24 Nov 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
One of the notable features of Paul’s teaching is that he regularly combines doctrine with duty, belief with behaviour. In consequence, as in some of his other letters, he now turns in Romans 12 from exposition to exhortation, from the gospel to everyday Christian discipleship, or, as Anders Nygren put it, from the statement that ‘he who through faith is righteous’ to its corollary, ‘he shall live’. Moreover, it is not only individual or personal ethics to which Paul now introduces his readers. He is concerned to depict the characteristics of the new community which Jesus has brought into being by his death and resurrection.
Two general aspects of Paul’s instruction in Romans 12-15 call for comment before we consider the particulars. The first is that he integrates creed and conduct, insisting both on the practical implications of his theology and on the theological foundations of his ethic. In spite of our newness in Christ (‘dead to sin but alive to God’, 6:11), holiness is neither automatic nor inevitable. On the contrary, pleas for good conduct need to be issued, and reasons need to be given. Thus in chapter 12 we are told to offer our bodies to God because of his mercy (1), to serve one another because we are one body in Christ (5), and not to take revenge, because vengeance belongs to God (19). Similarly, according to chapter 13 we are to submit to the state because its officials are God’s ministers wielding God’s authority (1ff.), and to love our neighbour and so fulfil the law because the day of Christ’s return is approaching (10f.). And in chapter 14, as we will see in detail later, we are urged not to harm our sisters and brothers in any way, because Christ died to be their saviour (15), rose to be their Lord (9f.) and is coming to be our judge (11f.). It is marvellous to see the great doctrines of the cross, the resurrection and the parousia being pressed into the service of practical, day-to-day Christian behaviour.
The second striking feature of Paul’s ethical instruction in Romans 12-15 concerns the number of times he refers directly or indirectly to the teaching of Jesus.
(Dr. Michael Thompson helpfully distinguishes between (a) a ‘quotation’, which Paul introduces by an explicit citation formula, (b) an ‘allusion’, which is an intentional reminder to his readers of a tradition they already know, and (c) an ‘echo’ or ‘reminiscence’, which seems to parallel Jesus’ teaching but may not do so consciously in Paul’s mind. Dr Thompson concludes that in Romans 12:1-15:13 there are no quotations, ‘only one probable allusion’ (viz. in 12;14b), and ‘three virtually certain echoes’, together with several other probable ones. Further, the effect of these echoes ‘decisively favours the conclusion that dominical teachings significantly influenced Paul’, as did Christ’s example even more.)