NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XLI)
John Calvin has this to say about Paul’s proverb not to retaliate but reconcile: As we are instructed by God’s Word to live in this world in such a way that it benefits all those around us, we must at the same time be aware of why God wants it that way. He doesn’t want us to live such exemplary lives just so that others admire and praise us. Christ made it clear that we were not saved for that purpose alone. Instead, whatever we do to make our world a better place to live is intended to bring honor and glory to God. Not to ourselves, and not to others.1 As the world watches us, it should make them start thinking about the difference it makes having God in your life so that they will not only give Him praise but by our example be stirred up to adopt our lifestyle. When they see the difference God’s Word makes in our lives, that should create a desire in their hearts and minds to know God and allow Him into their lives as well. However, if our holy living brings us nothing but ridicule and criticism, we should not stop being what God made us to be in this world. That way, we will fulfill His will for our lives even if we are looked at as simply pretending to be good, when in fact we are good because of Him.2.3
John Bengel has an interesting thought about Paul’s admonition that by being good and honest with others at all times we can make it possible to get along with them. After all, a diamond is not put into a wedding ring just because it is a diamond but so that its splendor may attract the other person’s eye to realize what the ring is for.4 And Adam Clarke echoes the same sentiment by admitting that living in a state of peace with one‘s neighbors, friends, and even family, is often very difficult. That’s why believers who love God must work on this. They will discover that it is indispensable in giving them peace of mind. A man cannot have fights and misunderstandings with others without having their own peace being very unsettled. So, in order to be happy and at peace with everyone, whether they will be at peace with them or not, do not start the argument or invoke the dispute.5
When it comes to Paul’s admonition that we treat all mankind with honesty and avoid trying to hurt or embarrass them just because they do that to us, Robert Haldane admits that it is part of our Adamic nature to return evil for evil. The most mild-mannered and passive individuals are not totally without feelings of retaliation. That’s why, even for Christians, nothing but faith in Christ and His ability to help them will enable any person to overcome this disposition. But only active faith will succeed in subduing this inner anger against having been harmed. If every Christian were to be tested based on their ability to keep calm when verbally assaulted or insulted, most of them who claim they are not provoked into thinking about striking back would be found less than honest. We don’t live as Christians just to be seen and admired, but we should all try our best that when we are observed that what we do does not bring a reproach upon the Gospel and the name of Christ.
Haldane then goes so far as to declare that not only should we abstain from what we know to be wrong, but we ought to try our best to avoid doing anything with a speck of wrong in it.6 Sometimes Christians say that as long as their conscience is clear they don’t care what other people think of them. But this goes against the precept Paul is presenting here. If we are falsely charged, take it to the Lord and let Him handle it.7 As far as it lies within our power, we should not only avoid what is improper but avoid being blamed or suspected of doing anything improper. In Paul himself, we see an example of concern in this respect when he wrote to the Corinthians: “We want to always do the right thing. We want both God and men to know we are honest.8”
Then Haldane addresses the need for everyone to live in peace with each other, especially Christians. He agrees that as humans we are by nature such creatures that offenses will come. That’s why here in the Apostle exhortation he concedes that is extremely difficult to live in peace with everyone. Nevertheless, it is something the believer should always aim at, even if they may miss the mark now and then. One way is to take care that we do not give people any reason to lodge complaints against us. To live in peace with everyone must be sought at all cost. However, never should we go so far as to sacrifice our faith and duty as believers. When we do so, seldom does it win peace, but it certainly can result in the believer losing their joy.
Who would expect all believers to remain calm and at peace in the middle of a disorderly crowd or an out-of-control situation that threatens their health or even life, or rebellious circumstances that target them as believers? There will be times when no amount of calmness or trying to pacify an angry mob will bring peace. Otherwise, Jesus would have quieted the crowd that was crying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him,” like He did the winds and the waves in the storm. We must admit that the Bible tells us there will be times when we do go through trials and tribulations. But like the three Hebrew children standing in front of the burning pit, God will either keep us out of the flames or go with us into the fire. If He keeps us out of the inferno we can thank Him for His divine protection. If He goes with us into the fire we can be sure He will bring us out unsinged by the smoky flames.9
Haldane then implies that while some Christians may be naturally grumpy and contentious, there may be others who are so selfish in their desire to be acceptable to anyone and everyone, that they will say anything in order to gain favor in this world. They want so badly to be looked up to as the perfect Christians that they will not say a word about anything that’s in the Gospel, or preached in the church, or contained in their creed of faith that might offend any of their unconverted friends. Such persons congratulate themselves on being wonderful emissaries of the Kingdom of God who go around in a spirit of peace. But in fact, what they really have is a spirit of cowardice and self-indulgence; a spirit of that applauds the world’s indifference to the glory of God and the salvation of mankind.
There is nothing in Scripture that says we must maintain peace, either with the world or with other Christians, at the cost of sacrificing any part of Divine truth. A Christian must be willing to be unpopular if necessary to keep the light of the Gospel burning. No matter what manner of disgrace or shame the world may try to throw at a believer, the only thing that God asks is that they remain faithful and immovable defenders of the faith that has been delivered to the saints10.11
Albert Barnes sheds some light on what Paul meant when he said that what we present before others as our ethics and virtues must be honest. To make such a connection requires us to understand it in the context of “conduct,” and especially our behavior toward those who desire to injure us. Believers must be ready to convey a spirit and to manifest a good demeanor when they face things that are meant to harm them, either emotionally or physically because of their faith. What the world should see in us is someone who has peace of mind and security of spirit. Believe it or not, even the world will admire such a resolute attitude. Oh yes, they may call it pride or even ignorance, but inside they wished they had the same strength and resolve with it comes to their beliefs.
Also, the Apostle Paul wisely cautions us to be ready and prepared for such incidents. It will require that a believer must think ahead and determine this attitude of remaining faithful to the end as a fixed principle of resolve in their hearts. That way, they will not be overtaken by surprise and lose control of their emotions. If nothing is done to prepare until such personal attacks on their faith happens, it might result in their being caught off our guard and exhibit an improper temper. Anyone who has ever been provoked by critics and doubters will see how profound and wise this caution by the Apostle Paul is to maintaining Christian discipline awareness of the traps set for anyone who openly professes Christ as their Lord and personal Savior.12
And when it comes to our doing our best to live at peace with everyone, Barnes also advises that as far as we are personally be concerned, let peace be our first objective. It won’t always depend on us, we can do little about their hate for religion, especially the exclusiveness of the Christian faith that says unless you know Jesus as your personal Savior you cannot be called a child of God. This, of course, will lead to slander, being shouted at, and even injuries. This may come in the form of personal physical assaults or attacks on our property. We will not be responsible for their assaults, but we are answerable for our conduct in response. Under no circumstances are we to initiate the conflict. Furthermore, we may have little control, if any, over what starts it. In fact, they should be hard-pressed to point out anything we did to make them angry enough to attack us.
Nevertheless, we can be the ones who bring about a peaceful settlement. By doing so we demonstrate a Christian spirit. This precept by Paul doubtless extends to everything connected with strife that arises between believers and others. But it must always be clearly seen that we were not the ones who provoked the argument, or kept it going after it gets started.13 If all Christians would keep this firmly in mind they would never be charged with provoking a controversy. In fact, Barnes extends this to such things as believers not being involved in shady deals; forcing others to take them to court because of unpaid bills breaking a contract. We may be guilty of starting an argument or disagreement, but we shouldn’t be guilty of keeping it going.14
Charles Hodge has much to say about how not retaliating sets up the possibility for peace. For one thing, any retaliation of injuries caused will certainly lead to contentious strife. As soon as a believer is in anyway hurt or embarrassed by someone else’s careless or premeditated action, they must immediately seek to have a forgiving disposition. This is clearly outlined in verse 17. So instead of resenting every offense, take them as golden opportunities to show the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ toward all those who did the worst to Him. Christ’s forgiving attitude did not bring peace, but it did allow Him to show what godliness is really like. That’s why Paul limits his precept by saying if it is possible as far as what you know what to do. But one thing for sure, do not let any conflicts begin with you. According to the Beatitudes, you are to preserve peace. It may not always be possible with some who are wicked through and through, but there is no reason to sacrifice any principle even for a temporary peace. The precept is plain and the duty simple. Be consistent, stay above the fray, use words of peace, not war, and avoid being offensive and avenging injuries.15
1 Matthew 5:16
2 See 2 Corinthians 6:8
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 344
5 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 247
6 1 Thessalonians 5:22.
7 1 Peter 2:23
8 2 Corinthians 8:21
9 Proverbs 16:7
10 Jude 1:3
11 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc cit., pp. 571-572
12 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Psalm 34:14; Matthew 5:9, 39-41; Hebrews 12:14
14 Barnes: ibid.
15 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 621-622