Romans 6:16
Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
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(16) Know ye not.—An apparent tautology, but one which really teaches a deep ethical truth. Don’t you know that what you make yourselves that you become? The habit which you form ends by becoming your “second nature.”

6:16-20 Every man is the servant of the master to whose commands he yields himself; whether it be the sinful dispositions of his heart, in actions which lead to death, or the new and spiritual obedience implanted by regeneration. The apostle rejoiced now they obeyed from the heart the gospel, into which they were delivered as into a mould. As the same metal becomes a new vessel, when melted and recast in another mould, so the believer has become a new creature. And there is great difference in the liberty of mind and spirit, so opposite to the state of slavery, which the true Christian has in the service of his rightful Lord, whom he is enabled to consider as his Father, and himself as his son and heir, by the adoption of grace. The dominion of sin consists in being willingly slaves thereto, not in being harassed by it as a hated power, struggling for victory. Those who now are the servants of God, once were the slaves of sin.Know ye not ... - The objection noticed in Romans 6:15, the apostle answers by a reference to the known laws of servitude or slavery, Romans 6:16-20, and by showing that Christians, who had been the slaves of sin, have now become the servants of righteousness, and were therefore bound by the proper laws of servitude to obey their new master: as if he had said, "I assume that you know: you are acquainted with the laws of servitude; you know what is required in such cases." This would be known to all who had been either masters or slaves, or who had observed the usual laws and obligations of servitude.

To whom ye yield yourselves - To whom ye give up yourselves for servitude or obedience. The apostle here refers to voluntary servitude; but where this existed, the power of the master over the time and services of the servant was absolute. The argument of the apostle is, that Christians had become the voluntary servants of God, and were therefore bound to obey him entirely. Servitude among the ancients, whether voluntary or involuntary, was rigid, and gave the master an absolute right over his slave, Luke 17:9; John 8:34; John 15:15. To obey. To be obedient; or for the purpose of obeying his commands.

To whom ye obey - To whom ye come under subjection. That is, you are bound to obey his requirements.

Whether of sin - The general law of servitude the apostle now applies to the case before him. If people became the servants of sin, if they gave themselves to its indulgence, they would obey it, let the consequences be what they might. Even with death, and ruin, and condemnation before them; they would obey sin. They give indulgence to their evil passions and desires, and follow them as obedient servants even if they lead them down to hell. Whatever be the consequences of sin. yet he who yields to it must abide by them, even if it leads him down to death and eternal woe.

Or of obedience ... - The same law exists in regard to holiness or obedience. The man who becomes the servant of holiness will feel himself bound by the law of servitude to obey, and to pursue it to its regular consequences.

Unto righteousness - Unto justification; that is, unto eternal life. The expression stands contrasted with "death," and doubtless means that he who thus becomes the voluntary servant of holiness, will feel himself bound to obey it, unto complete and eternal justification and life; compare Romans 6:21-22. The argument is drawn from what the Christian would feel of the nature of obligation. He would obey him to Whom he had devoted himself.

(This would seem to imply that justification is the effect of obedience. Δικαιοσυνη Dikaiosunē, however, does not signify justification, but righteousness, that is, in this case, personal holiness. The sense is, that while the service of sin leads to death, that of obedience issues in holiness or righteousness. It is no objection to this view that it does not preserve the antithesis, since "justification" is not the opposite of "death," any more than holiness. "There is no need," says Mr. Haldane, "that there should be such an exact correspondence in the parts of the antithesis, as is supposed. And there is a most obvious reason why it could not be so. Death is the wages of sin, but life is not the wages of obedience.")

16. that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey—with the view of obeying him.

his servants ye are to whom ye obey—to whom ye yield that obedience.

whether of Sin unto death—that is, "issuing in death," in the awful sense of Ro 8:6, as the sinner's final condition.

or of Obedience unto righteousness—that is, obedience resulting in a righteous character, as the enduring condition of the servant of new Obedience (1Jo 2:17; Joh 8:34; 2Pe 2:19; Mt 6:24).

He refutes the aforementioned cavil by a common axiom, that every one knows and apprehends.

Of obedience unto righteousness; which will be rewarded with eternal life. But why doth he not say of obedience unto life? Then the antithesis had been more plain and full. Because though sin be the cause of death, yet obedience is not the cause of life, {as Romans 6:23} but only the way to it. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves,.... The apostle goes on with his answer to the above objection, by making use of an argument from the nature of servants and their obedience, a thing well known to everyone, and which none could be ignorant of; which he delivers by way of distribution, that such who yield themselves

servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or obedience unto righteousness: such who obey sin, are the servants of sin; they are at the beck and command of sin; they give up themselves to the service of it with delight and diligence, and are perfect drudges to it: this is a very unhappy situation; their service is very unreasonable; and they are rendered incapable of serving God, for no man can serve two masters; they are hereby brought into the drudgery of the devil; into a state of bondage, out of which nothing but grace can extricate them; into a very mean and contemptible condition, and even a deplorable one; for if grace prevent not, they will have the wages of sin paid them, which is death, for their obedience is "of sin unto death"; which will lie in an eternal separation from Father, Son, and Spirit, in a sense of divine wrath, and in the company of devils and damned spirits: now this is added, to show the malignant nature and just demerit of sin, and to deter and dissuade persons from the service of it: on the other hand, such as obey the Lord, are the servants "of obedience unto righteousness": but why is not this obedience, which is the obedience of faith to the Gospel, of Christ, and of the new man to God or Christ, said to be "unto life", as the antithesis seems to require? because though death is the fruit of sin, yet life is not the fruit of obedience, but the fruit of obedience is righteousness; by which is meant, nor a justifying one before God, but righteousness before men; or a course of living soberly and righteously, which is the effect of being under grace; and hence it appears, that true believers can make no such ill use of their privilege, as is suggested in the objection.

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
Romans 6:16. Paul begins the detailed illustration of the μὴ γένοιτο with an appeal to the consciousness of his readers, the tenor of which corresponds to the saying of Christ: “No man can serve two masters.” This appeal forms the propositio major; the minor then follows in Romans 6:17 f., after which the conclusion is obvious of itself.—“Know ye not, that, to whom ye yield yourselves as slaves for obedience, ye are slaves of him whom ye obey?” Here the emphasis is not on ἐστε (slaves ye are in reality, as de Wette and others think), or even on the relative clause ᾧ ὑπακούετε (Hofmann), but, as is required by the order of the words, and the correlation with παριστ. ἑαυτούς, on δοῦλοι. Whosoever places himself at the disposal of another for obedience as a slave, is no longer free and independent, but is just the slave of him whom he obeys.

παριστάνετε] The present, as expressing the general proposition which continues to hold good. See Kühner, II. 1, p. 115.

ᾧ ὑπακούετε] whom ye obey (erroneously rendered by Reiche and Baumgarten-Crusius: have to obey). By this, instead of the simple αὐτοῦ or τούτου, the relation of subjection, which was already expressed in the protasis, is once more vividly brought into view: that ye are slaves of him, whom ye, in consequence of that παριστάνειν ἑαυτοὺς δούλους to him, obey. The circumstantiality has a certain earnestness and solemnity. If ye yield yourselves as slaves for obedience, then ye are nothing else than slaves in the service of him whom ye obey. The less reason is there for attaching εἰς ὑπακ. to the apodosis (Th. Schott, Hofmann).

ἤτοι ἁμαρτίας] sc[1458] δοῦλοι.[1459] Respecting the disjunctive ἬΤΟΙ, aut sane, found nowhere else in N. T., see especially Klotz, a[1460] Devar. p. 609, Baeumlein, Partik. p. 244. It lays strong emphasis on the first alternative. Very frequently thus used in Greek authors. Comp Wis 11:18.

ΕἸς ΘΆΝΑΤΟΝ] result, to which this relation of slavery leads. The ΘΆΝΑΤΟς cannot be physical death (Reiche, Fritzsche, van Hengel), since that is not the consequence of individual[1462] sin (see on Romans 5:12), and is not averted from the δοῦλος ὑπακοῆς; nor is it, either generally, the misery of sin (de Wette), or specially spiritual death, alienation from the true ζωή, an idea which Paul never conveys by θάνατος; but rather, seeing that θάνατος, as is more precisely indicated in Romans 6:21, and is placed beyond doubt by the contrast of ζωὴ αἰώνιος, must be conceived as the τέλος of the bondage of sin; eternal death (Chrysostom, Theophylact, and others, including Rückert, Reithmayr, and Tholuck). Comp Romans 1:32. This is not at variance with the antithesis εἰς δικαιοσύνην, which is not to be taken (as in Romans 6:13) in the sense of moral righteousness (Philippi and others); for this is not the result, but is itself the essence of the δοῦλον εἶναι ὑπακοής (comp Romans 5:19), since ὑπακοή, in contradistinction to the ἁμαρτία, is obedience to the divine will. On the contrary δικαιοσύνη, antithetically correlative with the θάνατος, must be conceived as the final result of that δοῦλον εἶναι ὑπακοῆς, and apply to the time of final perfection in the αἰὼν μέλλων, when the faithful, who have not relapsed into the service of sin, but in their faith have been servants of obedience, on account of the death of Christ δίκαιοι κατασταθήσονται, Romans 6:19. It is therefore the righteousness which is awarded to them in the judgment.[1465] If it were the righteousness of faith even now attained (Th. Schott), ὑπακοῆς would need to be taken, with Schott, of becoming a believer (Romans 1:5), which is contextually inadmissible, since what is spoken of is the state of grace already existing (Romans 6:15), in which service is rendered to the obedience of God only, and not to sin. In accordance with the misconceptions of Hofmann, already noticed in detail (see above), there results as his sense of the whole: “To whom ye place yourselves as servants at his disposal, ye are servants for the purpose of obedience; ye are so to him whom ye obey, servants either—for there is no third alternative—who act contrary to their master’s will and thereby merit death, or such as live in obedience and are therefore righteous in the presence of their master.” What kind of a θάνατος, and in what sense ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝΗ is meant, is supposed accordingly to be self-evident. And by the following thanksgiving, Romans 6:17, the Apostle is alleged “as it were half to take back” his question, Whether they do not know etc., so that the medium of transition to Romans 6:17 is “why yet still the question?” A series of gratuitously imported fancies.

[1458] c. scilicet.

[1459] Consequently servants of sin, who are serviceable to that which is sin; and then: servants of obedience, who are in the service of the opposite of ἁμαρτία, in the service of divine obedience. Hofmann erroneously takes the genitives as genitives of quality (servants who sin and who obey); see Winer, p. 222 [E. T. 297]. “What reader could, after δοῦλοι (comp. John 8:34), have stumbled on this singular relation of quality; the assumption of which ought to have been precluded by vv. 17, 20. Comp. 2 Peter 2:19.

[1460] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1462] Philippi here observes, with the view of including bodily death also in the idea, that it “is personally appropriated and merited by the individual through his own act.” This is not Pauline, and is at variance with the true interpretation of the ἐφʼ ᾦ πάντες ἥμαρτον in v. 12. It is not with death as it is with the atonement, which is objectively there for all, but must be appropriated by something subjective. Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:22. Moreover, such personal appropriation would be inconceivable in the case of all children dying without actual sin.

[1465] Köstlin has also justly directed attention in the Jahrb. f. Deutsche Theol. 1856, p. 127, to the sensus forensis of δικαιοσύνη in our passage.Romans 6:16. οὐκ οἴδατε: It is excluded by the elementary principle that no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). The δοῦλους is the exclusive property of one, and he belongs to that one εἰς ὑπακοὴν, with obedience in view; nothing else than obedience to his master alone is contemplated. The masters here are ἁμαρτία whose service ends in death, and ὑπακοὴ (cf. Romans 5:19) whose service ends in righteousness. δικαιοσύνη here cannot be “justification,” but righteousness in the sense of the character which God approves. ἤτοι here only in N.T. = of course these are the only alternatives.16. Know ye not] As a self-evident truth, that bond-service, once accepted, becomes binding. This general principle is at once applied to the special cases of Sin and Obedience regarded as personified Masters. The clauses to the end of Romans 6:18 may be thus summarized:—“All bond-service, once accepted, is binding, and forbids divided servitude;—this is as true of the obligations of Pardon as of those of Condemnation; of Justification as of Death. And you, thank God, have now passed from the latter to the former. Remember then, that in the very act of leaving the bond-service of sin you entered that of Pardon as taught in the Gospel, and are thus bound to obey as much as ever, though in the opposite direction.”

unto death—unto righteousness] The results (“death,” “righteousness”) of the respective “servitudes” are not necessary to the immediate statement, but are brought in as inseparable from the whole subject.

obedience] This is here the personified Master, the antithesis of Sin. The context, (Romans 6:17,) and Romans 10:3, (see also 1 Peter 1:2,) shew its meaning here to be the act of submission to the Divine terms of pardon. It is thus the practical equivalent of those terms, which are to be the ruling principle of the new life.

righteousness] The Gr. may here be paraphrased (not translated) by Justification. In such a paraphrase we are far from shutting a moral meaning out of the word; but a careful collation of passages in this Epistle makes it reasonably clear that its ruling reference in this argument is to the legal side of righteousness; i.e. to what the Law will view as righteous, and so to the persons whom it will view as possessing righteousness. Such a possession, in the case of “the ungodly” (Romans 4:5), is explained by St Paul as wholly due to the righteousness of their Representative. In other words they are justified for His sake.—Thus “righteousness” is used as a summary for the process of justification, though strictly applicable only to one part of the subject. Here we may paraphrase: “Ye became the bond-servants of God’s Terms of Pardon, to which you submitted with a submission that resulted in your being reckoned righteous in the eye of His Law.”Romans 6:16. Δούλους, servants) Servitude is here denoted, from which obedience follows as a consequence.—δοῦλοι, servants) The state of servitude, which follows as the consequence of obedience, is signified, 2 Peter 2:19.—εἰς, unto) εἰς, unto, occurs twice in this verse, and in both cases it depends on servants.—ὑπακοῆς, of obedience) Obedience, used absolutely, is taken in a good sense. Righteousness, too, promptly claims as her own, those who act obediently to her.—εἰς δικαιοσύνην, unto righteousness) Supply, and of righteousness unto life: as appears from the antithesis [death], with which comp. the similar antithesis, Romans 6:20; Romans 6:22; Romans 3:20, note.Servants (δούλους)

Every man must choose between two ethical principles. Whichever one he chooses is master, and he is its bond-servant. Compare Matthew 6:24; Matthew 7:18.

Sin unto death - obedience unto righteousness

The antithesis is not direct - sin unto death, obedience unto life; but obedience is the true antithesis of sin, since sin is disobedience, and righteousness is life.

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