NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXIX)
Early church scholar Pelagius admonishes believers not to become distracted and procrastinate in becoming involved in God’s work because they are more interested in worldly activities. The Lord is not pleased with those who are unresponsive to His Spirit. In fact, at one point He said He was actually nauseated by those who are lukewarm.1 If we are resistant to the world we can then be aglow with the Spirit doing all things, not for the world or its vices, but for the Lord.2 And Bishop Theodoret shares that the Spirit is the word Paul uses here for “grace.” He does the same thing elsewhere when he says: “Do not quench the Spirit.”3 The Spirit is quenched in those who mishandle grace.4 It’s like an unemployed individual who is given a free education and training in some important occupation and then hangs the diploma on the wall but never tries to find work.
Martin Luther states what he thinks by saying that we should look at how love hoards nothing for itself but seeks to share what it has to be of help and a blessing to a neighbor.5 By neighbor, Luther means those around us. How often have you seen someone trying to read a map or talking on their cell phone who slowed their car down to a crawl while the traffic behind them builds up to a long, impatient, line, instead of pulling over to the side to figure things out? Or when you are looking for a parking spot and see a car that was carelessly parked with its wheels straddling the lines instead of between the lines, and, thereby, denying you and others of a valid parking spot? Or a group of two or three who stop in the middle of an aisle, thereby, blocking it, either in church or a grocery store, and pay no attention to those trying to get by? So it is in life, Paul says. Everything we do should be done with a full awareness of how it will involve or affect everyone around us.
Luther goes on to point out that in spite of Paul’s plea, there were some who just yawned and sat back in their seats and went to sleep. As Luther sees it, no matter what they get involved in, they end up ruining it for themselves and others because they lose interest. This is what we read about in Proverbs: “The person who is lazy in doing their work is a relative to the person who always ruins everything.”6 Such persons are despised not only by their fellowmen but also by God. For this reason, the Apostle Paul directs himself against this capital sin, that is, against “inactivity,” or our being opposed to getting involved in doing good for others. As far as Luther was concerned, this unholy attitude was so widely spread in his day that almost everyone began to think it wasn’t worth getting involved.
Luther concludes by stating that what he is saying is directed to those in the world who look out for their own greed. But, he also saves the same admonition, with much greater emphasis, for those in the Body of Christ who stubbornly stick to their individual good works instead of doing other things God wants them to do. Therefore, they serve themselves rather than God. They refuse to do God’s will and persist in petty projects they have chosen for themselves. Luther calls them fools! They refuse obedience to God’s Word in order to do things their own way. They have no clue what it means to “serve the Lord,” for that denotes being willing to go wherever the Lord sends us. When that message comes, we must not resist Him His calling, nor stubbornly insist on anything that goes against His will. There are blessings in wholeheartedly doing God’s will that are totally unavailable any other way.7
What Luther says here is so important to believers even today and in the future. There are some who say they feel the call to a certain ministry, but when other opportunities come open they refuse to move on because they are so comfortable where they are. In some cases, ministers and missionaries have been known to stay put in a particular position even when it has started to go downhill and is either no longer needed or efficient or effective. I guess we could call it the “Jonah Syndrome.” Sometimes when they get discouraged and walk off, intending to blame everybody else for their failure, God has to find or create a big fish to swallow them until they come to their senses.
John Calvin has an excellent treatment of this verse pointing out that this precept of working hard with great enthusiasm and energy is given to us not only because a Christian life ought to be an active life, but because it should be managed in such a way that less time is given for ourselves and more time spent on behalf of our brothers and sisters. In other words, don’t get in it because of what you get out of it, rather, because of what you can put into it. Unless we can adapt to this formula we will never really be prepared for further service in the Lord’s vineyard.8 Paul added that our spirit should be aglow with the thought of serving our Lord. Otherwise, we act like a donkey. Our urge to pull or carry our load becomes sluggish until we are motivated with encouragement or discipline. Calvin sees Paul here using the term “spirit” as a reference to the Holy Spirit. However, he does leave the door open for us to see it as the Spirit’s influence on our spirit to correct any reluctance or hesitancy.
This would be in line with what Thayer says in his Greek Lexicon that Paul is referring here to our rational spirit, that by which a human being feels, thinks, wills, and decides – the soul.9 That’s because determination in doing what’s right requires a fiery zeal which only the Spirit of God can kindle in our hearts. Some may ask why there would be a need to inspire in order to cultivate this fervency of spirit? Calvin believes that although people may receive a gift from God, yet it is the duty of leaders and ministers to challenge the faithful to shake off hesitancy and make use of the flame kindled by heaven’s presence.10 Otherwise, our spirit will feel suppressed and even extinguished because we did not take advantage of a call to go higher and further for the Lord.
Calvin goes on to point out that there is another factor that should figure into our decision to motivate ourselves and use the Spirit’s gifts to expand the kingdom of God, and that is, time. The course of our life is short, the opportunity of doing good goes by quickly. That’s why it is so important that we become involved and show more liveliness in the way we perform our duties. So Paul bids us in another place to redeem the time, because the days are growing evil.11 The meaning may also be, that we ought to know how to manage time better, because it is of great importance not to waste time. Calvin feels that Paul is opposed to any idleness or lackadaisical attitude when it comes to our duties as servants of the Most High. Calvin also sees Paul’s use of the term “Lord,” not so much as a reference to serving the Lord directly as it pertains to the duties we perform towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. Included in this would be anything done that may help and encourage the faithful to remain faithful.12
Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards raises a unique thought with his words on this subject. The Jews were hard workers in their religion. There were all the visits to the Temple, sacrifices to be given, the holy days to be observed, plus all the rites, rituals, and ceremonies they participated in. So if anyone could point to good works as a possible reason for merit, it was the Jews. But now, as Christians, they have had that burden lifted from their shoulders. But that doesn’t mean they can now sit around getting fat on God’s blessings day after day. He sees Paul saying here that believers should be earnest, fervent in spirit, and vigorously engaged in their hearts in serving the Lord. This was certainly implied in the opening words of this chapter.13
Robert Haldane offers his advice on how Christians should view their service to the Lord. First, they should constantly consider themselves as wholly and at all times in the service of the Lord. Secondly, remember that His eye is always upon them. So whatever they do, it is done in His presence. Thirdly, it is not only during praise and worship, or involvement in some ministry that we should consider as serving Him, but in all that we say and do. Fourthly, even when involved in one’s employment and engaged in social activities, view it all as being under the authority of the Master. Even in eating and drinking, the Romans were exhorted by the Apostle to act for the glory of God.14 If Christians would keep this in mind at all times, how much would their happiness be increased? Believers must always be aware that any increase in their obedience to their heavenly Master will always be accompanied with an increase of true joy.15
Albert Barnes takes on showing how serving the Lord fits into this equation of not being lazy but on fire while doing God’s will as the Spirit leads. First of all, we must regard ourselves as full-time servants of the Lord. We should always be hardworking and burning with desire to make our Savior proud and show that we are willing to persevere in remaining faithful to God’s will and do all we can to promote His glory. Secondly, our behavior should be in alignment with our goal of serving Him with the right attitude. For instance, be aware that there is always a temptation to get so involved with everyday affairs that we forget our first love for the One who saved us. Also, sometimes we forget what God wants because we are so busy with what those around us want and what we want to bring us joy and happiness in this world. Just look up and remember who gave His all for us, and what would have happened if He would have done what we’re doing? Thirdly, don’t forget that what we do to earn a living wage, to support our families, and to be a light in our community can be regarded as serving God. He has arranged the order of things in this life to promote employment. He has made hard work essential to happiness and success; and hence, to be industrious from proper motives is to be regarded as acceptable service of God. And fourthly, God has required that all such employment and activities should be engaged in with following His will and doing it to His honor.16 17
H. A. Ironside also has a point to make by directing our attention to the first part of the eleventh verse. He offers, what he feels, is a better translation: “Be not remiss (neglectful) in zeal.” It is not to be taken as mere persuasion to follow careful business methods, but whatever one has to do should be done zealously, with spiritual fervor, as serving the Lord.18 Ironside agrees with Barnes in that we should not take what Paul says here as only applying to the ministry or efforts on behalf of the church. It should permeate our daily lives and employment.
1 See Revelation 3:15-16
2 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 1 Thessalonians 5:19
4 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 175
6 Proverbs 18:9
7 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 175
8 “Be not slothful in haste,” that is, in a matter requiring haste. “We must strive,” says Theophylact (Archbishop of Ohrid), “to assist with promptness those whose circumstances require immediate help and relief.” — Ed
9 Cf. Mark 2:8; 8:12; Luke 10:21; John 1133; John 13:21; Acts of the Apostles 18:25
10 2 Timothy 1:6
11 Ephesians 5:16
12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 280)
141 Corinthians 10:23-33; Colossians 3:17
15 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 565
16 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:17, 22-24; 1 Peter 4:11
17 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.