Your Reasonable Service
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.—Romans 12:1
A verse by verse study in Romans 12
The twelfth chapter of Romans is universally recognized as one of the jewels of the Apostle Paul. The summary of Christian responsibilities to God and man are summarized concisely and powerfully.
Consecration, Transformation, Evaluation—Verses 1 to 3
“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.”
The word therefore connects the current chapter with the previous one in which Paul shows the mercy of God in admitting gentiles as well as Jews into the privilege of being selected as prospective members of the bride of Christ.
Pleading these extended mercies, Paul urges nothing less than a total commitment—a sacrifice as animals were sacrificed in Israel’s ancient worship. This sacrifice would be different, though, in that it would be living—a day by day presentation of one’s self to the service of God.
It would be holy in that it would be first covered by the merit of Jesus’ own blood, justifying the recipient so that he could be acceptable in God’s sight. This presentation is described as a reasonable service in that it is a service of reason, a logical conclusion of the offerer in response to what Christ has done for him.
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”—2 Corinthians 5:14, 15
The consecration, or presentation, in verse one would lead naturally to the transformation of verse two. The contrasting verbs conformed and transformed are based on two different Greek root words.
The word conformed is the Greek suschematizo based on the same root from which we get our English word “scheme”, whereas the word transformed is a translation of the wordmetamorphoo from which we derive our word “metamorphosis.” The thought is that we are not to allow peer pressure to bend our actions according to the outward “scheme” of this world, but are to be changed from the inside, from the heart, metamorphosed like a caterpillar to a butterfly.
This inward change is to be accomplished by obtaining a new mind-set, a new set of values—the renewing of our mind. It is through this new way of looking at things that we can prove what is God’s will for our lives—what is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Then comes the third step, evaluation. Paul cautions that we do not make this evaluation of the role Christ would have us play with too high an esteem of our personal worth. But the word soberly implies that we do not err to the other extreme either, having too low of an estimation of our talents.
The key to balancing between these extremes is the measure of faith which God has given to each. The principle was laid down by Jesus in other circumstances, “According to thy faith be it unto thee” (Matt. 15:28).
The Body of Christ
Verses 4 to 8
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.
God does not mass produce Christians on some spiritual assembly line. Each one is as unique as is each part of the human body. Therefore they are collectively called “the body of Christ.”
The individualized role of the individual Christian in the early church may well have been decided by which of a variety of miraculous gifts were bestowed upon him. Though there is strong reason to believe that these miraculous gifts have passed away, it does not make the passage before us less meaningful.
Each Christian possesses a certain set of characteristics and talents which are peculiarly his. Even today we use the expression of a talented person, that he is a “gifted” man or woman. These natural traits are to be fully employed in the service of God—according to the portion of faith which God has bestowed upon us.
Sundry Obligations—Verses 9 to 18
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 honor 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.
This list of exhortations can be variously divided. We will arbitrarily break it into fourteen admonitions.
- Love. Love is the principle guiding element. This is not to be a love for policy’s sake, but for the sake of love itself. The phrase without dissimulation literally means “without hypocrisy.” Love that is given in expectation of a return is selfish; but the true agape love of Christ is selfless and pure.
- Abhor evil. The new mind-set of the Christian has standards. It knows good and evil. It recognizes the difference and is not indifferent to that difference. While not only shunning the wrong, but despising it, the Christian at the same time must make a positive selection of what is right—cleave to that which is good. “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Psa. 45:7).
- Affectionate. While selfless love is the Christian’s guiding principle, he is not to neglect the more demonstrative forms of phileo love either. One distinction between these two forms of love might be captured in the spouse’s complaint, “I know you love me, but do you like me.” It is incumbent upon the Christian to show this warmth of “liking” his fellow as well as the more impersonal “love.” This will lead naturally to preferring one another, not only in honor, but in all affairs of life.
- Burning zeal. Moffatt’s translation of the second phrase in verse eleven is to maintain the spiritual glow. It is common for the initial zeal of a Christian to diminish over the years, but this must be guarded against lest one lose his first love (Rev. 2:4). This consuming energy in all the affairs of life is to be maintained because all service is to be viewed as serving the Lord.
- Rejoicing in hope. The Christian’s call is so glorious, to be the beloved bride of Christ, that such a hope should be a constant inspiration to greater faithfulness. Consider the example of Jesus himself who “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). Again, as Paul states in Romans 8:18, For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
- Patient in tribulation. It is the height of the goal that makes the trials of the way easy to endure. As the Psalmist has phrased it: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa. 30:5). Part of the Christian’s hope is to use the experiences from the present life in his work with dealing with mankind in the future life. This hope also enables him to be patient in tribulation for it gives purpose to each hardship along the way.
- Continuing instant in prayer. Not merely prayer, but persistency in prayer, is enjoined upon us. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the importunate widow in Luke 18:1-8. Such communion is essential, not merely to plead for divine assistance, but to maintain communication with the Lord about even the smallest affairs of life.
- Generosity. Verse 13 shows two aspects of a Christian’s generosity. Not only is it to encompass aid for the needy, but also an active hospitality. This hospitality is not only the sharing of food and housing, but also the inclusion of the lonely in our conversations and activity. The Lord uses the concept of “family” to encompass all of our relationships to each other. “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29, 30).
- Benevolence. Paul cautions against vengefulness. Throughout the New Testament the counsel is to leave vengeance to God. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay. . . . Give way to [God’s] wrath” (Rom. 12:19). Even Michael, disputing with the devil, said merely, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).
- Sharing emotions. Not only the sorrows of life, but the joys of others are to be shared. Oft times it is easier to share the sorrows, for the happier events are frequently seemingly at the cost of our own. Both are to be enthusiastically entered into.
- Impartiality. Being in the flesh, it is only too easy to view with more favor those personalities we like and to have a tendency to disparage others we find grating. The apostolic injunction is that we apply one standard to all.
- Humility. Be not wise in your own conceits. As God describes Satan in Job 41:34, under the figure of Leviathan, “He is king over all the children of pride.” The tendency to value our own opinions as correct leads to a disregard for even the corrective words of God. It was this very tendency that produced the repetitive idolatry of ancient Israel’s period of the judges when every man “did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25).
- Look for the good in others. The Revised Standard Version renders verse 17 thus:” Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” This is the same thought which Paul summarizes in his dissertation on love in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that “love thinketh no evil and believeth all things.” By looking for the good in even those we dislike, we begin to appreciate them as God does, for the amount of goodness that remains of the original Adamic likeness.
- Peaceableness. By following the code of conduct which Paul lays down in this chapter, peaceableness will be a natural result. The behavioral guidelines set down here all tend toward a recognition of the dignity of others without the betrayal of principle. As Jesus set the goal in his sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Overcome Evil With Good—Verses 19 to 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.”
Paul treats the handling of evil against us in the active voice. He advises not a passive submission, but an active countering of the evils of others with good deeds toward our enemies—a principle already laid down in the Old Testament (Prov. 25:21, 22)..
The illustration in verse 20 is a potent one. Human nature has not changed much since Bible times. Then, as now, some were inclined to impose upon their neighbor’s generosity with incessant borrowing. Paul is alluding to an individual from whom a loan of food was requested, where the lender not only gave the food but a pan of coals upon which to cook the food.
The incident is somewhat analogous to that referred to be Jesus in Matthew 5:40, “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.”
This active repayment of good for evil marks the climax of Christian growth and fittingly closes the exhortations of Paul in his description of the ideal service of God by a follower of Christ.