NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XVIII)
Karl Barth has a pastoral perspective on what Paul says here about ministry. For him, the exercise of this ministry is based on ethics as well as spirituality. That’s why the ones chosen to serve must do so without bias or arrogance. There are plenty of reasons why we might be disgusted with those who demand service from us. Furthermore, they insist that it be something they like, not necessarily what they need. When we think of “service,” we take it to mean caring for the bodily needs of people so that their souls are not destroyed by the lack of love and compassion. Service means not passing by the man who has fallen among thieves, as did the Priest and the Levite in Jesus story of the Good Samaritan.1
Sometimes we can get so busy and tied down with study and pastoral duties that we forget who our neighbor is. For some, the question “who is my neighbor?” no longer has any meaning. The priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable were so caught up in their spiritual ministry that they did not see, or refused to see, the practical side of the ministry called, service. There is no doubt but that the preaching and teaching of the Word of God are critical and necessary for the body of Christ. But when the words do not translate into action then they lose their power and attraction.2
Then John Stott sees the term “serving” as a generic word for a wide variety of ministries. As Paul told the Corinthians, “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.”3 It is highly significant that we are told by Luke that, in the Jerusalem Church, the ministry of the Word by the Apostles and the ministry of tables by the seven are both called diakonia.4 So whatever ministry-gift people have been given, it is to be used and not simply taken as a title.5
Paul never considered himself a great preacher, but he did allow himself to be thought of as a good teacher.6 In my own life, God has blessed me with a generous opportunity to do both. As a preacher, I find myself wanting to engage my listeners. As a teacher, I desire to enlighten my listeners. Of course, the ideal is to do both when preaching. When preaching, we should construct an idea of how to practice what we believe. When teaching, we must instruct on that idea on how to believe what we practice. When combined, they become a powerful method of communication.7
Teaching was always a part of passing on what one generation had learned to the next. This was a command from the LORD for the Levites: “They will teach Your Laws to Jacob. They will teach Your Laws to Israel.”8 Even Samuel did not want to disappoint God by not carrying out his responsibility to teach the Israelites right from wrong.9 So we should not be surprised that Jesus made it part of His great commission: “Teach them to do all the things I have taught you.”10 And our Lord had every right to impose such a responsibility on His disciples. After all, when the most learned and wise Nicodemus came to the Master, he addressed Him as “Teacher” (Rabbi).11 Then, after our Lord’s ascension and the Church began to spread beyond Jerusalem we read: “In the Church in the city of Antioch there were preachers and teachers.”12
No doubt that’s why Paul made it a hallmark of his ministry. He told the Galatians that as they were being instructed in the Word of God, to share whatever insights and revelations they may have had with their teacher.13 Then he told the Ephesians much the same as he is telling the Roman believers here, that it was part of Christ’s plan for the Church to provide them with preachers and teachers.14 And Paul wanted the Colossians to imitate his methods of spreading the Word as both preachers and teachers.15
Then, to his young protegé, Timothy, Paul let him know: “I was chosen to be a teacher and a missionary. I am to teach faith and truth to the people who do not know God.”16 Of course, Paul was speaking about the Gentiles. Also, in his instructions to Timothy about appointing church leaders Paul said: “They must be willing to learn and able to teach the Word of God.”17 Paul then said to Timothy, that such church leaders should be paid on the merit of their ability to preach and teach.18 And when Paul wrote Timothy a second time, he asked him to pass on to others what he heard him teach.19 And finally, Paul told Timothy that a good teacher will not become discouraged or despondent when others disagree with them.20
Early church teacher Apollinaris sees the line up of ministries in the Last Covenant as the order of authority. He notes that a teacher must remain in subjection to the pastor and that pastors are second to the Bishops.21 In fact, teachers take the messages of the pastors and explain them further to the laity. For the pastors are responsible for appointing those whom they had taught to serve in the ministry of teaching.22 Then early church scholar Ambrosiaster adds that a teacher is appointed to teach what they have seen, heard, read, studied, and understand at the level of their faith. Never should a teacher be assigned a lesson containing a subject prior to which they have not received any training. This too is determined according to the measure of their faith.23
Reformer Martin Luther experienced that there are some who have a gift of teaching but have never been given the opportunity to advance their learning. On the other hand, he saw those who were renown for their academic pursuits but proved to be poor teachers. Obviously, those who were efficient in both areas were the best teachers. So that raises two important questions: Could we expect the Holy Spirit to impute the gift of teaching to those who either have little learning or should the Holy Spirit impute the gift of teaching to those who have trouble communicating their learning? The answer to both is obvious. All gifts are bestowed according to their faith.
But Luther also questions what about those who have no time to use such gifts because they are too busy with other matters. Not only is this a rebuke to the Spirit who brought the gift, but it is also disrespectful to the Pastor who appointed them and the Bishop who approved their assignment. Luther feels that the Apostle Paul is really speaking here about those who are divinely called. In many of his letters, Paul emphasizes the importance of this calling.24 That’s because Paul knew that without the divine call neither the office nor the preaching can be effective.25
John Calvin sees Paul’s use of the word “teaching,” as a call for sound enlightenment, according to this message in verse 7: Let those who excel in teaching be aware that the purpose of such instruction is that those in the church may receive spiritual education. In light of this, let them consider this one important thing, their task is to leave those in the church more informed by their teaching than they were before they arrived. The reason this is so important to Calvin is that through their teaching the church is formed and built through the truth found in the Word of God.26
Henry Alford makes a similar point by noting that while the pastor preaches under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the teacher teaches under the inspiration that comes from their preparation, their reasoning, and their teaching ability. In such circumstances, the inspired teacher carries a message because the mind of the Spirit is in all things. That’s why teachers should teach within the bounds of the subject allotted to them by God, and for which God has given the ability to teach according to their level of faith.27 Anyone who has attended a theological seminary knows from experience that different professors are highly skilled in various subjects to the point of being called experts. That’s why it would be strange if a professor who is very proficient in teaching languages would want to teach Homiletics, a subject they have neither studied or practiced.
Albert Barnes has more to say on this subject but in the same vein. He too looks at the word “teaching” and believes that it denotes a different class of ministers. There are those who preach to inspire and those who teach to encourage. However, this does not exclude a minister who does both with great skill. Teachers are mentioned in the New Testament in the grade next to the prophets.28 Barnes suggests that the difference between the prophets, the ministers, the teachers, and the exhorters was this: the first spoke by inspiration; the second engaged in all the functions of the ministry, including the administration of the sacraments; the teachers were employed in communicating the doctrines of religion, the fourth exhorted, or entreated Christians to lead a holy life without doing so in the form of a lesson.
Barnes, an American Presbyterian minister, shares that the churches in New England (AD 1700 – 1800) initially recognized a class of clergy who were called teachers. One was appointed to this office in every church, distinct from the pastor. It was their priority to instruct the congregation in the doctrines of religion. He reports that during his time of service (1825-1868) this position was given over by the appointment of Sunday school teachers, whose main business is to instruct the children in the doctrines of the Christian religion. For him it is an office of great importance to the church; and the exhortation of the Apostle Paul may be applied to them. And as their role was in the church 1800s up until this day, they should be committed, steadfast, and diligent to their teaching. But they should also confine themselves to their appropriate place, while knowing that their office is of great importance in the Church. They should also be reminded from time to time that their assignment and position is designed to promote the enlightenment of God’s people.29
1 Luke 10:25-37
2 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 1 Corinthians 12:5
4 Acts 4:36; 9:26ff
5 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See 2 Corinthians 11:5-6
7 See Ecclesiastes 12:9
8 Deuteronomy 33:10
9 1 Samuel 12:23
10 Matthew 28:20
11 John 3:2 – Complete Jewish Bible
12 Acts of the Apostles 13:1
13 Galatians 6:6
14 Ephesians 4:11
15 Colossians 1:28
16 1 Timothy 2:7
17 Ibid. 3:2
18 Ibid. 5:17
19 2 Timothy 2:2
20 Ibid. 2:25
21 1 Corinthians 12:28
22 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
24 See 1 Corinthians 1:26; 7:20; Philippians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9
25 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 171-172
26 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
27 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 111
28 Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11
29 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.