Thoughts on Romans 12-13

Romans 12‑13  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Chap. 12. 1. The Apostle now comes to the moral consequences of his doctrine. The compassions of God, manifested in the acts of His grace toward us, and developed in the doctrine of this epistle, are the motive given to the Christian to urge him to obedience and personal devotedness to God. “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God—your intelligent service.” The devotedness of the Christian is an offering which he renders to God of his life and all his movements. Therefore is it that the Christian life is here called “worship” or divine “service.” The compassions of God are contrasted with the law, a living sacrifice with the sacrifices of dead beasts, and an intelligent service or worship with a ceremonial service which the hands or the body could accomplish. In no way should the Christian be a Jew.
Ver. 2. Nevertheless, he is not to be a Gentile either. If, on the one hand, he is to be outside the system of religious ceremonies, he is, on the other hand, to be also outside the world. “And be not conformed to this world, (or age), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Renewed in understanding, he has no more his relationship with the present age, but with the will of God. Under the law, one had, between ceremonies and the world, nothing but the flesh. It is remarkable that in exhorting to intelligent service, the apostle beseeches Christians to present their bodies as a sacrifice to God, and in warning against conformity to this world, he desires not a mere outward separation, but one that answers to the renewing of his mind, and this in order to discerning the will of God. It does not happen habitually that one knows His will all at once. We are exercised by God in order to know it; and in this exercise, formed by Him, we learn that His will is good, acceptable, and perfect. These two first verses furnish the general character of the Christian life, the principles of conduct that apply to every Christian, and to all his walk here below. They are summed up in devotedness and obedience.
Ver. 3-8. “For I say, through the grace that has been given to me, to every one that is among you, not to have high thoughts, above what he should think; but to think so as to be sober-minded, as God has dealt to each a measure of faith. For just as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; so we the many are one body in Christ, and severally members of each other. But having gifts different according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith; or service, [let us occupy ourselves] in service; or he that teacheth, in teaching; or he that exhorteth, in exhortation: he that giveth, in simplicity; he that leadeth, with earnestness; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Here the apostle looks at the Christian life in a narrower circle. To trace in all points the service of the gospel, he now looks at the body of Christ—this body in which each has to display conduct and activity which harmonizes with the place he occupies in it. It is the only passage in the epistle where mention is made of the body, the Church, and that in reference to the duties of the members as individuals. The general subject is—man in his individual responsibility before God. But since there is one body, the service of the members should be in the common interest. We cannot have an isolated action, as if we had a tie with none on earth. And in the general interest, the first thing recommended to our attention is sobriety, which teaches one to abide in the measure of that which he has received, not to put one-self forward, &c. Each is exhorted to modest thoughts of himself and his gift, and therefore to confine himself to the kind and the measure of the gift bestowed by God. A humble, faithful use of whatever gift has been given is the object of the apostle's injunction. The gifts found in the members of the body are different, and that again makes the saints mutually dependent, for all the gifts are not in one individual nor for one. Thus, a certain need before our eyes demands perhaps a service for which we are not qualified. What then? We are compelled, if walking in humility and faith, to wait till the Lord sends the ministry which answers to it.
Ver. 9-21. After having spoken of the particular service of the members, which are joints in the body of Christ, the apostle almost imperceptibly slides into the conduct of the saints in things which belong to the general state of the body. He gives directions and precepts which concern the good collective state, the well-being of the body. He recommends also the sentiments which suit this state. “Let love be unfeigned: abhor evil; cleave to good. In brotherly love, be affectionate towards each other; in honor, setting the lead to each other; in business, not slothful; in spirit, fervent; serving the Lord; in hope, rejoicing; in tribulation, enduring; in prayer, persevering; relieving the necessities of the saints; pursuing hospitality. Bless those that persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those that weep. Have the same mind towards each other, not minding high things, but consorting with the lowly; be not wise in your own conceit. Repay to none evil for evil. Take forethought of things honorable in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men; avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance [is] mine; I will requite, saith the Lord. If, therefore, thine enemy should hunger, feed him; if thirsty, give him drink; for, doing this, thou will heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In verse 19 the wrath of man is meant, and the saint is told to yield, letting it alone and not avenging himself. Vengeance belongs to God. The words in the next verse are a citation of Prov. 25:21, 2221If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: 22For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee. (Proverbs 25:21‑22). The sense of the Hebrew word rendered “heap,” and in other versions “to take, or withdraw,” &c., is literally to “take coals from the hearth to gather them.” The meaning of these two verses amounts to this: leave thine enemy to the vengeance of God, let God do it. The exhortation to patience under wrongs naturally introduces the relations of the Christian to the authorities of the world.
Chap. xiii. The preceding chapter has given instructions which have to do with the conduct of the saints as making part of one and the same body. It has shown what the Christian owes to the internal prosperity of the assembly of the faithful. The chapter we are entering on is occupied with their relations with the outside.
The first thing recommended is submission, on the part of the Christian, to “the powers that be.” The principle of the Christian's submission to the power is, that, in submitting to it, he is subject to God who has ordained it. “Let every soul be subject to the authorities that are above [it]; for there is no authority except from God, and those that be are ordained by God. So he that sets himself against the authority, withstands the ordinance of God, and they that withstand will get judgment for themselves. For the rulers are not a terror for the good work, but for the evil. And dost thou desire not to be afraid of the authority? Do what is good, and thou shalt have praise from it; for God's servant it is to thee for good. But if thou shouldst do what is evil, fear; for it bears not the sword in vain: for God's servant it is, an avenger for wrath to him that practices evil. Wherefore it is needful to be subject, not only on account of wrath, but also on account of conscience. For on this account pay tribute also; for they are God's officers ever attending on this very thing. Render to all their dues; tribute to him [that claims] tribute, custom to him [that claims] custom, fear to him [that claims] fear, honor to him [that claims] honor.”
By the designation, “the powers that be,” we must understand not merely force but authority. Now from the moment that power is there, it is enough to command our subjection, for the power that exists is of God. We have nothing else to do; we have not to occupy ourselves with judging it in what it is or in what it does. Our duty is to be subject. There can be no power save from God, for otherwise there would be several sources of power.
But how then render account of Satan's success in the things of this world? The adversary, though power does not proceed from him, suggests to the established powers different motives, so that they may act in the way that he desires. But this again is not our affair we have not to occupy ourselves with it. The authorities are set up by God. Such is the principle which decides our obedience, and which teaches us to submit not through fear of the consequences, but for conscience' sake. When it is a question of fidelity to Christ, we must obey Him; but in no case should we resist the authority: obedience to it is absolute, unless it involves positive unfaithfulness to Christ.
Indeed, the Christian should owe no person any debt, but discharge to every man, according to the position he is in, whatever is due to him in virtue of that position. Owe nothing to the creditor, to the magistrate, to anybody. Pay to the creditor his account, to the magistrate his honor, to each that which is his due. “Owe no one anything, except the love of each other, for he that loves another has fulfilled [the] law.” Love is a debt of which we are never quit. But, besides the love which works no evil to one's neighbor, and therefore is the sum and substance of the law, there is another principle which encourages the Christian to be faithful. “It is already high time for us to be aroused out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand, as in daylight, let us walk becomingly; not with revels and drunkenness, not with chambering and wantonness, not with strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and take no forethought of the flesh with a view to lusts.”