NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XIV)
German scholar John Bengel feels that we should not leave out “grace” as one of the spiritual gifts dispensed by the Holy Spirit. Learning how to be patient and allow for our fellow believers to grow without demanding immediate success, or making them start over each time they make a mistake, or dismiss them as incapable just because they don’t meet our timeline and expectations surely takes the gift of grace.1 And, on the other end, Adam Clarke sees a danger in someone wanting so much spiritual power for themselves that they need no need from others. That goes against the very spirit of mutual communication and trust that shapes the body of Christ.
No believer can ever claim to be so self-sufficient that they never need assistance from others to accomplish the ministry God has given them. As Clarke sees it, the society of believers cannot function properly unless each one contributes their part to the cause. By doing this, they impart to others the benefits of the gifts they have received. In doing so, they are strengthened and encouraged by the spiritual nutrition they receive through the gifts of others.2 It is apparent that a “self-sufficient” and “independent” Christian mindset was already active in Clarke’s day. They insisted that their personal relationship with God through Christ was their concern and no one else.
John Taylor takes the same phrase, “measure of faith,” and disagrees with Locke by concluding that it does not relate to the gifts themselves to any degree. To Taylor, the measure of faith defines the measuring stick by which the gifts are distributed to every believer. But that is not the main subject here, Paul is wanting each believer to be content with the gifts they have and stay inside the bounds within which it is designed to operate. And the goal of this admonition is so that none of the converts might become puffed up because they may possess more gifts than the others. This then could easily lead to certain individuals magnifying what they have to the detriment of others. So Taylor sees Paul’s advice here as an effort for all the gifts given to believers not to be used to gratify their own pride with the gifts, but to edify the Church with them.3
Clarke also believes that Paul was intent on beating down the pride that he detected might be festering in the congregation in Rome. After all, that is a carnal tendency that seems innate for all mankind. He wanted to avoid certain believers from becoming dissatisfied because they received fewer spiritual gifts than others, especially those they saw as less important and weaker in the faith than they were. That’s why he wanted to remind them that they did not pick out these gifts, nor did they go to God with a list of those they wanted most. According to the wise counsel and foreknowledge of God, everyone receives the exact portion given to them based on their ability to use such gifts for the benefit of the church. Furthermore, Paul did not want them trying to outdo one another so that they may thereby make themselves more worthy of more gifts.4
Albert Barnes made note of certain factors in the differing gifts bestowed by grace on those believers with sufficient faith. One thing is that we cannot, and should not, ever forget is that all these endowments of the Spirit that Paul talks about here are gifts. When we take this into consideration, it should be enough to keep any believer from thinking more highly of themselves than they do their brother or sister in Christ. God never had it in mind to make all believers exactly alike. Just their talents, abilities and physical attributes make that unfeasible. We even accept this premise in our everyday society. The only equality among human beings is that they are part of God’s creation. And as far as believers are concerned, they must all go to the same cross, be cleansed by the same blood, and be filled with the same Spirit.
It is in the midst of this that God then exercises His sovereignty. This means, He bestows His favors on whom He pleases, as He pleases, and when He pleases. No one is injured or overlooked in this process. Also, God holds each believer responsible only for that which they have received. They have no responsibility for the gifts their brother or sister received. And since this is all a matter of God’s grace, there is no reason for one believer to boast that their gift is more important than that of the others. With each gift comes not only an obligation to God for that gift, but there is a place for that gift to operate in the church for the benefit of the whole congregation. As such, any blessing or reward God bestows on a believer for the gift they have been given has nothing to do with how glorious or splendid that gift may be, or the respect and significance that goes with it. The only requirement is that they allow the Holy Spirit to use that gift for the glory of God and edification of the church. These gifts were not given to cause jealousy, pride, or envy, but to bring believers into a circle of mutual admiration and appreciation for what God is doing through their faithfulness and obedience.5
Henry Alford notes that all of these gifts are called “the manifestation of the Spirit.”6 In other words, they are not expressions or demonstrations of a believer’s own spirit.7 Also, Bible teacher Harry Ironside says that although our gifts differ, they are to be used according to the faith and grace that God issues along with them. To put it another way, no believer should credit the operation of the gift to their talent or ability. They either operate through the unction of the Holy Spirit or they are false.8
Also, Charles Hodge notes that both here and in the following verses it is pointed out that by all believers being members of the same body, yet having different offices and gifts, rather than this giving anyone a reason to be puffed up or think of themselves as better than the others, and instead of envying and opposing each other, they should be glad for all the gifts active among them. Not only are they a blessing to others through the operation of the gift given them, but they are blessed because of the gifts given to others.9
Then Charles Ellicott sees the English translation: “Gifts differing according to the grace,” missing the point made in the original Greek text. The Greek noun charisma, translated as “gifts,” actually refers to “gifts of grace,” given for the operation of the Holy Spirit. That means these gifts are in effect God’s “favor” bestowed on an individual without any merit of their part. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon explains that gifts, “denote extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit.” So they are different expressions of God’s of grace, with different forms of manifestation given to different individuals to be cherished and used accordingly to the direction of the Holy Spirit.10
John Stott uses a play on words to make this point: That just as God’s charis (grace) made Paul an Apostle, so by that same grace He bestows charismata (different graces) on other members of Christ’s body.11 And Douglas Moo points out that Paul uses this same word charisma elsewhere to denote a God-given ability to serve the body of Christ in particular ways.12 Furthermore, Paul lists gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:7–10, 28, and gifted individuals in Ephesians 4:11.13
Also, Jewish scholar David Stern reiterates what others have said about God’s charismata given to all believers,14 and the charis needed to operate them properly. For example, the grace accompanying leadership is diligence and zeal. In the context of v. 3, it is clear that boasting about one’s gifts is altogether out of place.15 Boasting kills unity.16
Verse 6b: Whoever has the gift of prophecy should use that gift in a way that fits the kind of faith they have.
Now the Apostle Paul begins to list the gifts he is speaking of and defines their proper use. He starts with the gift of prophecy. This gift should not be understood strictly as foretelling the future. Thayer, in his Lexicon, describes it as: “Discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden.” In fact, this is the way Paul uses it here, Thayer lists it under Endowment and Speech of Christian teachers. Today we would call it the gift of preaching. But not just preaching in the sense of standing up and reading from a manuscript. Rather, taking a text from Scripture and expounding on it as the Spirit gives insight as a Word from the Lord. So, whether what is being said applies to the present or the future must be determined by the context.
Paul seems to give the main factors in preaching when he tells the Corinthians how to differentiate between a message in an unknown tongue and a message in the hearer’s language: “The person who speaks in unknown tongues speaks to God. He is not speaking to men. No one understands. He is speaking secret things through the power of the Holy Spirit. The person who speaks God’s Word speaks to men. It helps them to learn and understand. It gives them comfort. The man who speaks in unknown tongues receives strength. The man who speaks God’s Word gives strength to the church. I wish all of you spoke in unknown tongues. But more than that, I wish all of you spoke God’s Word. The one who speaks God’s Word has a more important gift than the one who speaks in unknown tongues… Christian brothers, if I come to you speaking in unknown tongues, what good is it to you? But if I tell you something God has shown me or something I have learned or what God’s Word says will happen in the future or teach you God’s Word, it will be for your good. ”17
Then Paul goes on to say: “If some people who are not Christians come to your church meeting while all the people are speaking in unknown tongues, they will think you are deranged. But if a person who is not a Christian comes to your church meeting while you are all speaking God’s Word, they will understand that they are a sinner by what they hear. They will know they are guilty.”18 Paul continues to explain further what he means by all of this: “What is our conclusion, brothers? Whenever you come together, let everyone be ready with a psalm or a teaching or a revelation, or ready to use their gift of tongues or give an interpretation; but let everything be done for enlightenment.”19
1 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 341
2 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 349
4 Clarke: ibid
5 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See 1 Corinthians 12:7
7 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 111
8 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 602
10 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 See 1 Corinthians 1: 7; 12: 4, 9, 28, 30, 31; 1 Timothy 4: 14; 2 Timothy 1: 6
13 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 1 Corinthians 12:8–10
15 Cf. Romans 3:27; 1 Corinthians 1: 29– 31, 4:7
16 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 1 Corinthians 14:2-5a, 6
18 1 Corinthians 14:23
19 1 Corinthians 14:26ff