Overcoming by Love
It seems that after finishing Romans 11, Paul put down his pen and decided to get a good night's sleep before continuing.
Romans 12:1 begins,
1 I urge you, THEREFORE, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Paul's entreaty begins with "therefore." In other words, because of the truths that he has set forth previously, this is what our response ought to be.
Knowing that God has blinded the majority of humanity for a good purpose, and that He will also save all mankind in the end, gives us confidence that He is both totally sovereign and totally just. In other words, He is a good God—not just powerful. He is to be loved, not merely feared. His use of power may seem unjust for the moment, but all things will work together for good.
If our eyes have been opened, and our hearts are not hardened, then we can rejoice that we have opportunity to be part of "the remnant of grace." We can present ourselves as living sacrifices, knowing that we are part of God's solution in the earth—not part of the problem.
It is on this basis that we are not like other men. Our calling, our "chosenness," is shown by our ability to see and understand the divine plan. We see this plan because God has chosen us as much as the 7,000 in the days of Elijah.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will [thelema] of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Paul does not ask us to understand or prove the divine Plan (the boulema of 9:19). The outworking of the plan is in God's hands. We are asked only to prove His will (thelema), which Paul defined earlier in Rom. 2:18,
18 and know His thelema, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.
When we present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, we say that we are willing to die for Him, knowing that our death would work a greater good in the divine plan. But God has called us primarily to be LIVING sacrifices, for we are to live the resurrected life after our fleshly, Adamic man has been burned up on the altar of sacrifice. And though we may be "considered as sheep to be slaughtered" (Rom. 8:36) we have faith in the One who has devised the Plan of Creation for all history from the beginning to the end.
So it is our present task to study, know, and understand the will of God for each of our lives. It is for us to understand how we each fit into the divine plan and to grow to the full stature of Christ so that we may be like Him.
3 For through the grace given to me, I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
This refers back to 11:18, where Paul has admonished the ethnos not to be arrogant toward the natural branches which were cut off from the Kingdom Tree. Looking deeper, it also references the earlier problem of the natural Israelites (all the tribes) being arrogant toward the rest of the ethnos. They thought that being chosen meant that they could sin with immunity, that God would never cast them off, that God would never allow His temple to be desecrated, that God loved them more than the rest of the ethnos.
But Paul has laid a firm foundation of truth to dispel such notions, presenting faith in Jesus Christ as the attribute that pleases God. And so we are admonished "to have sound judgment," or to have a "sound mind." It is to be mentally balanced in our thinking, which comes only when our feet are planted firmly upon the foundation of faith in Christ and a knowledge of the divine plan. Above all, sound thinking is manifested by humility.
4 For just as we have many members in one body, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
We must all come to know our particular place in the body of Christ in order to really be able to present our bodies as living sacrifices for divine service. This is not always so easy to know.
Knowing God's Will for My Life
I recall many years ago in Bible College talking to my fellow students about this. The big question on our mind was: What is the will of God for me?
Ideally, one might pray, and God ought to reveal His will to each person by revelation. But in the real world, we have difficulty hearing, and God is a bit secretive. He tends to lead us one step at a time, not allowing us to see the path farther than the lamp will reveal in the dark. He often gives us a glimpse of the far future, which we mistakenly conclude is to come shortly. He told Paul, "I will send you far away to the ethnos" (Acts 22:21), but only later did he understand this to be Rome, Spain, and even Britain.
Continuing in Romans 11, let us see The Emphatic Diaglott to get a better picture of the various callings:
6 Now having different Gracious gifts, according to that favor which is imparted to us—if Prophecy, speak according to the analogy of the faith; 7 or if a Service, perform that service. The Teacher, in the teaching; 8 the Exhorter, in the exhortation....
In other words, if you believe that you have a particular gift or calling, then learn how to do it, and just do it. There is much you can learn at home, especially today, where books are abundant. But if you are led to go to school to assist with your learning, then go, and see if God provides. There are some professions that require licenses based upon diplomas. Many ministerial positions require indoctrination, man-made licenses, and ordinations.
To minister to God as a living sacrifice, however, requires only faith and the ability to be led by the Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit will lead a person to obtain some education; other times He will educate people personally. Sometimes, as with Moses, He will require first a secular education, and then a spiritual education in the wilderness.
I have observed many people who believe that they have some particular calling. Some of them just do it. Others wait for men's approval. If you are called to teach the word, then you will find opportunity in life as you meet people. If you are truly called as a teacher, people will want to listen to what you have to say. If no one wants to listen, then either you are not ready or perhaps you do not yet have anything to say.
To have a ministry, one must have something to offer that people need to have or learn. Some people are so consumed with establishing their position or convincing others of their calling that they never actually begin doing the work that would provide on-the-job training. In fact, many do not want to go through the ordeal of training. The schools of men are rigorous enough, but God's School will kill the flesh.
Often this indicates that a person wants to obtain the high position the easy way—by having a well-known person anoint him to an immediate position of power. They look at David, who was anointed by Samuel at the age of eight, without realizing that this anointing was only his enrollment in God's Bible College which met in the wilderness and in the cave of Adullam. God's Bible College teaches you to hear and obey His voice, for that is essential to all else.
Man's Bible Schools will teach you some facts, but God's Bible College will leave you with a personal testimony. Educated ministers can tell you what the Bible says, but God's ministers can testify how they personally lived those stories and proved the validity of the word by experience. Men give ordination papers, but God gives commissions empowered by spiritual gifts.
The Seven Giftings of Grace
There are seven giftings of grace listed in verses 6-8:
1. Prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.
2. Service, in serving or dispensing.
3. Teacher, in teaching (properly).
4. Exhorter, in exhortation or entreating.
5. Distributor, in sharing with generosity.
6. President (proistemi, "one who presides"), with diligence.
7. Sympathizer, with cheerfulness (literally, with glee).
Paul does not expound upon these, but tells each to do what he is called to do with love according to his area of gifting.
9 Let love be unfeigned [without play-acting]. Detest the evil; adhere to the good. 10 With brotherly kindness [philostorgos, "family love"] towards each other be tenderly affectionate [philadelphia, "have brotherly love"]; in honor preferring one another. 11 In duty be not slothful. In the spirit be fervent, serving the Lord. 12 In the hope be joyful; in affliction, patient; in prayer, persevering, 13 contributing to the wants [needs, lacks] of the saints, pursuing hospitality [philoxenia, "love toward strangers"].
In essence, Paul exhorts us to show love and concern for the family of saints (believers), as well as for strangers who are outside of the church family.
The Character of Christ
Returning to the NASB, we read in Rom. 12:14,
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.
This is a reminder of what Paul wrote earlier in Romans 5. There he showed how the love of God differed from the love that is in men. God loves His enemies, whereas men tend to love only their friends, thinking that it is a virtue to hate one's enemies. But Jesus taught in Matthew 5:43-45,
43 You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy." 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
The religious leaders taught that the love of God was limited to their Israelite "neighbor" but did not extend to the Romans or other foreigners. Jesus shows us that they had misunderstood the Scriptures and did not really know the mind of the Father in this matter. The proof is in the fact that God sends rain and sunshine upon both "the evil and the good."
The rain, it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella,
But more upon the just because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella.
God uses the evil ones to train the righteous in the ways of God. By persecution the mind of God is instilled in the remnant of grace. When we undergo such trials, it takes time to work through our emotions and come to that place of peace, rest, and forgiveness. Then we are able to pray for those who persecute us "without play acting," as Paul says.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
This is based upon verse 5, where Paul said that we "are one body in Christ." When one weeps, we all weep; when one rejoices, we all rejoice. If any body part is in pain, the whole body feels it and responds to alleviate that pain.
16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
"Humility is the root of all grace," wrote A. W. Tozer. My father was raised in his church, and his mother (my grandmother) was the head of the Women's Prayer Band Fellowship in Tozer's church for many years in Chicago. Tozer's greatness was in his revelation of the mind and character of God.
Paul wrote earlier in 12:3, "I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think." This also means, as Paul says, "do not be wise in your own estimation." It is probably the ideal mindset to think of ourselves just a bit less than others think of us. Let others think more highly of ourselves than we do.
At the same time, it is not healthy to have an inferiority complex which can paralyze us. The "I am not worthy" mindset, which is so firmly rooted in Catholics and even ex-Catholics (but others also), is the result of denying people the right of forgiveness that is given freely through Christ. Such people often do many good works, but if these works are designed merely to alleviate guilt, then even good works can become a form of bondage.
The bad news is that our Adamic man will NEVER be worthy; but the good news is that Christ in you will never be unworthy. As children of God, we no longer are doomed to a life of guilt and fear, for we are the righteousness of God in Christ and have been imputed righteous, regardless of our flesh. So let us identify with the Christ Identity rather than the Adamic identity which our natural parents passed down to us.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Little boys love to play war games. Big boys just make war. Maturity makes men more reluctant and cautious about declaring war. War and conflict are the fruit of the Adamic man of flesh and sin. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and is one of the measures of spiritual maturity.
Paul's admonition, "never pay back evil for evil," also needs some further explanation, because some have taken this to mean that discipline is wrong. When a child lies or injures his brother, he does "evil." Is it wrong for a parent to discipline the child? Is this paying back evil for evil? The answer depends upon the form of discipline and the motive behind it.
Some parents have been known to discipline a child only when the child inconveniences him. This is not discipline, but punishment, for it based upon disrupting the parent's comfort, rather than upon the correction of the child's behavior and the restoration of the victim's rights.
Likewise, a parent might impose a form of punishment that is unscriptural and does not conform to the mind of Christ. There is often either a lack of discipline or too much of it. The Church has generally been influenced by teachings of hell, and so they tend to over-discipline their children, while in society they demand too much punishment for those they call "criminals."
Modern psychology today tells parents to impose a "time out" on children, either by banishing them to their room for a period of time, or making them stand in the corner. This does not break the rebellious will of the child, but serves only as a "cooling off" period. Government has tried to improve on the mind of God, but has only created a worse problem, which they expect school teachers to resolve.
Biblical judgment fits the offense or crime and is designed to restore both the victim and the law-breaker. When it is imposed out of a motive of godly love, rather than revenge or anger, it results in an orderly yet loving society that respects the God-given rights of all men. The Law of God does not slap the wrists of murderers, nor does it hang men for stealing a loaf of bread. The primary goal is justice with deterrence coming in second. Increasingly tough laws usually are designed to deter crime at the expense of true justice.
True justice is not repaying evil for evil. True justice is the godly way of restoring all things. And so, when the Scriptures teach us that most men will be saved "through" judgment, it is not that God is repaying evil for evil, but that He is restoring them by His loving discipline as a father corrects His children.
Vengeance is Mine
In Romans 12:19-21 Paul reaches the climax of his exhortation, showing how "the renewing of your mind" (vs. 2) affects our behavior and the way we think. He writes,
19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." 21 Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul was quoting from Deut. 32:35, where we read,
35 Vengeance is Mine, and retribution; in due time their foot will slip, for the day of their calamity is near. . . 36 For the Lord will vindicate His people. . .
Again, the Law tells us in Lev. 19:18,
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
There are many who mistakenly believe that vengeance is permitted by Moses, but banned by Paul. Likewise, they think that the God of the Old Testament was a God of vengeance, but that Jesus is a God of Love.
This is often used to show the superiority of grace over the Law by separating the Yahweh of the Old Testament from Jesus Christ in the New. It also tends to make the Old Testament God evil or inferior to Jesus Christ. Such people need to understand Isaiah's prophecy that "Yahweh has become my Yeshua" (Is. 12:2). Jesus was the bodily incarnation of Yahweh, and thus possessed the same mind and character.
And so Paul had no trouble quoting Moses in telling us that "vengeance is Mine." This idea of God as the "avenger" carries over from the Law of Moses into New Testament teaching. Paul's idea in Romans 12 did not spring from special revelation, but by his study of the Law. Vengeance is simply the retribution of the Law by which God judges those who have injured their neighbors.
What is Godly Vengeance?
The problem with vengeance is that when men "take the law into their own hands," it is normally done in the heat of anger or passion. For this reason, our English words vengeance and revenge carry emotional overtones that indicate anger and unforgiveness.
But God's true vengeance is the application of justice as the Law prescribes. The "wrath of God" is His passion (literally, heat) to uphold the Law and to restore the rights of the victims of injustice. God is not devoid of emotion, but His emotion is rooted in His righteous character, whereas man's emotion is usually rooted in the fallen Adamic Identity.
For this reason, the Law forbids Israelites from taking the law into their own hands (as individuals). If they have a dispute with their neighbor, or believe that they have been wronged or injured, they are to take it to God—that is, the earthly court established in His Name—and lodge their complaint. God will then judge the case dispassionately through the judge. The godly judge is presumed to know the mind of God and to be motivated by His character of Love.
The Hebrew word for "vengeance" is naqam. It is similar to nacham, which means "comforter" and is the origin of the New Testament concept of the Comforter in John 14:26. A "comforter" is an advocate in a court of law which helps and instructs a person in the law so that they can make their case before the judge. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is our Comforter.
More than that, the Hebrew word literally means "to breathe forcibly." In a sense, it is like a sigh or the hard breathing while giving birth. There is a sense of pity and concern in this word. It is the desire to bring rectification, correction, and a just solution to a problem. Hence, Jesus "breathed" on His disciples to impart to them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).
The Hebrew prophets understood that naqam and nacham were homonyms, words that sounded very similar. They connected these words in their writings. Hence, the prophet Nahum, starts his prophecy by saying in verse 2,
2 A jealous and avenging [naqam] God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging [naqam] and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance [naqam] on His adversaries.
The prophet's name influenced his prophecy of divine judgment upon Nineveh, which had taken Israel captive. He continues in Nahum 3:7, saying,
7 Nineveh is devastated! Who will grieve for her? Where will I seek comforters [nacham] for you?
Obviously, without the true God, Nineveh lacked the Comforter to defend her in the heavenly Court. Hence, she received naqam, "vengeance" rather than nacham, "comfort."
Divine retribution upon Nineveh was based upon Law, not emotion. After all, God had sold Israel into the hands of Nineveh (Assyria) because of Israel's sins. Nineveh therefore had a legitimate mandate from God to conquer and to deport the northern House of Israel.
But Nineveh would be judged later for refusing to comply with the terms of this "sale" that are found in the laws of slavery (Ex. 21:2, 20, 21, 26, 27, etc.). Nineveh's right to rule over the Israelites was based on biblical Law, and thus also Nineveh was bound to treat them according to the laws regarding the treatment of slaves. When they oppressed their slaves, then the passion of God for justice was turned against them as well. This passion for justice is the "wrath" of God.
God is the only true Judge. His Law is revealed by the Comforter to bring both impartial justice and mercy applied in Love.
The Avenger of Blood
In the divine Law, "revenge" was a court-ordered mandate, not a personal vendetta. For this reason, our English word "revenge" does not accurately convey the biblical idea being expressed. Today we think of "vengeance" as a personal grudge, something that people do outside of the legal system. But the Bible forbids such personal vengeance, for the sentence of the Law was to be determined only by the judge after the trial was completed and all the evidence presented.
God's justice, however, does not exclude the victim or his guardian (representative). Once the court has determined guilt, the power of enforcement is given to the guardian, or to the witnesses, or both. The guardian is called (in legal terms) "the avenger of blood" (Deut. 19:12) or "the revenger of blood" (Num. 35:19).
The actual Hebrew word used in both cases above is ga'al, which means "redeemer." The redeemer is the guardian of the victim, called to represent his family member in the court of law. He is called to restore the lawful order and "redeem" the rights of the victim that had been trampled.
The judge is called to render a just verdict according to the specifications of the Law. The victim (or his guardian) then has the right to extract the full penalty of the Law, or to forgive any portion of the penalty. That is his legal right. The victim may forgive a thief part or even ALL of the restitution penalty that the judge determined according to the Law. I believe that the guardian even has the right to forgive a murderer, if he discerns that this is the right thing to do.
Forgiveness does not put away the Law unless it is the judge who forgives. The Law gives only the victim the right to forgive.
The judge determines guilt or innocence. Once the verdict is given, the victim or guardian has the right of enforcement. The benefit of this divine arrangement is that justice is not dispensed without an opportunity for mercy. If the Law retained both the right of determining guilt as well as the right of enforcement, then there would be no opportunity to extend mercy to a repentant law-breaker.
It is only because we have not understood this principle of Law coming from the mind of God that we have mistakenly thought of the Law as being "vengeful" and devoid of love. In fact, the Law deals with rights, but leaves room to the victim to apply love and forgiveness when he sees genuine repentance.
Hence, when Paul quotes the Law saying, "vengeance is Mine," we ought not to think of God as being "vengeful" in the modern sense of the English word. When God acts as a Judge, He judges according to His own Law, rather than by the laws of men or even by Church law. As a righteous Judge, He certainly will not acquit the guilty; however, the victims always possess the right of forgiveness.
In fact, this is the secret behind God's way of causing the remnant of grace to be victimized by others in this present age. Romans 8:36 says, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." We are made victims in order to give us certain rights that are not otherwise given to men.
Jesus, too, was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), in order that He might have the right to forgive all sin. We are His Body, and so it is often given to us to experience the same crimes, though in smaller portions. Being victimized gives us the right of forgiveness as well as prosecution, but as the character of God is instilled into our hearts, we learn the art of forgiveness as intercessors of the Most High God.
Heaping Burning Coals on their Heads
Paul says in Romans 12:20,
20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.
It is the right of the victim to feed his hungry enemy and to give drink to him if he is thirsty. It is the right of the victim to show love and mercy. This New Testament principle is rooted in the Law of God, though few have seen it there.
Old Covenant religions tend to teach that justice is one's duty, without realizing that it is only a duty insofar as the judge is concerned. To the wronged party, justice is actually a right that may be exercised either in love or in hatred. The Law is duty-bound to uphold the victim's right to justice, but the victim is not bound by the Law to extract the last farthing of restitution.
It is for this reason that the creditor who was owed ten thousand talents (Matt. 18:27) had the right to forgive the entire debt—or to retain it at his discretion when the debtor refused to forgive his own neighbor. This principle of Law is perhaps the greatest secret of the Spirit-led Christian life.
Many have also misunderstood the idea of heaping coals of fire upon the head of the enemy. In those days, people often traveled and would be out of town for a lengthy period of time. The fire on the hearth would be gone by the time they returned home, so the woman normally went to the neighbor to obtain a few coals of fire with which to start a new fire at home.
Now, it was often the case that neighbors did not get along very well. If an "enemy" neighbor asked for a few coals, the neighbor might be stingy and give grudgingly a few small coals. However, if the neighbor had the mind of Christ, he or she would "heap burning coals upon his head." (They would have carried the coals in clay jars on their heads in those days.) In this manner, Paul says in Romans 12:21,
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Feuding neighbors could often be reconciled, if one of them was generous in this small way. This is Paul's example of not paying back evil for evil (12:17) and being at peace with all men, if at all possible (12:18).