of their graves in unison. Knowing all this should unite believers everywhere in a powerful bond of unity.
1 1 Corinthians 12:4
2 1 Corinthians 12:12
3 Ephesians 4:15-16
4 1 Corinthians 10:17
5 1 Corinthians 12:14-19; See Ephesians 1:23
6 Ephesians 4:25
7 Ephesians 5:21
8 Colossians 1:24
9 Colossians 2:16-19
10 See Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31
11 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 See 1 Corinthians 12:25-26
13 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 21
15 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 1 Corinthians 10:17
17 The First Epistle of Clement 46
18 John 13:34; See Romans 13:8
19 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 See Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:11-13
21 Leo the Great: Letter 14
22 In a footnote in one copy of Calvin’s Commentary on Romans, we read: “The Apostle pursues this likeness of the human body much more at large in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. There are two bonds of union; one, which is between the believer and Christ by true faith; and the other, which is between the individual member of a church or a congregation and the rest of the members by a professed faith. It is the latter that is handled by the Apostle, both here and in the Epistle to the Corinthians.”
23 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
24 Matthew 7:22-23
25 Ephesians 5:29