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Calvin's Commentaries  
The Epistle to the Romans (Volume XIX)
Romans 12:6-8 
6. Having then gifts, differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;  
6. Habentes autem dona secundum gratiam nobis datam differentia; sive prophetiam, secundum analogiam fidei; 
7. Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching;  
7. Sive ministerium, in ministerio; sive qui docet, in doctrina; 
8. 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.  
8. Sive qui exhortatur, in exhortatione; sive qui largitur, in simplicitate; sive qui praeest, in studio; sive qui miseretur, in hilaritate. 

6. Having gifts, etc. Paul speaks not now simply of cherishing among ourselves brotherly love, but commends humility, which is the best moderator of our whole life. Every one desires to have so much himself, so as not to need any help from others; but the bond of mutual communication is this, that no one has sufficient for himself, but is constrained to borrow from others. I admit, then that the society of the godly cannot exist, except when each one is content with his own measure, and imparts to others the gifts which he has received, and allows himself by turns to be assisted by the gifts of others. 

But Paul especially intended to beat down the pride which he knew to be innate in men; and that no one might be dissatisfied that all things have not been bestowed on him, he reminds us that according to the wise counsel of God every one has his own portion given to him; for it is necessary to the common benefit of the body that no one should be furnished with fullness of gifts, lest he should heedlessly despise his brethren. Here then we have the main design which the Apostle had in view, that all things do not meet in all, but that the gifts of God are so distributed that each has a limited portion, and that each ought to be so attentive in imparting his own gifts to the edification of the Church, that no one, by leaving his own function, may trespass on that of another. By this most beautiful order, and as it were symmetry, is the safety of the Church indeed preserved; that is, when every one imparts to all in common what he has received from the Lord, in such a way as not to impede others. He who inverts this order fights with God, by whose ordinance it is appointed; for the difference of gifts proceeds not from the will of man, but because it has pleased the Lord to distribute his grace in this manner. 

Whether prophecy, etc. By now bringing forward some examples, he shows how every one in his place, or as it were in occupying his station, ought to be engaged. For all gifts have their own defined limits, and to depart from them is to mar the gifts themselves. But the passage appears somewhat confused; we may yet arrange it in this manner, “Let him who has prophecy, test it by the analogy of faith; let him in the ministry discharge it in teaching,” etc. They who will keep this end in view, will rightly preserve themselves within their own limits. 

But this passage is variously understood. There are those who consider that by prophecy is meant the gift of predicting, which prevailed at the commencement of the gospel in the Church; as the Lord then designed in every way to commend the dignity and excellency of his Church; and they think that what is added, according to the analogy of faith, is to be applied to all the clauses. But I prefer to follow those who extend this word wider, even to the peculiar gift of revelation, by which any one skillfully and wisely performed the office of an interpreter in explaining the will of God. Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel. For in this sense it is taken by Paul when he says, “I wish that you spoke in tongues, but rather that ye prophesy,” (1 Corinthians 14:5;) “In part we know and in part we prophesy,” (1 Corinthians 13:9.) 

And it does not appear that Paul intended here to mention those miraculous graces by which Christ at first rendered illustrious his gospel; but, on the contrary, we find that he refers only to ordinary gifts, such as were to continue perpetually in the Church. 
Nor does it seem to me a solid objection, that the Apostle to no purpose laid this injunction on those who, having the Spirit of God, could not call Christ an anathema; for he testifies in another place that the spirit of the Prophets is subject to the Prophets; and he bids the first speaker to be silent, if anything were revealed to him who was sitting down, (1 Corinthians 14:32;) and it was for the same reason it may be that he gave this admonition to those who prophesied in the Church, that is, that they were to conform their prophecies to the rule of faith, lest in anything they should deviate from the right line. By faith he means the first principles of religion, and whatever doctrine is not found to correspond with these is here condemned as false. 

As to the other clauses there is less difficulty. Let him who is ordained a minister, he says, execute his office in ministering; nor let him think, that he has been admitted into that degree for himself, but for others; as though he had said, “Let him fulfill his office by ministering faithfully, that he may answer to his name.” So also he immediately adds with regard to teachers; for by the word teaching, he recommends sound edification, according to this import, — “Let him who excels in teaching know that the end is, that the Church may be really instructed; and let him study this one thing, that he may render the Church more informed by his teaching:” for a teacher is he who forms and builds the Church by the word of truth. Let him also who excels in the gift of exhorting, have this in view, to render his exhortation effectual. 

But these offices have much affinity and even connection; not however that they were not different. No one indeed could exhort, except by doctrine: yet he who teaches is not therefore endued with the qualification to exhort. But no one prophesies or teaches or exhorts, without at the same time ministering. But it is enough if we preserve that distinction which we find to be in God’s gifts, and which we know to be adapted to produce order in the Church. 

8. Or he who gives, let him do so in simplicity, etc. From the former clauses we have clearly seen, that he teaches us here the legitimate use of God’s gifts. By the metadidou>ntoiv, the givers, of whom he speaks here, he did not understand those who gave of their own property, but the deacons, who presided in dispensing the public charities of the Church; and by the ejlou>ntoiv, those who showed mercy, he meant the widows, and other ministers, who were appointed to take care of the sick, according to the custom of the ancient Church: for there were two different offices, — to provide necessaries for the poor, and to attend to their condition.  But to the first he recommends simplicity, so that without fraud or respect of persons they were faithfully to administer what was entrusted to them. He required the services of the other party to be rendered with cheerfulness, lest by their peevishness (which often happens) they marred the favor conferred by them. For as nothing gives more solace to the sick or to any one otherwise distressed, than to see men cheerful and prompt in assisting them; so to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given, makes them to feel themselves despised. 

Though he rightly calls those proi`sta>menouv presidents, to whom was committed the government of the Church, (and they were the elders, who presided over and ruled others and exercised discipline;) yet what he says of these may be extended universally to all kinds of governors: for no small solicitude is required from those who provide for the safety of all, and no small diligence is needful for them who ought to watch day and night for the wellbeing of the whole community. Yet the state of things at that time proves that Paul does not speak of all kinds of rulers, for there were then no pious magistrates; but of the elders who were the correctors of morals. 

Romans 12:9-13 
9. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good.  
9. Dilectio sit non simulata; sitis aversantes malum, adherentes bono; 
10. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another;  
10. Fraterna charitate ad vos mutuo amandos propensi, alii alios honore paevenientes; 
11. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;  
11. Studio non pigri, spiritu ferventes, tempori servientes; 
12. Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;  
12. Spe gaudientes, in tribulatione patientes, in oratione perseverantes; 
13. Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.  
13. Necessitatibus sanctorum communicantes, hospitalitatem sectantes. 

9. Let love be, etc. Proceeding now to speak of particular duties, he fitly begins with love, which is the bond of perfection. And respecting this he enjoins what is especially necessary, that all disguises are to be cast aside, and that love is to arise from pure sincerity of mind. It is indeed difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are to pretend a love which they really have not, for they not only deceive others, but impose also on themselves, while they persuade themselves that those are not loved amiss by them, whom they not only neglect, but really slight. Hence Paul declares here, that love is no other but that which is free from all dissimulation: and any one may easily be a witness to himself, whether he has anything in the recesses of his heart which is opposed to love. The words good and evil, which immediately follow in the context, have not here a general meaning; but evil is to be taken for that malicious wickedness by which an injury is done to men; and good for that kindness, by which help is rendered to them; and there is here an antithesis usual in Scripture, when vices are first forbidden and then virtues enjoined. 

As to the participle, ajpostugou>ntev, I have followed neither Erasmus nor the old translators, who have rendered it “hating,” (odio habentes;) for in my judgment Paul intended to express something more; and the meaning of the term “turning away,” corresponds better with the opposite clause; for he not only bids us to exercise kindness, but even to cleave to it. 

10. With brotherly love, etc. By no words could he satisfy himself in setting forth the ardor of that love, with which we ought to embrace one another: for he calls it brotherly, and its emotion storgh<n, affection, which, among the Latins, is the mutual affection which exists between relatives; and truly such ought to be that which we should have towards the children of God.  That this may be the case, he subjoins a precept very necessary for the preservation of benevolence, — that every one is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised. But if by honor you are disposed to understand every act of friendly kindness, I do not much object: I however approve more of the former interpretation. For as there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when every one honors others. 

11. Not slothful in business, etc. This precept is given to us, not only because a Christian life ought to be an active life; but because it often becomes us to overlook our own benefit, and to spend our labors in behalf of our brethren. In a word, we ought in many things to forget ourselves; for except we be in earnest, and diligently strive to shake off all sloth, we shall never be rightly prepared for the service of Christ. f389 
By adding fervent in spirit, he shows how we are to attain the former; for our flesh, like the ass, is always torpid, and has therefore need of goals; and it is only the fervency of the Spirit that can correct our slothfulness. Hence diligence in doing good requires that zeal which the Spirit of God kindles in our hearts. Why then, some one may say, does Paul exhort us to cultivate this fervency? To this I answer, — that though it be the gift of God, it is yet a duty enjoined the faithful to shake off sloth, and to cherish the flame kindled by heaven, as it for the most part happens, that the Spirit is suppressed and extinguished through our fault. 

To the same purpose is the third particular, serving the time: for as the course of our life is short, the opportunity of doing good soon passes away; it hence becomes us to show more alacrity in the performance of our duty. So Paul bids us in another place to redeem the time, because the days are evil. The meaning may also be, that we ought to know how to accommodate ourselves to the time, which is a matter of great importance. But Paul seems to me to set in opposition to idleness what he commands as to the serving of time. But as kuri>w|, the Lord, is read in many old copies, though it may seem at first sight foreign to this passage, I yet dare not wholly to reject this reading. And if it be approved, Paul, I have no doubt, meant to refer the duties to be performed towards brethren, and whatever served to cherish love, to a service done to God, that he might add greater encouragement to the faithful. 

12. Rejoicing in hope, etc. Three things are here connected together, and seem in a manner to belong to the clause “serving the time;” for the person who accommodates himself best to the time, and avails himself of the opportunity of actively renewing his course, is he who derives his joy from the hope of future life, and patiently bears tribulations. However this may be, (for it matters not much whether you regard them as connected or separated,) he first; forbids us to acquiesce in present blessings, and to ground our joy on earth and on earthly things, as though our happiness were based on them; and he bids us to raise our minds up to heaven, that we may possess solid and full joy. If our joy is derived from the hope of future life, then patience will grow up in adversities; for no kind of sorrow will be able to overwhelm this joy. Hence these two things are closely connected together, that is, joy derived from hope, and patience in adversities. No man will indeed calmly and quietly submit to bear the cross, but he who has learnt to seek his happiness beyond this world, so as to mitigate and allay the bitterness of the cross with the consolation of hope. 

But as both these things are far above our strength, we must be instant in prayer, and continually call on God, that he may not suffer our hearts to faint and to be pressed down, or to be broken by adverse events. But Paul not only stimulates us to prayer, but expressly requires perseverance; for we have a continual warfare, and new conflicts daily arise, to sustain which, even the strongest are not equal, unless they frequently gather new rigor. That we may not then be wearied, the best remedy is diligence in prayer. 

13. Communicating to the necessities,  etc. He returns to the duties of love; the chief of which is to do good to those from whom we expect the least recompense. As then it commonly happens, that they are especially despised who are more than others pressed down with want and stand in need of help, (for the benefits conferred on them are regarded as lost,) God recommends them to us in an especial manner. It is indeed then only that we prove our love to be genuine, when we relieve needy brethren, for no other reason but that of exercising our benevolence. Now hospitality is not one of the least acts of love; that is, that kindness and liberality which are shown towards strangers, for they are for the most part destitute of all things, being far away from their friends: he therefore distinctly recommends this to us. We hence see, that the more neglected any one commonly is by men, the more attentive we ought to be to his wants. 

Observe also the suitableness of the expression, when he says, that we are to communicate to the necessities of the saints; by which he implies, that we ought so to relieve the wants of the brethren, as though we were relieving our own selves. And he commands us to assist especially the saints: for though our love ought to extend itself to the whole race of man, yet it ought with peculiar feeling to embrace the household of faith, who are by a closer bond united to us. 

Romans 12:14-16 
14. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.  
14. Benedicite iis qui vos persequuntur; benedicite et ne malum imprecemini. 
15. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.  
15. Gaudete cum gaudentibus, flete cum fientibus; 
16. 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.  
16. Mutuo alii in altos sensu affecti, non arroganter de vobis sentientes, sed humilibus vos accommodantes: ne sitis apud vos ipsos prudentes. 

14. Bless them, etc. I wish, once for all, to remind the reader, that he is not scrupulously to seek a precise order as to the precepts here laid down, but must be content to have short precepts, unconnected, though suited to the formation of a holy life, and such as are deduced from the principle the Apostle laid down at the beginning of the chapter. 
He will presently give direction respecting the retaliation of the injuries which we may suffer: but here he requires something even more difficult, — that we are not to imprecate evils on our enemies, but to wish and to pray God to render all things prosperous to them, how much soever they may harass and cruelly treat us: and this kindness, the more difficult it is to be practiced, so with the more intense desire we ought to strive for it; for the Lord commands nothing, with respect to which he does not require our obedience; nor is any excuse to be allowed, if we are destitute of that disposition, by which the Lord would have his people to differ from the ungodly and the children of this world. 

Arduous is this, I admit, and wholly opposed to the nature of man; but there is nothing too arduous to be overcome by the power of God, which shall never be wanting to us, provided we neglect not to seek for it. And though you can hardly find one who has made such advances in the law of the Lord that he fulfills this precept, yet no one can claim to be the child of God or glory in the name of a Christian, who has not in part attained this mind, and who does not daily resist the opposite disposition. 

I have said that this is more difficult than to let go revenge when any one is injured: for though some restrain their hands and are not led away by the passion of doing harm, they yet wish that some calamity or loss would in some way happen to their enemies; and even when they are so pacified that they wish no evil, there is yet hardly one in a hundred who wishes well to him from whom he has received an injury; nay, most men daringly burst forth into imprecations. But God by his word not only restrains our hands from doing evil, but also subdues the bitter feelings within; and not only so, but he would have us to be solicitous for the wellbeing of those who unjustly trouble us and seek our destruction. 

Erasmus was mistaken in the meaning of the verb gei~n to bless; for he did not perceive that it stands opposed to curses and maledictions: for Paul would have God in both instances to be a witness of our patience, and to see that we not only bridle in our prayers the violence of our wrath, but also show by praying for pardon that we grieve at the lot of our enemies when they willfully ruin themselves. 

15. Rejoice with those who rejoice, etc. A general truth is in the third place laid down, — that the faithful, regarding each other with mutual affection, are to consider the condition of others as their own. He first specifies two particular things, — That they were to “rejoice with the joyful, and to weep with the weeping.” For such is the nature of true love, that one prefers to weep with his brother, rather than to look at a distance on his grief, and to live in pleasure or ease. What is meant then is, — that we, as much as possible, ought to sympathize with one another, and that, whatever our lot may be, each should transfer to himself the feeling of another, whether of grief in adversity, or of joy in prosperity. And, doubtless, not to regard with joy the happiness of a brother is envy; and not to grieve for his misfortunes is inhumanity. Let there be such a sympathy among us as may at the same time adapt us to all kinds of feelings. 

16. Not thinking arrogantly of yourselves, etc. The Apostle employs words in Greek more significant, and more suitable to the antithesis, “Not thinking,” he says, “of high things:” by which he means, that it is not the part of a Christian ambitiously to aspire to those things by which he may excel others, nor to assume a lofty appearance, but on the contrary to exercise humility and meekness: for by these we excel before the Lord, and not by pride and contempt of the brethren. A precept is fitly added to the preceding; for nothing tends more to break that unity which has been mentioned, than when we elevate ourselves, and aspire to something higher, so that we may rise to a higher situation. I take the term humble in the neuter gender, to complete the antithesis. 

Here then is condemned all ambition and that elation of mind which insinuates itself under the name of magnanimity; for the chief virtue of the faithful is moderation, or rather lowliness of mind, which ever prefers to give honor to others, rather than to take it away from them. 

Closely allied to this is what is subjoined: for nothing swells the minds of men so much as a high notion of their own wisdom. His desire then was, that we should lay this aside, hear others, and regard their counsels. Erasmus has rendered froni>mouv, arrogantes — arrogant; but the rendering is strained and frigid; for Paul would in this case repeat the same word without any meaning. However, the most appropriate remedy for curing arrogance is, that man should not be over-wise in his own esteem.