Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Provide things honest . . .—Let your purposes be such that all men shall recognise their complete integrity. Do not engage in enterprises of a doubtful character, that might bring not only yourselves but the Christian body into ill repute. (Comp. Matthew 5:14-16; 2Corinthians 8:21.)
STILL ANOTHER TRIPLET
Romans 12:17 - Romans 12:18.
The closing words of this chapter have a certain unity in that they deal principally with a Christian’s duty in the face of hostility and antagonism. A previous injunction touched on the same subject in the exhortation to bless the persecutors; but with that exception, all the preceding verses have dealt with duties owing to those with whom we stand in friendly relations. Such exhortations take no cognisance of the special circumstances of the primitive Christians as ‘lambs in the midst of wolves’; and a large tract of Christian duty would be undealt with, if we had not such directions for feelings and actions in the face of hate and hurt. The general precept in our text is expanded in a more complete form in the verses which follow the text, and we may postpone its consideration until we have to deal with them. It is one form of the application of the ‘love without hypocrisy’ which has been previously recommended. The second of these three precepts seems quite heterogeneous, but it may be noticed that the word for ‘evil’ in the former and that for ‘honourable,’ in these closely resemble each other in sound, and the connection of the two clauses may be partially owing to that verbal resemblance; whilst we may also discern a real link between the thoughts in the consideration that we owe even to our enemies the exhibition of a life which a prejudiced hostility will be forced to recognise as good. The third of these exhortations prescribes unmoved persistence in friendly regard to all men.
Dealing then, in this sermon only, with the second and third of these precepts, and postponing the consideration of the first to the following discourse, we have here the counsel that
I. Hostility is to be met with a holy and beautiful life.
The Authorised Version inadequately translates the significant word in this exhortation by ‘honest.’ The Apostle is not simply enjoining honesty in our modern, narrow sense of the word, which limits it to the rendering to every man his own. It is a remarkable thing that ‘honest,’ like many other words expressing various types of goodness, has steadily narrowed in signification, and it is very characteristic of England that probity as to money and material goods should be its main meaning. Here the word is used in the full breadth of its ancient use, and is equivalent to that which is fair with the moral beauty of goodness.
A Christian man then is bound to live a life which all men will acknowledge to be good. In that precept is implied the recognition of even bad men’s notions of morality as correct. The Gospel is not a new system of ethics, though in some points it brings old virtues into new prominence, and alters their perspective. It is further implied that the world’s standard of what Christians ought to be may be roughly taken as a true one. Christian men would learn a great deal about themselves, and might in many respects heighten their ideal, if they would try to satisfy the expectations of the most degraded among them as to what they ought to be. The worst of men has a rude sense of duty which tops the attainments of the best. Christian people ought to seek for the good opinion of those around them. They are not to take that opinion as the motive for their conduct, nor should they do good in order to be praised or admired for it; but they are to ‘adorn the doctrine,’ and to let their light shine that men seeing their good may be led to think more loftily of its source, and so to ‘glorify their Father which is in heaven.’ That is one way of preaching the Gospel. The world knows goodness when it sees it, though it often hates it, and has no better ground for its dislike of a man than that his purity and beauty of character make the lives of others seem base indeed. Bats feel the light to be light, though they flap against it, and the winnowing of their leathery wings and their blundering flight are witnesses to that against which they strike. Jesus had to say, ‘The world hateth Me because I testify of it that the deeds thereof are evil.’ That witness was the result of His being ‘the Light of the world’; and if His followers are illuminated from Him, they will have the same effect, and must be prepared for the same response. But none the less is it incumbent upon them to ‘take thought for things honourable in the sight of all men.’
This duty involves the others of taking care that we have goodness to show, and that we do not make our goodness repulsive by our additions to it. There are good people who comfort themselves when men dislike them, or scoff at them, by thinking that their religion is the cause, when it is only their own roughness and harshness of character. It is not enough that we present an austere and repellent virtue; the fair food should be set on a fair platter. This duty is especially owing to our enemies. They are our keenest critics. They watch for our halting. The thought of their hostile scrutiny should ever stimulate us, and the consciousness that Argus-eyes are watching us, with a keenness sharpened by dislike, should lead us not only to vigilance over our own steps, but also to the prayer, ‘Lead me in a plain path, because of those who watch me.’ To ‘provide things honest in the sight of all men’ is a possible way of disarming some hostility, conciliating some prejudice, and commending to some hearts the Lord whom we seek to imitate.
II. Be sure that, if there is to be enmity, it is all on one side.
‘As much as in you lieth, be at peace with all.’ These words are, I think, unduly limited when they are supposed to imply that there are circumstances in which a Christian has a right to be at strife. As if they meant: Be peaceable as far as you can; but if it be impossible, then quarrel. The real meaning goes far deeper than that. ‘It takes two to make a quarrel,’ says the old proverb; it takes two to make peace also, does it not? We cannot determine whether our relations with men will be peaceful or no; we are only answerable for our part, and for that we are answerable. ‘As much as lieth in you’ is the explanation of ‘if it be possible.’ Your part is to be at peace; it is not your part up to a certain point and no further, but always, and in all circumstances, it is your part. It may not be possible to be at peace with all men; there may be some who will quarrel with you. You are not to blame for that, but their part and yours are separate, and your part is the same whatever they do. Be you at peace with all men whether they are at peace with you or not. Don’t you quarrel with them even if they will quarrel with you. That seems to me to be plainly the meaning of the words. It would be contrary to the tenor of the context and the teaching of the New Testament to suppose that here we had that favourite principle, ‘There is a point beyond which forbearance cannot go,’ where it becomes right to cherish hostile sentiments or to try to injure a man. If there be such a point, it is very remarkable that there is no attempt made in the New Testament to define it. The nearest approach to such definition is ‘till seventy times seven,’ the two perfect numbers multiplied into themselves. So I think that this injunction absolutely prescribes persistent, patient peacefulness, and absolutely proscribes our taking up the position of antagonism, and under no circumstances meeting hate with hate. It does not follow that there is never to be opposition. It may be necessary for the good of the opponent himself, and for the good of society, that he should be hindered in his actions of hostility, but there is never to be bitterness; and we must take care that none of the devil’s leaven mingles with our zeal against evil.
There is no need for enlarging on the enormous difficulty of carrying out such a commandment in our daily lives. We all know too well how hard it is; but we may reflect for a moment on the absolute necessity of obeying this precept to the full. For their own souls’ sakes Christian men are to avoid all bitterness, strife, and malice. Let us try to remember, and to bring to bear on our daily lives, the solemn things which Jesus said about God’s forgiveness being measured by our forgiveness. The faithful, even though imperfect, following of this exhortation would revolutionise our lives. Nothing that we can only win by fighting with our fellows is worth fighting for. Men will weary of antagonism which is met only by the imperturbable calm of a heart at peace with God, and seeking peace with all men. The hot fire of hatred dies down, like burning coals scattered on a glacier, when laid against the crystal coldness of a patient, peaceful spirit. Watch-dogs in farmhouses will bark half the night through because they hear another barking a mile off. It takes two to make a quarrel; let me be sure that I am never one of the two!Matthew 5:39. This is probably one of the most difficult precepts of Christianity; but the law of Christ on the subject is unyielding. It is a solemn demand made on all his followers, and it "must" be obeyed.
Provide - The word rendered "provide" means properly to "think" or "meditate beforehand." Make it a matter of "previous thought," of "settled plan," of "design." This direction would make it a matter of "principle" and fixed purpose to do what is right; and not to leave it to the fluctuations of feeling, or to the influence of excitement. The same direction is given in 2 Corinthians 8:21.
Things honest - Literally, things "beautiful," or "comely." The expression here does not refer to "property," or to "provision" made for a family, etc. The connection requires us to understand it respecting "conduct," and especially our conduct toward those who injure us. It requires us to evince a spirit, and to manifest a deportment in such cases, that shall be lovely and comely in the view of others; such as all people will approve and admire. And the apostle wisely cautions us to "provide" for this, that is, to think of it beforehand, to make it a matter of fixed principle and purpose, so that we shall not be overtaken and excited by passion. If left to the time when the offence shall be given, we may be excited and off our guard, and may therefore evince an improper temper. All persons who have ever been provoked by injury (and who has not been?) will see the profound wisdom of this caution to "discipline" and "guard" the temper by previous purpose, that we may not evince an improper spirit.
In the sight of all men - Such as all must approve; such that no man can blame; and, therefore, such as shall do no discredit to religion. This expression is taken from Proverbs 3:4. The passage shows that people may be expected to approve a mild, kind, and patient temper in the reception of injuries; and facts show that this is the case. The Christian spirit is one that the world "must" approve, however little it is disposed to act on it.
in the sight of all men—The idea (which is from Pr 3:4) is the care which Christians should take so to demean themselves as to command the respect of all men.Recompense to no man evil for evil; our Saviour teacheth the same doctrine in other words, Matthew 5:39,40: see parallel places in Proverbs 20:22 1 Thessalonians 5:15 1 Peter 3:9. See more against retaliating injuries and private revenge in the three last verses of this chapter. Revenge is so sweet to flesh and blood, that men are very hardly dissuaded from it.
Provide things honest in the sight of all men: q.d. Look carefully, as to your conscience before God, so to your honour and reputation with men. Let all your words and actions be justifiable, and unexceptionable, that evil men may have no occasion to reproach you as evil-doers. See a parallel place, 2 Corinthians 8:21. See also Philippians 4:8 1 Peter 3:16. Romans 13:4; but private revenge is what is here forbidden:
providing things honest in the sight of all men. The Vulgate Latin reads, "not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men"; and the Alexandrian copy reads, "in the sight of God and in the sight of men", which clause seems to have crept in here, out of 2 Corinthians 8:21. The words are not to be understood of a man's providing things honest, decent, and commendable, as suitable food and raiment for his family, in the sight of all men, to the honour of religion, and the credit of his profession, which is right to be done; but of a provident, thoughtful, and studious concern, to do everything that is laudable and of good report among men. The Syriac version renders the words alter this manner, , "but be careful to do well", or exercise beneficence before all men; either restraining it to acts of beneficence, even to them that do us ill, in opposition to rendering evil to them; or applying it to all offices of humanity, and every good work, which are to be done in the sight of men; not merely to be seen of them, and in a vainglorious way, in order to obtain their esteem and applause, as did the Pharisees; but to avoid offence; to put, to silence, by well doing, the ignorance of wicked men; and to shame them that falsely accuse the good conversation of the saints; and to recommend the Gospel and true religion, and win men over to it thereby, and give an occasion to them of glorifying God.Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Romans 12:17-19. The participles—to be supplemented here as in Romans 12:16—are not to be connected with μὴ γίνεσθε φρόν. παρʼ ἑαυτ.
μηδενί] be he Christian or non-Christian. Opposite: πάντων ἀνθρώπων. The maxim itself taught also by Greek sages, how opposed it was to the ἀδικεῖν τῷ ἀδικοῦντι of common Hellenism (Hermann, ad Soph. Philoct. 679; Jacobs, ad Delect. Epigr. p. 144; Stallbaum, ad Plat. Crit. p. 49 B, ad Phileb. p. 49 D) and to Pharisaism (see on Matthew 5:43)!
προνοούμενοι] reminiscence from the LXX., Proverbs 3:4. For this very reason, but especially because otherwise an entirely unsuitable limitation of the absolute moral notion of καλά would result, ἐνώπιον κ.τ.λ. is not to be joined to καλά (Ewald, Hofmann); it belongs to προνοούμ. Comp. 2 Corinthians 8:21; Polycarp, ad Phil. 6. Before the eyes of all men—so that it lies before the judgment of all—taking care for what is good (morality and decency in behaviour). Verbs of caring are used both with the genitive (1 Timothy 5:8) and with the accusative (Bernhardy, p. 176), which in the classics also is very frequently found with προνοεῖσθαι. Rightly Theophylact remarks on ἐνώπ. πάντων ἀνθρ. that Paul does not thereby exhort us to live πρὸς κενοδοξίαν, but ἵνα μὴ παρέχωμεν καθʼ ἡμῶν ἀφορμὰς τοῖς βουλομένοις, he recommends that which is ἀσκανδάλιστον κ. ἀπρόσκοπον.
εἰ δυνατὸν, τὸ ἐξ ὑμῶν μετὰ κ.τ.λ.] to be so punctuated. For if the two were to be joined together (“as much as it is possible for you,” Glöckler), the injunction would lose all moral character. Still less are we to suppose that εἰ δυνατόν belongs to the preceding (Erasmus, Cajetanus, Bengel), which indeed admits of no condition. Grotius’ view is the correct one: “omnium amici este, si fieri potest; si non potest utrimque, certe ex vestra parte amici este,” so that εἰ δυνατόν allows the case of objective impossibility to avail (how often had Paul himself experienced this!); τὸ ἐξ ὑμε͂ν (adverbially: as to what concerns your part, that which proceeds from you; see generally on Romans 1:15, and Ellendt, Lex. Soph. II. p. 225) annuls any limitation in a subjective respect, and does not contain a subjective limitation (Reiche), since we for our part are supposed to be always and in any case peaceably disposed, so that only the opposite disposition and mode of behaviour of the enemy can frustrate our subjective peaceableness.
ἀγαπητοί] urgent and persuasive. Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Php 2:1; Php 4:1.
ἀλλὰ δότε κ.τ.λ.] The construction changes, giving place to a stronger (independent) designation of duty. See Winer, p. 535 [E. T. 720]. Comp. here especially Viger. ed. Herm. p. 469. Give place to wrath (κατʼ ἐξοχήν, that of God), i.e. forestall it not by personal revenge, but let it have its course and its sway. The morality of this precept is based on the holiness of God; hence, so far as wrath and love are the two poles of holiness, it does not exclude the blessing of our adversaries (Romans 12:14) and intercession for them. The view, according to which τῇ ὀργῇ is referred to the divine wrath (comp. Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:16)—as the absolute ἡ χάρις is the divine favour and grace (comp. Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16)—is rightly preferred by most interpreters from the time of Chrysostom down to van Hengel, Hofmann, Delitzsch; for, on the one hand, it corresponds entirely to the profane (Gataker, ad Anton, p. 104; Wetstein in loc.) and Pauline (Ephesians 4:27) use of τόπον (or ΧΏΡΑΝ) ΔΙΔΌΝΑΙ—which primarily denotes to make place for any one (Luke 14:9), then to give any one full play, time and opportunity for activity (Eph. l.c., comp. Sir 13:21; Sir 19:17; Sir 38:12; Sir 16:14; Philo in Loesner, p. 263); and on the other hand it is most appropriate to the following scriptural proof. Non-compliance with the precept occasions the ὈΡΓΊΖΕΣΘΑΙ ΚΑῚ ἉΜΑΡΤΆΝΕΙΝ, Ephesians 4:26. Comp. on the thought 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Samuel 24:13; 1 Samuel 24:16. Others interpret it of one’s own wrath, which is not to be allowed to break forth. So de Dieu, Bos, Semler, Cramer, and Reiche: “Wrath produces terrible effects in the moment of its ebullition; give it time, and it passes away.” The Latin use of irae spatium dare agrees indeed with this interpretation, but not the Greek use of τόπον διδόναι—not even in the well-known expression in Plutarch (de ira cohib. p. 462) that we should not even in sport διδόναι τόπον to anger, i.e. give it full play, allow it free course. Since this “giving way to wrath” (justly repudiated by Plutarch as highly dangerous) cannot be enjoined by Paul, he must have meant by τ. ὀργῇ the divine wrath. For the interpretation given by others of the wrath of an enemy, which one is to give place to, to go out of the way of (Schoettgen, Morus, Amnion), must be rejected, since this, although it may be linguistically justified (Luke 14:9; Jdg 20:36), and may be compared with Soph. Ant. 718 (see Schneidewin in loc.) and with the Homeric εἴκειν θυμῷ, yet would yield a precept, which would be only a rule of prudence and not a command of Christian morals. This applies also in opposition to Ewald: to allow the wrath of the other to expend itself, which, as opposed to personal revenge, has no positive moral character (it is otherwise with Matthew 5:39); not to mention that the injury, the personal avenging of which is forbidden, by no means necessarily supposes a wrathful offender.
γέγρ. γάρ] Deuteronomy 32:35, freely as regards the sense, from the Hebrew (to me belongs revenge and requital), but with use of the words of the LXX., which depart from the original (ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐκδικήσεως ἀνταποδώσω), and with the addition of ΛΈΓΕΙ ΚΎΡΙΟς. The form of this citation, quite similar to that here used, which is found in Hebrews 10:30, cannot be accidental, especially as the characteristic ἘΓῺ ἈΝΤΑΠΟΔ. recurs also in the paraphrase of Onkelos (וַאֲנָא אֲשַׁלֵּם). But there are no traces elsewhere to make us assume that Paul made use of Onkelos; and just as little has the view any support elsewhere, that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews followed the citation of Paul (Bleek, Delitzsch). Hence the only hypothesis which we can form without arbitrariness is, that the form of the saying as it is found in Paul and in Hebrews 10:30 had at that time acquired currency in the manner of a formula of warning which had become proverbial, and had influenced the rendering in the paraphrase of Onkelos. The ΛΈΓΕΙ ΚΎΡΙΟς Paul has simply added, as was frequently done (comp. Romans 14:11) with divine utterances; in Hebrews 10:30 these words are not genuine.Romans 12:17. From this point the subject treated is chiefly the Christian’s attitude to enemies. μηδενὶ κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἀποδ. μηδενὶ is emphatic: to no one, Christian or un-Christian. Nothing can ever justify revenge. Cf. 1 Peter 3:9, but especially Matthew 5:38-48. προνοούμενοι καλὰ ἐνώπιον κ.τ.λ. Proverbs 3:4, LXX. 2 Corinthians 8:21. What the words mean in Proverbs 3:4 is not clear; they are not a translation of the Hebrew. In 2 Corinthians 8:21 the idea is that of taking precautions to obviate possible slanders; here it is apparently that of living in such a way as not to provoke enmity, or give any occasion for breach of peace. ἐνώπιον: construed with καλά. πάντων has the same kind of emphasis as μηδενί: Requite evil to no one; let your conduct be such as all must approve.17. Recompense to no man, &c.] Matthew 5:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:15, (a pregnant parallel to this context;) 1 Peter 3:9.
Provide things honest] Lit. thinking beforehand honourable things; using forethought so as to secure the reality and the appearance of rectitude in your life and its surroundings.
in the sight of all men] i.e. so that all shall see the results of the forethought, in the absence of all fair ground for scandal; in your well-ordered household, avoidance of debt, attention to civil duties, &c.—“All men:”—here, no doubt, the “all” suggests the duty of avoiding just reproach from without as well as within the Church.—This watchfulness about the opinion of others is anything but a slavery to opinion. It is an anxiety to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” (Titus 2:10.) It is the very opposite of the tendency to make concessions of principle, or to adopt fashions of opinion as a standard of duty.Romans 12:17. Προνοούμενοι καλὰ ἐνώπιον πάντων ἀνθρώπων) Providing things honest in the sight of all men. Proverbs 3:4, LXX., προνοοῦ καλὰ ἐνώπιον Κυρίου καὶ ἀνθρώπων.—καλὰ, becoming) A precious stone should not merely be a precious stone, but it should also be properly set in a ring, so that its splendour may meet [attract] the eye.—πάντων, of all) For many are suspicious and unjust. See the following verse.
The A.V. uses provide in its earlier and more literal meaning of taking thought in advance. This has been mostly merged in the later meaning of furnish, so that the translation conveys the sense of providing honestly for ourselves and our families. Better, as Rev., take thought for. The citation is from Proverbs 3:4, and varies from both Hebrew and Septuagint. Hebrew: And thou shalt find favor and good understanding in the eyes of God and man. Septuagint: And thou shalt find favor and devise excellent things in the sight of the Lord and of men. Compare 2 Corinthians 8:21. Construe in the sight of all men with the verb, not with honorable. Men's estimate of what is honorable is not the standard.
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