NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XLVII)
Charles Hodge looks at the doctrinal implications of what Paul says in these concluding verses. For one thing, abstaining from evil is just one half of the equation. It is not enough to avoid wishing evil upon our enemies; we must sincerely desire and pray for their welfare. Nor is it sufficient just to avoid returning evil with evil; we must return good for evil. The choices of judgment and vengeance belong to God, we have no right, therefore, to claim them for ourselves. All condemnation of others for self-gratification is inconsistent with the message and teachings of the Gospel.”1
Hodge then adds that one of the most beautiful exhibitions of the character of our Savior was how He acted under persecution. “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter;”2 “When He was reviled, He reviled not in return; when He suffered, He threatened not.”3 We read that even martyrs died for the truth while being respectful to their persecutors.4 It is one thing just to refrain from returning evil for evil, but it’s another to really love and pray for the good of our enemies.
But, Paul feels that this is our Christian duty. This is part of the transforming power of the Gospel. Up until now, Paul has encouraged the believers (and all of us) to find it in their hearts to bless those who cursed them. They were not to harbor any ill feelings against their enemies to the point of having secret satisfaction when evil come upon the worst of them. Besides love, there are very few things as powerful as goodness, which is a transformed virtue of love. It works as an effective way to subdue enemies and put down opposition. People who will not listen to reason, whose hearts show no fear of threats, are still not proof enough that the persuasive influence of genuine love through goodness is ineffective. So for Hodge, there is no more important confirmative reason for being good, than that it increases our power to do good.5
Charles Spurgeon preached that returning good for evil is not only appropriate but is compatible with the spirit of the Gospel. The spirit of the Law is “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”6 But the spirit of the Gospel for Spurgeon is expressed this way: “Freely I forgive you: your many wrongdoings and vast misconduct are all erased for Christ’s namesake.” That’s why we need to feel sad for those who are still slaves to sin. We are all acquainted with the Fruit of the Spirit, but for Spurgeon, forgiveness is one fruit of the Gospel, and doing good in return for evil is another. Shouldn’t the spirit of every Christian be one of unconquerable love? It is by unconquerable love that the worst of sinners are saved.7 And Charles Ellicott tells us that the imposition of vengeance is not a sign of strength, but of weakness. When we are able to control our desire to take revenge, we have gained a moral victory over self. This is a noble success in itself, but it becomes even more of a triumph when it disarms the enemy, and turn them into a friend.8
Modern Bible scholar Gerald Bray in his excellent summary of verses 9-21 explains that love is able to fulfill the law and should be the ultimate goal of all we do. Having sincere love for one another is the hallmark of our Christian fellowship at all times. But love must be accompanied by zeal and service if it is to be effective. Christians are called to rejoice because of their hope of eternal salvation, to be patient in times of suffering and persecution, and to make prayer a regular part of their lives. In all these things the future dimension of hope will govern everything we read that the early Church scholars had to say on the subject.
The early Christians understood that persecution promotes spiritual growth, and, therefore, they ought to bless their persecutors. Christian pastoral care must not only be marked by a graceful disposition and understanding for others but also by wisdom on how to treat their struggles at any given moment. Humility and peacefulness are the universal marks of a Christian. Christians repay evil with good and never seek revenge, which belongs to God alone.
The early church scholars believed that if Christians did good to their enemy they would be shaming the enemy into repentance. The coals of fire were understood as a kind of treatment that would burn away all their rebellion and malice, and its warmth would open their hearts to receive Christ. The Christian demonstrates the superiority of good over evil by refusing to succumb to bitterness, even when provoked.9
Paul had dealt with a lot of issues in this letter to the church in Rome, complicated by the fact that he had never visited this church and was only going by what he heard from some members he knew who attended there. He begins by telling them that God’s plan of salvation was no surprise, it had been unveiled by the prophets beforehand. But what was an astonishment to many is that God had planned all along to include the Gentiles in His kingdom.
However, Jews and Gentiles worshiping side by side, all believing in One God, One Messiah, One Baptism, one Faith, one Spirit, and one Way to salvation was not an easy task. In some ways, the Jews resented that Gentiles who had done nothing to recognize God or worship Him in the past were now counted as equals in the Kingdom of God. But the Gentiles pointed out that they were only there by the grace of God and their faith in Christ while the Jews kept pointing to there membership based on merit accumulated by their obedience to the Law.
So Paul uses Abraham as an example of how obedience can be accomplished by faith, not just good deeds. The Jews were continuing to live for God in the flesh while the Gentiles were living for Him in the spirit. It was God’s personal choice to choose the Jews as His people, and likewise, it was God’s personal choice to include the Gentiles. So who was going to argue with God? God had it planned all along, but it took one monumental event to bring it to fruition.
When the Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah, God then allowed the Gentiles to hear the Gospel. And once they accepted Yeshua as God’s Son the Messiah, then everything God had planned for the Jews was equally distributed to the Gentiles. But the day was coming when a remnant of the Jewish nation would also accept Jesus of Nazareth as the true Messiah. Paul illustrated it by using the olive tree as an example. The domesticated olive tree, Israel, had stopped producing the fruit that God expected. So He went out and got some branches from wild olive trees and grafted them into the domesticated olive tree of Israel. This was done so that both would grow together. No longer as Jews or Gentiles, but Christians who were the embodiment of Christ.
Having said all of this, Paul now in Chapter Twelve calls on all of them to offer themselves as living sacrifices so that God could work His will and plans to save the world through them. God did all He planned to do, now it was up to them to make a choice. They were to live in peace with each other and those around them. Returning good for evil would be the best way to prove that Salvation through Christ was the ultimate victory over mankind’s sinful tendencies. It wouldn’t be how you dressed, or how you worshiped, it would be how you conducted yourself and your behavior among fellow believers and unbelievers that would open the door to your their testimony of the influence of the Gospel and its saving power. In the end, believers would not get credit for anything they had done, but all praise, glory, and honor would go to God through Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior.
THE END OF CHAPTER TWELVE
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 626
2 Isaiah 53:7
3 1 Peter 2:23
4 Ibid. 4:16
5 Hodge: ibid, p. 627
6 Exodus 21:24
7 Charles Spurgeon, op. cit.
8 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Gerald I Bray: Editor, Romans (Revised), Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press 1998, p. 303