NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXI)
On the gift of giving, Robert Haldane believes that this applies to the office of the church deacon. But since Paul is not speaking of any such distinction, there is no reason to limit this gift to that office. Also, Haldane notes that as Paul uses this word here it does not specify if that which is being given proceeds from the givers own resources or the giver serves as a steward of those resources. Haldane then goes on to make the point that this gift of giving should not be restricted to some ministry of the church, but could apply to the spirit of giving for everyone. The main point is that it is to be done on purpose, for a specific purpose, in order to be purposeful. But it is not to be done to bring notoriety to the giver, because all honor and glory belongs to the Lord.1
Albert Barnes believes that we can best understand this encouragement by Paul in giving if we use the term “distribute.” Barnes agrees with Haldane that as the word rendered “giving” may denote someone who has been assigned the responsibility of distributing these goods and services on behalf of the church, or one who gives out of their own pocket. The Scriptures are clear that giving was an important matter among the early Christians, who gave liberally of their substance to support the poor and provide for the needy.2 Hence, it became necessary to appoint persons over these contributions, who should be specially charged with the management of them, and who would see that they were properly distributed.3
Barnes also feels that for a fuller understanding of how this gift of giving should be applied we must look more closely to the Greek noun haplotēs. The English word “simplicity” used by the KJV may not hold the same connotation today as it did back in 1611. When used in today’s language, it is taken to imply a quality or condition of something being easy to understand or do. It’s another way of saying that something is uncomplicated or unsophisticated, plain or natural. But Barnes feels that in order to appreciate how the word was understood among Greeks, it should be noted that it has a sense of singleness, honesty of aim, purity, integrity, without any mixture of bias, selfishness, or sinister end. It requires the bestowing of a favor without seeking any personal or egotistic ends; without partiality; but actuated only by the desire to bestow them in the best possible manner to promote the purpose for which they were given.4
So for those to whom such property was entrusted, there was the danger that they might be tempted to misuse it for personal and unethical ends, such as to promote their influence and prosperity. That’s why Paul was exhorting them to do it with a single aim to the object for which it was given. For some, there is nothing more tempting than the possession of wealth. Some go so far as to brag about it even if it is not theirs, they are only in charge of distribution. So every believer must take heed that those who are entrusted with funds or property intended for the expansion of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, to use their gift of giving for His glory, not theirs.5
Verse 8c: Whoever has the gift of supervising should always do their best.
Paul has gone from ministers to ministry, from ministry to ministration, and now from ministration to administration. As far as the Jews were concerned, this all started with Abraham. When he and Sarah were visited by the Angels to bring the good news of their having a son after the visit Abraham accompanied them so he could show them the route to Sodom. As they were walking, the Lord said to them: “Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, inasmuch as Abraham is sure to become a great and strong nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by him? For I have made myself known to him, so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of Adonai and to do what is right and just, so that Adonai may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.”6 In other words, God was making Abraham responsible for administering the method by which everything God had taught him and did for him because of his obedience would be taught to each succeeding generation.
Paul had also instructed the Thessalonians to respect the leadership placed over them: “We ask you, Christian brothers, to respect those who work among you. The Lord has placed them over you and they are your teachers. You must think much of them and love them because of their work. Live in peace with each other.”7 And when it came to reimbursing those in leadership, Paul told Timothy that they should receive twice the salary if they do so with effect and efficiency.8 This was an important and longstanding practice. We find where Solomon advised those in leadership: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your strength. For there is no work or planning or learning or wisdom in the place of the dead where you are going.”9 In other words, work to get it right and perfected now. You cannot correct your mistakes from the grave. As the writer of Hebrews said: “Keep on working to the end. Then what you hope for, will happen. Do not be lazy. Be like those who have faith and have not given up. They will receive what God has promised them.”10
Martin Luther reflects on how this command was being carried out in his day. He was appalled that some who occupied positions of leadership either in government or in church offices, did so with luxury and laziness, riches and pleasure, glory and honor, force and tyranny. Ezekiel writes about this.11 A good standard by which to rule is diligence, as the Apostle here writes. Only those can be diligent with respect to others who are unconcerned about themselves.12 The Greek noun spoudē Paul uses here (translated as “diligence” in KJV) can be employed to indicate: efficiency, earnestness, and forwardness. Thayer, in his Lexicon, lists it here, along with verse 11, to denote: “earnestness in accomplishing, promoting, or striving after anything.” In other words, working hard on something with a specific goal and purpose in mind.
John Calvin focuses on the earlier Greek verb proïstēmi (“ruleth” in KJV) that Paul uses to describe those who hold positions of authority in the church. Thayer, in his Lexicon, interprets its meaning here as: “a superintendent or overseer who acts as protector or guardian, to give aid.” Calvin notes that although Paul, no doubt, had in mind those who were elders and presided over and ruled others and exercised discipline, yet what he says of these may be extended universally to all kinds of leaders, both secular and religious. That’s because all such leaders should be concerned about those for whom they provide protection and welfare. To take care of each person individually is in effect contributing to the welfare of the whole community. How much truer this is of the body of Christ. Individuals given this gift for the benefit of the church, not only provide leadership in following the teachings of Christ, but also to be a firm but gentle hand of correction.13 When understood this way, it points to those who are in charge of providing both motivation, care, and discipline for believers. John Bengel certainly understands it this way.14
Adam Clarke expands the meaning of this Greek verb proïstēmi for “leader.” He takes it to mean here those who were assigned to receiving and providing for strangers, and especially the persecuted who were obliged to leave their own homes, and were destitute, afflicted, and tormented. It also may have included those whose responsibility it was to welcome and host the Apostolic teachers who traveled from place to place, establishing, and accrediting the Churches. When used that way, it certainly would apply to Phoebe who Paul recommended to them as a worker coming to assist them. He wrote: “Phoebe, a dear Christian woman from the town of Cenchreae, will be coming to see you soon. She has worked hard in the church there. Receive her as your sister in the Lord, giving her a warm Christian welcome. Help her in every way you can, for she has helped many in their needs, including me.”15 The Apostle wanted to make sure that everyone who had this responsibility would execute their duties with forethought and thoroughness. Those who came to them were often tired, hungry, and in need of rest and care. That’s why such indigent persons should have their necessities as promptly and as amply supplied as possible.16
Albert Barnes agrees that Paul is talking here about those who have responsibilities for others, something they should attend to with determination and care. He notes that Paul gives instructions on this area of ministry to the Thessalonians: “We ask you, Christian brothers, to respect those who work among you. The Lord has placed them over you and they are your instructors.”17 And Paul also had some coaching for Timothy concerning local church leaders: They must be gentle. They must not have a love for money. They should be good leaders in their own homes. Their children must obey and respect them. If a man cannot be a good leader in his own home, how can he lead the church? A church leader must not be a new Christian. A new Christian might become proud and fall into temptation which is brought on by the devil. Church leaders must be respected by people who are not Christians so nothing can be said against them. In that way, they will not be trapped by the devil.18
Also, to Bishop Titus Paul made this note: “Our people must learn to work hard. They must work for what they need and be able to give to others who need help. Then their lives will not be wasted.”19 So the prevailing sense of the word, therefore, is to be in charge, to have oversight, or to manage. But to exactly what class of individuals it has reference to, and what their duties entailed, has been made a matter of discussion without any easy answers. Church scholars are not sure that this was considered a permanent officer of the church, or to a pro tempore presiding officer in their assemblies convened for business. Since it has the idea of being the head of a family, or of presiding over affairs dealing with the care of special visitors, either of these ideas would convey all that is implied in the original word20.21 In other words, people who are put in charge of a project should never forget what they were charged to do, and that it is for others not themselves.
1 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 562
2 Acts 2:44-47; 4:34-37; 5:1-11; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:8; 9:2, 12
3 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 2 Corinthians 1:12; 8:2; 9:11, 13; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22
5 Albert Barnes: On Romans, ibid.
6 Genesis 18:17-19
7 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
8 1 Timothy 5:17
9 Ecclesiastes 9:10
10 Hebrews 6:11-12
11 Ezekiel 34:2-4
12 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 173
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 342
15 Romans 16:1-2
16 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 241
17 1 Thessalonians 5:12
18 1 Timothy 3:3b-7
19 Titus 3:14
20 Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28
21 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.