NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XL)
What the Apostle Paul is trying to emphasize most is that as Christians the Romans were always to take the high road when it came to disputes. This echoes what he told the Corinthians: “If you require judgments about matters of everyday life, why do you put them in front of men who have no standing in the Messianic Community? I say, shame on you! Can it be that there isn’t one person among you wise enough to be able to settle a dispute between brothers?”1 How true this is. No matter how much the children of God may try to persuade the world that living the Christian life is the best way to go when they disagree and sue one another over trivial things, the light goes out and the world just shakes their head. Paul had this to say: “Actually if you are bringing lawsuits against each other, it is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”2
Even though the Apostle Paul himself was a Jew, some of his greatest problems and difficulties came from his fellow Jews. So he knew that the best way for Christian Jews to impress the world around them was to fellowship together in peace and harmony. As a Jew, Paul was certainly aware of what the Psalmist said: “Oh, how good, how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in harmony.”3 King Solomon agrees, saying that there is joy when people live together in peace.4 That is true whether it is in a home, neighborhood, village, town, city, county, state, or country.
Jesus also made this one of the cornerstones of His teaching when He said: “How blessed are those who make peace! for they will be called sons of God.”5 Later, our Lord puts it a different way with this illustration: “Salt is excellent, but if it loses its saltiness, how will you season it? So have salt in yourselves – that is, be at peace with each other.”6 The key to understanding this is not by concentrating on “salt,” that is merely the metaphor. Rather, focus on “peace” in the heart of the believer. In other words, Jesus had been talking about how everyone will be tried and tested in their lifetime for the purpose of proving their faith and faithfulness. And the best way to survive is through preserving oneself, and the best preservative is having peace in one’s heart and mind. This reminds me of the lyrics to one of Christendom’s favorite hymns, “It Is Well With My Soul.” As the first verse goes: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well, with my soul.”7
No wonder then that Paul closed his second letter to the Corinthians by saying: “Last of all, Christian brothers, good-bye. Do that which makes you complete. Be comforted. Work to get along with others. Live in peace. The God of love and peace will be with you.”8 Paul also included peace as one of the fruit of the Spirit.9 And he advised the Ephesians: “Work hard to live together as one with the help of the Holy Spirit. Then there will be peace.”10 Also, his prayer for the Colossians was this: “Let the peace that comes from Christ be the deciding factor in your hearts, for this is why you were chosen to be a part of His body.”11 Furthermore, he wanted the Thessalonians to respect each other’s talents, and to show them respect for all the work they do. Then, says Paul: “Live in peace with each other.”12 And to the young people under the pastorate of young Timothy, Paul had this advice: Turn away from the sinful things young people want to do. Go after what is right. Pursue right-living, being faithful, love one another and live in peace.13 He sees this echoed in the Book of Hebrews: “Be at peace with all men. Live a holy life. No one will see the Lord without having that kind of life.”14
The Apostle Paul knew from personal experience that no matter how conciliatory and friendly a person may be to the opposition, not everyone will lay down their arms in respect to such courtesy. In some cases, it will only inspire more hatred and persecution. Does this then give the believer license to retaliate or take revenge? Paul says “No way!” Early church scholar Tertullian made clear his stance on this subject by proclaiming what Paul is saying as an absolute precept that declares evil is not to be repaid with evil.15 Origen also sees repaying evil with evil as wrong. If some people think it is not right to do anything evil to another, but it is not wrong to pay someone back when they do it to them, it is just as much a sin for it to go one way as it is to go the other. In fact, Origen says payback may even be a worse sin. That’s because the person who does something wrong to begin with may not have realized that what they have done is bad. But the one who repays evil and who is moved by thoughts of revenge knows in advance that it is the wrong thing to do. At the same time, Paul does not tell us to always do what pleasing to everyone, but should always do what is right whether other people like it or not.16
Ambrosiaster mentions that the Law called for the Jews to love their neighbor but hate their enemy,17 but the Lord Jesus said that our doing what’s right must go further and higher than what the Pharisees practiced. If it doesn’t, then we are not fit to be part of God’s kingdom.18 And in order to comply with this higher standard we must resist repaying evil with evil19.20 Pelagius calls repaying evil for evil may seem logical to some. Also, if someone slaps you in the face and you turn the other cheek, they may call it foolishness.21 But our purpose is not to be applauded in the eyes of the world but to be found praiseworthy in the eyes of the Lord.22
This same idea was echoed by Chrysostom in his sermon on this text. He told his congregation that if they find fault with someone who is plotting against them, why do they act in such a way that it makes them liable for such accusations? In other words, if someone deliberately smacks you, why should you lower yourself for the same charge by smacking them back. Even worse, if they inadvertently smacked you, but you deliberately smacked them in return, your misconduct is even worse. Chrysostom points out how Paul puts no difference between the offender and the offended, he lays down one law for all. Not only does the Apostle say do no wrong to a fellow believer, but do no wrong to anyone.23 By this Paul means: As far as possible, play your part and give nobody, either Jew or Gentile, any cause for fighting.24 But if you see the faithful unnecessarily suffering anywhere, do not feel any need to maintain peace with their accusers. Take a noble stand, even to the point of death. And even then, do not let your anger flow over into other areas, simply concentrate on the issues themselves.25
Paul offers these proposals as instructions to the Jewish believers in Rome so that they will live in peace and the Church will grow. Several early church scholars also comment on this idea of getting along with one’s neighbors, even if they are anti-Christian. Ambrosiaster believes that Paul wants everyone who lives for God by doing what’s right to do so peacefully. Any person who is not peaceful is one who rejects the law of God and who follows their own law instead. Even if the other person is not interested in a peaceful solution, you should endeavor to make everything you say and do to be done with peace in mind anyway.” For Pelagius, he hears Paul saying that inasmuch as possible, live in peace with everyone. This does not suggest that you compromise your faith in doing so, rather, do not use your faith as a way to start a fight. Your peace should always have the desire for their conversion and salvation in mind26.27 Also, Theodoret proposes that if someone blesses those who persecute them and does not harm those who do them harm, it will not attract hatred or revenge on themselves.28 And Gennadius believes that Paul wants Christians to have the right spirit, even if others have a wrong spirit.29
Martin Luther analyses Paul’s proverb here by noting that in the first part his words sound familiar to King David’s admonition: “Turn away from sin, and do what is good,”30 and similar to what the Apostle Peter wrote: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing.”31 Luther also recalls how Christ rebuked the disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven (upon the inhospitable Samaritans), telling them: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”32 Then Luther contends that none of us were born to destroy other people’s lives, but to be used by God as instruments to save them33.34 In the second part, again Luther notes that Paul echoes the words of Peter: “Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God on the day of Judgment.”35
Luther also notes, what he calls, an excellent rule of Augustine’s concerning one’s reputation. I do not know if what Luther quoted is from the original Latin or how close Luther’s English version of his German commentary on Romans with English translation is to what Augustine said. But what is said sounds very familiar to what Augustine did say in his sermon on St. Lawrence: “Conscience and reputation are two things. Conscience is for your own sake and reputation for your neighbor’s sake. The person who relies on their conscience and neglects their reputation is being cruel to themselves.”36
1 1 Corinthians 6:4-5
2 Ibid. 5:7 – Complete Jewish Bible
3 Psalm 133:1
4 Proverbs 12:20
5 Matthew 5:9
6 Mark 9:50
7 “It Is Well With My Soul” is a hymn penned by Horatio Spafford with music composed by Philip Bliss.
8 2 Corinthians 13:11
9 Galatians 5:22
10 Ephesians 4:3
11 Colossians 3:15
12 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
13 2 Timothy 2:22
14 Hebrews 12:14
15 Tertullian: On Patience, Ch. 10 
16 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Leviticus 19:17-18
18 Matthew 5:20
19 1 Thessalonians 5:15
20 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
21 See Matthew 5:39
22 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 22, v. 18
24 See Psalm 34:14; Hebrews 12:14
25 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 22, v. 17
26 Hebrews 12:14
27 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
28 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
29 Gennadius of Constantinople: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
30 Psalm 37:27
31 1 Peter 3:9
32 Luke 9:55 – New King James Version
33 Luke 9:56
34 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 177
35 1 Peter 2:12; Cf. 1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 3:1; 1 Corinthians 10:32
36 Luther: ibid., pp. 177-178