Romans 12:4
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
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(4, 5) In the church there must be a graduation, a hierarchy, a division of labour, every one doing that for which he is best fitted, just as in the body one member has one office assigned to it, and another another. All Christians, viewed collectively, make up one body, the unity of which is supplied by their relation to Christ. Viewed individually, they stand to each other in the same sort of relation as the different limbs and organs of the natural body, as foot and hand, or hand and eye.

(4) Members in one body.—This figure of the body and the members is worked out more fully in 1Corinthians 12:12-27.



Romans 12:4 - Romans 12:5

To Paul there was the closest and most vital connection between the profoundest experiences of the Christian life and its plainest and most superficial duties. Here he lays one of his most mystical conceptions as the very foundation on which to rear the great structure of Christian conduct, and links on to one of his profoundest thoughts, the unity of all Christians in Christ, a comprehensive series of practical exhortations. We are accustomed to hear from many lips: ‘I have no use for these dogmas that Paul delights in. Give me his practical teaching. You may keep the Epistle to the Romans, I hold by the thirteenth of First Corinthians.’ But such an unnatural severance between the doctrine and the ethics of the Epistle cannot be effected without the destruction of both. The very principle of this Epistle to the Romans is that the difference between the law and the Gospel is, that the one preaches conduct without a basis for it, and that the other says, First believe in Christ, and in the strength of that belief, do the right and be like Him. Here, then, in the very laying of the foundation for conduct in these verses we have in concrete example the secret of the Christian way of making good men.

I. The first point to notice here is, the unity of the derived life.

Many are one, because they are each in Christ, and the individual relationship and derivation of life from Him makes them one whilst continuing to be many. That great metaphor, and nowadays much forgotten and neglected truth, is to Paul’s mind the fact which ought to mould the whole life and conduct of individual Christians and to be manifested therein. There are three most significant and instructive symbols by which the unity of believers in Christ Jesus is set forth in the New Testament. Our Lord Himself gives us the one of the vine and its branches, and that symbol suggests the silent, effortless process by which the life-giving sap rises and finds its way from the deep root to the furthest tendril and the far-extended growth. The same symbol loses indeed in one respect its value if we transfer it to growths more congenial to our northern climate, and instead of the vine with its rich clusters, think of some great elm, deeply rooted, and with its firm bole and massive branches, through all of which the mystery of a common life penetrates and makes every leaf in the cloud of foliage through which we look up participant of itself. But, profound and beautiful as our Lord’s metaphor is, the vegetative uniformity of parts and the absence of individual characteristics make it, if taken alone, insufficient. In the tree one leaf is like another; it ‘grows green and broad and takes no care.’ Hence, to express the whole truth of the union between Christ and us we must bring in other figures. Thus we find the Apostle adducing the marriage tie, the highest earthly example of union, founded on choice and affection. But even that sacred bond leaves a gap between those who are knit together by it; and so we have the conception of our text, the unity of the body as representing for us the unity of believers with Jesus. This is a unity of life. He is not only head as chief and sovereign, but He is soul or life, which has its seat, not in this or that organ as old physics teach, but pervades the whole and ‘filleth all in all.’ The mystery which concerns the union of soul and body, and enshrouds the nature of physical life, is part of the felicity of this symbol in its Christian application. That commonest of all things, the mysterious force which makes matter live and glow under spiritual emotion, and changes the vibrations of a nerve, or the undulations of the grey brain, into hope and love and faith, eludes the scalpel and the microscope. Of man in his complex nature it is true that ‘clouds and darkness are round about him,’ and we may expect an equally solemn mystery to rest upon that which makes out of separate individuals one living body, animated with the life and moved by the Spirit of the indwelling Christ. We can get no further back, and dig no deeper down, than His own words, ‘I am . . . the life.’

But, though this unity is mysterious, it is most real. Every Christian soul receives from Christ the life of Christ. There is a real implantation of a higher nature which has nothing to do with sin and is alien from death. There is a true regeneration which is supernatural, and which makes all who possess it one, in the measure of their possession, as truly as all the leaves on a tree are one because fed by the same sap, or all the members in the natural body are one, because nourished by the same blood. So the true bond of Christian unity lies in the common participation of the one Lord, and the real Christian unity is a unity of derived life.

The misery and sin of the Christian Church have been, and are, that it has sought to substitute other bonds of unity. The whole weary history of the divisions and alienations between Christians has surely sufficiently, and more than sufficiently, shown the failure of the attempts to base Christian oneness upon uniformity of opinion, or of ritual, or of purpose. The difference between the real unity, and these spurious attempts after it, is the difference between bundles of faggots, dead and held together by a cord, and a living tree lifting its multitudinous foliage towards the heavens. The bundle of faggots may be held together in some sort of imperfect union, but is no exhibition of unity. If visible churches must be based on some kind of agreement, they can never cover the same ground as that of ‘the body of Christ.’

That oneness is independent of our organisations, and even of our will, since it comes from the common possession of a common life. Its enemies are not divergent opinions or forms, but the evil tempers and dispositions which impede, or prevent, the flow into each Christian soul of the uniting ‘Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ which makes the many who may be gathered into separate folds one flock clustered around the one Shepherd. And if that unity be thus a fundamental fact in the Christian life and entirely apart from external organisation, the true way to increase it in each individual is, plainly, the drawing nearer to Him, and the opening of our spirits so as to receive fuller, deeper, and more continuous inflows from His own inexhaustible fullness. In the old Temple stood the seven-branched candlestick, an emblem of a formal unity; in the new the seven candlesticks are one, because Christ stands in the midst. He makes the body one; without Him it is a carcase.

II. The diversity.

‘We have many members in one body, but all members have not the same office.’ Life has different functions in different organs. It is light in the eye, force in the arm, music on the tongue, swiftness in the foot; so also is Christ. The higher a creature rises in the scale of life, the more are the parts differentiated. The lowest is a mere sac, which performs all the functions that the creature requires; the highest is a man with a multitude of organs, each of which is definitely limited to one office. In like manner the division of labour in society measures its advance; and in like manner in the Church there is to be the widest diversity. What the Apostle designates as ‘gifts’ are natural characteristics heightened by the Spirit of Christ; the effect of the common life in each ought to be the intensifying and manifestation of individuality of character. In the Christian ideal of humanity there is place for every variety of gifts. The flora of the Mountain of God yields an endless multiplicity of growths on its ascending slopes which pass through every climate. There ought to be a richer diversity in the Church than anywhere besides; that tree should ‘bear twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month for the healing of the nations.’ ‘All flesh is not the same flesh.’ ‘Star differeth from star in glory.’

The average Christian life of to-day sorely fails in two things: in being true to itself, and in tolerance of diversities. We are all so afraid of being ticketed as ‘eccentric,’ ‘odd,’ that we oftentimes stifle the genuine impulses of the Spirit of Christ leading us to the development of unfamiliar types of goodness, and the undertaking of unrecognised forms of service. If we trusted in Christ in ourselves more, and took our laws from His whispers, we should often reach heights of goodness which tower above us now, and discover in ourselves capacities which slumber undiscerned. There is a dreary monotony and uniformity amongst us which impoverishes us, and weakens the testimony that we bear to the quickening influence of the Spirit that is in Christ Jesus; and we all tend to look very suspiciously at any man who ‘puts all the others out’ by being himself, and letting the life that he draws from the Lord dictate its own manner of expression. It would breathe a new life into all our Christian communities if we allowed full scope to the diversities of operation, and realised that in them all there was the one Spirit. The world condemns originality: the Church should have learned to prize it. ‘One after this fashion, and one after that,’ is the only wholesome law of the development of the manifold graces of the Christian life.

III. The harmony.

‘We being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.’ That expression is remarkable, for we might have expected to read rather members of the body, than of each other; but the bringing in of such an idea suggests most emphatically that thought of the mutual relation of each part of the great whole, and that each has offices to discharge for the benefit of each. In the Christian community, as in an organised body, the active co-operation of all the parts is the condition of health. All the rays into which the spectrum breaks up the pure white light must be gathered together again in order to produce it; just as every instrument in the great orchestra contributes to the volume of sound. The Lancashire hand-bell ringers may illustrate this point for us. Each man picks up his own bell from the table and sounds his own note at the moment prescribed by the score, and so the whole of the composer’s idea is reproduced. To suppress diversities results in monotony; to combine them is the only sure way to secure harmony. Nor must we forget that the indwelling life of the Church can only be manifested by the full exhibition and freest possible play of all the forms which that life assumes in individual character. It needs all, and more than all, the types of mental characteristics that can be found in humanity to mirror the infinite beauty of the indwelling Lord. ‘There are diversities of operations,’ and all those diversities but partially represent that same Lord ‘who worketh all in all,’ and Himself is more than all, and, after all manifestation through human characters, remains hinted at rather than declared, suggested but not revealed.

Still further, only by the exercise of possible diversities is the one body nourished, for each member, drawing life directly and without the intervention of any other from Christ the Source, draws also from his fellow-Christian some form of the common life that to himself is unfamiliar, and needs human intervention in order to its reception. Such dependence upon one’s brethren is not inconsistent with a primal dependence on Christ alone, and is a safeguard against the cultivating of one’s own idiosyncrasies till they become diseased and disproportionate. The most slenderly endowed Christian soul has the double charge of giving to, and receiving from, its brethren. We have all something which we can contribute to the general stock. We have all need to supplement our own peculiar gifts by brotherly ministration. The prime condition of Christian vitality has been set forth for ever by the gracious invitation, which is also an imperative command, ‘Abide in Me and I in you’; but they who by such abiding are recipients of a communicated life are not thereby isolated, but united to all who like them have received ‘the manifestation of the Spirit to do good with.’

Romans 12:4-8. For as we have many members — The apostle proceeds to illustrate his advice by a comparison taken from the members of the human body. All members have not the same office — But different members are appointed to different purposes. So we — Several believers, having different gifts and offices; are one body — All make up one body under Christ the head; and members one of another — Closely connected together, and nearly related to one another, and so bound to be helpful to one another. Having then gifts differing — In their nature, design, and use, although the ultimate tendency of all is the same; according to the grace that is given to us — Gifts are various, but grace is one; and grace, free grace, is the spring and origin of all the gifts which are given to men. It is grace that appoints the offices, calls and qualifies persons to fill them, and works in them both to will and to do. But by grace here the apostle seems chiefly to intend the favour which God manifested, in different respects and degrees, in bestowing gifts upon men. In the primitive church there were divers extraordinary gifts, as that of tongues, that of discerning of spirits, that of healing, with some others mentioned 1 Corinthians 12:4-10. But the apostle speaks here chiefly, if not only, of those that are ordinary. Whether prophecy — This, considered as an extraordinary gift, is that whereby things to come are foretold, or heavenly mysteries are declared to men. But it seems here to signify the ordinary gift of interpreting the Scriptures, and preaching the word of God, which is also the meaning of the expression, 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:3. Let us prophesy according to the proportion, or analogy rather, of faith. Or, as Peter expresses it, 1 Peter 4:11, as the oracles of God; according to the general tenor of them; according to that grand scheme of doctrine which is delivered therein, touching the original and fallen state of man, the person and offices, the deity and atonement of Christ, justification by faith, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, inward and outward holiness, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, a general judgment, and an eternal state of happiness or misery. There is a wonderful analogy between all these doctrines, and a close and intimate connection between the chief heads of that faith which was once delivered to the saints. Every article, therefore, concerning which there is any question, should be determined by this rule: every doubtful scripture interpreted according to the grand truths which run through the whole. Macknight, however, thinks that “the extent and energy of inspiration which was bestowed on some of the believers, is rather intended here, called the measure of faith, Romans 12:3; and that the meaning of the apostle’s direction is, that such as enjoyed the prophetic inspiration were not to imagine, that because some things were revealed to them, they might speak of every thing; but that in prophesying, they were to confine themselves to what was revealed to them.” Or ministry — Although every office performed for the edification of the church was called διακονια, ministry, (see Ephesians 4:12,) and hence the word is applied to the apostleship itself, Acts 1:17; Acts 1:25; Acts 6:4; and to the evangelist’s office, 2 Timothy 4:5; yet, as the ministry here spoken of is joined with teaching, exhorting, distributing, and showing mercy, which were all stated offices in the church, it is probable that it was also a stated office, and most probably that of deacons, appointed to superintend the temporal affairs of the Christian societies: concerning whom see note on Acts 6:2-3. Let us wait on our ministering — Let a man employ himself actively and faithfully in his ministration; or he that teacheth — The ignorant, who is appointed to instruct the catechumens, and to fit them for the communion of the church; let him attend to his office of teaching with humility, tenderness, patience, and diligence; or he that exhorteth

Whose peculiar business it was to urge Christians to perform their duty, or to comfort them in their trials, let him continue in his exhortation. He that giveth — Any thing to a charitable use; let him do it with simplicity — Namely, of intention, and unfeigned liberality: neither seeking the applause of men, nor having any other sinister end in view, which he could desire to conceal. Let him act with disinterestedness and impartiality. He that ruleth or presideth, (Greek, προισταμενος,) that hath the care of a flock, (see 1 Timothy 5:17,) or presideth in the distribution of charities, which sense the preceding and following clauses appear rather to favour: or, that is appointed to see that they do their duty in any department, (Romans 16:2,) with diligence — Let him perform his office faithfully. He that showeth mercy — In any instance, particularly in relieving the poor and afflicted; with cheerfulness — Rejoicing that he has such an opportunity of being useful to his fellow-creatures.

12:3-8 Pride is a sin in us by nature; we need to be cautioned and armed against it. All the saints make up one body in Christ, who is the Head of the body, and the common Centre of their unity. In the spiritual body, some are fitted for and called to one sort of work; others for another sort of work. We are to do all the good we can, one to another, and for the common benefit. If we duly thought about the powers we have, and how far we fail properly to improve them, it would humble us. But as we must not be proud of our talents, so we must take heed lest, under a pretence of humility and self-denial, we are slothful in laying out ourselves for the good of others. We must not say, I am nothing, therefore I will sit still, and do nothing; but, I am nothing in myself, and therefore I will lay out myself to the utmost, in the strength of the grace of Christ. Whatever our gifts or situations may be, let us try to employ ourselves humbly, diligently, cheerfully, and in simplicity; not seeking our own credit or profit, but the good of many, for this world and that which is to come.For - This word here denotes a further illustration or proof of what he had just before said. The duty to which he was exhorting the Romans was, not to be unduly exalted or elevated in their own estimation. In order to produce proper humility, he shows them that God has appointed certain orders or grades in the church; that all are useful in their proper place; that we should seek to discharge our duty in our appropriate sphere; and thus that due subordination and order would be observed. To show this, he introduces a beautiful comparison drawn from the human body. There are various members in the human frame; all useful and honorable in their proper place; and all designed to promote the order, and beauty, and harmony of the whole. So the church is one body, consisting of many members, and each is suited to be useful and comely in its proper place. The same comparison he uses with great beauty and force in 1Co. 12:4-31; also Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 5:30. In that chapter the comparison is carried out to much greater length, and its influence shown with great force.

Many members - Limbs, or parts; feet, hands, eyes, ears, etc.; 1 Corinthians 12:14-15.

In one body - Constituting one body; or united in one, and making one person. Essential to the existence, beauty, and happiness of the one body or person.

The same office - The same use or design; not all appointed for the same thing; one is to see, another to hear, a third to walk with, etc.; 1 Corinthians 12:14-23.

4, 5. For as we have many members, &c.—The same diversity and yet unity obtains in the body of Christ, whereof all believers are the several members, as in the natural body.Ver. 4,5. These verses are a reason against arrogancy. All Christians are

members of one and the same body; therefore, they should not pride themselves in their gifts, but employ them for the common good. It is with the church, the mystical body of Christ, as with a natural body that hath many members, and all these

have not the same office, or the same action or operation (as the word signifieth); the eye hath one office, the ear another, the hand a third, &c. So the church of Christ, though one body in him who is the Head, hath many members; many in regard of their persons, and many in regard of their offices, which are various and diverse; and which is more, the members are every one members one of another; i.e. they are joint and fellow members; as they have a common relation to the same Head, so a mutual relation to one another. Therefore Christians, especially church officers. should not contemn one another, or intrude upon the office of each other; but all should use their gifts to the good and edification of others.

For as we have many members in one body,.... The apostle illustrates what he said last concerning God's dealing to every man the measure of faith, by comparing the church of Christ to an human body, which is but one, and has many members in union with it, and one another; and which are placed in an exact symmetry and proportion, and in proper subserviency to each other, and for the good of the whole:

and all members have not the same office, or "action"; they do not exercise the same function, and perform the same operation, but each that which is peculiar to itself: the eye only sees, but does not hear, nor taste, nor smell; the ear only hears, but neither sees, or does any of the aforesaid things; the palate tastes, the nose smells, the hand handles, the foot walks, and the same may be observed of the other members of the body, which have not the same, but their particular offices, and all and each of them their usefulness.

{4} For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

(4) There are two reasons for the previous precept: the first is because God has not committed everything to be done by every man: and therefore he does backwardly, and unprofitably, and also to the great disservice of others, wearying himself and others, who passes the bounds of his calling: the second is because this diversity and inequality of vocations and gifts results in our being benefitted: seeing that this is therefore instituted and appointed, so that we should be bound one to another. From which it follows that no man ought to be grieved at this, seeing that the use of every private gift is common.

Romans 12:4-5 ff. Motive for compliance with the previous exhortation.

For the prevalence of the parallel between a human body and a corpus sociale (1 Corinthians 12.) also among the ancients, see Grotius and Wetstein.

τὰ δὲ μέλη πάντα κ.τ.λ.] i.e. but the members, all of them, have different activity; thus, e.g., the eyes another than the ears, the feet another than the mouth. Wrongly van Hengel takes the expression, as though οὐ πάντα were the reading, so that only some—namely, those we possess in pairs—would be meant, not all.

οἱ πολλοί] the many, i.e. the multiplicity of Christians taken together, in opposition to the unity of the body which they compose. Comp. Romans 5:15.

ἐν Χριστῷ] The common element in which the union consists; out of Christ we should not be ἓν σῶμα, but this we are in Him, in the fellowship of faith and life with Christ. He is the Head (Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19),—a relation which is understood of itself by the consciousness of faith, but is not denoted by ἐν Χριστῷ (as if this meant on Christ), as Koppe, Rosenmüller, and older interpreters hold.

τὸ δὲ καθʼ εἷς] but in what concerns the individual relation. In good Greek it would be τὸ δὲ καθʼ ἕνα (see on Mark 14:19, and Bernhardy, p. 329; Kühner, II. 1, p. 414); but καθʼ εἷς, in which κατά has quite lost its regimen, is a very frequent solecism in the later Greek writers (Mark, l.c.; John 8:9; 3Ma 5:34). See Lucian, Soloec. 9, and Graev. in loc.; Thom. Mag. p. 483; Wetstein on Mark, l.c.; Winer, p. 234 [E. T. 312]. Τὸ καθʼ εἷς is groundlessly condemned by Fritzsche as “commentitia formula.” If καθʼ εἷς and ὁ καθʼ εἷς were in use (and this was the case), it follows that τὸ καθʼ εἷς might be just as well said as τὸ καθʼ ἕνα (comp. τὸ καθʼ ἑαυτόν and the like, Matthiae, § 283; Kühner, II. 1, p. 272). See also Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 26 f.

Romans 12:4 f. καθάπερ γὰρ: For language and figure cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12. Also Ephesians 4:15 f., Colossians 1:18. The comparison of the community to a body—the social organism—is very common in classical writers: see Wetstein and Jowett here. πρᾶξιν: Romans 8:13. It is that at which the member works—in modern language, its function. Every member has its gift, but it is limited by the fact that it is no more than a member: it is not the whole body. 1 Corinthians 12:17. οἱ πολλοὶ ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν ἐν Χριστῷ: many as we are, we are one body in Christ; it is the common relation to Him which unites us. In the later passages in which Paul uses this figure (Eph., Col.), Christ is spoken of as the Head of the body; but both here and in 1 Corinthians 12 it would agree better with our instinctive use of the figure to speak of Him as its soul. His own figure of the vine and the branches combines the advantages of both. τὸ δὲ καθʼ εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη: this qualifies the unity asserted in ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν. It if not a unity in which individuality is lost; on the contrary, the individuals retain their value, only not as independent wholes, but as members one of another. Each and all exist only in each other. 1 Corinthians 12:27. For τὸ καθʼ εἷς see Winer, 312.

4. For as we have] Here first (and last) in this Epistle St Paul uses the simile of the Body and its Limbs, to illustrate the close mutual connexion of the saints. For parallels, see 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:4-16; Ephesians 5:23-30; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24; Colossians 2:19; Colossians 3:15. In some of these passages the Lord appears explicitly as the life-giving Head of the Body; in one as its loving Bridegroom; while in others (as here) He does not explicitly appear in the imagery; the leading thought being the connexion of His saints with each other, and the diversity of their functions meanwhile.—The phrase just below, “in Christ,” does not strictly belong to the simile, though expressing a truth elsewhere conveyed by the simile of the Head of the Body.

all members] Lit. the limbs all.

Verses 4, 5. - For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; so we, the many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. The illustration of the body with its members to set forth the mutual dependence on each other of the several members of the Church with their several gifts and functions, and the importance of all for the well-being of the whole, is further carried out in 1 Corinthians 12:12, seq. In Ephesians 1:22 and Ephesians 4:15, 16, Christ is regarded, somewhat differently, as the exalted Head over the Church which is his body. Here and in 1 Corinthians 12, the head is not thus distinguished from the rest of the body (see 1 Corinthians 12:21); the whole is "one body in Christ," who is the living Person who unites and animates it. Romans 12:4Office (πρᾶξιν)

Lit., mode of acting.

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