I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XLIII)

Also, early church writer Ambrosiaster had something to say about leaving vengeance up to God. He begins by pointing out that Paul warns us to avoid anger because so often anger is the chief cause of doing things we later regret. We know that anyone who is motivated by fury will often demand more in return than the injury or abuse they received deserves. In doing so, they make themselves liable to do more harm than necessary while seeking revenge. They may end up destroying someone they could have been instrumental in correcting and restoring instead. This is why Paul cautions us not to seek revenge from those under us but also those who are our equals or superiors. Especially, do not seek to avenge ourselves against a brother or sister in Christ who may have wronged us in some way rather than waiting on the Lord to act. This will keep them from trying to find a way to get back at us for our vengeful attitude. Even worse, we may not even notice, because we are so angry, what has really taken place. Paul quotes God’s words when He: “I will make My shining sword sharp. My hand takes hold of what is right and fair. I will punish those who are against Me. And I will punish those who hate Me,1 to back up his point. What Paul is saying is that we must pay attention to what God teaches. If we turn revenge over to God it benefits us in two ways: it overcomes our own anger and builds on our justification with sanctification.2

John Calvin is certainly against Christians taking revenge. The main reason is that it can go from seeking an apology to seeking retaliation. When that happens, it turns the believer into a prosecutor, judge, and jury. That is close to a person wanting to be God. How can any believer try and usurp the authority of God? Avenging the wrongs done to His children is part of God’s judgment plan. God has reserved this office for Himself. Paul is clearly saying that God is their defender. So why not patiently wait for Him to act. Believers must be willing to wait for God to do something in their place instead of trying to do something in God’s place.

Calvin goes on to point out that Paul not only cautions us not to execute revenge with our own hands but keep our hearts from becoming fixed on any desire of this kind. As Calvin sees it, it is pointless to make a distinction between public and private revenge. What difference is there between someone with malicious intent on getting revenge by taking someone to court and the person who comes up with their own plan of self-revenge? There is no difference! Seeking retribution is something we must turn over to God whether it is public or private. When believers go off on a mission to get revenge no matter what, they then turn God into being their Judge as much as the Judge of those who did them wrong. However, the wrong that God must judge in the heart of the believer is that they have a depraved passion to do harm to others, instead of seeking to get them out of a terrible situation. So Paul is saying that we should forget going after others to get even with them. Stay calm, look to the future when God will repay them His way. Why turn someone who might become our friend into a permanent adversary?3

John Bengel offers his view that by making this appeal for keeping a cool mind in a hot situation, Paul is attempting to calm down those in the church in Rome who might be angry at the way they were being treated either in the congregation or in the city. When Paul does this, he often uses exhortations that flow from a sense of the Divine grace which had been shown toward him as the encourager and those in Rome he is encouraging.4 His point is that anyone who attempts to avenge themselves is trying to seize without warrant all that pertains to the God as Judge. In doing so they ignore what is said in Scripture; that is: the wrath of God, which is the only one that’s fair, is also the only one that deserves to be called “wrath.”5 Some Christians do this because they believe they are worthy of religious reverence.

As Bengel sees it, then Paul takes the next step of inferring that personal acts of retaliation may elevate themselves to prosecution through a law-suit to make up for what they were unable to achieve on their own. The Apostle pleads with the believers in Rome, and everywhere, to suppress all desire for vengeance. Just think of this: Suppose that the person who offended you is not as bad as you think, and they end up thinking that you are worse than you think. They may end up obtaining God’s grace upon repentance, but you will not because you were not satisfied with the outcome. Furthermore, your grudge against them may be seen in God’s eyes as a barrier against their having access to Him. In fact, they would have been delighted in your forgiveness and remembering them in your prayers. But even if all this fails and they do not turn to God in repentance, it still does not absolve you from your fault and you will need to seek a pardon for what you did. At least, when it is left up to God, His advantage as supreme Judge will allow Him to punish those at fault if they do not take advantage of His grace and ask for a pardon.6

On the subject of believers staying away from becoming vengeful, Robert Haldane reminds us that when it comes to our fleshly desires and passions, the urge to take revenge on those who injure us is one of the strongest and hardest to control. The Apostle Paul, therefore, introduces this dissuasive appeal against practicing this corrupt principle. Christians will have more than one occasion to test out this precept by Paul. That’s because such occurrences not only involve believers against unbelievers but believers against believers. This seems to be Paul’s main aim but is open to it being heeded when arguments arise with those in the world. No doubt Paul takes it for granted that those who abstain from avenging their own cause will not essentially promote their happiness.

It is a painful thing to think that we will not receive compensation for our injuries and abuses. However, Paul believes that by forgetting them and turning them over to God it will give us more peace and happiness than if we did get our way of punishing them. How different this is from the principles of this world. So many in the unregenerate society go by what they call the laws of honor. In many cases, in obedience to such a law, a person is willing to make a cold-blooded vow that they are ready to risk their own life to make sure that such revenge is carried out to either settle an insulting, heartbreaking confrontation or the most trivial injury. So the question now becomes, how much gross ignorance does any believer manifest when they even consider acting in this manner. Not only that but to suggest that they drop their effort to get revenge and turn it over to God would be misunderstood by them as an insult to their intelligence.

Then Haldane goes on to point out that all believers must come to the realization that God will avenge the injuries done to His people. So you may ask, what, then, will be the punishment of those who misuse their time to persecute, injure, reproach, and slander the disciples of Christ? That is God’s decision, and His right to pick the time and place. However, Haldane does not believe, as some have suggested, that this prohibits Christians from appealing to the courts in case of injuries. Not to get back at the perpetrator, but simply recover any financial or property losses. I think we all agree that this is true, especially of auto insurance, worker’s compensation, and home insurance against flooding, break-ins, and robbery.

Haldane agrees with Calvin that while we must be careful when going to court to recover losses, never should it be done based on the principle of seeking revenge. Both Haldane and Calvin look at filing a lawsuit based on a principle of revenge is the same as taking up revenge with one’s own hands. To go to court simply to get revenge is simply using a judge and jury to do the work of revenge for us. This must be considered as a misuse of justice to satisfy a personal, selfish passion. Yes, there are many cases where it would be highly irresponsible not to punish evil-doers, such as in the case of murder, embezzlement, or needless killing of innocents by drunken drivers. No judge will think it wrong to appeal to the court under such circumstances. However, as believers, we must never use even these atrocious and heinous acts as an excuse to execute vengeance.7

Girolamo Savonarola, an Italian Dominican friar, and preacher during the Renaissance period once said, “A Christian’s life consists in doing good and forgiving evil.8 This is certainly an ideology that goes beyond what Paul is preaching. Even Christians must let justice take care of those who break the law. H. A. Ironside puts it in perspective by saying that we should never take matters into our own hands. We should see what Paul is saying here in verse 19 in light of what he will say in verses 20-21. It is a matter of simple confidence that God will not allow any trial to come upon the believer through the acts of others but what He will not eventually work it out for the believer’s good9.10

Charles Hodge breaks down one important phrase in this verse when he talks about three interpretations of what the KJV that renders as, “give place unto wrath.” The NIV has, “leave room for God’s wrath.” The Complete Jewish Bible renders it: “leave that to God’s anger.” Hodge says that first, we must look at this anger or wrath as coming from the injured person. We should then take what Paul says as meaning, “allow it to pass,” namely, let it go, don’t hold on to it or pander to it. Such an interpretation would be in direct contradiction to the common and proper meaning of the phrase in question, which signifies that we should let it run its course. Hodge points out that in Latin, the phrase is frequently used in the sense of deferring the gratification of anger, giving it space or time to cool.

The second interpretation refers to the wrath that the person causing the injury should suffer. This interpretation would imply that we should not avenge ourselves, but rather yield or submit to the anger of our enemy. This is consistent with the literal meaning of the phrase that tells us to get out of the way so that it does us little harm. Hodge points to German scholar Johann Christian Schöttgen, who in his NT commentary says that Jewish writers use the corresponding Hebrew phrase in the sense of “avoiding.” However, there is no example in the Bible for such understanding. When it comes to being the object of wrath we are never told to just allow anyone the free exercise of such vengeance on any person or thing.11

That brings us to the third interpretation. This points toward the wrath of God, and out of the three, is the only one consistent with the meaning of the phrase as used in this context. In other words: Dearly beloved, don’t attempt to avenge any wrong done to you on your own. Leave that matter up to God. Get out of His way. Let God take care of it based on what He knows and what He can do. After all, it’s up to Him to see to it that those who deserve it are properly punished. Then the quote by Paul from Deuteronomy 32:35, is obviously cited to show the propriety of the command to leave vengeance to God, and not attempt to take it into our own hands. Hodge doesn’t believe that we should desire that divine vengeance overtake our enemies because of the joy we would get out of watching it happen. Rather, we should do nothing that would usurp the prerogative of God as the true avenger.12

1 Deuteronomy 32:41

2 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

4 Cf. Romans 12:1

5 See 2 Chronicles 24:18

6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 344-345

7 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 572-573

8 Agnes of Sorrento, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ch. 21

9 Romans 8:28

10 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

11 See Ephesians 4:27

12 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 622-623

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Gautama Buddha, the prince, warrior, mediator and enlighten teacher of who was born in what is now Nepal and died in India, said in one of his teachings that “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” There is no one alive who cannot relate to this saying. We all know about anger and often try to deal with it every day. But where does anger come from? There are several theories, let’s look at some of them.

While it is not the same in everyone’s case, feelings of being depressed often go hand-in-hand with feelings of anger. Some psychologists say that if there’s a circumstance in our life that’s causing us to be angry, but we feel powerless to change it, that means we’re carrying around that anger every day with seemingly no way to release it. It’s easy to see how this could lead to depression. So dealing with the anger may help to resolve the feelings of depression. And since anger is the strong emotion we feel when we think that we have been treated unfairly, or disrespectfully, or abusively, that would be a good place to start.

But we also know that anger can be triggered by little things. Psychologists tell us that if little annoyances upset us more than we think they should, it’s probably because our irritation isn’t about those small annoyances — it’s about something larger that we haven’t been able to deal with yet. And when we’re holding on to those unresolved feelings, small infractions will often play into our already existing circumstances and reinforce our anger. So don’t get mad at the little things that set you off, find out what you haven’t yet come to grips with that is much larger. For instance, a boss came in and found out that his secretary had not completed all the correspondence needed to be signed. He immediately began to yell at her and called her names he had never used before. Come to find out, before he left the house that morning his wife had asked him for a divorce. So that was the cause for his anger, not the unfinished correspondence.

Psychologists also point to times when we feel stuck in an uncomfortable situation. Whether it’s a personal or a professional relationship, if we feel like we’re in a constant state of limbo with the other person, it might be because we’re holding on to anger. we’re not telling them we’re angry, so there’s no arguing on one hand — but on the other, there’s no progress, either. This can cause us to feel like we’re stuck in a holding pattern. This can also happen with unfinished business or projects. For instance, if the wife wants the TV mounted on the wall so it will give her more room to move her furniture around, but the husband wants to keep it on the stand so he can get to it easier if something goes wrong, as long as that contention is not settled, anger is very likely to show itself over even the smallest unrelated disagreement.

But clinical studies also tell us that sometimes we deal with anger through isolation. As long as the situation or disagreement is not resolved it can cause us to cut ourselves off from the person or people we feel angry at. This can be a problem, particularly if those people are our loved ones. If we find ourselves avoiding or drifting away from specific people, we should ask ourselves why. It may be that it feels easier to avoid them than to maintain a relationship, in which case we will likely have to address our anger. But over the long term, being honest about our feelings will be much more constructive. It is a very soothing and healing feeling that happens when we tell someone we love that we were angry with them, but it wasn’t their fault, it was ours. Asking for and receiving forgiveness will come very quickly.

But there is also another factor that must be addressed when we can’t seem to resolve what’s making us angry. We keep telling ourselves the same story, in which we are right and they are wrong. Psychologists tell us that it’s a good thing to try to make sense of what we’re experiencing — and many of us do this through stories. But if we find ourselves telling the same stories about how our partner or friend’s did us wrong over a lengthy period of time, it’s probably a sign that we’re holding on to anger that hasn’t been dealt with yet. We all need to vent, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But if we’re venting about the same things time and again, that’s likely something we want to look into a little more deeply. The more we keep those closest to us at arm’s length, the colder the relationship will become.

So, if these signs sound familiar to us, what can we do to let go of our anger so that we can move on? Here are a few helpful steps:

We should stop going on guilt trips all by ourselves. We live in a culture that demonizes anger. As a result, many of us feel like there’s something wrong with us if we’re holding on to anger. We feel like we should be “nicer” people, and feeling this way means we have a bad temper. As a result, we hide our anger, even from ourselves. But the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with being angry. Give yourself permission to truly feel your emotions. It’s dealing with our anger and its cause that takes time, but it is worth it.

As one counselor said, for many of us, the source of our anger can be the feeling that we’ve been victimized or wronged in some way. And this can be completely true. It might genuinely be the case that the other person acted wrongly and that they hurt us for no reason. But continuing to let that person have power over us will only keep us stuck. We didn’t have control over what they did, but we do have control over how we react. If it’s a toxic relationship or workplace where we’re continuing to be victimized, it’s better to leave than to stay and remain angry. Or if there are steps we want to take to address our feelings and repair the relationship, we should know that it’s in our power to do so.

Another counselor stated that it is alright to express our anger. Often, we bottle up our anger out of a desire to keep the peace. But this never works out well, as it often leads to resentment. We should allow ourselves to express what we feel. This doesn’t mean shouting and accusing. There is a respectful way to have a conversation in which we let the other person know we feel angry. And it’s important to do so, otherwise, the relationship will continue to operate based on false pretenses.

One of the simplest and yet most powerful ways of dealing with anger is learning to forgive. There is a time when this is appropriate, and that time might not be right now. We must allow ourselves to truly feel and express our anger first. If we try to jump right to forgiveness and skip the process of really recognizing what we’re feeling, then “forgiveness” becomes just another way to sweep our feelings under the rug. However, once enough time has passed and we’ve allowed ourselves to process our feelings, forgiveness will be very powerful. Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the other person off the hook if they wronged you. It doesn’t mean you’re saying everything that happened is okay. It means you acknowledge what happened, you’re just not going to demand restitution before you let go. You’re not going to let it keep you stuck. It really is the most powerful way to let go of anger.

The Bible is not silent when it comes to dealing with anger. David said in one of his Psalms that it’s alright to get upset and aggravated, but don’t let it make you do something wrong. Stop, go lay down, meditate on what has happened, examine your heart and it will calm you down.1 In another place he said that we should turn our feelings over to the Lord in prayer. Don’t get upset if the one who wronged us is doing fine while we’re still aggravated. This will help us stop our anger from causing us to do more harm than good. When that happens, then the possibility of ever resolving our differences will be remote at best.2

Apparently, David’s son Solomon learned quite a bit about anger. He once said that a person who is short-tempered can end up acting like a fool. That’s because they hate the person who is patient. Then he says that a person is long-tempered knows how to control themselves because losing their temper can lead to making a great mistake.3 Long-tempered individuals have learned that giving a soft answer can calm the other person down as well. If we yell back each time we’re yelled at it only makes the situation worse. Furthermore, when we let our temper get the best of us, it can cause a fight, but if we keep it under control, we can keep a fight from happening.4

Solomon goes on to say that it is better to be known as a person who does not easily get upset than it is to be famous.5 It’s not that things don’t bother us, but that by withholding our anger, it gives us time to look at what happened. In the end, we get greater admiration for having forgiven than that we took revenge.6 In fact, Solomon said that a person without any self-control is like a city whose walls are broken down.7 Today we might say that it is like a dictator of a small country with a rag-tag army taking on the United States Military. Solomon would say that such a person was a fool to lose their temper. They should have been quiet and let their anger cool down.8

The Apostle Paul was also keen on believers controlling their anger. He wrote the church in Ephesus and told them to go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.9 And the Apostle James joins him by writing to his constituents that should never forget that it is best to listen much, speak little, and not become angry; anger doesn’t make us good, as God demands that we must be.10

Keep this in mind: anger, like love, joy, peace, is an abstract emotion. You can’t pour it into a glass like you do orange juice or grape juice. But the consequences of anger are very concrete and real. A broken chair, a busted mirror, or a black-eye, swollen lip, or multiple bruises can prove that. But it’s the wounds on the inside that are not seen, and they often hurt the most and take the longest to heal. So remember what Buddha said about wanting to throw a hot coal at someone in anger, you will be the one who will end up with the most burns. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Psalm 4:4

2 Ibid. 37:7-9

3 Proverbs 14:17, 29

4 Ibid. 15:1, 18

5 Ibid. 16;32

6 Ibid. 19:11

7 Ibid. 25:28

8 Ibid. 29:11

9 Ephesians 4:26-27

10 James 1:19-20

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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EVEN IN THE DITCH

This real-life story was told by Linda Perkins a few months ago. It makes a very valid point that we must always look up not down when we find ourselves in less than happy circumstances. I hope it blesses you as it did me.

She had just dropped her daughter off at school and was turning out of the parking lot when she spotted something out of the corner of her eye. There, in the drainage ditch on the side of the road, was a white egret, standing tall on his long stick-like legs in about six inches of water.

Living on the Gulf Coast, it isn’t unusual to see water birds. They don’t normally hang out on city streets, though.

She pondered why the bird was there. Was it lost? Injured? She didn’t know the circumstances of how it got there, but there it was…in a ditch.

She thought about how sometimes we are like that bird, in circumstances we would not have chosen…when times are tough and life feels hard. Yet, while we may feel alone when we are down and out, that bird served as a reminder that we are not. God is with us.

Her neighborhood egret may have been lost, but something led him to find what he needed…water. He didn’t find it in a lake or a bayou. He found it in a ditch.

Oftentimes, we spend our time trying to climb out of life’s ditches. Meanwhile, God reminds us that we don’t need to go anywhere. He is there in ALL our circumstances, not just the good ones. He is ready to provide what we need, wherever we are…yes, even in the ditch. – Linda Perkins, April 2019 Postcards

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XLII)

Frédéric Godet notes that Paul continues talking about how we should always confront evil with good. In Godet’s mind, the Apostle is identifying a person’s preoccupation with good as being a remedy for the retaliatory thoughts and hostile intentions people began to conjure up when dealing with resentment. Paul wants the believer’s internal preoccupation with doing good to be so apparent in their conduct, even toward their adversaries or enemies, that no one would suspect them of possessing a mind that is inspired by a hostile disposition. This spirit of goodwill is necessarily one of a peacemaker. It does not meditate on things that can cause trouble but strives to remove what disunites. Paul’s first restriction deals with our neighbor’s conduct. We are not to try and master their feelings. We have enough to do with keeping our own in check. That leads to the second restriction. As much as lies within our own power, to exercise discipline over ourselves. Paul is not advocating that we are responsible for convincing our neighbor that they should make peace with us. Rather, God is depending on us to always be inclined to keeping a peaceful relationship with them.1

John Stott also meditates on this subject of good for evil. For him, Paul’s first antithesis between good and evil was, “bless and do not curse” (verse 14). His second begins with: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (verse 18). I like how J. B. Phillips renders this, “we are to see that our public behavior is above criticism.”2 This then would make our actions and attitude abnormal if we claim to be refraining from doing anything bad while at the same time not seen as trying to do anything good. Paul’s next counterpart to this first precept is to dismiss any notion of retaliation. As much as possible, and as far as it depends on us, we should have a peaceful relationship with everyone. When we refrain from repaying evil with evil, it defuses any potential of inflaming a disagreement into a quarrel. But there is more. As believers, we must do all we can to initiate peacemaking,3 even if, as the two qualifications indicate (“if it is possible” and “as far as it depends on us”), this is not always possible. We’ve learned that sometimes people are either unwilling to live at peace with us, or refuse to accept any conditions for reconciliation. When this happens, never be tempted to agree to any unacceptable moral compromise just to make peace.4

Douglas Moo also has some thoughts on this subject. For him, at the end of the Apostle’s brief outline of the subject of sincere love, Paul returns to a key ingredient of that love he mentioned in verse 14, namely, responding to the persecution of unbelievers with kindness rather than with hatred. Paul wants to show the positive and negative aspects of dealing with unkindness and slander. First, he introduces the negative facet: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” With the teaching of Jesus in mind, Paul echoes what our Lord said encouraging us to bless those who persecute us, and discouraging us from demanding an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.5 Jesus thereby introduces us to the kingdom of God’s ethic of non-retaliation, something Paul renews here.

But here the followers of Jesus are exhorted to do more than just avoid retaliation. Paul says in verse 17 they must also do what everyone would agree was the right thing to do. However, who is to determine for a Christian what is “the right thing to do?” That’s why verse 18 qualifies the extent to which believers are to conform their behavior to meet the expectations of unbelievers. “Do the best you can” means, in effect, only that which God’s good and perfect will allow you to do. But under no circumstances should believers feel compelled to seek approval with the world at the expense of God’s moral demands. We all must realize that a harmonious relationship with unbelievers will not always be the outcome of our best efforts. After all, look how hard our Lord tried to establish a good relationship with the scribes and Pharisees, but in the end, they too joined in crying out, “Crucify Him.”6

Jewish scholar David Stern makes no secret of the fact that this teaching by Paul may have been influenced by the teaching he received under Jewish Rabbis.7 For instance, in their own Mishnah, we read these words: “It is one’s duty to be free of blame before man as before G-d. As it states: ‘And you will be cleared [of any charges] before ADONAI and before Israel.’8 And it further states: “Then you will win favor and esteem in the sight of God and of people.910 Another Jewish writer believes that Paul is speaking here about being arrogant. This means: having an attitude of superiority which is expressed in an overbearing manner based on presumptions. Paul might have been offering this advice while dealing with a specific situation in the Roman congregation, but it qualifies as a general application for all believers. In this Jewish writer’s mind, arrogance is equated (spiritually) with poor judgment, while humility is attributed to sound judgment based on seeking God’s will as found in the Torah. It is there that we find what God’s says are our “rights” or “freedoms” as believers11.12

Verse 19: My friends, don’t become the avenger when someone does something wrong to you. Wait for God to punish them with His displeasure. In the Scriptures, the Lord says, “I am the one who punishes; I will pay people back.”13

Here the Apostle Paul begins with one reference and one quote from First Covenant writers. First, he repeats what Solomon said about waiting for the Lord to do the punishing.14 Then, second, he quotes what Moses had to say to the children of Israel about how to placate their enemies and making peace. In another place, Moses adds this: “Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am ADONAI.15 King Solomon also emphasized the same ethic: “Don’t say, “I’ll do to him what he did to me, I’ll pay him back what his deeds deserve.16

Paul wrote this letter to the Roman believers during a time when Jews were hated in many places where they had relocated, and Christians were looked upon as a radical sect of Judaism and not well thought of. Therefore, getting along with each other was of extreme importance. This then would help them support each other when they were assaulted and persecuted by the heathen world around them. It was another way of God saying: Stick together and let me take care of those who are trying to make your lives miserable.

There was a good reason for Paul to make this recommendation. After all, what God did once for His people He would do again since He never changes. He told the children of Israel what would happen to those who turned their backs on Him: “Vengeance and payback are mine for the time when their foot slips; for the day of their calamity is coming soon, their doom is rushing upon them.”17 Even the Psalmist called out for God to do His job: “Yahweh God of vengeance, ADONAI! Yahweh God of vengeance, appear! Assert Yourself as judge of the earth! Payback the proud what they deserve!18 Of course, once such a prayer is prayed, then the outcome must be surrendered into the hands of God so that His will and only His will may be done. The prophet Nahum received this word in his vision about Nineveh: “ADONAI is a jealous and vengeful God. ADONAI avenges; He knows how to be upset. ADONAI takes vengeance on His foes and stores up punishment for His enemies.19 Some 700 years later the writer of Hebrews echoes the same warning as it was written in the Torah.20

Early church scholar Origen sees what Paul says about vengeance belonging to God as two ways of dealing with the anger which comes when we are offended. First, we hold back our anger and let it pass. Once the fury of our rage has subsided it will be gone because we learned how to swallow it. The second way is to surrender it to God who puts it in His storehouse of punishment waiting for the Day of Judgment. On that day, God will dispense to each person what they deserve for their words and deeds. When we take it upon ourselves to get revenge, there is not much we can do apart from demanding an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth,21 or else insulting others as they have insulted us. But if we postpone any such avenging to what God has planned for them, He will, without doubt, punish them far more severely than we ever could.”22

The Bishop of Tarsus, Paul’s hometown, shares that Paul uses the Greek noun orgē, meaning wrath,” to describe God’s punishment. Thayer in his Lexicon puts this in the category of how God treats disobedience and resistance to His will by punishing them for it. In other words, it is not all out wrath upon them, but specific to their act of being stubborn and resistant to God’s will.23 If there was no discipline, how would sinners understand right from wrong in God’s Law and God’s judgment on those who are disobedient to His Law? This has nothing to do with some kind of passion on God’s part to be mean and nasty. Since most people respond to those who do them wrong in wrath and anger, they shouldn’t be surprised that the Scriptures use the same words to describe God’s reaction.24 Then Chrysostom adds to what is being said here by noting that what any insulted or injured person desires most is for the guilty paid back. But Christians need not worry, God will give it to them in full measure, provided that believers do not take it out of His hands and avenge it themselves. Leave it to God to follow up the wrongs done to you.25

1 Frédéric Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

2 J. B. Phillips Translation of the New Testament, loc. cit.

3 Cf. Matthew 5:9

4 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

5 Matthew 5:38

6 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Numbers 32:22

9 Proverbs 3:4

10 Mishnah: Second Division: Mo’ed, Tractate Shekalim, Ch. 3:2

11 See Psalm 131

12 Messianic Bible, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 Deuteronomy 32:41

14 Proverbs 20:22

15 Leviticus 19:18

16 Proverbs 24:29 – Complete Jewish Bible

17 Deuteronomy 32:35

18 Psalm 94:1-2

19 Nahum 1:2

20 Hebrews 10:30 quoting Deuteronomy 32:35-36

21 See Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38-48

22 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

23 See John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 4:15; 9:22a; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3; Revelation 14:10; 16:19; 19:15

24 Diodore: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

25 Chrysostom: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

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

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

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

7It 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 [3]

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

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXXIX)

Early church preacher Chrysostom wants us to notice that once again the Apostle Paul insists on humility, which is how he started this whole exhortation. It did not escape Paul’s attention that there was a strong possibility that the Roman believers would be high-minded because of the greatness of their city, the capital of the world at that time. He knew that there is nothing more likely to cause schisms in the church than vanity. So the Apostle’s instructions were that if you are given the opportunity to invite a poor person into your house, don’t go strutting around because you were able to do so.1 In Christ, there are no rich or poor. Don’t be turned off by their outward appearance, but receive them because of their inward faith. If they appear despondent and troubled, do not hesitate to comfort them. If they are rejoicing over some accomplishment, don’t be shy sharing in their excitement. If you think of yourself as an important person, then think of them the same way. If you find that they are humble and lowly, then remember where you came from and what you used to be and treat them as a close friend.2

Martin Luther believes that Paul is referring here to the tendency of some to esteem those who rank highly in the world but have little or no interest in those of the lower class. Paul wants them to treat both equally. The purpose of this is so that people do not begin to think so highly of themselves that they become arrogant. Luther believes that Paul’s words are addressed to those who have become conceited, stubborn, and obstinate. Luther looked around and commented that it was hard to believe that so many were afflicted by this proud attitude that it was difficult to find anyone who was totally free from it. Such individuals accept no advice, even though they have been convinced of what is right by simple reasoning. These are the type that cause of dissension. They tend to be the most vicious peace-breakers and destroyers of the unity of faith. For this reason the Apostle writes to the Ephesians: “Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,3 and to the Philippians: “Be like-minded, having the same love; being of one accord, of one mind.45 If you ever read about what Luther went through before the Reformation broke out, you’d clearly understand who he was talking about.

Fellow Reformer John Calvin points to the Greek words that Paul uses and finds how significant and suitable they are to the antithesis, “Think not,” he says, of “high things.” The Greek verb phroneō (mind) actually refers to one’s “opinion” of themselves. So when that is combined by the Greek adjective hypsēlos (high things) which refers to “something we aspire to,” we can see Paul’s point more clearly. In other words, don’t get hooked on being something you are not or that you think you deserve to be. In Paul’s mind, that it is not the kind of arrogant person a Christian should be, ambitiously aiming for those things that may put them ahead of others. Instead, keep a low profile and let circumstances raise you higher, not self-pride. That way, if a person does succeed in being placed in a more responsible position, it will be by the Lord’s choice, not by pride and disdain for others.

For Calvin, verse 16 was a fitting principle added to what Paul had just said in verse 15. There, Paul advised everyone to rejoice with those who rejoiced and feel sad about those who felt sad. So now he tells them that by doing so they will live in harmony with each other. As Calvin knew, nothing shatters the unity of believers more than when one or two begin to elevate themselves as though they belong to a higher class. Furthermore, it will only grow worse when some in the group have their heads swell because they think they know what’s best and do not need to submit their ideas to any council. The cause of such arrogance can be traced to people who elevate themselves to positions of importance.6

Jonathan Edwards informed his listeners that humility can prevent contemptuous behavior. Treating others with disrespect and discourtesy is the worst kind of pride. Truly humble believers do not go around bad-mouthing others either out of jealousy or just because it feels good. They don’t see themselves as being above others so as to cause them to look down on them with a haughty spirit. They realize that if it wasn’t for the grace of God, they would be just as despicable a worm as they are. They sing with great gratitude and passion the words of Isaac Watts famous hymn that goes: “Alas! and did my Savior bleed and did my Sove’reign die? Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?7

Adam Clarke speaks about some of the conditions in society during his period of the 1700’s. Too many were trying to get to the top no matter what it cost. For Clarke, it was the corruptness of shallow minds. However, it does serve some redeemable purpose. Such individuals are more than conscious in their own minds of the fact that they are of little worth the way they are, so the only way to become worth something is to try and gain a little credit by endeavoring to associate themselves with people of high rank and fortune. Some seek to do this through employment, and others by way of social events and association. This was true not only in the world but also in the church. However, any rise in their importance was mostly done by their imagination. Here Paul echoes what the wise man said in Proverbs: “Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil.”8 Clarke warns his fellow ministers that they should not suppose that wisdom and discernment dwell alone in them. Always accept the fact that they need both help and instruction from others.9

On the subject of being united in thought with fellow believers, Robert Haldane feels that this precept refers to unanimity, cordiality, and harmony when dealing with church business, rather than being of one mind when it comes to understanding the Gospel. That’s because when it comes to their beliefs, it is the Word of God with which believers are to be in accordance, and not with the opinions of each other. For congregations to be united in their belief, even the least part of the revelation of God is of great importance. However, being in complete agreement on everything in God’s Word would require everyone to have full and complete knowledge of the Divine word. This, of course, is hardly possible. Paul’s injunction is most important, however, and a warning against a faultfinding spirit when it comes to the business of the church with which we are all connected in our discussions with another.10

Charles Ellicott has some interesting things to say here. As he sees it, perhaps a better paraphrase of this verse might be as follows: “Let yourselves be carried along in the stream with those who are beneath yourselves in rank and station; mix with them freely; be ready to lend them a helping hand if ever they need one, and do this in a simple and kindly way; do not let any social predispositions keep you at a distance.” Another rendering would be, “come down from your high horse and associate with those on the ground.”

Ellicott mentions something that John Keble, an English church layman, and poet, after whom Keble College at Oxford was named, wrote. In one of Keble’s poems, that was turned into a church hymn, we read where he wrote that our everyday tasks and common duties give us all the opportunity we need to humble ourselves and bring us closer to God.11 As a Bible scholar you will observe that in this way of taking the passage, the Greek verb synapagō which means “to condescend, move down, be humbled” has to be said with force, not in an expressive and natural way Paul would have liked to have said it.12 Humility is necessary for Christians not only in their dealings with others but also to keep their minds open and teachable. This is a hard thing for many to do. But this provides a way they can see their errors, and learn from them.13

John Stott takes up the subject of elitism in the church by pointing out that there are few if any, kinds of pride that are worse than snobbery. Snobs are obsessed with issues of status, with the stratification of society into “upper” and “middle” and “lower” classes. In some countries, its divisions are “tribes” and “castes,” and the social circle they live in. They forget that Jesus fraternized openly and freely with those considered to be social rejects, and called on His followers to do the same with equal freedom and naturalness. Stott notes that J. B. Phillips in his NT translation puts it, “Never be condescending, but make real friends with the poor.” What a comprehensive picture of what Christian love ought to be like that Paul gives us! As Stott points out, Love is sincere, discerning, affectionate and respectful. It is both enthusiastic and patient, both generous and hospitable, both benevolent and sympathetic. It is marked by both harmony and humility. Christian churches would be happier communities if we all loved one another like that.14

Verses 17-18: If someone does you wrong, don’t try to pay them back by hurting them. Try to do what everyone agrees is right. Do the best you can to live in peace with everyone.

Here the Apostle Paul endeavors to show the difference between retaliation and recompense. Retaliation is most often an effort to inflict injury while trying to get revenge for some true or imagined harm done. Recompense, on the other hand, means seeking to receive compensation for some service rendered or damage incurred. It is often thought of as simply replacement of cost. So when some member of the church does something that results in a loss, especially an accusation that causes harm to one’s reputation or standing, Paul says don’t try to pay them back by attacking their good name. Check with those around you and agree on what everyone thinks would be a fair recompense. Not only will this result in keeping a friend, but in some cases may make a friend out of an enemy.

Perhaps Paul had Solomon’s wise saying in mind, where the son of David said: “Don’t say, ‘I’ll pay back evil for evil;’ wait for Adonai to save you.15 Jesus went a step further when He told His disciples: “I tell you, do not fight with the man who wants to fight. Whoever hits you on the right side of the face, turn so he can hit the left side also.16 This no doubt inspired Paul to tell the Thessalonians what he is telling the Romans here: “See that no one repays evil for evil; on the contrary, always try to do good to each other, indeed, to everyone.17 Even the Apostle Peter offered the same advice: “When someone does something bad to you, do not do the same thing to him. When someone talks about you, do not talk about him. Instead, pray that good will come to him.18

1 See Luke 14:7-11; James 2:5

2 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 22

3 Ephesians 4:3

4 Philippians 2:2

5 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 177

6 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 283)

8 Proverbs 3:7

9 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 246

10 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 570

11 From the hymn: New Every Morning is the Love, words by John Keble, 1822, 4th stanza. In the original, it reads, “The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we ought to ask, room to deny ourselves, a road to bring us daily nearer God.

12 Cf. Romans 11:25; Proverbs 3:7

13 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

14 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

15 Proverbs 20:22

16 Matthew 5:39

17 1 Thessalonians 5:15

18 1 Peter 3:9

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