NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XX)
So it is clear that there were individuals in the apostolic church who were recognized as engaging especially in this duty, and who were known as Exhorters or Counselors, as distinguished from Pastors and Teachers. How long this was continued in the early church has not been verified. However, it cannot be doubted that is still appropriate in many places to have people in the church assigned to this work. This makes the church leadership look more like a team effort than a one-man endeavor.1 And Charles Ellicott makes note that the Greek verb parakaleō is followed by the noun paraklēsis. To render this in English similar to the Greek we might propose: “The one encouraging [should do so with] with encouragement.” Ellicott believes that this may have been especially needed in the troubled circumstances of the Church in Rome.2 I would add, that it is needed today more than ever. But the insight we get from the original language should not be missed. For instance, there are some who do counseling with conclusions; others who are sent to offer options end up bringing offers instead. And some who help out with problem-solving attempt solving problems. This is codependency at its best.
John Stott notes that the Greek parakaleō is a verb with a wide spectrum of meanings, ranging from encouraging and exhorting to comforting and consoling. This gift may be seen in operation in public from behind the pulpit in what the New English Bible calls, “one who has the gift of stirring speech.” The New Life Version calls it “the gift of speaking words of comfort.” But more often than not it is administered in private in what the Revised English Bible calls, “the gift of counseling.” The case in which it is used here by Paul may infer the offering of friendship to someone who feels all alone or giving fresh encouragement to those who have lost their enthusiasm. Paul’s friend Barnabas was known as the “son of encouragement,” perhaps because he exercised this gift and used it in befriending Saul of Tarsus3.4
Verse 8b: Whoever has the gift of giving to help others should give without drawing attention to themselves.
Paul uses the Greek verb metadidōmi here, a word utilized only 4 other times in the Last Covenant.5 It basically means to “impart” or “transmit.” Thayer, in his Lexicon, lists it in the category of someone who willingly shares of their substance. This does not mean that food is to be taken away from the mouths of one’s children in order to feed other children who are hungry. Rather, to put on the child’s plate only what is needed and share the rest with those who have little so that nothing is wasted. The ability to give is based upon the resources available. So the gift, then, is not supported just on a gracious attitude, but in having been blessed with enough to share with others.
This principle was already established under the laws of Moses. The children of Israel were told: “If someone among you is needy, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which ADONAI your God is giving you, you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from giving to your needy brother. No, you must open your hand to him and lend him enough to meet his need and enable him to obtain what he wants.”6 Even the wise man, Job, practiced this principle: “If I have kept what the poor should have or have caused the eyes of the woman whose husband has died to be tired, if I have eaten my food alone without sharing it with the child who has no parents… if I have seen anyone die because he had no clothing, or left any poor person without clothes… It would say I did not know the God above.”7
Then, in one of the Psalms, the writer is describing how happy the person is who reverences ADONAI and delights in His Word. Among the things that the Psalmist applauds is this: “He distributes freely, he gives to the poor; his righteousness stands forever. His power will be increased honorably.”8 And Solomon incorporated this principle in his wise sayings: “He who is generous is blessed because he shares his food with the poor.”9 Even the First Covenant prophet had the heart to give to missions. He said: “Send your resources out over the seas; eventually you will reap a return.”10 And the Word of the Lord to the people of Judea concerning the day when a king would come and rule by what is right and good: “The mean person will no longer be called generous, or the miserly said to be noble… But the generous person devises generous things, and his generosity will keep him standing.”11
Later on, God told Isaiah to raise his voice and declare without hesitation: “Is it not a time to share your food with the hungry, and bring the poor man into your house who has no home of his own? Is it not a time to give clothes to the person you see who has no clothes, and a time not to hide yourself from your own family? Then your light will break out like the early morning, and you will soon be healed. Your right and good works will go before you. And the shining-greatness of the Lord will keep watch behind you.”12 So Paul was not imposing something on the believers in Rome that was new and never heard of before. It was a long-standing tradition among God’s people that should not be discontinued among the Christians today.
Not only did the Church in Rome have this time-honored standard to follow, but even these words of Jesus were to be considered: “When you give to the poor, do not be as those who pretend to be someone they are not… Your giving should be confidential. Then your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.”13 In fact, Jesus told His followers that no matter who they shared with, even those considered to be the least important among them, it was as if they were doing it to Him.14 This message was so strong that it brought about a most unusual circumstance. The church that was organized in Antioch took up an offering for the mother church in Jerusalem because they heard that food had become scarce all around that area. Not only that, but can you guess who was one of those who carried the offering there? It was Paul!15
This incident impacted the Apostle so much, that years later when he wrote the Corinthians he told them how God had blessed the churches in the province of Macedonia. He shared that even though they were poor, that took up an offering to help out the Christians in Jerusalem.16 Paul used this to tell the Corinthians: “If a person is ready and willing to give, they should give of what they have, not of what they don’t have.”17 But Paul was not finished, he wanted to emphasize that whatever a person was able to give, it should be done in a sincere and simple, not grandiose, way.
On the gift of giving, early church scholar Chrysostom sees this as Paul’s way of looking for people to become more liberal when given an opportunity to do so.18 For instance, don’t just offer what is basic to the need, go above and beyond, especially in showing mercy, cheerfulness; in caregiving, with great compassion and concern. For Chrysostom, Paul was not just asking for money or donation of goods, he wanted the believers in Rome to go out of their way to help those in need by offering words of encouragement, and showing how much they cared by not walking away until something was done to help out. In other words, to get personally involved in the ministry of caring.19
Martin Luther sees how this gift of giving can easily be misused in an attempt to appear generous. One way is when people give to others with the intent of getting something in return, such as a loan with interest. He points to what Jesus said to a Pharisee who had invited Him to dinner: “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite only your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. At another time they will pay you back by inviting you to eat with them. Instead, when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, and the blind. Then you will have great blessings because these people cannot pay you back. They have nothing. But God will reward you at the time when all godly people rise from death.”20 The second way of giving can also be misused when superiors give to those who are equal in rank. This can only be seen as trying to impress. It is obvious that Luther believes in unconditional giving, with no expectation or desire to be repaid.21
John Bengel believes that Paul is saying here that the giving must be such that it does not strip the giver of all resources. Rather, it is to be done without ulterior motives. In other words, generously without seeking praise. Bengel offers guidance from Scripture by noting what the Apostle James said about how God treats those who ask Him for things they need, such as wisdom. James said that when you ask God He will give generously and not fault you for asking. And then Bengel points to what Paul said about the churches in Macedonia, “In the midst of a very severe trial, even though they were in extreme poverty their overflowing joy welled up in rich generosity.”
For Bengel, this added up to people with this gift of giving not being hampered with desires to keep any surplus for their own benefit, nor were they bothered by trying to figure out if the people they were giving to were worthy of such sacrifice.22 However, I do think that Bengel would agree that the liberality of giving should be done with the need clearly identified and not to in an attempt to show off how generous you are. This is how Adam Clarke takes Paul’s use of the Greek noun haplotēs, translated as “with simplicity” (KJV). This word is used two ways in the Last Covenant: one means to do something without pretense, and the other means not done for self-glory. That’s why Thayer in his Greek Lexicon puts the usage this word here as meaning, not giving for self-glory, or to bring attention to one’s self.”23
1 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Acts of the Apostles 4:36; 9:26ff
4 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 See Luke 3:11; Romans 1:11; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 2:8
6 Deuteronomy 15:7-8 – Complete Jewish Bible
7 Job 31:16-17, 19, 28b
8 Psalm 112:9 – Complete Jewish Bible
9 Proverbs 22:9
10 Ecclesiastes 11:1 – Complete Jewish Bible
11 Isaiah 32:5, 8
12 Isaiah 58:7-8
13 Matthew 6:2, 4
14 Ibid. 25:40
15 Acts of the Apostles 11:27-30
16 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
17 Ibid. 8:12
18 Ibid. 9:7-9
19 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 21
20 Luke 14:12-14
21 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 172-173
22 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 342
23 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 241