Romans 12:1-8


Chapters 12-16 speak of the works and service of Christians. Our pericope could be entitled  "Living Sacrifices." 

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.

Bengel: Moses commands; the apostle exhorts. Paul commonly only exhorts in accordance with the doctrines previously discussed.
Luther: Paul does not say: 'I command you!' for he is preaching to those who are already Christians and godly through the faith in the new man, who are not to be forced with commands, but to be admonished to do willingly what is to be done in regard to the sinful old man.
Bengel: This exhortation follows on the ground of the whole doctrinal part of the epistle, preceding. . . . The whole thought is derived from chapters 1-5. . . . The whole economy of grace or mercy, exempting us from wrath, and rousing the Gentiles especially to duty, is here indicated, chapter 15:9. He who is rightly affected by God's mercy enters into the whole will of God.
Arndt: Not through the law, but through the Gospel one must bring a congregation to do good.

The offering is presented alive, not dead. The term "living sacrifice" is paradoxical.

Franzmann: With the hallowed term 'sacrifice' Paul marks the continuity of the new worship with the old worship under the Law; with the modifier 'living' he marks the discontinuity, the newness of the new worship.
Arndt: He presupposes that the heart belongs to the Lord.

All Christian bodies are to be a singular offering to God, set aside for God, not for ourselves. God takes delight in the offering.

The final phrase needs special comment. We have no single word which translates "act of worship."  KJV and NKJV render: "reasonable service."  RSV and NIV have "spiritual worship."  AAT is a paraphrase:  "and so worship Him as thinking beings." 

Rienecker: The use of our bodies is characterized by conscience, intelligent, consecrated devotion to the service of God.
Arndt: This worship refers to something that is inward, that comes from the heart.
Stoeckhardt: It is reasonable in the sense of spiritual. In contrast to the purely outward Jewish, as well as heathen, animal-sacrifices, which could be performed quite mechanically.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The prohibition denotes an outward conforming and the command denotes inward transforming. The first dative is rendered by "to" and the second with "by means of" or "in."  Note the utter contrast in the first half of this verse. Paul is still exhorting but he uses prohibition and command to bring out the sharp antithesis of the world and of the Christian.

"By the renewing of the mind" denotes a God given moral mentality whose only power is the Gospel. The phrase denotes a result. We have the infinitive with subject accusative construction.  "To test" means to test and then either to accept or reject. The Christian is constantly testing in keeping with "what the will of God is." 

"Will" is not the "will of man" or "the will of self" but "the will of God."  He prays daily:  "Thy will be done etc." 

The three adjectives which follow do not modify "God's will" but the implicit choice which the person makes. KJV wrongly renders:  "that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God."  Though a paraphrase AAT rightly translates:  "so you can test and be sure what God wants, what is good and pleasing and perfect." 

The two verbs at the beginning of verse 2 are passive, one a prohibition, the other a command. God Himself bestows what He demands. When the Lord says: "Believe" He does not mean that we have the strength to do so on our own. He bestows what He demands. With reference to this verse it must be added that a Christian spends a great part of his life testing so as to choose that which is good, pleasing and perfect. That is not synergism. A converted person works together with God.

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Paul is addressing each Christian individually. He is doing so "by the grace given me." Here "grace" denotes Paul's apostleship. Romans 1:5; 15:15; Ephesians 3:7.8. Grace denotes that which is given without any merit on the part of man. It was "given" not earned or worked for.

And note Paul is practicing what he preaches. With this expression Paul is exercising his authority but, at the same time, does it in humility. That's something to remember. What is Paul's prohibition? "Not to think beyond that which it is necessary to think but to think with the purpose of sober judgment."  Pride is the most deadly of all the Christian's enemies.

"With the measure of faith God has given you." Not as a person had deserved or merited. The measure of faith is God's gift to each individual to serve God. He is not speaking of justifying faith. It is clear from what follows in our text that Paul is speaking of serving God.

Bengel: No man should regard himself alone as the rule by which he tries others, nor think that others should be entirely such as he is, and do the same things and in the same way. . . . And not more, verse 5; but not less, verses 6 and 7. . . . Both faith and its measure are God's gift.
Franzmann: Paul addresses the individual in order to overcome individualism, with its self-will and pride. For there is in the individuality of faith a temptation; the individual endowment given to the believer tempts him 'to be conformed to this world', in which greatness consists in being greater than others. . . . All men are soloists by nature and inclination; they must learn the art of playing in God's orchestra. . . . Paul is here speaking of the functioning of faith, of the life of faith in ministry to others with the gifts received from God.
Stoeckhardt: The faith of which Paul speaks here is something which is meted out by God to believing Christians after they have become Christians. . . . As the gifts are different so the measure of faith and confidence necessary for their right use vary.
Lenski: Sober and sane thinking neither exaggerates nor depreciates such gifts as God himself has bestowed.

Romans 12:4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

This is explanatory and introduces an apt comparison from nature in verses 4-5.  "Just like" so "likewise" are correlatives of comparison. It is a beautiful illustration. Many members in one body--many Christians one body in Christ. The first is physical, the second spiritual. Not all members have the same function--we are individually members of one another. Though members of the body differ in form and function they work harmoniously together, none lording it over the others. Thus it must be in the Una Sancta, the Holy Christian Church.

Arndt: The reason is given here why there should be no haughty pride. A comparison with a body is employed. . . . In spite of great differences, before God we are all on one level, we are all members of one body. In Christ we are united. We form one body with him and through him. He is the head, we are the members of the body. Cf. Ephesians 1:23.
Franzmann: We constitute one organism that must function as one. And just here individuality has its place; each member is essential to the whole and to all other members. No member is solitary; no member is expendable. Thus individualism is overcome, and yet there is no deadly uniformity.

Romans 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.

In verses 6-8 we learn of seven gifts with which the congregation at Rome was evidently acquainted. The only special or charismatic gift among the seven is the gift of prophecy. But some commentators do not agree even about this one. They call it an ordinary gift. Verses 6-8 are elliptical and the versions handle these ellipses in different ways. First we have four  "if" . Then follow three "he who."  The KJV has  "whether--or--or etc."  The NKJV reads  "if--or--or etc."  NIV and AAT have  "if-if-if etc."  unanimously. The seven gifts mentioned are urged with elliptical imperatives or hortatories.

Romans 12:7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;

Perhaps one could begin with "since we have" which would make it slightly causal. Of the "gifts" it is said that they "differ."  How do they differ?  "Grace" is unmerited favor. It is given to us. Note that Paul includes himself. It is implied that people who have received such gifts should acknowledge that they come from God and that they should recognize gifts in others as gifts of God lest they become jealous of other people.

The first gift noted is prophecy. Opinions among commentators and translators differ as to the meaning of this word. RSV, NIV and NASB simply have "prophecy" letting it up to the reader to interpret. TEV renders it "to speak God's message."  NEB reads "inspired utterance."  AAT, similar to TEV, has  "to speak God's Word." 

Stoeckhardt: The characteristic of prophets was that God spoke with them and through them, that God gave them a special revelation, which they should transmit to their people. . . . The chief content of their prophecy is God's economy of salvation. . . . These New Testament prophets imparted to the Christian congregation prophecies which aimed at the promotion of God's kingdom, for example, the sending out of Barnabas and Saul for mission work, Acts 13:1-3; proclaiming imminent events, for example, the captivity of Paul, Acts 21:9-11; revealing secrets of the heart, 1 Corinthians 14:24.25. In the passages listed it is expressly remarked that the Holy Ghost spoke through them. . . . The New Testament prophets in their prophecy moved within the sphere of the teaching of the apostles and prophets; they gave the congregation greater particulars concerning the already known, revealed divine truth, concerning this or that point of doctrine, gave deeper insight into divine secrets. 1 Corinthians 13:2. . . . The apostle exhorts the Christians, who possess the charism of prophecy, to use it 'according to the proportion of faith.' . . . Prophecy is the only extraordinary charism which is mentioned in this letter.

Stoeckhardt goes on to explain that this is not saving faith, but an extra gift for service.

Bengel: It appears that prophecy is the gift by which the heavenly mysteries, sometimes also future events, are brought under the notice of men, especially believers, with an explanation of Scripture prophecies, which could not be elicited by the ordinary rules of interpretation. . . . Let it not be carried without and beyond faith; nor let anyone prophesy from his own heart, beyond what he has seen; and again, let him not conceal or bury the truth; let him only speak so far as he has seen, and knows, and believes, see Colossians 2:18; Revelation 1:2.
Lenski: Paul is thinking of prophecy as exposition of Scripture, and this was ever delivered in all calmness, as it is to this day. Paul is not guarding against enthusiasm, but against false exposition that disagrees with 'the faith' believed, taught, and confessed by the Church, as it was received from Christ through the apostles.
Franzmann: The expression, 'measure of faith', occurs only here in the writings of Paul and has caused difficulty. . . . Paul is here speaking of the functioning faith, of the life of faith in ministry to others with the gifts received from God. Here there are differences, here there is variety according to the 'measure' bestowed by God. . . . By the prophet's Word the sinner is convicted and converted (1 Corinthians 14:25). . . . It is the temptation to go beyond what God has given us and to muddy the waters of the Spirit with 'meditations' of one's own. . . . Paul repeats the basic admonition of verse 3 ('according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him ') as a warning for the prophet in particular; his prophecy is to be in proportion to his faith.

In verse 3 Paul is saying that if a Christian truly believes in Christ simply according to the faith which the Holy Spirit has given him, he keeps from thinking either less or more of himself than he ought to think. In verse 6 Paul uses "the analogy of faith" only with reference to the gift of prophecy.

Stoeckhardt and Arndt clearly consider "serve" of verse 6 a special charismatic gift. This difference brings about their difference in verse 7 too. Stoeckhardt and Arndt are of the opinion that "serve" refers to the public ministry which we still have today. Franzmann defines it as "the capacity and the will to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and to express God's own love to the widow and the fatherless."  The RSV, TEV, NIV and AAT translate according to Franzmann's understanding.

In either case the sentences from here to the end of verse 8 are highly compressed and abrupt to our ears. Very likely they did not sound compressed and abrupt to the original hearers. The meaning of verse 7 is: "If anyone has received the gift of service, let him be diligent in serving. If anyone is the teacher, let him be diligent in teaching." Arndt considers this position of teacher as an extension of the pastoral office, an arrangement similar to that of the pastor and parochial teacher in the Missouri Synod today. Franzmann sees this teacher as one who was well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures. We need not make a decision between the exegesis of Arndt and Franzmann. The important point here is that each gift is a gift of the grace of God.

Gifts differ among members in the church. Let each do his work diligently. Let there be no jealousy and strife. Let there be no feelings of inferiority or superiority. Let them work as harmoniously as do all the members of the human body. Jealousy and strife among Christians is offensive to others and devastating to the members themselves.

Romans 12:8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

In this verse we have four more gifts. We quote the NIV:  "If it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy let him do it cheerfully."  The second last one has received a variety of translations:  "he that ruleth, with diligence"  KJV;  "he who leads, with diligence"  NKJV;  "he who gives aid, with zeal"  RSV;  "if you manage anything, do it eagerly"  AAT.

The first in verse 8 very likely refers to the gift of giving encouragement from the Word of God. Very likely the last three mentioned are the gifts which are found frequently among the average laymen. The "sharer" is the one who gives of his earthly means, money. Let him do it whole-heartedly, without rancor. The second last gift, in any case, denotes a position of responsibility which requires administration. Let it be done diligently. Very often we find individuals in congregations who go ahead with their task, all alone, doing their task diligently. The last fits a large number of people. All are to be merciful. Let it evidence cheerfulness. It is not mercy if done grudgingly.

Note that with reference to the last three the noun following the preposition describes the attitude which must attend the gift. The point is that not only the gift but also the correct attitude is a gift of God. The phrases denote manner, how it should be done.

When a pastor preaches this text he might go through the whole list and indicate to his hearers that God does not give phony or hypocritical gifts. Mercy is not forthcoming grudgingly. Responsibility does not go hand in hand with laziness. True giving is not miserly, etc. etc. This text speaks about the Christ IN us, sanctification. This proceeds, of course, from the Christ FOR us, justification.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 58-61. Used with permission.

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