Romans 12 begins a new section of the epistle. Paul began his letter by setting out his apostolic call, personal affections, and desire to preach the gospel in Rome (Rom 1:1-17). After indicting both Jews and Gentiles for their sin (Rom 1:18-3.20), Paul argued that through faith in Christ any sinner can receive right standing before God (Rom 3:21-26). As a result, no Jew or Gentile could boast over his neighbor (Rom 3:27-31). To establish the validity of this proposition, Paul called his readers to consider both Abraham and David—justified by faith and not works of the Mosaic law (Rom 4:1-25). Having set forth and illustrated his proposition, Paul went on to establish two further points. First, Paul encouraged his audience that despite their sinful past and present sufferings, they were secure in Christ by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:1-8.39). Second, Paul maintained that God is sovereign over Jews and Gentiles coming to believe in Christ (Rom 9:1-11:36).
In Romans 12-14, Paul set out the implications of God’s fairness toward Jews and Gentiles, citing Old Testament passages to illustrate his argument.
(1) In Rom 12:19, Paul combined phrases from Deuteronomy and Proverbs to urge his audience that they should act mercifully toward their enemies. In Deuteronomy 32, Moses indicted Israel for their waywardness. Vengeance belonged to God, Moses said, and He would repay the wrongdoing of His people (Deut 32:35). Since God was faithful to repay Israel by sending them into exile, Paul assured his audience that they could trust God to take care of those who might oppose them. Paul urged the Romans, in accord with Prov 25:21-22, to join with God as He exhibited His wrath against their foes. As the Roman Christians blessed their enemies—giving them food when they were hungry, a drink when they were thirsty—the church would heap burning coals upon the heads of those who opposed Christ and His church (Rom 12:20-21).
(2) In Rom 13:8-9, Paul said that the command for Israel to love their neighbors as themselves summed up all other commandments. In Leviticus 19, Moses set forth various laws for how Israel was to live distinctly as God’s people in Canaan. Israel’s activities and manner of life were to reflect God. Moses said in Lev 19:18, “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Following Jesus’ teaching in Matt 19:19, Paul saw Moses’ statement as an umbrella for the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21). Because love does no wrong to a neighbor, Paul argued, love fulfills the law (Rom 12:10; Matt 5:17-20; John 13:34-35). Paul directed his readers to love one another by putting on the armor of light, avoiding carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality, promiscuity, quarreling, and jealousy (Rom 13:13). Casting off their old habits, Paul urged the Romans to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires” (Rom 13:14).
(3) In Rom 14:11, Paul cited Isaiah’s prophecy concerning God’s holiness and power to save. In Isaiah 45:14-25, the prophet warned Israel not to trust in the surrounding nations but to know the Lord God alone as their savior. So powerful is God to save, that Isaiah invited the nations to come, bow down, and find refuge in Israel’s God (Isa 45:23). Paul employed Isaiah’s prophecy to accentuate that God is the Judge and Savior of both Jews and Gentiles. According to Paul, Jews who esteemed food laws were weak in faith. Paul was concerned that the Jews’ weakness might incite the Gentiles to look down on their Jewish brothers, causing division in the congregation. Paul thus urged both Jews and Gentiles to avoid arguing about debatable issues like Jewish food laws and holy days (Rom 14:1-6). Since God alone is the Judge of all humanity, concerning these nonessential issues Paul said, “Whoever eats, eats to the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is to the Lord that he does not eat, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom 14:6-8). In accord with Isaiah’s presentation of God as Judge, the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome were to refrain from judging one another’s cultural preferences (Rom 14:11). “Each of us will give an account of himself to God,” Paul wrote (Rom 14:12).