(1) At this point the Apostle turns from the speculative, or doctrinal, portion of his Epistle, and begins a series of practical exhortations to his readers as to their lives as Christians. In the first two verses of the chapter he speaks of this in general terms, but then goes on to give a number of special precepts in no very distinct arrangement or order.
Therefore.—We may well believe that the Apostle having brought his argument up to a climax at the close of the last chapter, would make a pause in his dictation, and perhaps not resume it until another sitting. The one prevailing impression left on his mind, both by the argument just ended and by the whole previous portion of the Epistle, is a profound sense of the merciful and benevolent purposes of God, who, out of seeming evil, only educes the highest good. This sense is still strong upon him, and he makes it the link of transition by which the earnest practical exhortations which follow are bound to what precedes. The sequence is as much one of feeling as of ratiocination.
Your bodies.—Not merely a periphrasis for “yourselves,” but in the strict sense “your bodies,” i.e., the very part of you which is apt to be “an occasion of falling.” The Apostle takes the two main parts of human nature separately. In this verse he deals with the bodies of men, in the next verse with the “mind,” or the intellectual and spiritual faculties.
A living sacrifice.—“How is the body to become a sacrifice? Let thine eye look upon no evil thing, and it hath become a sacrifice; let thy tongue speak nothing filthy, and it hath become an offering; let thy hand do no lawless deed, and it hath become a whole burnt offering. But this is not enough, we must do good works also; let the hand do alms, the mouth bless them that despitefully use us, and the ear find leisure evermore for the hearing of Scripture. For sacrifice can be made only of that which is clean; sacrifice is a firstfruit of other actions. Let us, then, from our hands, and feet, and mouth, and all our other members, yield a firstfruit unto God” (St. Chrysostom).
The idea contained in sacrifice is that of dedication. We are to dedicate our bodies to God. But there is to be this distinction between the old Jewish sacrifices and the Christian sacrifice: the one was of dead animals, the other of the living man. The worshipper must offer, or present, before God, himself, with all his living energies and powers directed consciously to God’s service.
Holy, acceptable unto God.—The qualification sought for in the Jewish sacrifices was that they were to be unblemished, without spot. In like manner the Christian’s sacrifice must be holy and pure in God’s sight, otherwise it cannot be acceptable to Him.
Reasonable service.—The English phrase is somewhat ambiguous. It might mean “a service demanded by reason.” Such, however is not the sense of the Greek, but rather “a service of the reason,” i.e., a service rendered by the reason. Just as under the old dispensation the mind expressed its devotion through the ritual of sacrifice, so now under the new dispensation its worship takes the form of a self-dedication; its service consists in holiness of life, temperance, soberness, and chastity.
This world.—Not here the same word as that which is used, e.g., in 1 John 2:15-17, but another, which signifies rather the state of the world as it existed at the Coming of Christ, as opposed to the newly-inaugurated Messianic reign. “To be conformed to this world” is to act as other men do, heathen who know not God; in opposition to this the Apostle exhorts his readers to undergo that total change which will bring them more into accordance with the will of God.
By the renewing of your mind.—“The mind” (i.e., the mental faculties, reason, or understanding) is in itself neutral. When informed by an evil principle, it becomes an instrument of evil; when informed by the Spirit, it is an instrument of good. It performs the process of discrimination between good and evil, and so supplies the data to conscience. “The mind” here is not strictly identical with what we now mean by “conscience;” it is, as it were, the rational part of conscience, to which the moral quality needs to be superadded. The “renewed mind,” or the mind acting under the influence of the Spirit, comes very near to “conscience” in the sense in which the word is used by Bishop Butler.
Prove.—As elsewhere, “discriminate, and so approve.” The double process is included: first, of deciding what the will of God is; and, secondly, of choosing and acting upon it.
What is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.—The “will of God” is here, not the divine attribute of will, but the thing willed by God, the right course of action. Are we to take the adjectives “good, and acceptable, and perfect” (with the Authorised version), as in agreement with this phrase, or are they rather in apposition to it, “that we may prove the will of God, that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect”? Most of the commentators prefer this latter way of taking the passage, but it is not quite clear that the former is impossible, “that good, and acceptable, and perfect thing, or course of action which God wills.” “Acceptable,” that is to say, to God Himself.
Through the grace given unto me—i.e., in virtue of his apostolic authority.
To every man that is among you.—A rather more pointed expression than simply “to you all,” “to each one of you severally and individually.”
Not to think of himself . . .—There is a play upon words in this phrase, and those which follow, which is not preserved, and can hardly be preserved, in the English. “Not to be high-minded beyond that which he ought to be minded, but to be minded unto sober-mindedness.” Our words, “to be minded,” “high-minded,” &c., very nearly express the sense of the Greek, which is to have the thoughts and feelings habitually turned in a certain direction. This is brought out with emphatic repetition in the phrase “to be minded unto the being sober-minded,” i.e., to keep sobriety of mind constantly in view as the object or ideal towards which all the thoughts and feelings converge.
According as God hath dealt to every man.—The standard of action which each Christian ought to propose to himself should be in proportion to the amount of his faith as given to him by God. He who has the strongest faith may assume the highest standard, and offer himself for the highest offices, and so on down the scale. It is, however, essential that the estimate which each man puts upon the strength of his own faith, should be thoroughly single-minded and sincere, nor biased by self-love. The Apostle assumes that this will be the case.
(4) Members in one body.—This figure of the body and the members is worked out more fully in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
Every one.—A somewhat peculiar phrase in the Greek, not found in this form in classical writers, meaning “as individuals.”
Members one of another.—Strictly speaking, the members are called members in their relation to the body, and not in their relation to each other. We should say, rather, “fellow-members with one another.”
Prophecy.—The gift of prophecy is treated at length in 1 Corinthians 14. From the detailed description there given, we gather that it was a kind of powerful and inspired preaching which, unlike the gift of tongues, was strictly within the control of the person who possessed it. What precise relation this bore to the prediction of future events, mentioned in Acts 11:27-28; Acts 21:10-11, does not appear.
According to the proportion of faith.—It seems best to take this, not as having reference to the objective rule of faith or doctrine, the due proportions of which are to be preserved, but rather of the active faculty of faith present in him who prophesies. It would then be very nearly equivalent to the condition above—“according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The prophet is to let his utterances be regulated strictly by the degree of faith of which he is conscious in himself. The inward inspiration and the outward deliverance must keep pace, and advance step by step together. Preaching in which this proportion is not observed is sure to become rhetorical and insincere.
Let us wait on . . .—These words are supplied in the English, “Let us be absorbed in, devoted to, our ministering.”
He that teacheth.—Comp. 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 5:17. It would seem from the first of these passages (“thirdly teachers”) that teaching was considered as a special office, though not, perhaps, confined to special persons.
He that giveth.—In this and the following phrases the Apostle passes on from considering the definite functions of the ministry to those which were common to all members of the Church; “giveth” is therefore here to be taken in a wide sense.
Simplicity.—With singleness of motive, desiring only God’s glory, and to benefit the object for which he gives, and with no secret thought of self-exaltation. He who gives “to be seen of men,” or with any selfish motive, exhausts thereby the merit of the act, see Matthew 6:2 et seq.
He that ruleth.—He who holds any position of prominence or importance in the Church. The same word is applied to “presbyters” in 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17; and to heads of families in 1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:12.
He that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.—A happy combination which is an instance of the Apostle’s fresh and genuine view of human nature. The kindness of charity is doubled when it is done in a cheerful and kindly way. There is a class of religious minds which is especially apt to forget this. Cheerfulness is not merely a matter of temperament, but to be cultivated as a duty.
(9) Without dissimulation.—The same Greek word is translated “unfeigned” in 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:5, and “without hypocrisy” in James 3:17. This last is the most literal rendering, and brings out the resemblance to Matthew 23:13, et al.
Abhor that which is evil.—This clause seems linked on to the last through the word “without hypocrisy”: “Let your love arise from genuine and deep emotion; let the basis of your character be an intense hatred of evil and as strong an adhesion to good.” The Apostle does not here enter into the more difficult question as to how those in whom these emotions are naturally weak are to strengthen them. Perhaps no shorter advice is to be given than “become Christians.”
Preferring one another.—Rather, perhaps, anticipating one another. The Christian is to take the initiative, and show honour or respect to others without waiting for them to show it to him.
Fervent.—In the literal and etymological sense boiling or seething. The temperament of the Christian is compared to water bubbling and boiling over the flame.
In spirit—i.e., not “in the Holy Spirit,” but “in that part of you which is spirit.”
Serving the Lord.—Some of the extant Græco-Latin codices, and others known to Origen and Jerome, read here by a slight change of vowels “serving the time”; no doubt wrongly, though the expression might be compared with 1 Corinthians 7:29; Ephesians 5:16, et al.
Patient in tribulation.—This virtue was, of course, specially needed in the troublous times through which the Church was passing. So, again, in the next verse, the “hospitality” of which the Apostle speaks is something more than the ordinary entertainment of friends. The reference is to a state of things in which the Christian was liable to be persecuted and driven from city to city, and often compelled to seek for shelter with those who held the same faith as himself.
Necessity.—Some of the Græco-Latin manuscripts and fathers here read, memories, or commemorations, by a slight change of letters, “taking part in the commemorations of the saints,” as if the allusion was to the later ecclesiastical usage of holding festivals in honour of martyrs. The best manuscripts are wonderfully free from corruptions of this kind, and even inferior manuscripts admit them to a much smaller extent than might have been expected. Other examples would be the insertion of the phrase “and fasting” in Mark 9:29, and the addition of the doxology to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13.
Condescend to men of low estate.—Probably, on the whole, rightly translated in our version; “Let yourselves be carried on in the stream with those who are beneath yourselves in rank and station; mix with them freely; be ready to lend them a helping hand if ever they need, and do this in a simple and kindly way; do not let any social assumptions keep you at a distance.” “Accommodate yourselves,” or “condescend”—of course without any conscious idea or appearance of condescension. Another rendering would be “condescend to lowly things,” in which case the sense would be nearly equivalent to that of Keble’s well-known and beautiful lines—
“The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.”
The scholar will observe that in this way of taking the passage, the Greek word for “condescend” (sunapagomenoi) has to be a little forced, or at least is not so expressive and natural as in the other. On the other hand, in the Epistles of a writer like St. Paul, it does not by any means follow that because the word for “high” is neuter that for “low estate” must be neuter too.
Be not wise in your own conceits.—Comp. Romans 11:25, and Proverbs 3:7. Humility is necessary to the Christian not only in his dealings with others, but also to keep his mind open and teachable. He sees his errors, and learns from them.
Vengeance is mine; I will repay.—The form of this quotation, which differs both from the LXX. and from the Hebrew, is precisely similar to that in Hebrews 10:30. This should be noted as a point of resemblance between St. Paul and the author of that Epistle, but its strength as an argument for the identity of the two is much diminished by the fact that other marked coincidences are found in the literature of this age, which seem to point to the conclusion that forms of text were current (perhaps confined to a few familiar quotations) of which no direct representations have come down to us.