The book of Romans is famous for having a roadway that leads towards salvation; however it also contains a second roadway that leads from the point of salvation and forward into and through the believers' life. The second roadway commences and receives impetus from Romans 12 and especially the famous phrase that enjoins us to be living sacrifices. The question remains however: what is a living sacrifice? After all, the sacrifices that we usually see in scripture are very much dead after they have been sacrificed.
If Romans 12 really is as pivotal as I suggest then a firm understanding of it is a necessary foundation of the believers walk with God. It is therefore extremely unwise if we allow that foundation to consist of a hazy understanding of a somewhat oblique metaphor. Whilst enthusiasm can carry the believer a fair distance Romans 12 actually contains a significant amount of painstaking detail. This suggests that it is thoroughness and patience that are required to understand the genesis of our pathway. The aim of this paper is therefore to ascertain what it means to be a living sacrifice and to understand the foundation of the Christian life that is being laid.
It is always true that scripture is the best interpreter of scripture. In the case of Romans 12 this is particularly clear as scripture specifically states that the verses surrounding Rom 12:1 are providing an explanation of it. Therefore the basic approach of this paper is simply to attempt an exegesis of the verses of Romans 12 in the order the Spirit deemed fit to hand them to us. Whilst dictionaries and commentators will be used to assist in understanding some of the text the primary aim will simply be to allow the words to speak for themselves.
Whilst it is true that every book of scripture must be interpreted in the light of the rest of scripture the book of Romans rivals Genesis as being one of the most self contained books in scripture. We are therefore able to construct a context for Romans 12 using the first eleven chapters as our basis. Whilst we clearly wish to reach an interpretation that is harmonic with the rest of scripture we must first and foremost reach one that is fitting with the rest of the letter of which it forms a part.
The reasons for the relative independence of Romans are clear and introduced in the first chapter of the text itself. Firstly we know that Romans was written to the Romans and more specifically to all of the Romans not just the Diaspora. Therefore Paul is not able to assume that his audience is richly steeped within the Jewish culture. In fact Paul is writing to a culture that he has only experienced tangentially himself. Therefore Romans is an epistle that is largely devoid or either a Jewish or Roman cultural context.
Secondly we know that Paul had not visited the Roman church. Therefore the teaching provided by Romans is not an addition to something Paul had previously told them, it is not simply a reminder, and it isn't an answer to a series of questions either. To the best of our knowledge Paul had not heard of any particular problems in the church he was seeking to pinpoint; all that he knew was that there was a church that was characterized by faith. He simply wanted to give something to them to establish them and his natural choice was the gospel.
A more subtle but interesting point concerns Paul's use of the Old Testament. Throughout the first eight chapters Paul's use of the Old Testament is relatively sparse and he sticks to the main characters such as Adam, Abraham and David that one might expect a Gentile church to be aware of. He even throws in a minor apologetic to encourage the Roman Gentiles that the Old Testament was relevant to them. Then chapter nine opens and for three chapters a positive torrent of Old Testament scripture is quoted and the text is almost always included in Paul's letter. From chapter twelve the references then recede to their former level.
One of the most compelling arguments for the relatively context free nature of Romans is actually in the structure of the epistle itself. It is a book that is so logical and structured that whilst the titles differ the partitioning of the book is almost universally agreed. In this brief synopsis I will be following the titles used in Gromacki's New Testament Survey.
Romans commences with five chapters relating to the Justification of the believer. Some break this section into two at Romans 3:21. The verses before 3:21 detail the lost condition of mankind. Those verses after 3:21 deal with the sufficiency of the provision of salvation and justification in Christ. Chapters six, seven and the first seventeen verses of chapter eight then deal with the sanctification of the believer. With the fact that we are still in bodies of sin in a world of sin but that we are to live sinless lives. The remainder of chapter eight then is the third section dealing with the glorification of the believer that is our hope and expectation.
The next section, which immediately precedes chapter twelve, is then treated by most commentators as an ellipsis. We get three chapters detailing God's election of and promises to Israel. One might reasonably wonder why a wonderfully logical and cohesive narrative on the gospel should suddenly be interrupted by a huge excursion on the nature of the Jew; especially as this book is written to a predominantly Gentile audience.
I believe the answer to this question is provided by the final two verses of Romans 8. Paul has spent eight chapters expounding a gospel of grace. He has categorically shown that the works of man were useless, that faith has always been the basis of salvation, that even a redeemed believer is plagued with problems of sin and that even once saved we are fully reliant upon the Spirit for sanctity in our daily lives. He has then delivered an incredible array of exultant promises culminating is that statement that absolutely nothing, whatsoever, in the slightest can come between us and the love of God. And all of this is completely and utterly unconditional and based upon God alone.
Which leaves the obvious question: "then what happened to the Jews?" The Jews had also been given a long and incredible list of promises. And whilst the covenant with Moses was conditional the promises to Abraham had not been. If God had chosen not to deliver on the promises to Abraham then maybe He would decide not to deliver on the promises to us. Whilst it can be argued that the Jews brought blood upon themselves is it really reasonable that the individual faith of Old Testament Jews was thus fruitless? Can we be sure that future church generations would not bring similar calamity upon our own line?
It is not my aim to answer those questions explicitly here. Suffice it to say that Paul tackles the questions at length in Romans 9-11 and shows categorically that the promises to the Jews are still intact and that God can be relied upon to follow through on the statements He makes. Therefore as we prepare to enter Romans twelve we are viewed as justified and sanctified believers with a glorious future based solely upon the irrevocable and irrefutable promises of God.
Ro 12:1 - I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (NKJV)
I believe that properly understood Rom 12:1 provides the solution to the entire works verses faith battle that has characterized the church for millennia. The first eleven chapters of Romans has provided the human being with everything they could ever want and it has all been based upon the work and person of the Lord Jesus. It is our natural instinct then to say that the process is complete. However the apostle is beseeching us that the completeness of what we have been given should elicit a response. In the dispensation of Law the Jews worked for reward. In the dispensation of grace we should be working from gratitude.
The actual basis of our reaction is also given. It is to be by the mercies of God. William Newel gives nine different manifestations of God's mercy. However according to WE Vine there are three different Greek words rendered mercy:
The word used here is oktirmos; so it is not God's work for us that is supposed to illicit the response. It is the compassion that God felt and feels for us that is supposed to motivate us towards fulfilling the rest of the verse.
The next point to note is that we are to present our bodies. The word present is a technical term for presenting a sacrifice. The fact that the believer is being beseeched to present themselves shows that the presentation if voluntary. This is not a condition of salvation and it isn't even a command to obedience. It is a request by the apostle of God for people to volunteer to present a sacrifice.
The thing to be sacrificed is the believers' body. It is interesting that in this particular verse it is not the spirit that God is interested in, it is not even the mind, it is actually the body. It is not the thought that counts. There can be no falling back on the doctrine of grace to denigrate works. The doctrine of grace should provoke tangible works that are literally done using our bodies. Ultimately a test of our dedication is our willingness to let the "rubber hit the road." It is one thing to say we are dedicated, it is another to have to pay a tangible price for that dedication.
The next phrase to understand is 'living sacrifice' which would appear to be almost oxymoronic. The Levitical sacrifices usually involved killing the animal. I believe that the difficulty of interpretation of this particular metaphor is deliberate; it is the remaining verses of this chapter that actually define 'living sacrifice' and the term is thus almost idiomatic. However, it may be profitable to discuss some of the potential interpretations to keep in mind as the rest of this paper progresses.
Whilst we may not know at this point in the chapter what a living sacrifice means we do know a couple of properties of it. Firstly it is considered holy. The word rendered holy is hagiasmos which really means set apart. It does not particularly refer to purity of character. In fact per Wuest the Greek worshipper of false gods was still described as hagios. They may have been set apart to something evil but they were still set apart. Therefore firmly tied in with the notion of being a living sacrifice is that we are to be separated from those that are not in the service.
The second property is that the sacrifice is deemed acceptable. It should be noted that the statement isn't conditional. It doesn't measure how successful we are in any of the tasks that follow. Our self presentation as a sacrifice automatically results in the sacrifice being considered acceptable. This is a natural consequence of the preceding eleven chapters. Our sin is no longer counted we are considered to be without spot or blemish. Therefore no further inspection is required; if we offer ourselves then the offering is acceptable.
Finally within this verse we get the note that this self presentation is our reasonable service. The word reasonable which is a translation of logikos entirely transforms the meaning of service. Normally the word is used either of hired or compelled fulfilling of a task. In the Old Testament the ordinances were to be carried out. There was no particular requirement to fulfill the spirit of the law; it was the letter of the law which was to be obeyed. One might even argue that grudging obedience was adequate under the older covenant. However the requirement here is for the service to be reasoned or rational. It is not about mindless obedience but about mindful cooperation.
Ro 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)
We find that the first step in the process involves our conformity to the world; specifically we are not to be conformed to the world. The word conformed is in the present passive imperative; thus it really means 'stop being fashioned' or even 'get out of the habit of being fashioned.' This is not a warning about something the believer may do. It is a statement that we should stop doing something that we have been doing for some time.
The other interesting feature of conformed actually lies in the meaning of the word. There are really two Greek words that can be rendered conform. The first 'summorphos' really denotes the alignment of the entire of ones being to a given character or facet. It is from the root 'morphe' which denotes the basic form or nature of an object. The second is 'suschematizo' which really means to take on the outward appearance of something that is not really true to the objects nature. This comes from the root schema for the outward display or appearance. The Greek word here is suschematizo. Paul is not referring to the need for any internal change; that is presumed to have happened. Paul is saying that the outer shell of our behaviors and perhaps image should no longer be conformed to the world.
The next obvious question is: what is the 'world' in this context. Surely we are a part of the world that God created. We cannot reasonably stop appearing as a human being. That is true but the word used here does not stand for created order. The word is 'aion' which is really the age in which we live. It refers more to the social and moral norms or culture of society than it does to our physical location. Thus whilst we are naturally a part of physical society we are to stop mimicking the social norms of those around us.
The alternative to this conformity is then given. Transformation. Interestingly this verb also has two forms related to 'morphe' and 'schema' but this time it is the 'morphe' form that is being used. So whilst our conformation to the world is outward only the transformation of our mind is to involve a change of its fundamental nature. This transformation is actually rendered 'transfigured' when it referred to the Lord showing some of His true glory upon the Mount of Transfiguration. In short we are to stop faking our worldly position and now genuinely transform into our spiritual one.
What is required to perform this transformation is also made clear: a renewing of our minds. The Greek is also quite specific about the meaning of renew. There is a Greek word that means to refresh: to take something back to a younger or newer state. But that isn't the word here. The word here is the word for moving over to a completely new and different thing. This isn't a call to freshness or innocence or even our 'first love' but a call to have our minds changed into something we haven't had before. Further the picture is not of a sudden alteration. Instead there is to be an ongoing process of adjustment and calibration. Therefore we see that whilst the effect of the transformation is radical the process if gradual. We should note too that it is our minds that have to change. Our spirits have by this point in Romans and our bodies will ultimately obey our minds.
In this verse we also see that purpose of the transformation. It is so that we may prove the will of God. Again the precision of Greek allows us to dig further into the meaning. The word rendered 'prove' is 'dokimazo' which specifically means 'to test with an expectation of approval'. We are not showing forth some truth that we know but neither are we testing some unknown thing. We are performing the test ourselves but the thing we are testing is the will of God and therefore the necessary conclusion is already known. The point is clearly that whilst any true believer would accept that God's will is good it is also with experience and personal transformation that we can prove this to ourselves.
Finally we see three adjectives used to describe the will of God: good, acceptable and perfect. There are a number of explanations given by the commentators for this list. One is that our work however clumsy at first is still graciously described by God as good, later it becomes acceptable and finally we are perfected. Another is that His will is good for us, acceptable to God and leads to our perfection. My problem with both suggestions is that they really move the adjectives from the will of God to our works within, or largely within, the will of God.
I believe that all three adjectives apply to the will of God. The three different adjectives used actually denote an escalation and that it is as we are ourselves transformed that we change the adjective we would use to describe the will of God. The first one 'agathos' (good) has already been used in Romans 8:28. We know all things work together for good to them that love God. Very few believers would outright deny the verse but we sometimes have a hard time accepting and understanding how it is true. However as our minds are transformed we begin to see things from God's perspective and rather than just accepting that God's will is good we can actually wholeheartedly approve that which He does. Eventually we reach the point where instead of just approving God's will we can see that His will is perfect and that there is no better way for things to have gone than the way God chose. This can be a hard place to get to but it is the result of our genuine transformation of mind.
Ro 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (NKJV)
Having tackled two deeply meaningful theological verses we are now given their practical explanation. We are told this by the word 'for' which is the rendering of 'gar' which means to assign a reason. We then find that Paul is making a statement and that he is making it through the grace given to him. It is interesting that this is not based upon his authority, or upon his experience or using him prophetically to hand on a word of the Lord. It is actually based upon the gifts that Paul has received. In other words what is to come is about blessing; not discipline.
The scope of the verse is then given; it is to everyone that is amongst them. There is no suggestion that only one or two individuals would have a problem here. An inability to accurately judge self was deemed by Paul to be a likely problem in a church he had never experienced. We therefore need to assume that this is a general problem that applies to every believer everywhere.
The phrase that follows is really a play on words based around the Greek word 'phronein' which means to think. Alford renders it 'not to be high-minded above that which he ought to be minded, but to be so minded as to be sober-minded'. The high mindedness doesn't mean to be thinking upon 'higher' things; it means to be over estimating oneself. Sober-minded does not mean being dour, it means to asses oneself accurately or even sanely. As Robertson points out this verse treats conceit as a form of insanity!
For some people the natural response to this verse is complete humility, false or otherwise. However a rational evaluation of one's abilities does not mean denying those that exist. This point is emphasized by the final clause in the verse. Our faith which is the basis of our gifting and therefore can stand for it by metonymy is dealt to us by God. We may have been given a huge measure of gift and we should give glory to God and recognize that. We may have been given rather less; we should still gratefully and realistically comprehend that which we have been given.
Ro 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 12:5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (NKJV)
The first thing to notice about these two verses is that they are once again are presented as an explanation of the cause of the preceding. We are about to be given an explanation as to why it is necessary for us to judge ourselves soberly. It is not to maximize the effectiveness of our gifts and it is not in this instance to ensure that God gets the glory that is due His name; although both of those are benefits. The principle reason we need honest self evaluation is to that we can function effectively as and in the body of Christ.
The text of these two verses presents us with a well known simile. It describes the church as a body which is in Christ and relates the relationship of believers within the church to the relationship between different parts of the body. These two verses are expanded upon greatly in 1Co 12:12-27 and the effect of a body so functioning is described in Eph 4:16. These two references are actually vital to allow us to know the extent of the simile that we may draw between the body and the body of Christ.
The first thing we learn is that the body of man and the body of Christ have many members. Both are complex organisms with interactions and dependencies that we may not always understand. We also discover that it is often the smaller and less significant or even less honorable parts that are actually the more important. We also find that the members are supposed to feel each others pain and show mutual support and co-operation. Most importantly the body is to function as a cohesive whole; schism within the body of Christ is as beneficial as organ removal or limb amputation.
Even leaving aside the extensive commentary the Spirit has provided us on Romans 12:4,5 we see an important point. There may be many of us but we each have a different function. The KJV renders the word office which gives the notion of a job to do. This is not wrong but the picture is not of seven equivalent people each being given a different task. The word relates far more to the deeds performed than to the job title. The picture is that there are all of these functions that have to be performed and each body part or member is allocated a particular role within achieving that objective. As 1Co 12 shows us, an attempt to homogenize our membership may provide us with some degree of political correctness but it also renders the body incapable of functioning.
Finally for this section we need to note a small addendum made to verse 5.We are fairly well used to the notion that we are part of the body of Christ and that He is our head. As such we see our membership as principally a relationship between us and the Lord Jesus. This view has a lot of merit; there are far worse things one can do than over-emphasize our relationship with the Lord. However verse five makes clear there is an extra dimension to our membership. We are members of one another.
Just in case we seek to soften the import of that by suggesting that it means that the church as a whole is a part of each of it's members, the Spirit has used very specific wording. We are individually members of one another. The KJV is even stronger in stating that we are every one members one of another. This does not even allow for the notion of being families or specially related within the church. Every single one of us is a part of every single other one. Our pain is their pain; their success our success. It is to render the cohesiveness possible that we need to judge ourselves soberly.
Ro 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 12:7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 12:8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Sadly the subject of gifts or charismata has become so divisive within the church that the use of the term has almost become idiomatic. This is a shame as it severely detracts from the obvious, literal and instructive meaning. The things that we are able to do, our fields of special ability and service are gifts that have been freely given to us. We are further told that these gifts differ one from another. Greek has three words to denote difference. One implies that something has been divided out. Another describes a situation where a distinction is made between two things. The third denotes two things where are completely different in nature. It is the third form that is used here.
God has given each of us each of us unique gifts that are given to us in grace to fulfill the role or office He has given us within the body of Christ. The following exhortation is obvious but so readily overlooked: let us use them. Gifts are not there to grade or discuss but to use. Further we are still under the notice from verse three that the following applies to everyone. Spiritual gifting is not the sole preserve of the pastor. It is a reality that is supposed to permeate the existence of every church member and thus the function of the church.
There then follows a list of seven gifts which are distinct and which can therefore be handled individually:
Having covered a series of gifts that differ between individuals we now come to a set of exhortations that are to be heeded by the entire church. The first is love. Interestingly whilst we usually think of the amount of love we have or the breadth of love we share the first thought of the apostle here is for the quality of our love. It is to be without hypocrisy. Again Greek is rather more precise than English. It identifies three forms of hypocrisy: pretending to be something you are not, pretending to have one motive when you have another and feigning a particular reaction or behavior. It is the third one here that is noted. Even if you are being truly you and even if you have a good motive love isn't love unless it is genuine. Serving and fellowshipping out of a sense of duty is not adequate.
Notice too that we are to be a passionate people. Being loving doesn't mean tolerating everything. If something is evil it should be abhorred; the word comes from 'shuddering'. The word evil means that which causes harm. Bad influences should fill us with a genuine sense of revulsion. Good on the other hand should fascinate us and we should cling to it. The word really means to glue or even weld. This is a practical definition of sanctification.
Romans 9:12 is one of those subtle exhortations that feels easy but is actually very difficult. It is also clearer in the original than the English. The exhortation is to exhibit 'philostorgos' as 'philadelphia'. The former is the innate love that people have for each other because they are people as opposed to a desire based upon the character or nature of the person. The latter is brotherly love. Thus we are to naturally love everyone in the church the same way we would siblings we had been raised with.
Finally we are told that in honor we should give preference to one another. The word for honor derives from the idea to value. Preference means to lead. The literal meaning of this is that we are to push in front of each other to give the other the honor and recognition they deserve. It should be borne in mind that this statement is made in the context of utmost honesty in both love and abhorrence and in a closeness that comes from a blood family. There is no room for false humility or flattery. It does mean that we should be always quick to spot and admit where another member has the required gift to excel at a given task.
Ro 12:11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; Ro 12:12rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; Ro 12:13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Having discussed the way we should behave and react emotionally Paul proceeds to discuss how we should behave practically. The first verse gives us the basis of our practical behavior. The second verse gives us the nature of our practical behavior. The final verse describes what our practical behavior should be.
The KJV rendering of the first clause of Rom 12:11 is 'be not slothful in business' and is one of the bases of the so-called protestant work ethic. However this is really an application of the underlying Greek rather than a literal translation of it. The NKJV renders it as 'not lagging in diligence' which certainly captures the more general nature of the exhortation. However the English word diligence can sometimes have a connotation of nit-picking exactness; that is not the sense of the Greek. The Greek really implies zeal and can even refer to the haste that the zeal induces. The word rendered 'not lagging' can also mean don't hesitate, go slowly or delay. We therefore essentially have 'immediately be urgent and zealous in that which you do.'
Next we see what is causing the urgency and external zeal: fervor in spirit. The word rendered fervor is 'zeo' which literally means to boil. This clause is therefore really a metaphor. We are to be boiling internally which then drives an outward urgency and zeal.
Finally in verse eleven we see the required target of our zeal, service of God. It should be noted that whilst our intelligent cooperation has been emphasized in this chapter the word rendered service is still 'douleuo'. This isn't the word for ministry or work for hire. It is the work of a bonded servant which is closer in notion to slave than servant. So we see that we are to eagerly and urgently bubble over with our zeal to do the work that would normally be done from enforced labor.
Rom 12:12 then describes three required characteristics of our behavior. The first is that we should rejoice in hope. The commentators provide long and glorious lists of what our hope consists of. However given the previous arguments that Romans can be viewed as independent I would suggest that the definition of hope is actually provided by Romans itself. The word hope for our purposes is thus defined by two passages: Romans 5:2-5 and Romans 8:20-24. From the former we see that our primary hope rests in the glory of God, that the hope is enhanced through experience and that it is a hope which will not be proved vain. From the latter we see that our hope is something yet future and that the procurement of that hope comes through faith in something unseen and that the point of revealing will be the return of the Lord. In combination then our rejoicing looks forward to the ultimate glorification that will be ours through Christ.
The second clause emphasizes the future nature of our hope by underlining the pain of the present circumstances. We are to be patient in tribulation. The word tribulation is a rendering of 'thlipsis' which really means to squeeze or to pressure. The most astonishing word however is 'hupomone' which is rendered patience. The word really means to 'remain under'. The notion is more of a perseverance to remain in the pressured situation rather than a suggestion that we should endure something over which we have not control. The suffering of the believer is scripturally seen as a required form of medicine not as something to be avoided. When we suffer trials we should rejoice as one undergoing advanced training.
The final clause provides the mechanism to perform the first two; we are to be steadfast in prayer. The word used for prayer stresses that the person being addressed is God; it is not the form that stresses a petition or need. The KJV rendering 'continuing instant' sounds a little clumsy to the modern ear but captures the idea a little better than the NKJV steadfast. This is not particularly about longsuffering in prayer; it is about praying all the time, starting now. Perhaps a modern terminology would be to say 'focused upon'.
Having thus expounded upon the basis and nature of our work the text moves on to discuss what our work should be. The list is surprisingly short and may even appear a little mundane. We are to distribute to the needs of the saints and practice hospitality. The word 'distribute' unfortunately tends to imply today the opposite of what the underlying Greek meant. The word is 'koinoneo' which really means to share in. The word rendered necessity is really the one for daily needs rather than immediate distress. The picture here then is not of a one time famine relief collection. The picture is of a fellowship together whose basic life needs are mutually catered for.
The second expression 'given to hospitality' may appear to be the same; however the mood and sphere are actually different. The word rendered 'given' actually means 'to pursue'. So whilst the needs of our brethren are to be something we share and living amongst what follows is something we are to be actively looking for. The word rendered hospitality means 'love of strangers'. So it is not particularly our brethren we should be entertaining; I think that is viewed as natural. It is people we don't know that we should be actively seeking out and providing hospitality for. Some suggest that this referred particularly to 'refugee' Christians from other areas. Whilst I don't think those people are precluded that line of reasoning feels a little like the 'who is my neighbor' argument. I suspect we are supposed to be caring outgoing people to everyone the Lord places in our path.
Ro 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Ro 12:15Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Ro 12:16Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
Being warm and hospitable to all is a challenge even viewed in isolation; the problem can appear insurmountable when viewed in the context of those that are around us. How are we to react when we are mistreated? The word persecute can literally mean put to flight or pursued. Can we reasonably fight back?
Romans 12:14 gives a very brutal answer. Not only should we not fight back, but we should not even say bad things about our persecutors. The word bless is actually a rendering of 'eulogeo' from which we get the English word eulogy. The word translated curse literally means to wish evil upon; it has no notion of profanity included. So literally this verse is saying that we should be reciting the good points of our persecutors and not wishing any evil to befall them.
Romans 12:15 then gives us guidance in the area of emotional sensitivity. It is also open to two different interpretations dependant upon whether the verse separation between Romans 12:15&16 is accepted. As it currently stands verse fifteen is a directive towards empathy. We are to sense the mood of those around us and then modify our behavior to fit with their mood. Thus we are not to be the person that is miserable at a wedding or that is carefree in distress. However the division as it stands does not imply that our personal mood should be altered by those around us.
The first clause of Romans 12:16 is then interesting; It calls for a unanimity of mind between believers. With the current verse division it can simply mean that a body of believers is to eventually settle upon a plan of action and then execute without dissent. However if the first clause is moved back to verse fifteen then it is actually a call for emotional contagion. A suggestion that the pain of a fellow believer should result in pain for us and that happiness or rejoicing in a believer should elicit a similar response in ourselves.
The second clause of verse sixteen is also open to some debate. As presented in the KJV it is a fairly clear call to forego social status and to associate with the lower echelons of society. It is particularly interesting that the word associate literally means 'carried along with'. The idea is not of a weekly visit to a food kitchen; it is of ones life and spirit being joined to those we are with. However the word for humble can refer to humble things as well as humble people. It may fit better with the final clause to be a warning against intellectualism and even a spiritual form of unreality. Remembering that the two tasks we have been presented with are the care for our brethren and hospitality then cookery may well be a more useful skill than a particularly deep knowledge of Babylonian customs or Greek mythology.
The last part of this verse is generally taken to be an exhortation against conceit. As such it is really a repeat of verse three. However I believe it can be viewed differently. The word rendered 'wise' is actually 'phronimos' which is described by Vine as meaning prudent, sensible or practically wise. It is usually the word 'sophos' that speaks of a more intellectual and academic wisdom. The word rendered 'opinion' (or 'conceit' in the KJV) is actually 'in yourselves'. Thus the clause can read: 'Do not be prudent or sensible within yourselves.' This could therefore be a warning similar to Proverbs 3:5-6. Not only are we to avoid intellectualism but we are to avoid the street smarts and folk wisdom that permeates the humbler strata of our society.
Ro 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.Ro 12:18If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Ro 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Ro 12:20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Ro 12: 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As I am writing this section of the paper the people of Beirut have just endured one of the toughest air strikes they have ever faced which was launched in retaliation for their capture of two Israeli soldiers. In turn the people of Northern Israel are sleeping in bomb shelters to avoid the rockets of Hizbollah that are raining down in retaliation for the attack into Lebanon. Meanwhile the rest of the world sits back to debate what really constitutes proportionate response.
Judaism was given a standard for proportionate response by Moses; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. However, when the Lord came He set new rules for those that would follow: zero retaliation. That same standard is repeated here in verse 17. In fact the Greek is very specific. The word rendered repay is 'apodidomi' which means to 'give back in like form'. Even total proportionate response is to be avoided. To do that requires planning which is the subject of the next clause. 'Have regard' really means to plan and the 'good things' refers to that which is outwardly commendable as the final part of the verse demonstrates. The reality is that we live in a world that can cause us to react in a manner which is unfitting for a believer. This verse tells us to plan ahead to avoid unfortunate reactions and retaliations.
Verse 18 is a pretty good indication that we will not always be at peace but also strictly limits our behavior in a conflict situation. If there is any chance of peace we are to take it. Disruption may be forced upon us but we are not to instigate it. The word peaceably is also a challenge; it denotes harmony. So it is not simply that we are to declare a truce and engage in a cold war. Instead we are to make every effort to actually prevent and end ill feeling between ourselves and others.
It is interesting that as Paul enters upon the subject of vengeance he starts by addressing the brethren as beloved. One might have thought that he has already covered a few controversial subjects; however the notion of vengeance can be far more deeply rooted within us than even retaliation. Immediate anger may grab hold of us but it often cools. However there are grudges which are held that brew and faster for years and sometimes even generations.
In verse 19 Paul is telling us that we should not seek vengeance. The word is the word for vengeance outside of the process of law. There are past ills that simply will not be adequately restored here upon earth. Instead we are told to give place to wrath. Literally it means 'leave room' for the wrath of God.
The latter part of verse 19 has an obvious literal meaning. It is repeated in Heb 10:30 and probably comes from De 32:35; yet modern liberal theology has a problem accepting it. God is a God of vengeance. The word for vengeance implies an application of justice; there is no feeling of hurt or bitterness. The word for repay implies a payment is made in different kind from the original. God is a just God; evils committed can and will be punished. Therefore by attempting personal vengeance all that you are really doing is reducing the inequity that God would otherwise be correcting Himself. Essentially exactly personal vengeance reduces the ultimate punishment that someone receives.
I think verse twenty is then part picture and part metaphor. If your enemy is in need then you should meet his need whether it be for food or water. The latter part of the verse appear to have a clear metaphoric meaning; that by helping an enemy you are actually increasing the punishment he will eventually face. Some such as Wuest, find that idea sufficiently offensive that they suggest that the heaping coals of fire on someone's head was a manner of allowing them to start a new hearth fire and was thus the ultimate kindness. Personally I think the more natural meaning is probable. There are some atrocities committed that need to be recompensed. For a believer to have faith in a just God and not retaliate or bare a grudge then they have to believe that God will punish the evildoer, unless of course they repent and turn to Christ.
This section then closes with what is effectively a summary. We should not allow evil to overwhelm us but instead we should note our part in overcoming evil through doing good. It is interesting that this section ends with a message involving overcoming. This parallels and is the same Greek word as the message to the over comers that occurs through Revelation 2 and 3. Paul has in many ways laid upon the Romans a fairly heavy load. It takes faith and endurance; but the promise is that good finally will triumph over evil.
Having now examined Romans 12 in some detail there still remains the question of the 'living sacrifice'. What does it mean? I believe the key is to understand that many of the sacrifices of the Old Testament no longer apply. They have been fulfilled in Christ. Yet not all of the sacrifices were about salvation, sin or atonement. There were also sacrifices of fellowship and peace which were shared by the people and the priests that were to symbolize fellowship with God. The purpose they served was to form a framework around which a life devoted to God could be lived and experienced. The sacrifices were never for God's benefit; they were to instruct, inform and remind those making the offering.
In the same way I believe our presentation as living sacrifices is there to provide the framework upon which our Christian lives can be built. If Romans twelve were fully understood and executed upon then there is very little in our individual Christian walk that would be lacking. We have seen the need for self appraisal, the structure of the church, the disposition and execution of spiritual gifts, our emotional and practical behavior towards believers and to the outside world in the face of good or evil. To use a modern idiom: this chapter covers all the bases.
In closing I would like to say that this chapter covers a wide breadth of material and this paper has discussed the chapter in some depth. Most of us will have some of these areas functioning well, others we are working on and others are a way off. I pray that something in these pages will have spurred you just a little further forward.