NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XIII)
I agree with Robert Haldane, that over the centuries there has been too much sectarian partiality between congregations and denominations. Some do not differentiate themselves from others simply by implying that one serves as the hands and the other the feet of the Body of Christ, they go so far as to assert that the others are illegitimate. It is true, that those who are saints in name only (SINO’s) are not real believers, and are, therefore, not in union with them in Christ. And some have taken and distorted the Word of God to the point that it has become man’s gospel, not Christ’s Gospel. However, all those who are truly part of that union with Christ, whether they belong to that local body or denomination, should be respected and received as Christ’s disciples by whatever name they have over the door, and cherish them on the grounds that they all share the identity as Christians. We ought to unite with the Apostle Paul in praying “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ with sincerity.1”2
Albert Barnes also points out the that this body of Christ may have many members but it has only one head. Did not Paul tell the Ephesians: “God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”3 This does not require that there must be a physical or literal union in one locality, or that they share the same name on the sign or over the door Nor should they be required to pledge allegiance to one and the same ecclesiastical head. Christians acknowledge Christ as their head, that is, their Redeemer, their Savior, their Lord, and their Master. They are not only bound to Him by the tender ties of affection, gratitude, and friendship; they are united with Him by blood because they have the same heavenly Father. The union that Christians have with Christ and each other is the most tender and interesting of any in this world.
However, as part of this union that believers share with each other in Christ, Barnes sees them mutually dependent on each other. First, for service to one another. And second, that their existence and function in the one body make them indispensable to each other. That does not mean that they are co-dependent on each other, but that they depend on each other for strength, counsel, prayer, and fellowship. In each congregation, each individual member is not only necessary to fill the role they have been given, but also to provide balance, diversity, and be part of the adhesiveness that holds the body together.
Barnes believes that there are several things we may learn from Paul’s teaching here. For one thing, no one member of the body of Christ should esteem themselves as being more important than the others. In their own role, they can be just as important to the congregation as any well-trained person with talent is to an organization. Also, God purposely ordained that there are to be various and diverse gifts distributed throughout the body of Christ. He did this in order to meet the various needs of the body of Christ just as the hands, feet, arms, eyes, etc., of the human body. Furthermore, none should feel so big that they need special attention or be given greater time in the spotlight. At the same time, no one should be made to feel that the congregation could get along without them so there is no reason for them to ask for help or instructions. Rather, we should all acknowledge the goodness and wisdom of God as Paul laid them out to the Corinthians4.5
H. A. Ironside also taught on unity in the body of Christ. Not only are we members of the body of Christ, which is a wonderful privilege, but it also involves grave responsibilities. He notes that the body of Christ is looked at in two very distinct ways throughout Paul’s epistles. For instance, in Ephesians and Colossians, we see the Body in its dispensational aspect, embracing believers from the Day of Pentecost to the return of the Lord for His Church. Here we see that Christ alone is the Head, and all are united in Him, whether they are still alive and serving Him or have already gone to their rest to await the resurrection. Then in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, and here in Romans Chapter 12, the Body of Christ is described and defined as to its mission here on earth. This is an important distinction to keep in mind. Some believers are content to claim membership in the body of Christ universal and see no need for local involvement. However, from Paul’s point of view, if you are not part of a local body of Christ then your being part of the universal body is of little value.6
Charles Hodge follows the same theme by pointing out, as Barnes did, that in these verses we have the same comparison that occurs more at length in 1 Corinthians 12, and for the same purpose. His aim is to show the diversity of offices and gifts among Christians. Far from this showing any inconsistencies within the body in Christ, it illustrates the unity and usefulness of that body. It would make little sense if all believers had the same gifts as it would for the members of an orchestra to play the same instrument. The Apostle Paul picked a peculiarly beautiful and appropriate way to illustrate the point he was making and at the same time highlight important truths about how the real union of believers results from the indwelling and operation of the same Holy Spirit. By using the human body as an illustration Paul allowed more light to shine on the duties and responsibilities involved in Christian fellowship. At the same time, it allows for everyone to see where disharmony and envying could occur among members of Christ’s body. As Paul says here and again in 12:12: “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.”7
Charles Spurgeon also made the point that if the hands were made exactly like the feet, it would cut their usefulness in half. The same would happen if both eyes functioned exactly as the ears. Not only would the body be unable to see, but the value of the hearing would be minimized. By the same token, no one begins to compare eyes to the ears, and feet to the hands and say one is better than the other. No! Each one is needed. The same goes for comparing the members of any congregation. Each one is a useful part of the body of Christ. And the fact that God made each of us different and the Holy Spirit endowed each of us with various gifts, increases the effectiveness and efficiency of the body of Christ to carry out its mission. Each one has their special place and therefore are equally precious in God’s eyes.8
That’s why we can apply the same principle to the Body of Christ that we have all experienced in our own bodies. When you stub your toe, the whole body feels the pain. When you have a stomach ache, the whole body suffers with it. When you have an earache, the whole body joins in the agony. It is the same with the Body of Christ. When one member hurts, is injured, or suffers from anxiety, the whole Body of Christ should let them know that they feel their pain and comfort them.
Verse 6a: We all have different gifts. Each gift came because of the grace God gave us.
This section might be compared Psalm 150 in calling on everyone that breathes the new life given by God to exalt Him with their gifts and talents. Such praise and worship in the First Covenant were done using external instruments, but in the Last Covenant, we are to use internal instruments. But in the precious words of that golden Psalm of David, we still are encouraged to let everything that lives and breathes, praise the Lord!
The thing to remember here is that we did not choose these gifts, God chose us for the gift we are to receive.9 These gifts are not earned through good works or mere dedication. They are supplied to us to do good works and become more dedicated to the task given to us by the Holy Spirit. Here’s how Paul explained it to the Corinthians: “He has made your lives rich in every way. Now you have power to speak for Him. He gave you good understanding… You have the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you need while you wait for the Lord Jesus Christ to come again.”10 But Paul is not hesitant to make one thing perfectly clear. No matter what gift a person has been given, if it is not motivated and performed through love, it is a worthless exercise.11
When it comes to how the gifts of the Spirit operated within the unified Body of Christ, the Bishop of Cæsarea agrees with other scholars who say that no believer has the capacity to receive all spiritual gifts. Through God’s grace, the Holy Spirit distributes them proportionately according to the faith of each believer.12 And then another scholar of that same era notes that it is not according to the faith that we already possess, but according to the faith we receive from God to operate the gift we have received. In other words, God deals personally with each believer.13 Also, Gennadius points out that the phrase “In proportion to our faith,” applies to the elements of ministry the Holy Spirit brings each believer’s life, whether it be preaching, teaching, leadership, prophecy, or any spiritual gift.14
Here John Locke completes the circle from Verse one where the faith being spoken of is exercised through the gifts that come with it. He points to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12 & 14 that they should not misinterpret the giving of these gifts according to a person’s faith, with some getting more than others. The fact that they all have the same Spirit, and that the Spirit is the one who gives and operates these gifts, they are subsequently all equal in God’s eyes. This was designed to eliminate any friction or disorder in the assembly. So as Locke sees it, Paul is saying to believers that they should be thankful for the gift or gifts they do have and not go beyond the bounds or measure of faith that it takes for the Spirit to operate those gifts. It is far better to enjoy what you have received than to be so disconcerted at what others have that you do not relish the gift within you.15
Daniel Whitby joins Locke in advocating the same attitude. But he adds that by restraining oneself from wanting what others have, and exercising the gift that one has been given, one will more effectively be used by the Spirit to reveal divine mysteries of things to come. Remember, these gifts are not given to draw attention to the one who received them, but to the One who gave them. For how can God get any glory if people constantly try to outperform the Spirit? This can only lead to doubt among other believers as to whether or not the gift one does have is real or authentic. Don’t prove to be a fool by acting like a fool. Let the Spirit have full control and leave any blessing or reward that may come be based on faithfulness and not the gifts used by the Spirit to reveal God’s mysteries of healing, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, etc.16
1 Ibid. Ephesians 6:24
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 560
3 Ephesians 1:22-23; Cf. John 15:1-7
4 1 Corinthians 12:21-25
5 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 601
8 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 1 Corinthians 12:4-5
10 Ibid. 1:5, 7
11 Ibid. 13:1ff
12 Basil the Great: The Long Rules 7
13 [Pseudo-]Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Gennadius of Constantinople: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 363-364
16 Daniel Whitby: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p 69