NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXIII)
When it comes to looking at this gift of showing compassion as part church doctrine, the different offices of the church are to be considered as divine appointments, and that they are designed for the benefit of the whole body, and not just to those who hold them. Hodge sees the real honor of being used in such ministries is that we are doing what God called us to do, and doing it to the best of our ability. Exercising these gifts should not to seen as some endorsement by the church to higher office or attributed to our personal talent. Furthermore, anyone trying to broaden their sphere of influence based on these gifts will not make them more useful. It is a great mistake to treat an appointment to any position of service as a mere stepping-stone to promotion. Furthermore, neither should those who are eventually nominated to serve in a higher office think that it will allow them to do more good than the ones below them. That would then cause every person to start evaluating how much more useful they are than the others.1
It must be remembered, that the highest improvement of an individual servant and its greatest benefit to the whole body are best proven to be of value by each individual being and doing what God calls them to do. If we all served in the same position, how would the whole body’s performance? As Paul said, “God is not the author of confusion, but of order, in all the churches of the saints.”2 No amount of education, no judging of superiority in talent, not even the pretending to be inspired can justify a departure from true doctrines of the Christian faith, namely, the truths taught to us by individuals whose inspiration from God has been clearly seen and attested to. All teachers must subscribe to this standard. And as Paul told the Galatians: Even if an angel were to come down from heaven start teaching anything contrary to the Scriptures, they should be regarded as cursed.3
We should all be grateful that we have been given such a standard to live by, and with which to try the spirits to see if they are from God.4 No ministers of Christ should gamble with the truth in fear that they may incur the curse which Paul denounces on those who preach another gospel. The laity of the church, especially those holding office, should always commit themselves to discharge their respective duties with singleness of heart. And when it comes to exercising those particular virtues needed to carry out their duties, they should be done with such singleness of purpose that all praise, honor, and glory go to God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.5
Charles Spurgeon also covered this subject. The way he put is was great: “Don’t pretend to love what you haven’t got.” He also warned against trying to flavor our speech with such things as “dear” this and “dear” that when we know in advance we have no love for that individual in our heart. And even if our heart is running over with love, don’t try and garnish it with superlatives as some do. As Paul will tell the Romans in verse 9, don’t pretend that you love someone.6 Frédéric Godet also taught that there is a particular type of compassion meant for this sort of work. He calls it “the key that opens the heart of the sufferer.” The Greek noun hilarotēs literally, with hilarity, denotes a sense of joyful eagerness, a cordial attitude of grace, the kind of friendliness that makes people laugh. There are few things that bring a smile to the face of those receiving care than when the caregiver doesn’t try to bring the outside world into them but helps transform their pit of misery into a world where they don’t feel forgotten or forsaken.7
Godet also presents a summation of thoughts on the preceding gifts that were mentioned by Paul. Part of his explanation is that the preceding list of gifts and recommendations given by the Apostle Paul were enumerated with great humility in mind, especially for those who have a gift to exercise. But Godet detects that Paul’s thoughts are already bordering on the virtue of love. It is the vision of this Christian virtue in full blossom in the Church and in the world which now fills his mind. We will see that when he presents his thoughts in Romans 12:9-21. First, looking at oneself, then looking at others through oneself, finally, looking to help others through oneself.8
Karl Barth has a similar summary on how the implementation of these gifts is to be understood. As far as he is concerned, First, here we find the foundation of Ethics as constituted in the body of Christ as a Fellowship. That’s what Paul has been trying to point out. The whole body of Christ is fashioned out of individual men and women and their mutual relationship with God. Since Christ is One with each particular member, and since Christ is in each person, then His oneness in us makes us one with each other. Such unity is the best protection against any irregular conduct no matter how subtle, the ever-present danger of Titanism.9 Let me explain. This word comes from an ancient Greek term “titan‘ that expresses the notion of going beyond the borders – over-extending. It involves those who have lost all sense of how to express their power or influence within the boundaries prescribed.
There are very few ways to relate unregenerate human behavior to God. Barth uses the term Titanism here when speaking of ecclesiastical matters. He references the invisible Church of Jacob founded by Messianic Jews. In fact, Beth Jacob in Jacksonville, Florida is a Messianic Jewish congregation trying to attract more Jewish members to its community. However, you may be surprised to find out that there is nothing Jewish about Beth Jacob. Despite its name and pretenses, it is a Christian organization. It should not surprise anyone that this is spoken of in the Bible. Then Barth cites what he calls the visible Church of Esau dictated to by liberal theologians and run by liberal pastors. While they are capable of reflecting some light of the Gospel and Christian virtues, they are constantly shifting and changing because they are found to always be wrestling with the ethical interpretation of teachings in the Bible. The fact that these two divergent organizations exist must serve some purpose, even though we are not yet sure what that is. 10 The visible and invisible Church of Jesus is the real thing. Visible when they worship together, and invisible when they are out in society. They are dedicated to obeying and defending the Gospel as preached by Christ and the Apostles and recorded in Scripture with no additions or subtractions.
John Stott also sums things up for the reader by noting that this list of seven spiritual gifts here in Romans 12 is less well-known than either the two overlapping lists in 1 Corinthians 12 (nine in the first list and eight in the second) or the short list of five in Ephesians 4:11. However, it is important to note both the similarities and the dissimilarities between them. First, all lists agree that the source of the gifts is God’s grace (charismata). Here in Romans, it is God the Father, in Ephesians God the Son, and in 1 Corinthians God the Holy Spirit. So all three members of the Trinity are involved. It doesn’t matter which member of the Trinity is mentioned, all gifts are equal in value and effectiveness.
Secondly, all agree that the purpose of the gifts is related to the edification of the body of Christ. In Ephesians it is to equip His people for service; in 1 Corinthians 14:12 to build up the Church, and here in Romans to show the unity of the Church. Thirdly, all the lists emphasize the variety of the gifts which seem randomly selected. That means they are not valued one above the other. Those listed in 1 Corinthians tend to focus on the supernatural (tongues, prophecy, healing, and miracles) in the list of gifts; in Ephesians the different ministries of the church are seen in the appointments of who serves in what capacity; and in Romans 12 all the gifts apart from prophecy are either general and practical (service, teaching, encouragement, and leadership) or even commonplace (giving money and doing acts of mercy). Stott agrees that all believers should broaden their understanding of spiritual gifts. But the main key here is that they are all “gifts.”11
Verse 9: Don’t make showing your love to someone an hypocritical act. Be constantly repulsed by what is evil, and always stay glued to what is good.
Here Paul does what he has done in many other cases, and that is to exhort all those who want to be good examples as God’s willing servants, to acknowledge love as the basic motivation for their deeds. Yet he warns that showing oneself to be compassionate and understanding can become a phony act instead of genuine action. King David encapsulates this where he talks about someone who once pretended to be his close friend. “[My companion] attacked those who were at peace with him; he broke his solemn word. What he said sounded smoother than butter, but his heart was at war. His words seemed more soothing than oil, but in fact, they were sharp swords.”12 David’s son Solomon may have known such a man for he wrote: “When he speaks with kindness, do not believe him, for there are seven things13 that are hated in his heart. Even if his hate is covered with pretension, his sin will be made public.”14 And God pointed out people with similar attitudes in Ezekiel’s day.15
Of course, one of those who epitomized this type of conduct was none other than Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples. Another disciple, John, tells us this about him when Judas objected to Mary pouring out expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet: “He said, ‘Why was not this special perfume sold for much money and given to poor people?’ He did not say this because he cared for poor people. He said this because he was a thief. He carried the bag of money and would steal some of it for himself.”16
The Apostle Paul ran into people with the same type of characteristics in Corinth. It seems that some were questioning his motivation and purpose in evangelizing that area. But Paul says: “We were open and honest with you. We knew exactly what we came to do. We have suffered for it, yet we did not become upset. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we did it with true love.”17 Then Paul shares what happened: “Some people respect us and some do not. Some men speak badly against us and some thank us. They say we lie, but we speak the truth. Some people act as if they do not know us. And yet we are known by everyone. They act as if we were dead, but we are alive. They try to hurt and destroy us, but they are not able to kill us. We are full of sorrow and yet we are always happy. We are poor and yet we make many people rich. We have nothing and yet we have everything.”18
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 610
2 1 Corinthians 14:33
3 Galatians 1:8
4 1 John 4:1
5 Hodge: ibid., pp. 611-613
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Godet: ibid.
9 Titanism is seen as a defiance of and revolt against traditional beliefs and order. It was so named after the Titans’ rebellion against their father Uranus in Greek mythology.
10 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Psalm 55:20-21 – Complete Jewish Bible
13 See Proverbs 6:16-19
14 Proverbs 26:25
15 Ezekiel 33:30-33
16 John 12:4-6
17 2 Corinthians 6:6-7
18 Ibid. 6:8-10