Romans 12 exhorts the Christian in how to live, but halfway through it seems to pause and give direction to leaders. Some study guides actually skip over what could be taken as an aside or extra elaboration. However, this portion also applies to the Christian’s everyday living… or at least it ought to, for anyone involved in any sort of ministry. Verses 6-8 have been referenced as a list of “giftings” … but it isn’t only a list.
These verses are also exhortations (instruction). The “offices” listed also represent categories of ministry service. These are activities that the Christian is likely to engage in throughout day-to-day life. Every Christian probably does at least one of these works at a personal level, out of God’s gifting and calling. In fact, verse 6 says that “having” then gifts differing, according to the “grace given” to us. So it proceeds with the instruction….
If you’re in “prophecy” then do so in faith. While at that time “prophecy” was a clear role of the Apostles (as in John recording the Revelation), it isn’t common to have prophets today in the sense of revealing the future. In more recent church history, “prophecy” has often been used in reference to the “preaching” of pastors (considering 1 Cor. 14:3-4). And because the role of a pastor does hold many similarities with the prophets in the Bible, the exhortation to “prophets” may be applied generally to preaching God’s word. Thus, setting aside predictions or revelations in our concept of “prophet”…. let me simply draw your attention to what it says; we aren’t to “prophecy” apart from faith. Why should you preach words without the conviction of truth, and a believing heart. This doesn’t mean “have confidence” in what you preach or in your own ability — “faith” fully depends upon God. We’re to prayerfully remain consistent with Scripture and rely on God to work. If you preach Jesus Christ as a pastor, evangelist, missionary, or simply by telling the person next to you about the Gospel … do so in faith. And faith, like courage, has nothing to do with your emotions. It’s about trusting God and believing His Word.
Ok, next is “ministry” and “teaching” in verse 7, saying “wait” on them. Ministering to others in need and teaching both require patience. Both are hard work, if only because that work seems to drag on indefinitely. And after all that time, after all your labor for others, you may never see very much return on that investment, if any at all. Yes, it takes patience to continue steadfast in selfless care for others. But this encouragement is to “wait” on such a calling (or duty) faithfully.
Verse 8 adds “exhortation” under the same instruction of patience. Exhortation is the task of giving corrections, warnings, encouragements; working to guide someone into the right path, or else, helping them keep on the right path. This mentor-like role is often a long-term ministry that “waits” for God to turn hearts. It sometimes becomes part of teaching. The person working in exhortation usually never sees the end result and may never be given evidence of successfulness. Here we begin to see how the need for faith isn’t exclusive to preaching.
For those who would give gifts, it says to do so with “simplicity” — love demonstrated. Gifts needn’t be presented elaborately or have strings attached. Simplicity implies a lack of hidden agendas, and without bribery. A “simple” gift isn’t expecting anything in return. The best gifts need no added value and need no explanations of complex reasoning (as in having numerous motives). The best gifts are what they are, given as they are, pre-paid, out of love for the recipient…. a gift. Why? Because this reflects the Gospel; the gift of eternal life, of eternal value…. very expensive, but free to us. Isn’t our service at any level indeed “reasonable” as verse one states?
Where you have “rule” or authority; be diligent. This refers to anyone given responsibility. Contrary to laziness, which is kin to pride and born of entitlement; this exhortation is for diligence. So we ought to be continual, watchful, committed to what may be a long-term, little-by-little labor. It’s one thing to leap into a role of authority or leadership with enthusiasm and energy, but it’s another to keep working after energy and enthusiasm are gone. To persevere through frustrations, weariness and oppositions.
And finally, to all who show mercy (taking a loss, a hurt, upon yourself and not pursuing repayment nor seeking to punish) it says do so “cheerfully”. In other words, don’t forgive someone begrudgingly as though under protest. Make up your mind. Be wholehearted. Cheerfulness is good for all ministry, but with “mercy” especially. How can it properly demonstrate God’s love (who has shown mercy and remembers our sin no more) if we show mercy in practice, but appear as though it’s only out of obligation. We ought to be both wholehearted inwardly, and sincere outwardly.
These are good reminders for every Christian. And each of these exhortations can still be applied generally, while being specially important categorically. Romans 12:6-8 isn’t an “aside” within the chapter, it fits with the surrounding context and is there for our instruction. Verses 6-8 build out from the previous verses, and flow into verse 9 …. Let love be without pretense.
Commentary by Benjamin Owen | tnmemoirs.com | August 2023