Romans 12:13
Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
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(13) Distributing to the necessity of saints.—By “saints” is here meant simply “Christians.” So, in Ephesians 1:1, we find the salutation addressed to the “saints which are at Ephesus.” (Comp. Acts 9:13; Acts 26:10.) The reference is to the well-known poverty of the early Christian communities.

Necessity.—Some of the Græco-Latin manuscripts and fathers here read, memories, or commemorations, by a slight change of letters, “taking part in the commemorations of the saints,” as if the allusion was to the later ecclesiastical usage of holding festivals in honour of martyrs. The best manuscripts are wonderfully free from corruptions of this kind, and even inferior manuscripts admit them to a much smaller extent than might have been expected. Other examples would be the insertion of the phrase “and fasting” in Mark 9:29, and the addition of the doxology to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13.



Romans 12:13 - Romans 12:15

In these verses we pass from the innermost region of communion with God into the wide field of duties in relation to men. The solitary secrecies of rejoicing hope, endurance, and prayer unbroken, are exchanged for the publicities of benevolence and sympathy. In the former verses the Christian soul is in ‘the secret place of the Most High’; in those of our text he comes forth with the light of God on his face, and hands laden with blessings. The juxtaposition of the two suggests the great principles to which the morality of the New Testament is ever true-that devotion to God is the basis of all practical helpfulness to man, and that practical helpfulness to man is the expression and manifestation of devotion to God.

The three sets of injunctions in our text, dissimilar though they appear, have a common basis. They are varying forms of one fundamental disposition-love; which varies in its forms according to the necessities of its objects, bringing temporal help to the needy, meeting hostility with blessing, and rendering sympathy to both the glad and the sorrowful. There is, further, a noteworthy connection, not in sense but in sound, between the first and second clauses of our text, which is lost in our English Version. ‘Given to hospitality’ is, as the Revised margin shows, literally, pursuing hospitality. Now the Greek, like the English word, has the special meaning of following with a hostile intent, and the use of it in the one sense suggests its other meaning to Paul, whose habit of ‘going off at a word,’ as it has been called, is a notable feature of his style. Hence, this second injunction, of blessing the persecutors, comes as a kind of play upon words, and is obviously occasioned by the verbal association. It would come more appropriately at a later part of the chapter, but its occurrence here is characteristic of Paul’s idiosyncrasy. We may represent the connection of these two clauses by such a rendering as: Pursue hospitality, and as for those who pursue you, bless, and curse not.

We may look at these three flowers from the one root of love.

I. Love that speaks in material help.

We have here two special applications of that love which Paul regards as ‘the bond of perfectness,’ knitting all Christians together. The former of these two is love that expresses itself by tangible material aid. The persons to be helped are ‘saints,’ and it is their ‘needs’ that are to be aided. There is no trace in the Pauline Epistles of the community of goods which for a short time prevailed in the Church of Jerusalem and which was one of the causes that led to the need for the contribution for the poor saints in that city which occupied so much of Paul’s attention at Corinth and elsewhere. But, whilst Christian love leaves the rights of property intact, it charges them with the duty of supplying the needs of the brethren. They are not absolute and unconditioned rights, but are subject to the highest principles of stewardship for God, trusteeship for men, and sacrifice for Christ. These three great thoughts condition and limit the Christian man’s possession of the wealth, which, in a modified sense, it is allowable for him to call his own. His brother’s need constitutes a first charge on all that belongs to him, and ought to precede the gratification of his own desires for superfluities and luxuries. If we ‘see our brother have need and shut up our bowels of compassion against him’ and use our possessions for the gratification of our own whims and fancies, ‘how dwelleth the love of God in us?’ There are few things in which Christian men of this day have more need for the vigorous exercise of conscience, and for enlightenment, than in their getting, and spending, and keeping money. In that region lies the main sphere of usefulness for many of us; and if we have not been ‘faithful in that which is least,’ our unfaithfulness there makes it all but impossible that we should be faithful in that which is greatest. The honest and rigid contemplation of our own faults in the administration of our worldly goods, might well invest with a terrible meaning the Lord’s tremendous question, ‘If ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who shall give you that which is your own?’

The hospitality which is here enjoined is another shape which Christian love naturally took in the early days. When believers were a body of aliens, dispersed through the world, and when, as they went from one place to another, they could find homes only amongst their own brethren, the special circumstances of the time necessarily attached special importance to this duty; and as a matter of fact, we find it recognised in all the Epistles of the New Testament as one of the most imperative of Christian duties. ‘It was the unity and strength which this intercourse gave that formed one of the great forces which supported Christianity.’ But whilst hospitality was a special duty for the early Christians, it still remains a duty for us, and its habitual exercise would go far to break down the frowning walls which diversities of social position and of culture have reared between Christians.

II. The love that meets hostility with blessing.

There are perhaps few words in Scripture which have been more fruitful of the highest graces than this commandment. What a train of martyrs, from primitive times to the Chinese Christians in recent years, have remembered these words, and left their legacy of blessing as they laid their heads on the block or stood circled by fire at the stake! For us, in our quieter generation, actual persecution is rare, but hostility of ill-will more or less may well dog our steps, and the great principle here commended to us is that we are to meet enmity with its opposite, and to conquer by love. The diamond is cut with sharp knives, and each stroke brings out flashing beauty. There are kinds of wood which are fragrant when they burn; and there are kinds which show their veining under the plane. It is a poor thing if a Christian character only gives back like a mirror the expression of the face that looks at it. To meet hate with hate, and scorn with scorn, is not the way to turn hate into love and scorn into sympathy. Indifferent equilibrium in the presence of active antagonism is not possible for us. As long as we are sensitive we shall wince from a blow, or a sarcasm, or a sneer. We must bless in order to keep ourselves from cursing. The lesson is very hard, and the only way of obeying it fully is to keep near Christ and drink in His spirit who prayed ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

III. Love that flows in wide sympathy.

Of the two forms of sympathy which are here enjoined, the former is the harder. To ‘rejoice with them that do rejoice’ makes a greater demand on unselfish love than to ‘weep with them that weep.’ Those who are glad feel less need of sympathy than do the sorrowful, and envy is apt to creep in and mar the completeness of sympathetic joy. But even the latter of the two injunctions is not altogether easy. The cynic has said that there is ‘something not wholly displeasing in the misfortunes of our best friends’; and, though that is an utterly worldly and unchristian remark, it must be confessed not to be altogether wanting in truth.

But for obedience to both of these injunctions, a heart at leisure from itself is needed to sympathise; and not less needed is a sedulous cultivation of the power of sympathy. No doubt temperament has much to do with the degree of our obedience; but this whole context goes on the assumption that the grace of God working on temperament strengthens natural endowments by turning them into ‘gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.’ Though we live in that awful individuality of ours, and are each, as it were, islanded in ourselves ‘with echoing straits between us thrown,’ it is possible for us, as the result of close communion with Jesus Christ, to bridge the chasms, and to enter into the joy of a brother’s joy. He who groaned in Himself as He drew near to the grave of Lazarus, and was moved to weep with the weeping sisters, will help us, in the measure in which we dwell in Him and He in us, that we too may look ‘not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.’

On the whole, love to Jesus is the basis of love to man, and love to man is the practical worship of Christianity. As in all things, so in the exhortations which we have now been considering, Jesus is our pattern and power. He Himself communicates with our necessities, and opens His heart to give us hospitable welcome there. He Himself has shown us how to meet and overcome hatred with love, and hurt with blessing. He shares our griefs, and by sharing lessens them. He shares our joys, and by sharing hallows them. The summing up of all these specific injunctions is, ‘Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.’

12:9-16 The professed love of Christians to each other should be sincere, free from deceit, and unmeaning and deceitful compliments. Depending on Divine grace, they must detest and dread all evil, and love and delight in whatever is kind and useful. We must not only do that which is good, but we must cleave to it. All our duty towards one another is summed up in one word, love. This denotes the love of parents to their children; which is more tender and natural than any other; unforced, unconstrained. And love to God and man, with zeal for the gospel, will make the wise Christian diligent in all his wordly business, and in gaining superior skill. God must be served with the spirit, under the influences of the Holy Spirit. He is honoured by our hope and trust in him, especially when we rejoice in that hope. He is served, not only by working for him, but by sitting still quietly, when he calls us to suffer. Patience for God's sake, is true piety. Those that rejoice in hope, are likely to be patient in tribulation. We should not be cold in the duty of prayer, nor soon weary of it. Not only must there be kindness to friends and brethren, but Christians must not harbour anger against enemies. It is but mock love, which rests in words of kindness, while our brethren need real supplies, and it is in our power to furnish them. Be ready to entertain those who do good: as there is occasion, we must welcome strangers. Bless, and curse not. It means thorough good will; not, bless them when at prayer, and curse them at other times; but bless them always, and curse not at all. True Christian love will make us take part in the sorrows and joys of each other. Labour as much as you can to agree in the same spiritual truths; and when you come short of that, yet agree in affection. Look upon worldly pomp and dignity with holy contempt. Do not mind it; be not in love with it. Be reconciled to the place God in his providence puts you in, whatever it be. Nothing is below us, but sin. We shall never find in our hearts to condescend to others, while we indulge conceit of ourselves; therefore that must be mortified.Distributing - The word used here denotes having things in "common" κοινωνοῦντες koinōnountes. It means that they should be communicative, or should regard their property as so far common as to supply the needs of others. In the earliest times of the church, Christians had all things in common (Notes, Acts 2:44), and felt themselves bound to meet all the needs of their brethren. One of the most striking effects of Christianity was to loosen their grasp on property, and dispose them to impart liberally to those who had need. The direction here does not mean that they should literally have all things in common; that is, to go back to a state of savage barbarity; but that they should be liberal, should partake of their good things with those who were needy; compare Galatians 6:6; Romans 15:27; Philippians 4:15; 1 Timothy 6:18.

To the necessity - To the needs. That is, distribute to them such things as they need, food, raiment, etc. This command, of course, has reference to the poor. "Of saints." Of Christians, or the friends of God. They are called saints as being holy (ἁγιοι hagioi), or consecrated to God. This duty of rendering aid to Christians especially, does not interfere with the general love of mankind. The law of the New Testament is Galatians 6:10, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith." The Christian is indeed to love all mankind, and to do them good as far as may be in his power, Matthew 5:43-44; Titus 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:18; Hebrews 13:16. But he is to show particular interest in the welfare of his brethren, and to see that the poor members of the church are provided for; for,

(1) They are our brethren; they are of the same family; they are attached to the same Lord; and to do good to them is to evince love to Christ, Matthew 25:40; Mark 9:41.

(2) they are left especially to the care of the church; and if the church neglects them, we may be sure the world will also, Matthew 26:11. Christians, especially in the time of the apostles, had reason to expect little compassion from the people of the world. They were persecuted and oppressed; they would be embarrassed in their business, perhaps thrown out of occupation by the opposition of their enemies; and it was therefore especially incumbent on their Brethren to aid them. To a certain extent it is always true, that the world is reluctant to aid the friends of God; and hence the poor followers of Christ are in a special manner thrown on the benefactions of the church.

(3) it is not improbable that there might be a special reason at that time for enjoining this on the attention of the Romans. It was a time of persecution, and perhaps of extensive distress. In the days of Claudius (about a.d. 50), there was a famine in Judea which produced great distress, and many of the poor and oppressed might flee to the capital for aid. We know, from other parts of the New Testament, that at that time the apostle was deeply interested in procuring aid for the poor brethren in Judea, Romans 15:25-26; compare Acts 19:21; 2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 2 Corinthians 9:2-4. But the same reasons for aiding the poor followers of Christ will exist substantially in every age; and one of the most precious privileges conferred upon people is to be permitted to assist those who are the friends of God, Psalm 41:1-3; Proverbs 14:21.

Given to hospitality - This expression means that they should readily and cheerfully entertain strangers. This is a duty which is frequently enjoined in the Scriptures, Hebrews 13:2, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby many have entertained angels unawares;" 1 Peter 4:9, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." Paul makes this especially the duty of a Christian bishop; 1 Timothy 3:2, "A bishop then must given to hospitality;" Titus 1:8. Hospitality is especially enjoined by the Saviour, and its exercise commanded; Matthew 10:40, Matthew 10:42, "He that receiveth you receiveth me, etc." The waver of hospitality is one of the charges which the Judge of mankind will allege against the wicked, and on which he will condemn them; Matthew 25:43, "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in." It is especially commended to us by the example of Abraham Genesis 18:1-8, and of Lot Genesis 19:1-2, who thus received angels unawares.

It was one of the virtues on which Job particularly commended himself, and which he had not failed to practice; Job 31:16-17, "If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof, etc." In the time of our Saviour it was evidently practiced in the most open and frank manner; Luke 10:7, "And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give." A remarkable instance is also mentioned in Luke 11:5. This virtue is no less common in eastern nations at present than it was in the time of Christ. It is eminently the virtue of oriental nations, of their ardent and open temperament. It springs up naturally in countries thinly settled, where the sight of a stranger would be therefore especially pleasant; in countries too, where the occupation was chiefly to attend flocks, and where there was much leisure for conversation; and where the population was too sparse, and the travelers too infrequent, to justify inn-keeping as a business.

From all these causes, it has happened that there are, properly speaking, no inns or taverns in the regions around Palestine. It was customary, indeed, to erect places for lodging and shelter at suitable distances, or by the side of springs or watering places, for travelers to lodge in. But they are built at the public expense, and are unfurnished. Each traveler carries his own bed and clothes and cooking utensils, and such places are merely designed as a shelter for caravans; (see Robinson's Calmet, art. Caravanserai.) It is still so; and hence, it becomes, in their view, a virtue of high order to entertain, at their own tables, and in their families, such strangers as may be traveling. Niebuhr says, that "the hospitality of the Arabs has always been the subject of praise; and I believe that those of the present day exercise this virtue no less than the ancients did. There are, in the villages of Tehama, houses which are public, where travelers may lodge and be entertained some days gratis, if they will be content with the fare; and they are much frequented. When the Arabs are at table, they invite those who happen to come to eat with them, whether they be Christians or Muslims, gentle or simple." - "The primitive Christians," says Calmet, "considered one principal part of their duty to consist in showing hospitality to strangers. They were in fact so ready in discharging this duty, that the very pagan admired them for it. They were hospitable to all strangers, but especially to those who were of the household of faith. Believers scarcely ever traveled without letters of communion, which testified the purity of their faith, and procured for them a favorable reception wherever the name of Jesus Christ was known;" (Calmet, Dict.) Calmer is also of opinion that the two minor epistles of John may be such letters of recommendation and communion; compare 2 John 1:10.

It may be added that it would be particularly expected of Christians that they should show hospitality to the ministers of religion. They were commonly poor; they received no fixed salary; they traveled from place to place; and they would be dependent for support on the kindness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. This was particularly intended by our Saviour's instructions on the subject, Matthew 10:11-13, Matthew 10:40-42. The duty of hospitality is still binding upon Christians and all people. The law of Christ is not repealed. The customs of society are indeed changed; and one evidence of advancement in commerce and in security, is furnished in the fact that inns are now provided and patronized for the traveler in all Christian lands. Still this does not lessen the obligations to show hospitality. It is demanded by the very genius of the Christian religion; it evinces proper love toward mankind; it shows that there is a feeling of brotherhood and kindness toward others, when such hospitality is shown. It unites society, creates new bonds of interest and affection, to show kindness to the stranger and to the poor. To what extent this is to be done, is one of those questions which are to be left to every man's conscience and views of duty. No rule can be given on the subject. Many men have not the means to be extensively hospitable; and many are not placed in situations that require it. No rules could be given that should be applicable to all cases; and hence, the Bible has left the general direction, has furnished examples where it was exercised, has recommended it to mankind, and then has left every man to act on the rule, as he will answer it to God; see Matthew 25:34-46.

13. given to hospitality—that is, the entertainment of strangers. In times of persecution, and before the general institution of houses of entertainment, the importance of this precept would be at once felt. In the East, where such houses are still rare, this duty is regarded as of the most sacred character [Hodge]. Necessity; the word signifies uses. The saints must be succoured in things useful, as well as necessary. This apostle, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, spends two whole chapters about this sort of charity, in relieving the poor saints; viz. 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15: see also Galatians 6:10 Hebrews 13:16.

Given to hospitality; or, as the word may be rendered, pursue hospitality; hunt after it, as Abraham and Lot did, Genesis 18:1,2 Ge 19:1,2. Concerning this duty of accommodating strangers, (which is here meant by hospitality), see Deu 10:18,19 Isa 58:7 1 Timothy 3:2 Titus 1:8 Hebrews 13:2 1 Peter 4:9.

Distributing to the necessity of saints,.... Or "communicating", as many versions render the word; "distributing" more properly belongs to the officers of the church, the deacons, and communicating to the members of it in common. All men in general are to be relieved that are in want, even our very enemies, and particularly such as are our own flesh and blood, nearly related to us, aged parents, &c. and especially they that are of the household of faith, here called "saints"; and indeed, such only come under the care and notice of a church: and they are such, whom God has set apart for himself, has chosen in his Son, that they should be holy; whom Christ has sanctified, or whose sins he has expiated by his blood; and to whom he is made sanctification; and in whose hearts a work of grace and holiness is wrought by the Spirit of God, which is the sanctification of the Spirit they are chosen through, as a mean to eternal salvation by Christ; and in consequence of this, they live soberly, righteously, and godly, and have their conversations as become the Gospel of Christ: and such as these, being in necessitous circumstances, are to be communicated to; for not all, or any of the saints, but only such as are in "necessity", are here pointed at; it is not communicating to the saints, but to their necessity, which is recommended. It is the will and pleasure of God, that some of his dear children should be in strait circumstances of life, be reduced to want and distress, partly to try their own graces, their faith and trust in God, and dependence on him; and partly the graces of others, the charity, liberality, and beneficence of those who have of this world's goods: and who are the persons that are to "communicate", not words only, saying, be warmed and filled, and give nothing; but their substance, they are to deal their bread to the hungry, clothe the naked, and give a portion to as many as are in need: and these acts of giving and receiving, are one way by which the saints have communication with each other, and which is suggested by the word "communicating" here used; for fellowship does not lie merely in private conversation, and in sitting down together at the Lord's table, but in "communicating to one another such things" as are needful, as for the soul, so for the body. Some copies read, "communicating to the memories of the saints"; not making images of them, and praying to them, but speaking well and honourably of them, and imitating them in what they did well; see Proverbs 10:7.

Given to hospitality; or, as it may be rendered, "pursuing", or "following after love to strangers"; which is properly hospitality: respect is to be shown not to such only who are members of the same community with us, but also to such of the people of God, that may be of another country, or of some distant parts of our own, not before known by us; who by persecution, and distress of some sort or another, or by some providence or another, are obliged to remove from their native place. These we are to love, and show our love to, not only by directing and advising, but, if need be, by giving them food and raiment, and lodging them: this is a duty incumbent on ministers of the Gospel, and on private members, and on all who are in any capacity to perform it; and which should be done cheerfully, and without grudging; and what persons should use, inure, and give themselves to, yea, should seek after, and call to objects of it; as Abraham and Lot did, who thereby entertained angels unawares, and is what the apostle here means by pursuing and following after it.

{s} Distributing to the {t} necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

(s) A true rule of charity, that we feel for other men's wants as we do for our own, and having that feeling, to help them as much as we can.

(t) Not upon pleasures and needless duties, but upon necessary uses.

Romans 12:13. Having fellowship in the necessities of the saints (comp. Romans 15:27), i.e. so conducting yourselves that the necessities of your fellow-Christians may be also your own, seeking therefore just so to satisfy them. Comp. on Php 4:14. The transitive sense: communicating (still held by Rückert and Fritzsche, following many of the older interpreters), finds nowhere, at least in the N. T., any confirmation (not even in Galatians 6:6). The ἅγιοι, are the Christians in general, not specially those of Jerusalem (Hofmann), who are indicated in Romans 15:25, but not here, by the context.

τὴν φιλοξ.] studying hospitality. Comp. Hebrews 13:3; 1 Peter 4:9. A virtue highly important at that time, especially in the case of travelling, perhaps banished and persecuted, Christian brethren. Comp. also 1 Timothy 5:10; Titus 1:8. That those in need of shelter should not merely be received, but also sought out, belongs, under certain circumstances, to the fulfilment of this duty, but is not expressed by διώκοντες (as Origen and Bengel hold). Comp. Romans 9:30; ἈΡΕΤῊΝ ΔΙΏΚΕΙΝ, Plato, Theaet. p. 176 B; τὸ ἀγαθὸν διώκειν and the like, Sir 27:8, et al.; ἀδικίαν διώκειν, Plat. Rep. p. 545 B.

Romans 12:13. ταῖς χρείαις τῶν ἁγίων κοινωνοῦντες: “the saints” as in Romans 8:27, 1 Timothy 5:10 are Christians generally. The curious variant ταῖς μνείαις—“taking part in the commemorations of the saints”—dates from an age at which “the saints” were no longer Christians in general, but a select few, as a rule martyrs or confessors in the technical sense. Weiss asserts that the active sense of κοινωνεῖν, to communicate or impart, is foreign to the N.T., but it is difficult to maintain this if we look to such examples as this and Galatians 6:6, and also to the use of κοινωνία in 2 Corinthians 9:13 (where ἁπλότητι τῆς κοινωνίας εἰς αὐτοὺς means the liberality of your contribution to them), and Hebrews 13:16, where κοινωνία is a synonym of εὐποιία, and certainly active. τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες: to devote oneself to entertaining them when they were strangers was one chief way of distributing to the needs of the saints. Hospitality, in the sense of the N.T. (Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9), is not akin to “keeping company,” or “open house”; it is a form of charity much needed by travelling, exiled, or persecuted Christians. The terms in which it is spoken of in Clem. Rom. (quoted in S. and H.: διὰ πίστιν καὶ φιλοξενίαν ἐδόθη αὐτῷi.e., Abraham—υἱὸς ἐν γήρᾳ: or, διὰ φιλοξενίαν καὶ εὐσέβειαν Λὼτ ἐσώθη) may seem extravagant; but the key to them, and to all the apostolic emphasis on the subject, is to be found in Matthew 25:34-36.

13. distributing] communicating, sharing your own with them. This was almost the first instinct of the Church of Christ; and it was felt to be connected naturally with the sublimest truths of eternity. Observe the instant transition from 1 Corinthians 15 to 1 Corinthians 16:1.—Cp. Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 13:16; and below, Romans 15:25-26.

given to hospitality] Lit. pursuing hospitality. Cp. Hebrews 13:2, where lit. “forget not hospitality.” The duty of succouring and aiding fellow-Christians from a distance would be a chief (though by no means the only) point of the exhortation.

Romans 12:13. Ταῖς χρείαις) τῇ θλίψει, Php 4:14. There was much occasion for this especially at Rome. It is particularly remarkable, that Paul, when he is expressly treating of duties arising from the communion of saints, nowhere gives any charge concerning the dead.—διώκοντες, following after) so that you not only are to receive to your house strangers, but are to seek them out.

Romans 12:13Distributing (κοινωνοῦντες)

Rev., communicating to. The meaning is sharing in the necessities; taking part in them as one's own. So Romans 15:27; 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 John 1:11; Hebrews 2:14; 1 Peter 4:13. See on partners, Luke 5:10; see on fellowship, Acts 2:42; see on 1 John 1:3; see on 2 John 1:11.

Given to hospitality (φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες)

Lit., pursuing hospitality. For a similar use of the verb compare 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11. A necessary injunction when so many Christians were banished and persecuted. The verb indicates not only that hospitality is to be furnished when sought, but that Christians are to seek opportunities of exercising it.

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