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- Rom 12:2: Transformed. The Greek word translated as "transformed" is metamorphoo (a cousin of the English word "metamorphosis"), which means to change to another form. The word is rare in the New Testament. Paul's use of the word in verse 2 may suggest a transformation greater than we can imagine. It is used only three other times in the New Testament: in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2 to discuss Jesus' change at the Transfiguration, and in 2 Corinthians 3:18 to explain our transformation from glory to glory in the image of God.
- Rom 12:3: According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. Other translations say it this way, "in accordance with the amount of faith which God has alloted each one of us." Here we have evidence that God is responsible for the amount of faith we have in this life. Similar "predestination" issues were covered in Chapter 9. Understanding God's role in our individual gifts helps us be realistic about them. When we feel responsible for the amount of faith we have, or don't have, we may very well resort to pride, or despair. Pride, if we see ourselves as stronger and more disciplined than those with weaker faith, or despair, if we find it seems impossible achieve the kind of faith we see in some of our fellow saints. Paul reminds us that God has given us our place in this world, along with all of our gifts and weaknesses. For some of us, that means humbling ourselves and accepting our imperfections with honesty. For others, it means accepting that our gifts are not ours, but God's. For others, it means acknowledging that we do have gifts and strengths, and refusing to wallow in insecurity and self-deprecation.
- Rom 12:5: Becoming like Christ. "Becoming like Christ" is one of the great goals of every Saint. However, here on earth, that goal seems hopelessly lofty. Paul gives us a way to achieve that goal. Individually, we cannot become like Christ, but collectively, we become the "body of Christ." Every member has a different gift and mission, and working together, we become like Christ. The idea of the collective is very important in Christianity, either as a family, or as a church. We cannot be saved alone. If we are saved, we must be saved together, in families and congregations. Our individual lack is perfectly compatible within the Body of Christ, because others will have the strengths that we lack. We too will be able to pick up the slack when we have certain gifts that others lack.
- Rom 12:9. The Greek word translated as "without dissimulation" (anupokritos) in verse 9 means "unfeigned," "sincere" or "without hypocrisy."
- Rom 12:9: Cleave. The literal meaning of the Greek word translated as "cleave" (kollao) in verse 9 means "glue" or "fasten together." The Greek word translated as "abhor" (apostugeo) finds its only use in the New Testament in this verse. The word comes from root words that mean "to hate" and "to separate." In Greek, then, the contrast between "abhor" and "cleave" is even stronger, or at least more explicit, than it is in English: We are to hate evil and separate ourselves from it while we glue ourselves to what is good.
- 12:10: Brotherly love. The Greek word translated as "brotherly love" in verse 10 is philadelphia, which refers to the love that brothers and sisters show toward each other. It is related to the Greek word, philostorgos, which is translated here as "kindly affectioned." This is the only use of philostorgos is the New Testament; the word is usually used to refer to the love that parents and children show toward each other. Paul's use of these words suggests that we are to love and care for each other as members of the same family. His use of philostorgos and philadelphia in the same sentence provides a literary parallelism that is lost in translation.
- Rom 12:16. This discussion begins with verse 14. It is a series of admonitions or commandments about how we should relate to our brothers and sisters, first, and then about how to relate to others.
- Rom 12:16: Condescend. The Greek word sunapago translated as "condescend" does not mean to be condescending as we would use the word today. It means basically to associate with the lowly.
- Rom 12:17. The first clause repeats something already taught in Judaism, as we see in several proverbs (e.g., Proverbs 17:13, Proverbs 20:22, and Proverbs 24:29). In the second clause, Paul gives a rule of thumb for deciding what to do: “Take into consideration what everyone thinks is noble [literally ‘beautiful’].” The Hermeneia commentary on Romans (pages 772-73) suggests that it may also depend on Proverbs; it may be an adaptation of Proverbs 3:4.
- Rom 12:18. The double qualification that begins this verse—”if possible”; “insofar as it depends on you”—suggests that Paul knows how difficult it can be to live at peace with all. This seems to have two directions. The first has to do with me: I may be weak, but I should do what I can to live in peace. The second has to do with others: peace with others doesn’t depend wholly on me, so I can live in peace with them only insofar as it does depend on me. So the verse says that I should try as hard as I can to live in peace with others, recognizing that peace doesn’t completely depend on me.
- As the Hermeneia commentary on Romans notes, Paul may be alluding to Psalms 34:14 and Mark 9:50 (”Have peace with one another”).
- Rom 12:19. It is significant that Paul begins this verse by addressing his audience directly as “beloved.” It is a phrase he uses several times in Romans, especially in chapter 16 (verses 5, 8, 9, and 12). He also used it in the beginning of his letter (Romans 1:7). Paul is speaking to his audience, many of whom he knows personally, in personal terms rather than preaching to a general audience, so he uses an appropriate term of address.
- The King James translation makes clear we are forbidden to avenge ourselves. However, the real question comes in figuring out what Paul means when he says “leave room for the wrath.” If I can’t seek vengeance, then the wrath for which I am leaving room cannot be my wrath. It must be the wrath of God. If we take vengeance, then our wrath has taken the place of the wrath of God. We have substituted ourselves for God which is obviously impious. So, we must leave room for his wrath by not filling up that space with our own.
- As proof of his teaching, Paul quotes from a Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:35: “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ saith the Lord.”
- Rom 12:20. Paul continues to cite scriptures to make his point, this time quoting Prov 25:21-22 (again quoting from the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint). The last half of verse 22 contains a promise of reward that Paul does not quote, “and the Lord shall reward thee.” Though the KJV begins this verse with “therefore,” “rather” or “but” is a better translation. The contrast is with the first part of verse 19: “Don’t look for revenge. Instead, feed your enemies . . . .”
- At first glance, Verse 20 seems like a contradiction of the overall message of the chapter--to love others, even our enemies, following the example of Christ. So what should we make of this verse? A majority of contemporary scholars believe that Prov 25:22 is an allusion to an Egyptian purification ritual in which a person carried a plate of hot coals on his head to signify repentance. In a similar vein, see Isaiah 6:5-7. There Isaiah laments his impurity and contrasts it with the holiness of God. Then a seraph touches a hot coal to Isaiah's lips, and Isaiah is purified. If we interpret the hot coals in this verse as similarly symbolic of purification (or repentance) then Paul may be telling us that by doing good to our enemies we are bringing about their repentance. Other explanations get to the same end by a different route. They take the hot coals as something painful at first which ultimately leads to repentance. In this case hot coals may be shame, pangs of guilt or embarrassment. In either case, most people understand this verse as teaching that if we do good to our enemies we will lead them to repentance.
- Nevertheless, another understanding is possible, we can read the hot coals as the Lord's vengeance in our behalf. Under this reading verse 19 and 20 say something like "don't take vengeance yourself. By being good to your enemy the Lord will take vengeance for you. And if instead of taking vengeance you are really nice to your enemy, your enemy will suffer terrible vengeance." But note that this reading changes the subject of who it is that heaps the coals. Verse 20 makes the audience the subject "...for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head" whereas the point of verse 19 is that we are not to seek vengeance. So knowing that they cannot seek vengeance themselves, it only makes sense for Paul to call the audience the "heapers" of the coals if we see them as getting vengeance by proxy, as the Lord takes vengeance. In other words, on this reading, Paul is saying, if you are good to your enemies you will get your vengeance. The problem with this reading is that, at least at first glance, it contradicts the overall message of the chapter--love your enemies following the example of Christ. However, the reading may be justified by the fact that we find essentially the same message in D&C 98:45. That verse, like this one, is embedded in a larger discussion of how we should treat our enemies with love.
- In following the second interpretation given above, the commandment is for us to love our neighbour and our enemy, and to forgive as many times as necessary. God forgives whom He will forgive. He, being omiscient and perfect in all things, is the One to whom final judgement is reserved. Everything that He does is in the interest of greater goodness for all His creations. This is part of why we leave vengeance to Him - because in Him, it's not really about vengeance, but love; for the wronged and those doing the wronging. If we act with compassion towards our enemies, and they in the future choose not to repent (not directly because of our actions, but with the combined effect of all their choices), the good that we have done them will convict them all the more, because they didn't respond to it with good of their own. It's not exactly the good we do them that turns to their condemnation, but the additional evidence, among all their acts, that their hearts are evil/hard/impure/rebellious. Also, although we should love our enemies, God's love and eternal law include punishment for evil acts not repented of. Love doesn't preclude judgement or recompense for wrong done. Acts and desires must have their consequence - but these are usually God's, not ours. So God is 'allowed', or rather required by eternal law and His own justice, to dispense punishments/consequences for evil. Us being loving towards our enemies doesn't contradict Him passing judgement on them or any other consequences they attract. Nor, of course, should it be our motivation. I think here Paul is stating a fact, not recommending a motivation.
- Rom 12:21. This is a good summary of Paul's teaching in verses 14-20. However, taking it as a summary of that teaching makes the last reading of verse 20 more difficult.
- Rom 13:1. According to Wesley's notes, Paul in this scripture issues a public apology for the Christian religion, who at the time were associated with the Jews, who were often rebellious to authority. Paul draws a clear distinction between Jewish and Christian attitudes towards civil authority. Christ disappointed the Jews by not liberating them from the civil law of the Romans. Instead, he taught that Jews should uphold the civil law, and render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's.
- Paul also suggests that civil authorities are ordained of God, and that they are ministers of God for good. Given that many of these powers that be were in fact evil dictators, Paul's statement seems greatly oversimplified. It could simply be that Paul didn't want the Christians to make any trouble. He also wanted it in writing that he strongly encouraged his Saints to obey the civil authorities. Perhaps by being so dogmatic in his support of civil law, he could stave off some of the impending civil persecution that would haunt the early Christian Church.
- The Christian mission was not to overthrow the government, as corrupt as it was. God would leave that to the barbarians. That was the message for the Christians in that time. However, applying the same advice to all situations is obviously problematic. It is reasonable to assume that Paul might indeed advocate civil disobedience under different circumstances.
- It is a true principle however that God ordains men, even imperfect or evil men to their positions of power. This fact is demonstrated in the selection of the early Jewish kings. The Prophet Samuel was commanded of God to select Saul to reign over the people as their first king. However, although he was ordained by a prophet of the Lord, Saul turned to wickedness. In the same way that God allows children to be born into the families of the wicked and abusive, God also allows people to be ruled by wicked dictators. Why would God would allow such things as the Holocaust to happen? These are some of the most difficult questions to answer, and they reach to core of the purpose of life on earth and the nature of human suffering. As much as we would like to blame Satan for all these terrible things, Paul reminds us in this scripture, and many others, that God is ultimately in charge, allowing, and even ordaining and orchestrating the collision of events that result in both tragedy and triumph on the civil stage. Satan has a major role of course, the one he played in the Garden of Eden. We LDS understand that God wanted Adam and Eve to eventually partake of the fruit, so in essence, he "used" Satan as the catalyst.
- Rom 14. In this chapter, Paul mentions a number of controversial "rules" that were practiced by some early Christians, including not eating meat, and observing certain celebrations or feast days. Some members esteemed these rules as essential commandments binding upon all Saints, and others believed that they were unnecessary. In this chapter, Paul tries to reconcile the two groups by validating both points of view, and then suggesting that both sides refrain from imposing their views on others, and judging them harshly.
- Paul's approach has a number of modern day applications. In our day there are a number of "rules" esteemed highly by some members, and not others. Examples in our day might include: drinking caffeinated sodas, watching rated R movies, certain political affiliations, believing in evolution, limiting the number of children you have, women working outside the home, performing only hymns from the hymn book in sacrament meeting, watching TV on Sunday, paying tithes on gifts, only fasting for a full and complete 24 hours, etc. While not all of these are perfectly compatible with Paul's particular issues, it may be helpful to some to read this chapter with some of these modern day "rules" in mind.
- While many in the church have passionate opinions and evidences for why certain of these "rules" are in fact essential commandments, others may claim equally passionately that these are not essential rules, citing anecdotes from the lives of General Authorities, or other rationalizations to justify their point of view.
- We can apply Paul's approach to these "rules" as long as we are careful not to include commandments that have firm, consistent doctrinal basis, such as abstaining from fornication.
- We can be certain from these scriptures and others, that Paul was more of a "spirit of the law" person than a "letter of the law" person. Those who follow the "letter of the law" Paul characterizes as "weak." Why does he call them weak? Paul believed that the Law of Moses was a taskmaster to bring us to Christ, a lesser law. The higher law is to have the law of Christ written not in tablets of stone but in the fleshy tablets of the heart. Those who still observe the law in it's more minor "letters," like not eating meat, are weaker in their faith.
- At the same time, those who are weaker are not condemned by Paul. He admonishes them in verse 5, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Many of us need the structure of rules and laws, even for minor things, in order to keep us focused on God, and perfect obedience to Him. For those who don't eat meat because they believe it to be an important law, God accepts their sacrifice of faith and obedience to Him. Were they to break the law, they would be under condemnation, for to them, it is wrong, and God holds us responsible for the laws that we believe and accept.
- Rom 14:14. Here we have evidence of the variability of certain "religious rules and practices." It is true that rules and practices sometimes change from culture to culture, dispensation to dispensation, and person to person. Sometimes these rules have a cultural origin rather than a Biblical or prophetic one. Sometimes these rules come from individual personal revelation for us. And sometimes they come from certain interpretations of the law. Paul says here that God doesn't always care what the rules are. What God cares about, is that each of us is true to what we personally believe. He that "esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." Our own beliefs may sometimes be variable, incomplete, or imperfect, but God does respect them. When we believe something about Him and his rules, He wants us to be true to those beliefs, even when they are incomplete. Again, this has modern day application, as long as we are careful not to apply it to those commandments like fornication, which are clearly forbidden.
- Rom 14:15. There is a tendency within the church to think that all Saints should believe the same thing and follow the same rules. However, Paul believes that the church should include members that sometimes share different beliefs. He admonishes us to be sensitive to each others beliefs. Using the example of meat, Paul says that it is unwise to eat meat in front of those who would be offended by it. Once I was in the home of my bishop, who had some rated R movies on his shelf. Although I myself was not offended by his library, I know others who would have been.
- There is a tendency towards self-righteousness on both sides. For example, some members seem to believe that it is impossible to be a good Mormon and a Democrat at the same time. I know of some Democrats who are "self-righteously" eager to share enlighten these "self-righteous" Republican saints. Paul admonishes us to be careful. Christ died for all, and has accepted all who have come unto Him, regardless of their individual beliefs. Shall we try put a wedge between them and Christ, by distracting our brethren by being too eager to enlighten them with our particular beliefs, which they may find offensive?
- The caveat is that sometimes Paul himself did take stands on issues like these. He seems to contradict his own advice in Galatians 2:11-14. He relates a confrontation he had with Peter over eating with Gentiles. Peter was eating with Gentiles, (forbidden by the Jewish law) and when he saw Christian Jews enter the room, he sheepishly withdrew from the Gentiles, so as to avoid being seen with them. Paul got angry with Peter and reproached him for his actions. In this example however, Peter was avoiding being seen with Gentiles. This was stronger than simply not eating meat, and Peter's actions condoned Christian Jewish prejudice against Christian Gentiles.
- For those of us who sometimes feel like Paul, that we need to stand up against "close-mindedness" or "prejudice" within the church, we should be very careful. We risk "destroying" the faith of others by doing so. Unless the actions and beliefs of others are truly harming the church, we should not go about removing motes from others eyes, when we surely have a beam in our own.
- Rom 14:22. When dealing with certain controversial rules or practices within the church, it is sometimes easy to doubt ourselves. There are a multitude of arguments on both sides that can cloud our understanding and cause us to be indecisive. We should remember that God doesn't necessarily care what we choose to believe on a particular controversial issue, as long as we believe it with faith and confidence, following our belief with exactness. "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."
Points to ponder
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- Rom 12:19-20a. Verse 19 and the beginning of verse 20 seem to fit in well with Jesus's command to love our enemies (Matt 5:44). But how are we to understand the end of verse 20? At face value the end of verse 20 suggests that the motivation for doing good to our enemies, as Paul suggests, is not love, but an attempt to harm them. Under that reading this verse does not seem to fit in with Jesus's command to love our enemies. How can we reconcile this? (See also Prov 25:21-22.)
- Rom 13:1-5. Paul seems to be saying that governments have been ordained of God and exist to promote good. How does this apply in the case of a tyrannical government?
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