A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 12:3-21
Romans 12 is all about how to live a Christian life. The life of a Christian is not an easy one, but the benefits of choosing to follow Jesus are far greater and involve more than a heavenly destination.
In the last blog post, we studied Romans 12:1-2, which talked about the first and necessary steps to live out our new lives in Christ. And these are:
- To not copy or conform to the ways of the world, and more importantly, to not copy the way the world thinks and,
- To offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice to God, which simply means to decide to be holy and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds, as we become more and more holy.
God knows that we won’t achieve perfect holiness in this life, but we are called to make the decision to pursue holiness through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, in the rest of Romans 12, Paul continues to discuss how a Christian should live.
Different From the Rest of the World
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to live differently than the rest of the world. Why? Because we are called to be a light to the world – ambassadors of Jesus.
Another reason we are called to live differently, is because God wants us to experience perfect fulfillment in living out our lives as he intended.
Though we receive so much from God by choosing the Christian life, we should seek and desire to live this kind of life out of sheer gratitude for all that God has done for us.
1 John 4:19 says,
‘We love Him because He first loved us.’NKJV
This blog post will discuss how God has called Christians to live.
10 Instructions on How to Live a Christian Life
1. Pride Has No Place in the Christian Life
In verse 3, Paul is about to begin talking about serving God with our spiritual gifts, but first he gives a warning about humility. It is human nature to have pride, and pride particularly likes to rear its ugly head when people regard themselves as gifted. We need to remember that spiritual giftedness does not equal spiritual maturity. Just because someone may have been given one or more spiritual gifts, does not mean that they are spiritually mature and are using those gifts in a God honoring manner.
Paul points out that salvation is itself a gift from God, and none of us have any basis for pride or superiority over another brother or sister in Christ for having received it.
Paul is reminding us to see the truth about ourselves as we really are, and when we do this, it is impossible to be given over to pride. What is the truth about us? We all have sinned, and undeservingly received God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. We are now completely justified by Jesus and can stand guilt-free before God.
2. The Christian Life Requires Unity, Not Uniformity
In verse 4-5 Paul uses our human bodies to illustrate how the Church is one unified body. He is not referring to your local church or even denomination, but all who believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Yet, each of us are all distinct within that one body. There is unity of the body of Christ, or the Church, but not uniformity. We are not meant to be identical, but we are united by our confident hope in Jesus Christ.
Now in verses 6-8, Paul discusses the different kinds of spiritual gifts, however this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Paul is giving us examples of gifts and how we should use them for God.
And just as grace is not given on the basis of merit, neither are spiritual gifts. This idea is related to the Greek word for spiritual gifts, charismata, which means gift of grace. We are given these gifts or abilities because of God’s grace.
In 1 Corinthians 12:11, Paul says that spiritual gifts are given at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.
A Christian Serves Through Spiritual Gifts
The Gift of Prophecy
Verse 6 talks about the gift of prophecy and the key here is faith. If we believe by faith that God has given us a message to share, we need to speak out in faith. If we do not trust or have faith that God has, in fact, given us a message to share, we shouldn’t share it at all.
Saying that you have a message from God should never be taken lightly. When we do, we are claiming to be speaking God’s words. We should never flippantly declare “Thus says the Lord” without considering if God really did say it.
Now prophecy, in the Biblical understanding of it, is not necessarily “fore-telling” in a strict predictive sense. It is more accurate to call it “forth-telling” the heart and mind of God, which may or may not include a predictive aspect.
The Gift of Serving
Verse 7 talks about the gift of serving, or another word for that is ministry. This is a broad picture of serving others in practical ways – seeing a need and filling it. Paul perceives this gift of serving an important ministry from the Holy Spirit.
The Gift of Teaching
Verse 7 also talks about the gift of teaching, which refers to Biblical instruction and application.
The Gift of Encouragement
Verse 8 speaks of the gift of encouragement. This gift is one of the reasons we are to live in community. God created us to be relational. Lifting one another up is an important role of the church and our Christian community.
The Gift of Giving
Verse 8 also speaks of the gift of giving. This refers to someone who God uses as a channel to provide for the needs of the church body. A key to this gift is generosity. If we have the resources to give, we should give generously. If we stop giving generously what God has generously given to us, our resources may dry up, as we forget why God blessed us in the first place.
The Gift of Leadership
Verse 8 also speaks of the gift of leadership, and Paul says that gift of leadership is a serious responsibility. Far too easily church leaders become burnt out and discouraged and give up their roles. But we must persevere if we want to please God with our gift.
The Gift of Kindness
And finally, verse 8 speaks of the gift of kindness, or the NKJV calls it a gift of mercy. Here Paul says that we should do it gladly, or in the NKJV do it cheerfully. This is referring to showing compassion to others, or a simple act of kindness. And these acts of kindness can be offered as gifts to God if done with an attitude of gladness or cheerfulness.
It can be hard sometimes to show others mercy and kindness and even harder to do it cheerfully, which really highlights the fact that this is a gift from the Holy Spirit, rather than a natural human inclination.
As I mentioned, these are only examples of spiritual gifts, and this should not be considered an exhaustive list.
Also, it’s important to note that spiritual gifts are distinct from talents; everyone is given spiritual gifts, and often more than one as they overlap with each other. We are given these gifts to serve God and others.
4. Christians Should Love One Another Authentically
In verses 9-13, Paul is now going to briefly instruct us on how to live as a Christian in community with other Christians.
In verse 9, Paul says not to pretend to love one another, or as the NKJV puts it ‘let love be without hypocrisy’. Being pretend and fake with people is not real love. We need to be intentional about getting to know and love those in our community.
What is love? Love is putting other’s needs before our own. Here Paul is talking about our commitment to one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to support each other and hold each other up.
5. Christians Must Hate What is Evil and Cling to What is Good
Next Paul says to ‘hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.’ It’s often easier to do one or the other: to hate what is evil, or to cling to what is good. But here Paul is telling us we must practice both.
What does Paul mean by that? Well, some people spend so much of their time and energy hating what is evil – protesting and standing against it – but spend no time clinging to what is good – doing good, serving others, and glorifying God.
And what about the other side of the coin? It is equally wrong to spend all our time clinging to what is good, and not taking a bold stand against evil – fighting against it and standing up for those who are suffering from it.
Jesus practiced both. He demonstrated how to cling to what is good when he served others by healing the sick and feeding the hungry, but he also stood against evil when he overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple and stopped the stoning of the adulterous woman.
And the more we hate what is evil, the more tightly we will cling to what is good. The one leads to the other.
6. Christians Should be Kind and Caring
In verse 10, Paul talks about love again. But this time he is referring to our attitudes and mannerisms with each other. The NKJV says to ‘be kindly affectionate one to another’. This is a command that Christians should not have a cold and stand-offish attitude with one another. We should show genuine affection for one another. This verse could be seen as a call to good manners among Christians, displaying a kind and caring attitude and countenance. Paul even goes so far as to say that we should ‘delight in honoring each other.’
7. The Christian Life is About Joyfully Serving Others
Verse 11 tells us not to be lazy but work hard to serve the Lord enthusiastically. In this context, Paul is referring specifically to our work in serving the Lord whether in our church, in the community, or abroad. Of course, elsewhere in the Bible there are verses speaking about not being lazy in general, and working as if for the Lord, but here Paul is referring to our service for the Lord by serving others. Do we even want to serve in the church? Or would we rather just show up every Sunday and be served?
Verse 12 is a continuation of verse 11 in talking about serving God. When we serve God, we should rejoice in confident hope. This confident hope, which is in Jesus Christ, is the reason we serve. Rather than rejoice in the results of our service, we ought to continuously keep our eyes towards heaven.
This is how we can be patient in times of trouble and keep on praying, as Paul says in the second half of verse 12. No matter the trials we might face, we need to stay focused, rejoicing in the confident hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
Paul also says in verse 12 to be ready to help God’s people in need, and always be eager to practice hospitality.
This is something I have always struggled with. I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest homemaker, or at least, I’m not always on top of keeping things tidy. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly want to show people my clutter. So last minute hospitality has not been a strong suit of mine. And I don’t always have a willing attitude to help when I see a need, although God has been working on my heart lately, making me more compassionate for those in need.
Several years ago, the pastor’s wife of a church I had been attending had posted a request on Facebook, asking if anyone could babysit her four children, as her babysitter was sick. I was home that day and had no plans. But I just didn’t want to do it. I felt guilty thinking I should offer, but then another mom who worked from home offered and I was relieved. I did not want the hard work of looking after her four children plus my own. I wasn’t thinking about how I could bless others or bless God by my service, I was just thinking of myself.
8. Christians Must Love Their Enemies
Christians are not simply called to live in community with other Christians. We must live in community with everyone else too!
In verse 14-21, Paul now switches to instructing Christians on how to live in the world, how we need to live with everyone else.
In verse 14 Paul tells us to bless those who persecute you and not curse them. He says to pray for them instead. Here Paul is saying not to have a hateful attitude towards anyone, not even towards those who persecute us. Jesus showed us that the kind of love he preached about is the kind of love that can be extended to our enemies.
In Matthew 5:46, Jesus said,
‘If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.’NLT
9. Christians Must Live in Harmony with Others
Verse 15 says to be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. This is a bit of strange command. What does this mean?
Well, the answer to that appears in verse 16 when Paul next says, ‘Live in harmony with each other’. Verse 16 in the NKJV says to ‘be of the same mind one to another.’
Part of living in harmony with people is to be considerate of other people’s feelings. Uniting with others and sharing in their joy and sorrow. Showing solidarity with those around us. Empathizing with one another.
But Paul also says in verse 16, that we need a humble mind-set to live in harmony with each other. We shouldn’t be too wise in our own eyes.
The Bible is the source for truth, but we need to share that truth with others humbly and lovingly.
10. A Christian Does Not Seek Revenge
In verse 17 Paul tells us that we cannot pay back evil with more evil. Instead, we need to do things in such a way that everyone can see that we are honorable. We need to do all that we can to live in peace with everyone. We should not seek revenge. We are to love our enemies and treat well those who treat us badly.
This doesn’t sound very fair, does it? Why would God want us to live this way?
Paul gives us two reasons in the next verses:
- We are to leave revenge to God’s righteous anger, who promises to pay them back, and
- In doing it God’s way, we will ‘heap burning coals of shame on their heads’, or the NKJV simply says, ‘you will heap coals of fire on his head’.
The NLT has translated heaping coals on the heads of our enemies, to mean that they will feel shame for persecuting us. But another point Paul is making here is that we have the potential to destroy our enemy by making them our friend when we continue to show them love and kindness.
Why else shouldn’t we take revenge in our own hands? Because our anger is not righteous. Our anger is motivated by revenge, hate and a tendency towards violence and malice.
Paul ends Romans 12 with a warning:
‘Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.’Romans 12:21 (NLT)
1 Peter 4:8 says,
‘Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sin.’NLT
What is the most important key to understanding how to live a Christian life? LOVE.
Love conquers evil and covers a multitude of sin. Christians are called to, first, love God; and second, love others. This is the true calling of the Christian life. This is the life that glorifies God and the life that provides the most fulfillment.
Joyful Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot – This book helps to give you a better understanding of discipline and its value for people of all times. Elliot helps us to understand that our fulfillment as human beings depends on our answer to God’s call to obedience.