Rob Ventura's Commentary on Romans, pt. 2

Editor's Note: Rob Ventura has provided us with a chapter from his forthcoming Mentor Commentary on the Book of Romans.  We are thankful for the opportunity to share it with you. Our plan is to run segments of chapter 12 throughout the coming months. Enjoy!

Text: Rom. 12:3-8

General theme: Spiritual Gifts and the Saints

Homiletical outline of the verses:

A. The injunction[1] regarding spiritual gifts: For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

B. The illustration of spiritual gifts: For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

C. The identification for spiritual gifts:Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Summary of section: In these verses, Paul speaks about the subject of serving God in the church with spiritual gifts.[2] Having just told us in the previous verses that we are to live consecrated lives to the Lord (and this by not being conformed to this world), interestingly, the very first place where the apostle tells us that this consecrated life is to manifest itself is in the context of the local church. This idea might be foreign to some. However, this is what the context and connection of this verse to the previous one clearly shows. The opening, explanatory word “for” in verse 3 makes this point plain.

Olyott astutely comments,

We need to put away vague views of consecration. The first place where it is seen is in the way in which a believer lives and behaves in the Body of Christ. If you want to display your gratitude to God for His mercies, you must start here. You must submit to what He has revealed concerning church life. People who appear to be keen Christians, but are not obeying the Lord in this area, are not keen Christians at all. They have not put themselves at His disposal in the area where He expects obedience first. If first things are not put first, how can anything else be right?[3]

Exegetical & Practical Insights:

Obs. 1- (v. 3) That as Paul begins his discussion concerning the use of spiritual gifts in the church, he begins by speaking against the matter of pride:

For I say through the grace given to me, that is, he speaks with the authority of a duly authorized apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1, 5; 15:5), and yet, he humbly acknowledges that he does this only “through” or “by virtue of”[4] the grace given to him, that is to say, the effectual grace which first saved him, followed by the equipping grace which made him an apostle; to everyone who is among you, no one is excluded from Paul’s words here (be that the pastor in the pulpit or people in the pew); not to think[5] or ever to think;[6] of himself more highly or “over” and “beyond;”[7] than he ought to or should; think,[8] in other words, “Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance;”[9] but[10] or in sharp contrast to this; to think soberly,[11] not like a man who is intoxicated with his own self-worth, but sanely and soundly (which does not mean to think poorly of ourselves), but rather sensibly, “He is not to overvalue his abilities, his gifts, or his worth but make an accurate estimate of himself;”[12] as God has dealt or distributed; to each one again, no one is excluded; a measure or amount; of faith that is, a measure of faith to humbly trust Him to enable us to arrive at an accurate evaluation of our spiritual gifts and then to use them in the assembly in complete dependence on Him.

We might wonder why Paul began the subject of spiritual gifts by speaking against the matter of conceit. While, of course, it seems obvious that he did this because pride is present in all of us from birth and is the “oldest sin in the universe,”[13] could there be another reason? I think there is. It has to do with the context in which Paul was writing this letter. Remember, he wrote Romans while he was in Corinth, nearing the end of his third missionary journey (see my opening comments in the Brief Overview).

Consider then, what was happening at Corinth while Paul was there. There was a misuse and abuse of spiritual gifts. In fact, Paul essentially takes three chapters (1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14) to correct much of the carnal pride and lack of love in that church. He said to the Corinthians, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2).

So it may be that as the apostle was writing to the Romans and was still entrenched in fixing the spiritual mess at Corinth, that he felt it necessary to speak to them first and foremost about the matter of humility. He had already corrected them earlier in Romans chapter 11, verses 18 and 20, concerning being boastful and haughty. Now it seems that he wants to lay this foundation afresh as he takes up this new topic so that the Romans would not “parade themselves” and become “puffed up” (1 Cor. 13:4). A superiority complex among anyone who names the name of Christ will be devastating to the church. Pride will go before their destruction (Prov. 16:18). So all of us must take special heed to Paul’s words.

Obs. 2- (vv. 4-5) That as Paul explains why each of us should not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, he writes using an illustration and says:

For as or just as; we have many members or parts and limbs; in one body i.e., our physical body, but all the members or parts and limbs; do not have the same function or activity; so in a similar manner, the adverb completing the point of Paul’s comparison in the illustration; we, that is, we who are Christians both locally and universally in the church, in the same way; being many, which is to say, being many different people from many diverse backgrounds and ethnicities etc.; are one body or one spiritual organization and organism; in or in union with; Christ, and at the same time are; individually members of one another. 

Paul’s “body language” here is language that he uses elsewhere in his epistles (see especially 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:23; 5:23). This language conveys two chief things: first that there is both diversity and unity within the Christian community,[14] and second that the church is made up of “many interrelated and mutually dependent parts.”[15] Simply stated, as it is with our physical bodies, so it also is with Jesus’ spiritual body, the church of which he is the Head (Eph. 1:22, 23). Those who are truly born again and filled with the Holy Spirit are part of the body of Christ and spiritual members of each other. Because this is so, it is to have a profound impact on how we treat each member in the body and act among ourselves. Since we are not only in spiritual union with Jesus, but also with each other, we should treat one another extremely well in our assemblies. We should “let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not for his own interest, but also for the interest of others” (Phil. 2:2, 3). As Charles Hodge rightly says,

In these verses we have the same comparison that occurs more at length in 1 Cor. 12, and for the same purpose. The object of the apostle is in both cases the same. He designs to show that the diversity of offices and gifts among Christians, so far from being inconsistent with their union as one body in Christ, is necessary to the perfection and usefulness of that body. It would be as unreasonable for all Christians to have the same gifts, as for all the members of the human frame to have the same office. This comparison is peculiarly beautiful and appropriate; because it not only clearly illustrates the particular point intended, but at the same time brings into view the important truth that the real union of Christians results from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as the union of several members of the body is the result of their being all animated and actuated by one soul. Nothing can present in a clearer light the duty of Christian fellowship, or the sinfulness of divisions and envying among the members of Christ body, than the apostles comparison.[16]

This illustration by the apostle sets the stage for what he will say in the following verses. His point is that because we are a body, we need one another; thus, no spiritual gift is unnecessary, and none is self-terminating or for self-promotion.

Obs. 3- (vv. 6-8) That as Paul has put forth his illustration concerning the church, he now identifies seven spiritual gifts that are to be exercised in our midst.[17] He writes:

Having then gifts or we might say, because we have divine, spiritual deposits or endowments; differing according to the grace that is given to us:[18] “It is not a matter of the believer making an earnest effort in order to produce some spectacular results in Christian character or achievement, but something God has given;”[19] let us use or exercise; them:

if prophecy,[20] this spiritual gift which originally referred to one speaking forth divine, inspired truth from the Lord has ceased with the close of the apostolic age,[21] but nevertheless, continues today in the form of preaching or the proclaiming of God’s inspired truth from the Bible;[22] “There can be no inspired, prophetic additions to the body of Christian doctrine today since the faith has been once for all delivered to the saints (see Jude 3);”[23] let us prophesy in proportion to or in accord and agreement with the analogy of; our faith or better understood “the faith” (since the definite article is in the original language, the idea being that prophecy must correspond with the objective rule of faith which has already been proclaimed by the apostles and believed by the churches); 

or ministry, which is a broad term that stands for any service in the church which could be done by any member in the congregation, or the deacons especially[24] towards those in need. “The person who has the gift of ministry has a servant-heart. He sees opportunities to be of service and seizes them;”[25] let us use it in our ministering

he who teaches, or has the ability to instruct others out of the Word of God faithfully, clearly, helpfully, pointedly and practically; in teaching; 

he who exhorts, or has the ability to encourage the fainthearted, comfort the distressed, or warn the disobedient; in exhortation; 

he who gives, or freely shares with others without expecting anything in return whether it be food, finances or clothing. “Giving is the ability to provide for others who can’t meet their own needs. It flows from a decision to commit all earthly possessions to the Lord and His work;”[26] with liberality or more literally, sincerity of heart; 

he who leads, or more precisely, “stands before” others and presides over them, such as elders do in local churches; with diligence or zeal and;

he who shows mercy, or pity and compassion, which refers to an individual who has a unique sensitivity to the sufferings of the saints in the church who are either sick or in need, “with the ability to notice misery and distress that may go unnoticed by others and with the desire and means to help alleviate such afflictions,”[27] and they do this, not merely out of a sense of duty but; with cheerfulness or joy.

Of course, in speaking about all of these various spiritual gifts which God in grace gives to His people, through the Holy Spirit for the edifying of the body (1 Cor. 14:26) and for His glory alone (1 Cor. 10:31), the idea is not that it is only those who, for example, have the gift of ministry, exhortation, giving or showing mercy who are to do this; no. Rather, the idea is that those who have these specific gifts must exercise them with great zeal. All of us are to minister to one another. All of us are to exhort one another. And all of us are to give and to show mercy as we are able. However, the point is, those who have these specific, spiritual endowments are to excel in them. Therefore, may we all be found doing these very things!


[1] The word means “warning.”

[2] The best definition for spiritual gifts that I found is in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia p. 602, volume 4, by R. P. Spittler. It says that spiritual gifts are, “Varied endowments graciously bestowed by the triune God upon individual Christians, but particularly intended to enhance the community, worship, and service of locally gathered Christians and thereby to enrich the whole church.” John MacArthur also helpfully says that a spiritual gift is “a God-given capacity through which the Holy Spirit ministers. It is not a natural human ability such as playing piano, singing, or writing. Such talents may be used to express your gift, but they are not spiritual gifts in themselves. For example, if you have the gift of teaching, you might express that gift through writing. Or if you have the gift of exhortation, you might write letters that exhort” John MacArthur, Spiritual Boot Camp, p. 62, 2021. It should also be noted that Paul discusses the topic of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 to 14. Peter discusses them in 1 Peter. 4:10, 11. For further study on this topic, I would recommend the books: Spiritual Gifts What They Are and Why They Matter by Tom Schreiner and Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts by William McRae. Both of these authors take the classic cessationist view of the gifts, as I do, which says that miraculous spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues have ceased. However, we do believe that God still does work in the world in supernatural ways. He does this often when we call upon Him in prayer to do so.

[3] Olyott, pp. 114, 115.

[4] Harvey, p. 299.

[5] Grk. Present, active, verb.

[6] The progressively renewed mind mentioned in verse 2, should help us in this regard.

[7] The idea is: do not be high-minded. Do not be a constant braggart, showman, and a know-it-all.

[8] R. Kent Hughes, insightfully notes that, “Our Adamic nature loves to over-think about itself. This can take two classic forms. Primarily it is that of the self-elevating braggart — the person who tells you how smart he is, how much he has done, how strong he is, how rich he will be when he gets his big break — legends in their own mind. . . . The other form of overestimation is more subtle. . . . those who self-consciously talk about themselves as if they were nobodies” R. Kent Hughes, Romans, Righteousness from Heaven, p. 220.

[9] Phillips translation.

[10] The strong Greek adversative.

[11] Cf. Titus 2:11, 12.

[12] MacArthur, p. 158.

[13] John Blanchard in The Complete Gathered Gold (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006), 503.

[14] Moo, NICNT, p. 762.

[15] John MacArthur, The Body Dynamic, p. 8.

[16] Hodge, p. 387

[17] Concerning spiritual gifts, I believe that it is important to note that, according to the Bible, every Christian has received at least one (see 1 Cor. 12:6-7; 1 Pet: 4:10). Further, since Paul's language in this passage carries the sense of a command, we are under apostolic obligation to exercise them. Finally, as far as discerning what spiritual gift or gifts we have, perhaps after studying the Scriptures and praying, asking God to show us the answer to this question, we can discover our gifts by satisfying at least three criteria: 1- do we have an ability to perform the gift, 2- is there an affinity [desire] for us to exercise the gift; and 3 - is there is an affirmation of the gift by the church that we, in fact, have it.

[18] The aorist tense participle highlights to us that our spiritual gift or gifts were given to us once for all time at conversion. The passive voice shows that we did not generate it ourselves. Rather, it was freely bestowed upon us by God.

[19] Morris, P. 440.

[20] Murray says that in the apostolic generation, “Prophecy refers to the function of communicating revelations of truth from God. The prophet was an organ of revelation; he was God's spokesman” Murray, 2:122.

[21] MacArthur highlights this point when he says, “The spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament, primarily in Romans 12 and in 1 Corinthians 12, fall into three categories: sign, speaking, and serving. . . . The sign gifts authenticated the teaching of the apostles—which was the measure of all other teaching—and therefore ceased after the apostles died probably even earlier. “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance,” Paul explained to the Corinthian church, “by signs in wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12). The writer of Hebrews gives further revelation about the purpose of the spiritual gifts: “After [the gospel] was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3-4). Even during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the apostles “went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20). First Corinthians was written about A.D. 54 and Romans some 4 years later. It is important to note that none of the sign gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10—namely, the gifts of healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues—is found in Romans 12. The other two New Testament passages that mention spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:7, 11; 1 Pet. 4:10-11) were written several years after Romans and, like that epistle, make no mention of sign gifts. Peter specifically mentions the category of speaking and serving gifts (“whoever speaks” and “whoever serves,” v. 11) but neither the category nor an example of the sign gifts. It seems evident, therefore, that Paul did not mention the sign gifts in Romans because their place in the church was already coming to an end. They belong to a unique era in the church’s life and would have no permanent place in its ongoing ministry. It is significant, therefore, that the seven gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8 are all within the categories of speaking and serving” MacArthur, p. 168.

[22] William Perkins who lived in the sixteenth-century and believed that prophecy by direct revelation had ceased, wrote a book for pastors on preaching entitled, The Art of Prophesying. MacArthur also notes that “In the sixteenth-century Switzerland, pastors in Zürich came together every week for what they called ‘prophesying.’ They shared exegetical, expositional, and practical insights they had gleaned from Scripture that help them more effectively minister to their people in that day” MacArthur, p. 171.

[23] William McDonald, Believers Bible Commentary (1989), 1729.

[24] Our English word deacon is derived from the Greek word ministry.

[25] Ibid., p. 1730.

[26] John MacArthur, Spiritual Boot Camp, p. 64, 2021.

[27] MacArthur, p. 177.


Rob Ventura