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ROMANS 12:1-12:21
Last updated 06/29/01

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.


Introduction

As mentioned earlier, the letter to the Roman congregation is divided into multiple sections and sub-sections, with various interwoven themes, some of which overlap sections, or return after a parenthesis in which Paul addresses other issues. Such is the Talmudic-Pharisaic method of Paul's writings.

Chapters 12:1-15:13 follow the language directly from chapter 11, where Paul showed that gentiles are part of Israel (re: Ephesians 2:12). This critical section may be regarded as the reason that Paul wrote this letter.

Paul comes to explain ("halakhic rulings" based on his authority - re: Romans 12:3), some specifics of the "obedience of faith" (re: Romans 1:5), which he is to teach the gentiles (re: Romans 11:13). The commands in these chapters are especially directed at gentiles regarding how they are to relate to non-believing Jews. Paul refers to the tension between believers (gentile ones) and non-believing Jews, describing the Jewish unbelievers from the gentile's view, using terms such as; "enemies," "persecutors," and "authorities."


1-2  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

As is taught in many study groups, when you see the word "therefore" you should find out what it's "there for." In this case, "therefore" follows the concerns of chapters 9-11, where Paul stated that Israel is still God’s chosen people and that He is not done dealing with them. Paul makes it clear that gentile believers’ salvation and future is inextricably linked with that of the Jews.

These two verses introduce the main thrust of the subsection that covers 12:1-15:13, which is directed to a specific situation in the Roman congregation. We do not have the benefit of knowing the exact details of what Paul was addressing, (which is always a problem when trying to interpret his writings some 1900+ years later.) We can assume however, by how Paul quickly "gets to the point" on these issues in this section, that his audience knew what he was talking about.

The term "mercies of God," in verse 1, was defined in 11:30-32. (Mercy = hesed = grace) Paul has already made it clear earlier in the letter, that gentiles have received mercy due to some of Israel not accepting Yeshua. (Again the theme of gentile salvation being linked to Israel is critical.)

The term "living and holy sacrifice" has to do with a Temple and the "house of living stones" made up of both Jews and gentiles, for the purpose of serving the Lord and each other (see Ephesians 2:21-22 and 1 Peter 2:5). Here the term "service" is latreia in the Greek, and corresponds to "avodah" in the Hebrew, having to do with Temple service.

How a gentile was to to be a "living sacrifice" involved specific behavior, and relates to how they were to give their body to God's service as they have their mind renewed. The theme of "renewing of the mind" is a continuation of 11:25. Paul does not want them to be "wise in their own estimation," but to have sound judgement, based on God's revelation -- the Torah -- as properly interpreted.

"The world" that the gentiles live in (and not to be conformed to), is not only very sinful one, but also one that is very anti-Jewish (as mentioned in our background material). The imagery is the same as Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:12:20; and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 -- Gentile believers are to stay pure as they themselves are a "holy temple."

It is important to note at this juncture that the Torah is viewed as a whole in Judaism. Table fellowship and fornication are not completely separate items, as ethics, purity and ritual laws were not detatched from each other. Gentiles were expected to uphold certain basics as taught in Acts 15, along with more "universal" commands such as those against murder, theft, etc. As seen in Acts 15:21 however, they were to continue learning more of the Torah at the Synagogues on the Sabbath, as the Torah is the only revelation ever given to mankind by God.

Several writings from the "New Testament" attest to the bond between the commandments of the Torah, many including "uncleanness," (which is caused several ways, including eating unkosher food!), with other sins:

James 2:10-11 - For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Romans 6:19 - I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

Galatians 5:19-21 - Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

2 Corinthians 12:21 - And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.

(See also Ezekiel 18:1-22 for the unity of Torah's commands.)

3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Here Paul issues another warning against (gentile) boasting/arrogance (re: 2:8; 11:18,25). The term "measure of faith" is not some sort of measured quantity (i.e., the idea that there are "superior" and "inferior" believers). It is the simple fact of the existence of this faith in Yeshua, by the grace of God, as Paul stated in another of his letters:

Ephesians 4:7 - But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Messiah.

Believers that compare themselves to their own standards, or to other believers, or to unbelievers, show a lack of understanding, as Paul alluded to in another letter:

2 Corinthians 10:12 - For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

Verses 3-8

Though we have different gifts given to us from God, they are all given to serve each other. The theme of "servitude" versus "personal rights" is important in the chapters ahead.

Verses 9-21

The theme in this sub-section is "halakha" (one's "walk of faith") As we will see, Paul is concerned with gentiles behavior as to show the legitimacy of their faith. They are to be humble and "do good" as they respect what is right in the sight of others.

10  Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another

Paul draws out the meaning of Leviticus 19:18, one of what Yeshua considered to be the "two greatest commandments" along with loving God:

Leviticus 19:18 - Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Paul is supporting a Talmudic command that is concerned with honoring another person's beliefs:

Nedarim 81b and Shabbat 94b - "Things that are in themselves permissible, and yet are treated by others as forbidden, you may not treat them as permitted in order to nullify them … the dignity of human beings is a great thing, for it supersedes (even) a negative injunction of the Torah."

11-13  Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

Note that Paul follows "fervent in Spirit," with "serving the Lord," as a reminder that it is not outward visible excitement that shows the work of the Spirit, but rather a desire to serve God according to what He has laid out in His Torah. As mentioned in both this and our other studies, "works" are part of faith. (See comments regarding those of the Spirit being subject to the Torah, in Romans 8.)

Those following God are to be "in balance" between their fervor to do things for God, and understanding of what things God approves of. All study and no action makes one useless for God's service of bringing "tikkun" (restoration) to this world. Actions apart from what Torah prescribes inevitably leads to error and sin.

14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

Although this has a general meaning, it is also concerned with the situation within the Synagogue where they met. New gentile followers of Yeshua were not well thought of by many non-believing Jews who were not thrilled to have them "infiltrating" the Synagogue community without first embarking on the traditional path toward Jewish conversion. (See background notes.)

16-17 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

"Mind not high things" "Be not wise in your own conceits""Recompense to no man evil for evil," all have to do with haughtiness. Again, these have general application, but Paul was dealing with a specific situation in the Roman congregation, where there was friction between groups of people. This will be discussed in detail in the final chapters.

This verse sets the stage for the next chapters where Paul seeks to correct some bad behaviors. "Haughtiness" is equated (spiritually) with poor judgment, and "humility" with sound judgement based on seeking the will of God (i.e., Torah), what one may perceive to be his "rights" or "freedom" as a believer:

Psalm 131:1 - Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

19-21  Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

"If thine enemy hunger…" Paul continues to "set up" his message of correction to the gentiles in the congregation. This will become clear in the next chapter. Recall that "enemies" have previously been defined in 11:28, as non-believing Jews, in the strict sense of their being opposed to the Gospel message.

Paul does not consider his non-believing Jewish brethren to be enemies however. Rather, this is an indication of the attitude of some gentiles in the congregation, as seen by his rebuke of such individuals in chapters 9-11.

The term "coals of fire" comes from Proverbs 25:21-22, and has to do with bringing shame and contrition to someone. Recall from chapters 9-11, that Paul’s ulterior motive is that more of his Jewish brethren some to salvation in Yeshua, whether this is by provoking jealousy or shame.


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