Romans 12:1-21

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On the basis of the “compassion [plural in Greek] of God,” Paul exhorted his “brothers” or fellow believers about how they should be using their bodies. In response to the mercy they had been shown in being forgiven of their sins and adopted as God’s approved children, they should be motivated to present their bodies as living, holy, and well-pleasing sacrifices to him. (12:1)

Unlike animal sacrifices that required the death of the sacrificial victims, the bodies of believers are living sacrifices, with their whole life being devoted to the service of their heavenly Father. In all matters, whether in disposition, word, or deed, they should seek to bring praise to him. In presenting their bodies as “holy” sacrifices, Christ’s disciples would seek to avoid anything that could defile the purity of their outer or inner life. With their bodies employed fully in reflecting the identity of God’s children, believers would be presenting their bodies in a way that was pleasing or acceptable to him. Indicating that the proper use of the body involves mental assent, Paul added the words, “your reasonable service.” (12:1)

The rightly motivated response to divine compassion would call for a drastic change from a believer’s former life. Paul urged fellow believers not to be conformed to the then-existing age, not taking on the outward appearance of persons who had no relationship to God. Instead, they should seek a complete transformation that involved their whole being. This would be a “renewal” of the mind, a total change in outlook from that of persons whose lives centered on the mundane. With a mind made new, believers would be able to discern the will of God, rightly evaluating what was good, pleasing, and without defect in his sight. (12:2)

Although not specifically mentioned in the immediate context, the mind is renewed through the operation of God’s spirit on the believer. (Compare Romans 8:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:7, 8; Titus 3:5.) The renewed spirit-directed mind has a different view of self than does the unrenewed mind. Paul, on the basis of the gracious divine favor he had been granted, admonished fellow believers not to think more of themselves than was appropriate but to think with a sound, sensible or reasonable mind. Right thinking involved recognizing or valuing the measure of faith that God had apportioned to each believer. (12:3)

The apostle could speak of the favor he had been granted. Though formerly a persecutor, a blasphemer, and an arrogant man while blind in unbelief, he had been forgiven and entrusted with an apostleship to the Gentiles. So he could admonish on the basis of who he had become (an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ) through gracious divine favor. (1 Corinthians 15:9, 10; Timothy 1:13)

“The measure of faith” (as verse 6 indicates) relates to the faith expressed in the use of the divinely granted spiritual gifts within the community of believers. These gifts differ. With their varied use being intimately associated with it, faith can be understood as having been divinely apportioned to the individual believer according to measure. (12:3)

The human body is a united whole made up of many members or parts. Each part has its own function. “So,” Paul continued, “we, [though] many, [are] one body in Christ” and, individually, fellow members of this body (literally, “each one members of one another”). Just as the human body parts do not all have the same function but are essential for the body as a whole, so also, in the body of the Christ, the individual members have different gifts to be used for the benefit of the entire community of believers. (12:4, 5)

These “gifts” were in possession of Christ’s disciples on account of gracious divine favor. Commenting on the use of these gifts, Paul continued, “Whether prophecy, in proportion to faith; whether service, in service; whether the teacher, in teaching; whether the admonisher, in admonishing; whether [not included in all manuscripts] the distributor, in sincerity; the presider, in eagerness, the merciful one, in cheerfulness.” (12:6-8)

In the first-century community of believers, prophets did at times foretell future events pertinent to fellow believers. Primarily, though, they made known God’s will and edified, encouraged, consoled, and strengthened fellow disciples of Christ. (Acts 11:27-29; 15:32; 21:10, 11; 1 Corinthians 14:3) Prophets were men of remarkable faith (Acts 11:22-24; 13:1), and so their ministering to fellow believers should have been reflective of their strong personal faith, trust, or confidence in God, his Son, and the revealed divine will. (12:6)

Service principally relates to looking after the material needs of fellow disciples of Christ. (12:7) Those serving would see to it that poor widows in their midst were provided with food and other essentials, and they would make arrangements to aid fellow believers who were impoverished on account of natural disasters or persecution. (Acts 6:1-6; 11:28-30; 24:17; Romans 15:25-28; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:1-5; Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 10:32-34) In performing their service, those ministering were to do so as humble servants, faithfully discharging their trust in an exemplary manner. (Acts 6:3-6, 8; 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12, 13)

Teachers among believers were to convey the message found in the holy writings and to impart knowledge in harmony with Jesus’ example and teaching. (12:7; 1 Timothy 4:6; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:1, 2, 14-16; 3:14-17; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 6, 7) Regarding the manner in which Paul had discharged his teaching responsibility, he reminded the elders of the congregation in Ephesus, “I am clean from the blood of all, for I did not shrink back from declaring the whole will [purpose or counsel] of God to you.” (Acts 20:26, 27) He and other teachers also exposed erroneous teaching that would have been destructive to the faith of fellow believers.

The Greek word for “admonish” (parakaléo) literally means to “call beside” or to “call to one’s side.” As a gift for the benefit of fellow disciples of Christ, parakaléo can refer to encouraging, comforting, exhorting, urging, imploring, or entreating. (12:8) Whereas teaching is the primary way for imparting knowledge, exhortation is more focused on motivating, encouraging, comforting, or inciting to action.

The context does not identify the nature of the distributing, giving, imparting, or sharing. (12:8) In other passages, the Greek word metadídomi relates to imparting a spiritual gift or the good news or sharing essentials with the needy. (Job 31:17, LXX; Proverbs 11:26, LXX; Luke 3:11; Romans 1:11; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 2:8) Regardless of what may be distributed, imparted, or given, this should be done with the right motive. It should be an expression of sincere love. The Greek term for “sincerity” (haplótes) applies to that which is “single,” simple, uncomplicated, or pure. The term has been rendered “liberality” or “generosity,” but this is not a significance inherent in the Greek word.

Presiding or functioning as a leader (literally, “standing before”) pertains mainly to caring for, showing concern for, or rendering aid to others. In the use of this gift, those who preside should be quick to respond to the needs of fellow believers. The Greek term for “eagerness” (spoudé) basically denotes “haste” or “speediness” and, in this context, can describe one who would be eager, earnest, diligent, or willing conscientiously to look after the welfare of fellow disciples of Christ. (12:8)

Help or service that is an expression of mercy or compassion should be rendered cheerfully. When those who give of themselves do so, not out of a sense of duty, but gladly and wholeheartedly, this has an upbuilding effect on the recipients. They are made to feel like valued members of the community of believers. (12:8)

The apostle’s emphasis on the importance of all gifts and their right use parallels the admonition of 1 Peter 4:10 (REB): “As good stewards of the varied gifts given you by God, let each use the gift he has received in service to others.”

In addition to using their gifts for the benefit of others, believers also need to conduct themselves as God’s beloved and obedient children in their daily life. This is the focus of Paul’s exhortation in the verses that follow.

Believers are to manifest unhypocritical love. In ancient Greek writings, the term hypokrités (hypocrite) is commonly used to designate a stage actor. Accordingly, hypocrites would be persons who play a part, make an outward show, pretend, or dissemble, hiding their real motives as with a mask (like ancient actors wore during their performances). Love that is unhypocritical would be genuine, an expression of deep concern and care that is actively responsive to the needs of others. (12:9) This love is not a mere utterance of the lips. Those rendering kindly deeds would do so with a pure motive, not boasting nor seeking to gain praise from observers. (1 Corinthians 13:3; 1 John 3:18)

Believers should abhor what is wicked, loathing everything that is out of harmony with or in opposition to God’s ways. Instead, they should cling to what is good, being attached as with glue to everything that is divinely approved. Their devotion to what is good would be evident from their noble and pure conduct. (12:9)

Christ’s disciples are members of a family of “brothers,” with all enjoying an equal standing as approved “sons of God.” It is obligatory, therefore, that they display the brotherly affection for one another that would be characteristic of the love existing in an exemplary family. (12:10)

As members of the family of God’s children, believers are encouraged to take the initiative in showing honor to others, taking the lead in actions that would demonstrate that they highly valued them. (12:10) This would include being willing to perform lowly service for fellow believers in response to needs. (Luke 22:26; John 13:12-17) Honor would also be shown when not insisting on personal rights but refraining from doing things that could be hurtful to disciples of Christ with conscientious scruples. (1 Corinthians 10:23-33)

With reference to being quick to act for the good of others or diligent in performing essential work, believers should not be idle, lazy, or indolent. (12:11; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

Disciples of Christ are urged to be “on fire,” “boiling,” or “glowing” in relation to the spirit. This could mean that their own spirit or inner inclination should be eager or strongly impelled to please the heavenly Father. Another possible significance is that believers should be aglow with God’s spirit, earnestly striving to be guided thereby. (12:11)

Their Master or Owner is Christ, who bought them with his precious blood. So, in all that they do, believers are to serve him. (12:11; see the Notes section.)

Their hope of being united with Christ and coming to enjoy the sinless state as his Father’s beloved children provides them good reason for rejoicing. Before that hope is fulfilled, believers experience tribulation, suffering, or distress in a world at enmity with God. That is why Paul included the exhortation for them to be “patient in distress,” faithfully enduring their trials without giving up or resorting to means for relief that would be divinely disapproved. They should continue to look to the heavenly Father for help and guidance, persevering in prayer. (12:12)

Many believers became impoverished on account of persecution or other adversities. This provided fellow disciples of Christ with opportunities to heed Paul’s counsel to contribute to the needs of these afflicted holy ones. Their “holy” or pure standing before God was based on their faith in him and his Son. Especially when persecution resulted in scattering believers, there was a need for fellow believers who did not know them to extend hospitality, providing food and shelter for them. The Greek term for “hospitality” (philoxenía) literally means “love of strangers.” (12:13)

In their disposition toward their persecutors, Christ’s disciples were encouraged to “bless” them, not seeking to injure them but continuing to treat them with consideration and kindness. The blessing would be particularly linked to the hope that their persecutors would change and become recipients of God’s blessing. Instead of cursing their persecutors, wishing them harm, believers would continue to bless them in the sense of desiring the change that would result in the greatest good coming to them. (12:14)

Devoted disciples of God’s Son were to reflect fellow feeling for others, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. (12:15) To rejoice with others would mean fully to enter their joy as if it were one’s own. The successes or good things others may experience would not give rise to envy but would result in shared happiness. Weeping with persons who weep would signify becoming a sympathetic sharer in their sorrow, doing whatever one can to provide comfort and to contribute to the mitigation of their sadness.

Regarding their relationship to one another, Paul admonished believers to think “the same to one another,” and not to think loftily (literally, “not to be thinking the high things”) but to associate with the lowly. The thought appears to be that believers should treat everyone in a considerate and loving manner and thus preserve peace and harmony among themselves. For one to look down on those from humble circumstances would be contrary to the example Jesus set, for he responded with love and compassion to the lowly and downtrodden. As part of the family of God’s beloved children, the lowly deserve to be treated impartially and given loving attention. (12:16)

Translators have variously paraphrased Paul’s words. “Live in harmony with one another. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people.” (J. B. Phillips) “Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant.” (NCV) “Give the same consideration to all others alike. Pay no regard to social standing, but meet humble people on their own terms.” (NJB)

There is a possibility that “lowly ones” refers to “lowly things,” for the Greek word here (tapeinoís) is both a masculine and a neuter form of the plural pronominal adjective. When the reference is understood to be to “lowly things,” the admonition would be for one not to have an exalted view of oneself, looking at serving others in some menial way as beneath one’s dignity. “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but give yourselves to humble tasks.” (NRSV, footnote) “Have full sympathy with one another. Do not give your mind to high things, but let humble ways content you.” (Weymouth)

The apostle added, “Do not become wise to yourselves.” Believers were not to regard themselves as wise in their own estimation, attaching undue weight to their opinions and looking down on those who did not measure up to their standards. (12:16)

When others do them harm, Christ’s disciples are not to be vengeful, seeking to retaliate. They are not to repay the one who injured them with evil. (12:17)

Believers should take into consideration what others think, making sure that “in the sight of all men” or all persons their actions are good, commendable, or noble. (12:17) A literal reading of the Greek text is elliptical (“thinking beforehand good [things] before all men”), and this has given rise to a variety of renderings. “Try to do what everyone thinks is right.” (NCV) “Take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” (NRSV) “Let your aims be such as all count honourable.” (REB) “Try to earn the respect of others.” (CEV) “Bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect.” (NJB) “Don’t say, ‘It doesn’t matter what people think,’ but see that your public behavior is above criticism.” (J. B. Phillips) “Take thought for what is right and seemly in every one’s esteem.” (Weymouth)

The Greek text is an echo of the Septuagint reading of Proverbs 3:4, “Think beforehand [on] good [things] before the Lord and men.” In this case (as also in Romans 12:17), the Greek word for “think beforehand” (pronoéo) could mean “provide.” So Paul’s admonition could mean that, instead of repaying evil, the believer should be providing or doing things that are good in the estimation of all. Bemüht euch darum, allen Menschen Gutes zu tun. (Strive to do good to all people.) (Neue Genfer Übersetzung [German], footnote; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

As far as depends on Christ’s disciples, they should aim to be at peace with all persons. In word and action, they should not be responsible for discord, conflict, wrangling, or heated arguments. (12:18)

Addressing fellow believers as “beloved,” Paul exhorted them not to avenge themselves, retaliating when reviled or subjected to unjust treatment. Instead of taking matters into their own hands, they were to look to the heavenly Father, giving “place to [his] wrath.” This would be in keeping with his assurance (Deuteronomy 32:35), “Vengeance [is] mine; I will repay.” (12:19)

Focusing on the right action toward those who act hatefully, Paul quoted from Proverbs 25:21, 22, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For by doing this, you will heap fiery coals on his head.” A kindly response to an enemy’s need may have an impact on him comparable to the adding of fiery coals on top of ore that is being refined. He may come to be ashamed about his hateful treatment. Instead of continuing to be hostile, his good qualities may come to the fore, leading to repentance and a changed disposition. (12:20)

When doing good to those who may have treated them hatefully or unfairly, believers gain a moral victory, one that can result in spiritual blessings to observers and former opposers. Wisely, they heed the apostle’s admonition, “Do not be defeated by the bad, but defeat the bad with the good.” (12:21) For one to retaliate would signify that bad has made its conquest. But when the individual does good in response to bad, his good action triumphs over evil.


In Romans 12:11, the opening phrase literally reads, “To haste [spoudé, diligence, zeal, earnestness, eagerness, or speediness], not indolent.” Depending on which meaning for spoudé has been adopted translators have variously rendered the introductory phrase of verse 11. “Do not lag in zeal.” (NRSV) “Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work.” (J. B. Phillips) “Do not be lazy but work hard.” (NCV) Seid nicht träge in dem, was ihr tun sollt. (Do not be indolent in that which you should do.) (Luther, 1984 revision [German]) “Do not be indolent when zeal is required.” (Weymouth)

Instead of the dative form of “Lord” (kyrío) in Romans 12:11, a number of manuscripts have the dative form of “time” (kairó). For one to “serve” the appropriate “time,” however, is not a thought that finds any parallel in the rest of the Scriptures and appears to be an error.

For Romans 12:17, certain manuscripts have an expanded reading that may have been drawn from Proverbs 3:4 and 2 Corinthians 8:21. The expanded wording for the phrase “before all men” is either “before God and all men” or “not only before God but also before all men.”