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.
Verse 1 - Romans 14:23. - III. HORTATORY. (See summary of contents, p. 17.) It is St. Paul's way to supplement his doctrinal treatises with detailed practical directions as to the conduct that should of necessity ensue on belief in the doctrines propounded. So also in Ephesians 4:1, etc., where, as here, he connects his exhortations with what has gone before by the initiatory παρακαλῶ οϋν. Beyond his exposition of the truth for its own sake, he has always a further practical aim. Saving faith is ever with him a living faith, to be shown by its fruits. Nor, according to him, will these fruits follow, unless the believer himself does his part in cultivating them: else were these earnest and particular exhortations needless. If, on the one hand, he is the great assertor of our salvation being through faith and all of grace, he is no less distinct for the necessity of works following, and of the power of man's free-will to use or resist grace; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10, where, speaking of himself, he does not mean to say that grace had made him what he was in spite of himself, but that grace had not been in vain, because he himself had worked with grace. All was of grace, but he himself had laboured, assisted by grace working with him. It will be observed how comprehensive is the survey of Christian duty that here follows, reaching to all the relations of life, as well as to internal disposition. Verse 1 - Romans 13:14. - E. Various practical duties enforced. Verse 1. - I beseech you therefore, brethren (he does not command, as did Moses in the Law; he beseeches; he is but a fellow-servant, with his brethren, of Christ; he does not "lord it over God's heritage" (cf. 1 Peter 5:3), but trusts that they will of their own accord respond to "the mercies of God" in Christ, which he has set before them), by the mercies of God ("Qui misericordia Dei recte movetur in omnem Dei voluntatem ingreditur. At anima irae obnoxia vix quiddam juvatur adhortationibus," Bengel), that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. The verb παραστῆσαι is the usual one for the presenting of sacrificial animals at the altar (Xen., 'Anab.,' 6:1.22; Lucian, 'De Sacrif.,' 13. The LXX in Leviticus 16:7, 10, has στήσει. Cf. Luke 2:22: Colossians 1:22, 28, and supra, 6:13). Our bodies are here specified, with probable reference to the bodies of victims which were offered in the old ritual. But our offering differs from them in being "a living sacrifice," replete with life and energy to do God's will (cf. Psalm 40:6, 7, 8, and Hebrews 10:5, 6, 7), yea, and oven inspired with a new life - a life from the dead (Romans 6:13). Further, the thought is suggested of the abuse of the body to uncleanness prevalent in heathen society (cf. Romans 1:24). The bodies of Christians are "members of Christ," "temples of the Holy Ghost," consecrated to God, and to be devoted to his service (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:15, etc.); and not in heart only, but in actual life, of which the body is the agent, we are to offer ourselves, after the example of Christ. Your reasonable service (τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν) must be taken in apposition to "present your bodies, rather than to "sacrifice," it being the act of offering, and not the thing offered. that constitutes the λατρεία. This word is especially used for the ceremonial worship of the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 12:25, 26; Exodus 13:5; Romans 9:4; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:1, 6, 9; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 13:10), the counterpart of which in Christians is, according to St. Paul, not ceremonial service, but rather that of a devoted life (cf. Acts 27:23; Romans 1:9; Philippians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 41:28). The epithet λογικὴν has been variously understood. It probably means rational, denoting a moral and spiritual serving of God, in implied opposition to mechanical acts of outward worship. "Respectu intellectus et voluntatis" (Bengel). It may be taken to express the same idea as οἱ Πνεῦματι Θεῷ λατρεύοντες (Philippians 3:3), and πνευματικὴν θυσίαν (1 Peter 2:7; cf. John 4:24). Though the offering of the body is being spoken of, yet "bodily self-sacrifice is an ethical act" (Meyer). Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20. The word itself occurs in the New Testament only here and in 1 Peter 2:2, where its meaning, though obscure, may be similar.
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.
Verse 2. - And be not conformed to (rather, fashioned after; the verb is συσχηματίζεσθαι this world; but be ye transformed (the verb here is μεταμορφοῦσθαι) by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove (or, discern) what is the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (So, rather than as in the Authorized Version; the epithets acceptable and perfect not being properly applicable to the will of God; and the translation given above being close to the original.) It is a matter of no importance for exegesis that ancient authorities leave it uncertain whether the verbs at the beginning of this verse should be read as imperatives (συσχηματίζεσθε and μεταμορφοῦσθε) or as infinitives (συσχηματίζεσθαι and μεταμορφοῦσθαι). In the latter case they depend, with παραστῆσαι in ver. 1, on παρακαλῶ. The meaning remains unaffected. As to the words themselves, Meyer's assertion that they stand in contrast only through the prepositions, without any difference of sense in the stem-words, is surely wrong. St. Paul is not in the habit of varying his expressions without a meaning; and he might have written μετασχηματίζεσθε (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14; Philippians 3:21) instead of μεταμορφοῦσθε or συμμορφοῦσθε (cf. Philippians 3:10) instead of συσχηματίζεσθε. And there is an essential difference between the senses in which σχῆμα and μορφή may be used. The former denotes outward fashion, which may be fleeting, and belonging to accident and circumstance; the latter is used to express essential form, in virtue of which a thing is what it is; cf. Philippians 3:21, and also (though Meyer denies any distinction here) Philippians 2:6, 7. The apostle warns his readers not to follow in their ways of life the fashions of this present world, which are both false and fleeting (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:31, Παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου), but to undergo such a change of essential form as to preclude their doing so. If they become συμμόρφοι with Christ (cf. Romans 8:29), the world's fashions will not affect them. The phrase, "this world" or "age"(τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, may be understood with reference to the rabbinical division of time into αἰὼν οῦτος, and αἰὼν μέλλων, or ἐρχόμενος; the latter denoting the age of the Messiah. The New Testament writers seem to regard themselves as still in the former, though to them it is irradiated by beams from the latter, which had already dawned in Christ, though not to be fully realized till the παρούσια (see note on Hebrews 1:2). The transformation here spoken of consists in the renewal of the mind (τοῦ νοὸς), which denotes the Understanding, or thinking power, regarded as to its moral activity. And Christian renewal imparts not only the will and power to do God's will, but also intelligence to discern it. Hence follows εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς, etc. (cf. Ephesians 4:17, 23; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; and also supra ch. 1:28, where the Gentiles were said to have been given up, in judgment, εἰς ἀδόκιμον νοῦν, when ἀδόκιμον may possibly mean undiscerning. See note on that passage). It is to be observed, lastly, that the present tenses of the verbs συσχηματίζεσθε and μεταμορφοῦσθε, unlike the previous aorist παραστῆσαι, intimate progressive habits. The perfect Christian character is not formed all at once on conversion (of Philippians 3:12, seq.; see also previous note on Romans 6:13, with reference to παριστάνετε and παραστιήσατε). So far the exhortation has been general. The apostle now passes to particular directions; and first (vers. 3-9) as to the use of gifts.
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.
Verse 3. - For I say, through the grace given unto me (the grace of apostleship to the Gentiles (cf. Romans 1:5; Romans 15:15). He is about to warn against either neglecting or exceeding the special graces given to each person; and he may, perhaps, mean to imply here that he himself, in giving these admonitions, is exercising, without exceeding, his own special grace) to every man that is among you (this is emphatic. The pretensions to superiority of some at Corinth who possessed more showy gifts than others had shown how the admonition might need to be pressed on all; and in a community like that of the Romans there might well be a special tendency to assumption on the part of some), not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly (rather, as in the Revised Version so to think as to think soberly, or, more literally, to be minded so as to be sober-minded), according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. Why of faith? One might have expected the expression to be, "of grace," as in ver. 6, "according to the grace that is given to us;" or as in Ephesians 4:7, "according to the measure [μέτρον, as here] of the gift of Christ." It seems to be because by faith we become receptive of the grace given to each of us. Hence the faith assigned by God to each is regarded as "the regulative standard; the subjective condition" (Meyer)of the several gifts or graces. Cf. also Matthew 17:20 and 1 Corinthians 13:2, where miraculous powers are spoken of as dependent on the amount of faith. Tholuck explains thus: "Faith in an unseen Christ brings man into connection with a world unseen, in which he moves without distinctly apprehending it; and in proportion as he learns to look with faith to that world, the more is the measure of his spiritual powers elevated."
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
Verses 4, 5. - For 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 every one members one of another. The illustration of the body with its members to set forth the mutual dependence on each other of the several members of the Church with their several gifts and functions, and the importance of all for the well-being of the whole, is further carried out in 1 Corinthians 12:12, seq. In Ephesians 1:22 and Ephesians 4:15, 16, Christ is regarded, somewhat differently, as the exalted Head over the Church which is his body. Here and in 1 Corinthians 12, the head is not thus distinguished from the rest of the body (see 1 Corinthians 12:21); the whole is "one body in Christ," who is the living Person who unites and animates it.
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;
Verses 6-8. - Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, in our ministry; or he that teacheth, in his teaching; or he that exhorteth, in his exhortation; he that giveth, in simplicity; he that ruleth, with (literally, in) diligence; he that showeth mercy, with (literally, in) cheerfulness. The elliptical form of the original has been retained in the above translation, without the words interposed for elucidation in the Authorized Version. There are two ways in which the construction of the passage might possibly be understood.
(1) Taking ἔχοντες δὲ in ver. 6 as dependent on ἐσμεν in ver. 5, and κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως, not as hortatory, but as parallel to κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν, and understanding in a like sense the clauses that follow. Thus the general meaning would be - we are all one body, etc., but having our several gifts, to be used in accordance with the purpose for which they are severally given.
(2) As in the Authorized Version, which is decidedly preferable, hortation being evidently intended from the beginning of ver. 6. The drift is that the various members of the body having various gifts, each is to be content to exercise his own gift in the line of usefulness it fits him for, and to do so well. The references are not to distinct orders of ministry, in the Church, but rather to gifts and consequent capacities of all Christians. The gift of prophecy, which is mentioned first, being of especial value and importance (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1, seq.), was the gift of inspired utterance, not of necessity in the way of prediction, but also, and especially, for "edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (1 Corinthians 14:3), for "convincing," and for "making manifest the secrets of the heart" (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25). He that has this special gift is to use it "according to the proportion of his faith;" for the meaning of which expression see on μέτρον πίστεως above (ver. 3). According to the prophet's power of faith to be receptive of this special gift, and to apprehend it if granted to him, would be the intensity and truth of its manifestation. It would seem that prophets might be in danger of mistaking their own ideas for a true Divine revelation (cf. Jeremiah 23:28); and also that they might speak hastily and with a view to self-display (see 1 Corinthians 14:29-33), and that there was a further gift of διάκρισις πνευμάτων required for distinguishing between true and imagined inspiration (see 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29). Further, the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32); they were not carried away, as the heathen μάντις was supposed to be, by an irresistible Divine impulse; they retained their reason and consciousness, and were responsible for rightly estimating and faithfully rendering any revelation (ἀποκάλυψις, 1 Corinthians 5:30) granted to them. Delusion, inconsiderate utterance, extravagance, as well as repression of any real inspiration may be meant to be forbidden in the phrase. (The view of τῆς πίστεως being meant objectively of the general Christian doctrine, from which the prophecy was not to deviate - whence the common use of the expression, analogia fidei - is precluded by the whole drift of the passage. It is not found in the Greek Fathers, having been apparently suggested first by Thomas Aquinas.) The gift of ministry (διακονία) must be understood in a general sense, and not as having exclusive reference to the order of deacons (Acts 6:1-6; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; Romans 16:1), who were so called specifically because their office was one of διακονία. The words διακονεῖν διακονία διάκονος, though sometimes denoting any kind of ministry, even of the highest kind, were used and understood in a more specific sense with reference to subordinate ministrations, especially in temporal matters (cf. Acts 6:2, "It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables (διακονεῖν τραπέζως)"). If any had a gift for any such kind of administrative work under others, they were to devote themselves to it, and be content if they could do it well. Teaching (διδασκαλία) may denote a gift for mere instruction in facts or doctrines, catechetical or otherwise, different from that of the inspired eloquence of prophecy. Exhortation (as παράκλησις, which bears also the sense of consolation, seems here to be rightly rendered) may be understood with reference to admonitory addresses, in the congregation or in private, less inspired and rousing than prophetic utterances. In Acts 13:15 the word παράκλησις denotes the exhortation which any person in the synagogue might be called upon by the rulers to address to the people after the reading (ἀνάγνωσιν) of the Law and the prophets; cf. 1 Timothy 4:13, where Timothy is told to give attendance to reading (ἀνάγνωσιν), to exhortation (παράκλησιν), and to teaching (διδασκαλίαν). He that giveth (οὁ μεταδιδοὺς) points to the gift of liberality, to the endowment with which both means supplied by Providence and a spirit of generosity might contribute. The almsgivers of the Church had their special gift and function; and they must exercise them in simplicity (ἐν ἀπλότητι), which may perhaps mean singleness of heart, without partiality, or ostentation, or secondary aims. But in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11, 13, the word seems to have the sense of liberality, and this may be the meaning here. "Uti Deus dat, Jac. 1:5" (Bengel). In the 'Shepherd of Hermas' (written, it is supposed, not later than the first half of the second century) ἁπλῶς is explained thus: Πᾶσιν ὑστερουμένοις δίδου ἁπλῶς μὴ διστάζων τίνι δῷς ἠ τίνι μὴ δῷς πᾶσι δίδου ('Hermae Pastor,' mandatum 2.). Possibly this gives the true original conception, from which that of general liberality would follow. [The idea that the almoners of the Church, rather than the almsgivers, are intended, viz. the deacons (Acts 6:3, seq.), is inconsistent with the general purport of the passage, as explained above. Besides, μεταδιδόναι means elsewhere to give up what is one's own, not to distribute the funds of others. Ὁ διαδιδούς might rather have been expected in the latter case (cf. Acts 4:35).] He that ruleth (ὁ προιστάμενος) means, according to our view all along, any one in a leading position, with authority over others; and not, as some have thought, exclusively the presbyters. Such are not to presume on their position of superiority so as to relax in zealous attention to its duties. He that showeth mercy (ὁ ἐλεῶν) is one who is moved by the Spirit to devote himself especially to works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and succouring the distressed. Such a one is to allow no austerity or gloominess of demeanour to mar the sweetness of his charity. On the general subject of these gifts for various administrations (cf. 1 Corinthians 12, seq.; 14; Ephesians 4:11, seq.) it is to be observed that in the apostolic period, though presbyters and deacons, under the general superintendence of the apostles, seem to have been appointed in all organized Churches for ordinary ministrations (Acts 11:30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:2, seq.; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3. l, 8; 5:17; Titus 1:5), yet there were other spiritual agencies in activity, recognized as divinely empowered. The "prophets and teachers" at Antioch (Acts 13:1) who, moved by the Holy Ghost, separated and ordained Barnabas and Saul for apostolic ministry, do not appear to have been what we should now call the regular clergy of the place, but persons, whether in any definite office or not, divinely inspired with the gifts of προφητεία and διδασκαλία. In like manner, the appointment of Timothy to the office he was commissioned to fill, though he was formally ordained by the laying on of hands of St. Paul himself (2 Timothy 1:6) and of the presbyters (1 Timothy 4:14), appears to have been accompanied - perhaps sanctioned - by prophecy (1 Timothy 4:14). Persons thus divinely inspired, or supposed to be so, appear, as time went on, to have visited the various Churches, claiming authority - some, it would seem, even the authority of apostles; the term "apostle" not being then confined exclusively to the original twelve; else Barnabas could not have been called one, as he is (Acts 14:14), or indeed even Paul himself. But such claims to inspiration were not always genuine; and against false prophets we find various warnings (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3, seq.; Galatians 1:6, seq.; Galatians 3:1; 1 John 4:1, seq.; 2 John 10 Revelation 2:2). Still, these extraordinary agencies and ministrations, in addition to the ordinary ministry of the presbyters and deacons, were recognized as part of the Divine order for the edification of the Church as long as the special charismata of the apostolic age continued. Afterwards, as is well known, the episcopate, in the later sense of the word as denoting an order above the general presbytery, succeeded the apostolate, though how soon this system of Church government became universal is still a subject of controversy. It appears, however, from 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles' (Διδαχὴ τῶν Δώδεκα 'Αποστόλων), recently brought to light by Archbishop Bryennius (the date of which appears to have been towards the end of the first century or the beginning of the second), that the earlier and less regular system continued, in some regions at least (it does not follow that it was so everywhere), after the original apostles had passed away. For in this early and interesting document, while directions are given for the ordination (or election; the word is χειροτονήσατε, the same as in Acts 14:23) of bishops and deacons in the several Churches, there is no allusion to an episcopate of a higher order above them, but marked mention of teachers, apostles, and prophets (especially the last two, apostles being also spoken of as prophets), who appear to have been itinerant, visiting the various Churches from time to time, and claiming authority as "speaking in the Spirit." To these prophets great deference is to be paid; they are to be maintained during their sojourn; they are to be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in such words as they will (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:16); while speaking in the Spirit they are not to be tried or proved (οὐδὲ διακρινεῖτε; cf. δια κρίσεις πνευμάτων, 1 Corinthians 14:10; and οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν, Romans 14:29), lest risk be run of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Still, among these itinerants there might often be false prophets (ψευδοπροφήται; cf. Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22 1 John 4:1), and the Churches are to exercise judgment in testing them. If they taught anything contrary to the received doctrine; if they remained for the sake of maintenance without working for more than two days; if they asked in the Spirit for worldly goods for themselves; if their manner of life was not what it should be; - they were false prophets, and to be rejected, Similarly, in the 'Shepherd of Hermas' (apparently a document of the first half of the second century, and in some parts corresponding closely with the Teaching, from which such parts may have been derived) like directions are given for distinguishing between true and false prophets, between those who had τὸ Πνεῦ,α τὸ Θεῖον and those whose πνεῦμα was ἐπίγειον (mandatum 11.). And even in the 'Apostolical Constitutions' (a compilation supposed to date from the middle of the third to the middle of the fourth century) there is a passage corresponding to what is said in the Teaching about distinguishing between true and false prophets or teachers who might visit Churches (Romans 7:28). The Teaching seems to denote a state of things, after the apostolic period, in which the special charismata of that period were believed to be still in activity, though with growing doubts as to their genuineness in all cases. As has been said above, it does not follow that this order of things continued everywhere at the time of the compilation of the Teaching; but that it was so, at any rate in some parts, seems evident; and hence some light is thrown on the system of things alluded to in the apostolical Epistles. It is quite consistent with the evidence of the Teaching to suppose that in Churches which had been organized by St. Paul or other true apostles, the more settled order of government which soon afterwards became universal, and the transition to which seems to be plainly marked in the pastoral Epistles, already prevailed.
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.
Verses 9-21. - Various admonitions, applicable to all; headed by inculcation of the all-pervading principle of love. Verse 9. - Let love be unfeigned (so is rendered elsewhere ἀνυπόκριτος in the Authorized Version, cf. 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 1:22). Abhor (literally, abhorring) that which is evil; cleave (literally, cleaving) to that which is good. The participles ἀποστυγοῦντες, etc., here and afterwards, may be understood as mildly imperative. Or perhaps the apostle connected them in thought with ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος, as if he had said, Love ye unfeignedly.
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
Verse 10. - In brotherly love (φιλαδελφίᾳ) be kindly affectioned (φιλόστοργοι) one to another (φιλαδελφία, expressing the love of Christians for each other, is a special form or manifestation of general ἀάπη. In it there should be ever the warmth of family affection, στοργή); in honour preferring one another; literally, according to the proper sense of προηγούμενοι, taking the lead of each other in honour - i.e., in showing honour, rather than equivalent to ἀλλήλους ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας ἑαυτῶν in Philippians 2:3.
Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
Verse 11. - In business (rather, diligence) not slothful; in spirit fervent (we are to do with our might whatever our hand finds to do; yea, with fervent zeal); serving the Lord. For τῷ Κυρίῳ, (the Lord), some manuscripts have τῷ καιρῷ (the time, or the opportunity), which reading is preferred by some commentators on the ground that it is less likely to have been instituted for the familiar τῷ Κυρίῳ than vice versa. But τῷ Κυρίῳ is best supported, and has an obvious meaning, vie. that in the zealous performance of all our duties we are to feel that we are serving the Lord.
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;
Verses 12-14. - In hope rejoicing; in tribulation enduring; in prayer continuing instant; communicating to the necessities of the saints (i.e. Christians); given to (literally, pursuing) hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. In ver. 14 the form of the admonition passes from participles to direct imperatives, a positive command of Christ being adduced. In ver. 15 the gentler admonitory form of in the infinitive is taken up, passing to participles, as before in ver. 16.
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.
Verses 15-17. - Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another (denoting mutual good feeling and unanimity of sentiment; not, of course, agreement in opinion on all subjects). Mind not high things, but condescend to (literally, being led away with) men of low estate. It is a question whether τοῖς ταπεινοῖς should not be understood as neuter, so as to correspond with τὰ ὐψηλὰ; the meaning thus being that, instead of being ambitious, we should let ourselves be drawn willingly to the lowlier spheres of usefulness to which we may be called. The main objection to this view is that the adjective ταπεινὸς is not elsewhere applied to things, but to persons. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide (in the sense of take forethought for) things honest (or fair, or honourable) in the sight of all men. This is a citation from Proverbs 3:4, where the LXX. has, Προνοοῦ καλὰ ἀνώπιον Κυριόυ καὶ ἀνθρώπων. We are not only to do what we know to be right in the sight of God, but also to have regard to the view that will be taken of our conduct by other men; we must not give any just cause for our good being evil spoken of (cf. ver. 16 and 1 Peter 2:12).
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.
Verses 18-21. - If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto wrath. The thought in ver. 19 seems to follow from what precedes. It may sometimes be impossible to he at peace with all; but at any rate, do not increase bitterness by avenging yourselves. Give place unto wrath (τῇ ὀργῇ), has been taken by some to mean that we are to give scope to the wrath of our enemy, instead of being exasperated to resist it (cf. Matthew 5:39, etc.). But there has been no particular reference to a wrathful adversary. Another view is that our own wrath is intended, to which we are to allow time to expend itself before following its impulse; δότε τόπον being taken as equivalent to data spatium in Latin (cf. Lactantius, 'De Ira,' 18, "Ego vero laudarem, si, cum fuisset iratus, dedis-set irae suae spatium, ut, residente per intervallum temporis animi tumore, haberet modum castigatio." Also Livy, 8:32, "Legati circumstantes sellam orabant, ut rem in posterum diem differret, et irae suae spatium, et consilio tempus daret." There seems, however, to be no known instance elsewhere of this use of the Greek phrase. Chrysostom, Augustine, Theodoret, and most commentators, understand the meaning to be that we are to give place to the wrath of God, not presuming to forestall it. The wrath, used absolutely, might be an understood expression for the Divine wrath against sin (cf. Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16); and this interpretation suits the usual sense of δότε τόπον. It is not thus implied that the falling of Divine vengeance on our enemy should be our desire and purpose, but only this - that, if punishment is due, we must leave it to the righteous God to inflict it; it is not for us to do so. And this interpretation suits what immediately follows. For it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35, quoted freely from the Hebrew, but with the words ἐκδίκησις and ἀνταποδώσω as found in the LXX. The fact that the same form of quotation occurs also in Hebrews 10:30 seems to show that it was one in current use). But (so rather than wherefore, as in the Authorized Version) 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. This whole verse is from Proverbs 25:21, 22, where is added, "and the Lord shall reward thee." What is meant by the "coals of fire," both in the original and in St. Paul's citation, has been much discussed. Undoubtedly, the expression in itself, in view of its usual significance in the Old Testament, suggests only the idea of Divine vengeance (see Psalm 18:12; Psalm 120:4; Psalm 140:10; and especially 2 Esdras 16:53. Cf. also Psalm 11:6; Habakkuk 3:5); and this especially as it occurs here almost immediately after "Vengeance is mine." Hence Chrysostom and other Fathers, as well as some moderns, have taken it to mean that by heaping benefits on our enemy we shall aggravate his guilt, and expose him to severer punishment from God. But it is surely incredible that the apostle should have meant to suggest such a motive for beneficence; and the whole tone of the context is against it, including that of ver. 21, which follows. Jerome saw this, writing," Carbones igitur congregabis super caput ejus, non in maledictum et condemnationem, ut plerique existimant, sed in correctionem et poenitudinem." But if the "coals of fire" mean the Divine judgment on our enemy, there is nothing to suggest a corrective purpose. The view, held by some, that the softening effect of fire on metals is intended, is hardly tenable. Heaping coals of fire on a person's head would be an unnatural way of denoting the softening of his heart. More likely is the view which retains the idea of coals of fire carrying with it, as elsewhere, that of punishment and the infliction of pain, but regards the pain as that of shame and compunction, which may induce penitence. This appears to be the most generally received view. It is, however, a question whether any such effect is definitely in the writer's view. He may mean simply this: Men in general desire vengeance on their enemies, expressed proverbially by heaping coals of fire on the head. Hast thou an enemy? Do him good. This is the only vengeance, the only coals of fire, allowed to a Christian. Then follows naturally, Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
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.