The Epistle to the Romans: Romans 12:6-21

Romans 12:6‑21  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Chapter 12, verses 6-21.
Of seven gifts named in verses 6, 7 and 8, "prophecy" heads the list. Commonly in our thoughts we connect it with the foretelling of events, but in Scripture the word has a wider meaning,-the telling out of the mind of God. Surely this is a wonderful gift, to know on occasion what God would have to be said, and to tell it. There is, however, a danger that he who prophesies may intrude his own thoughts, speak them as from God; so we have the exhortation here, that prophecy should be according to the proportion of faith given to the speaker.
The second gift, "ministry" or in modern English, "service". We might, if left to ourselves, have given this a place lower down in the list; but God thinks not as men do. If one's gift lies in serving His saints, it is a precious thing to God, though it may at times appear little to us.
The sixteenth chapter begins with the commendation to the saints at Rome of Phoebe, a sister, servant of the Church, or assembly, in Cenchrea, the port of Corinth. This was good employment, indeed, that Phoebe had, in serving the believers where she lived. Is it perheps your gift, Christian reader, where you live? Then practice it faithfully.
“Teaching" and "exhorting" come next; to be taught out of the Word of God, and to be stimulated to apply the teaching practically in our lives, are what every one of us greatly need. So God has provided these gifts, and He has sometimes let us see them in exercise in young Christians, too; generally they are developed through perhaps years of training; not as teachers but as learners, in the school of God.
Every one of His children, whether he knows it or not, is in God's school, to learn lessons that men with all their learning can never teach; some Christians, you may have noticed, appear to make but little progress in that school. May you and I, then, dear young Christian, be apt scholars in God's training school at all times, whether or not it is given to us to tell others, as "teachers" or "exhorters", what we have learned in our souls from Him.
The next gift in this remarkable list is "giving". The aim of so many in the world is to get all they can, and perhaps to give only under constraint; but these are not principles of Christianity. The principle of this world is not, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:3535I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)),-words spoken by the Lord Himself. Was there ever another giver like Him? Never, indeed, nor could be.
In 2 Cor. 8 the apostle lays before the saints at Corinth the case of their poor brethren in Macedonia, not to ask help for them, but to tell "how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality", in providing for others more needy than themselves. Presently, too, the apostle brings before them the example above all others:
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich." 2 Cor. 8:99For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9).
But we must return to our chapter. Among the members of the body of Christ (verse 5) God's gift of giving is found; it is to be carried out "with simplicity" (verse 8); that is, the saint should not allow himself to be turned away from giving by one excuse or another that the old nature within might suggest. The word in the original translated "simplicity" in this verse is in 2 Cor. 8:22How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. (2 Corinthians 8:2) made "liberality"; in the one case it is a literal translation of the original Greek, and in the other the practical meaning of the word in English is given.
Next we come to "he that ruleth" (or takes the lead); for God provides leaders for the help of the body of Christ; they are to be diligent. Last of the seven gifts is "he that showeth mercy", or compassion; such a gift is to be used cheerfully, not grudgingly. How good of God to provide all these gifts! May we each be exercised about the use of them that they be not left dormant or little used.
Verse 9 commences a veritable guide book of Christian conduct and motives and the spirit that should actuate every believer. First is love; it should be without dissimulation; that is, it should be unfeigned, genuine, sincere. Love is a part of the believer's new nature; it is of God, as we read in 1 John 4:77Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. (1 John 4:7). Let it then be maintained in purity according to its divine source; so is it said here, as closely following and guarding the reference to love, abhorring evil, cleaving to that which is good. This admonition from God was never more needed than now, by young Christians and old, applying as it does to each of us in thought and word and action. Be on your guard, dear reader!
Verse 10 is the first of six passages in the Epistles in which brotherly love is referred to. The others are 1 Thess. 4:99But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. (1 Thessalonians 4:9); Heb. 13:11Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1), 1 Peter 1:2222Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: (1 Peter 1:22) ("love of the brethren"), and 3:8 ("love as brethren"); and 2 Peter 1:77And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. (2 Peter 1:7) ("brotherly kindness"). One word suffices each time in the original language,-the well known "Philadelphia", from which a great city in the United States has taken its name; but of much moment to believers is the letter to "Philadelphia" in Rev. 3:7-137And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; 8I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. 9Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. 10Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 12Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. 13He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:7‑13). There we may plainly see that brotherly love is not to be separated from what is due to the Lord Who is the Holy and True One. If we would please Him, we must abide by His word and His name.
In our chapter, brotherly love is to be shown out in a practical way, in kindly affection one toward another. This is pleasing to God, and cheering and encouraging to His people. Then, too, the same verse (10) gives direction as to honor; is it due to one or another of my brethren because of faithfulness, or some other reason? The natural heart would shut itself up in self-love; but for us the word is "each taking the lead in paying honor to the other." Next in verse 11, is, "not slothful in business". Some would take this to mean that a Christian should be diligent in the service of his earthly master, and surely this is to be commended, but it is not what is referred to here. The "business" in this verse is God's, not man's as may be seen from another reliable translation known to many, which reads for this passage, "as to diligent zealousness not slothful"; and from the remainder of the verse, "fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.”
Verse 12: In the last two verses we have been looking at the outward man, so to speak now we turn to what God desires in the inward man. In the former we had the public life; and in the latter the private life is referred to; depend upon it, service for God and for His people will amount to little unless there is a going on with Him in the heart and in the conscience. So we now come, first to hope, then to trial and lastly to prayer; often in a believer's life these three are together. Hope is of course the Christian hope, which is the coming of the Lord with all that will bring in its train. About thirty times in the Epistles from Romans to 1st John this hope is spoken of, and in such a variety of ways. Indeed we have seen it already in our progress through this Epistle in both the 5th and 8th chapters, and it is found again in the 15th. What would life be for the believer if it were not for the Christian hope?
As regards this hope, then, we are to be rejoicing. Tribulation, or as we often say, trial, comes; well, God has prepared His children for that too. In John 16:3333These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33), Acts 14:2222Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22), and in chapters 5 and 8 of our Epistle help and encouragement are there for us in that very connection. Here in verse 12, as in the fifth chapter, we are to be patient, or enduring, when trial comes in our paths. Prayer is a necessary and practical support of the Christian hope, and without it we never could endure trial. In prayer we are to be persevering.
Verse 13: God would have us warm hearted toward His own. If I should say, referring to the 8th verse, I have not been given that gift of giving; and it is perhaps true, still the 13th verse confronts me because it, like the other verses we are now examining, is addressed to all the people of God, whether gifted in a special way or not. What are the necessities of the saints? Whatever they need. Indeed, the word here translated "necessities" is commonly made "need". You will find it so translated in 1 John 3:1717But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17), Phil. 4:1919But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19) and Eph. 4:2828Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (Ephesians 4:28). "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:88Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8)), surely has an application to all the followers of Christ. And as to hospitality, which is expressly laid on us in this verse, will you turn the leaves of your Bible to the four other New Testament passages in which it is expressly mentioned? They are, 1 Tim. 3:22A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; (1 Timothy 3:2); Titus 1:88But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; (Titus 1:8); Heb. 13:22Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2); and 1 Peter 4:99Use hospitality one to another without grudging. (1 Peter 4:9); the first two might be said to be limited in their application, but not so the last two! Of course what is referred to is hospitality toward the saints of God. It may be a real question at times how these Scriptures can be complied with, because of a small income, but just put together Philippians 4:1919But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19) and 1 Peter 4:99Use hospitality one to another without grudging. (1 Peter 4:9), and you will find God's blessing.
Verses 15 and 16 lead us to sharing one another's joys and sorrows, not respecting one more than another; not minding what is regarded highly in this world, but going along with the lowly. Is it not precious to have these instructions from God for our guidance in a world whose hopes and plans are often far removed from the Christian's? You will notice that "rejoice with those that rejoice" is first, and "weep with those that weep" follows. It is often a real test of one's spiritual state when another has occasion for rejoicing, for the natural heart, even in a believer, will entertain envy at another's good. There is little difficulty in sharing another's sorrow, as a rule. "Condescend" is not the true sense in the 16th verse, and the marginal note shows an endeavor to correct the defect. A still better translation of the clause is, "but going along with the lowly." Surely this becomes us all.
In verse 17 we enter upon a subject the consideration of which occupies the greater portion of the next chapter: the Christian in his relations with the world. Are you shown unkindness, shamefully treated? Do not return evil for evil. "Provide things honest in the sight of all men", is more than paying one's bills; it takes in all that the world can see of the Christian; one has expressed the meaning of this portion of the 17th verse as "taking care by forethought that there should be what is comely and seemly before all men.”
It may at times be impossible to live in peace with all, but the blame for it is never to rest with the believer: "If possible, as far as depends on you, living in peace with all men"; but to allow our adversaries room for their wrath. Toward those who are determined to be our enemies there is to be no retaliation, no avenging of ourselves; no resistance ("give place to wrath"); for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. The quotation is from Deut. 32:3535To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste. (Deuteronomy 32:35). It may be, too, that your enemy may be won over by kindness (verse 20). The last verse of our chapter is a very profitable admonition for the believer's guidance, is it not?