on Romans 12 :13
Distributing to the necessity of saints - Relieve your poor brethren according to the power which God has given you. Do good unto all men, but especially to them which are of the household of faith. Instead of χρειαις, necessities, some ancient MSS. have μνειαις, memorials; distributing to the memorials of the saints, which some interpret as referring to saints that were absent; as if he had said: Do not forget those in other Churches who have a claim on your bounty. But I really cannot see any good sense which this various reading can make in the text; I therefore follow the common reading.
Given to hospitality - Την φιλοξενιαν διωκοντες, pursuing hospitality, or the duty of entertaining strangers. A very necessary virtue in ancient times, when houses of public accommodation were exceedingly scarce. This exhortation might have for its object the apostles, who were all itinerants; and in many cases the Christians, flying before the face of persecution. This virtue is highly becoming in all Christians, and especially in all Christian ministers, who have the means of relieving a brother in distress, or of succouring the poor wherever he may find them. But providing for strangers in distress is the proper meaning of the term; and to be forward to do this is the spirit of the duty.
on Romans 12 :13
Distributing - The word used here denotes having things in "common" κοινωνοῦντες koinōnountes. It means that they should be communicative, or should regard their property as so far common as to supply the needs of others. In the earliest times of the church, Christians had all things in common (Notes, Acts 2:44), and felt themselves bound to meet all the needs of their brethren. One of the most striking effects of Christianity was to loosen their grasp on property, and dispose them to impart liberally to those who had need. The direction here does not mean that they should literally have all things in common; that is, to go back to a state of savage barbarity; but that they should be liberal, should partake of their good things with those who were needy; compare Galatians 6:6; Romans 15:27; Philippians 4:15; 1 Timothy 6:18.
To the necessity - To the needs. That is, distribute to them such things as they need, food, raiment, etc. This command, of course, has reference to the poor. "Of saints." Of Christians, or the friends of God. They are called saints as being holy (ἁγιοι hagioi), or consecrated to God. This duty of rendering aid to Christians especially, does not interfere with the general love of mankind. The law of the New Testament is Galatians 6:10, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith." The Christian is indeed to love all mankind, and to do them good as far as may be in his power, Matthew 5:43-44; Titus 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:18; Hebrews 13:16. But he is to show particular interest in the welfare of his brethren, and to see that the poor members of the church are provided for; for,
(1) They are our brethren; they are of the same family; they are attached to the same Lord; and to do good to them is to evince love to Christ, Matthew 25:40; Mark 9:41.
(2) they are left especially to the care of the church; and if the church neglects them, we may be sure the world will also, Matthew 26:11. Christians, especially in the time of the apostles, had reason to expect little compassion from the people of the world. They were persecuted and oppressed; they would be embarrassed in their business, perhaps thrown out of occupation by the opposition of their enemies; and it was therefore especially incumbent on their Brethren to aid them. To a certain extent it is always true, that the world is reluctant to aid the friends of God; and hence the poor followers of Christ are in a special manner thrown on the benefactions of the church.
(3) it is not improbable that there might be a special reason at that time for enjoining this on the attention of the Romans. It was a time of persecution, and perhaps of extensive distress. In the days of Claudius (about a.d. 50), there was a famine in Judea which produced great distress, and many of the poor and oppressed might flee to the capital for aid. We know, from other parts of the New Testament, that at that time the apostle was deeply interested in procuring aid for the poor brethren in Judea, Romans 15:25-26; compare Acts 19:21; 2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 2 Corinthians 9:2-4. But the same reasons for aiding the poor followers of Christ will exist substantially in every age; and one of the most precious privileges conferred upon people is to be permitted to assist those who are the friends of God, Psalm 41:1-3; Proverbs 14:21.
Given to hospitality - This expression means that they should readily and cheerfully entertain strangers. This is a duty which is frequently enjoined in the Scriptures, Hebrews 13:2, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby many have entertained angels unawares;" 1 Peter 4:9, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." Paul makes this especially the duty of a Christian bishop; 1 Timothy 3:2, "A bishop then must ...be given to hospitality;" Titus 1:8. Hospitality is especially enjoined by the Saviour, and its exercise commanded; Matthew 10:40, Matthew 10:42, "He that receiveth you receiveth me, etc." The waver of hospitality is one of the charges which the Judge of mankind will allege against the wicked, and on which he will condemn them; Matthew 25:43, "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in." It is especially commended to us by the example of Abraham Genesis 18:1-8, and of Lot Genesis 19:1-2, who thus received angels unawares.
It was one of the virtues on which Job particularly commended himself, and which he had not failed to practice; Job 31:16-17, "If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof, etc." In the time of our Saviour it was evidently practiced in the most open and frank manner; Luke 10:7, "And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give." A remarkable instance is also mentioned in Luke 11:5. This virtue is no less common in eastern nations at present than it was in the time of Christ. It is eminently the virtue of oriental nations, of their ardent and open temperament. It springs up naturally in countries thinly settled, where the sight of a stranger would be therefore especially pleasant; in countries too, where the occupation was chiefly to attend flocks, and where there was much leisure for conversation; and where the population was too sparse, and the travelers too infrequent, to justify inn-keeping as a business.
From all these causes, it has happened that there are, properly speaking, no inns or taverns in the regions around Palestine. It was customary, indeed, to erect places for lodging and shelter at suitable distances, or by the side of springs or watering places, for travelers to lodge in. But they are built at the public expense, and are unfurnished. Each traveler carries his own bed and clothes and cooking utensils, and such places are merely designed as a shelter for caravans; (see Robinson's Calmet, art. Caravanserai.) It is still so; and hence, it becomes, in their view, a virtue of high order to entertain, at their own tables, and in their families, such strangers as may be traveling. Niebuhr says, that "the hospitality of the Arabs has always been the subject of praise; and I believe that those of the present day exercise this virtue no less than the ancients did. There are, in the villages of Tehama, houses which are public, where travelers may lodge and be entertained some days gratis, if they will be content with the fare; and they are much frequented. When the Arabs are at table, they invite those who happen to come to eat with them, whether they be Christians or Muslims, gentle or simple." - "The primitive Christians," says Calmet, "considered one principal part of their duty to consist in showing hospitality to strangers. They were in fact so ready in discharging this duty, that the very pagan admired them for it. They were hospitable to all strangers, but especially to those who were of the household of faith. Believers scarcely ever traveled without letters of communion, which testified the purity of their faith, and procured for them a favorable reception wherever the name of Jesus Christ was known;" (Calmet, Dict.) Calmer is also of opinion that the two minor epistles of John may be such letters of recommendation and communion; compare 2 John 1:10.
It may be added that it would be particularly expected of Christians that they should show hospitality to the ministers of religion. They were commonly poor; they received no fixed salary; they traveled from place to place; and they would be dependent for support on the kindness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. This was particularly intended by our Saviour's instructions on the subject, Matthew 10:11-13, Matthew 10:40-42. The duty of hospitality is still binding upon Christians and all people. The law of Christ is not repealed. The customs of society are indeed changed; and one evidence of advancement in commerce and in security, is furnished in the fact that inns are now provided and patronized for the traveler in all Christian lands. Still this does not lessen the obligations to show hospitality. It is demanded by the very genius of the Christian religion; it evinces proper love toward mankind; it shows that there is a feeling of brotherhood and kindness toward others, when such hospitality is shown. It unites society, creates new bonds of interest and affection, to show kindness to the stranger and to the poor. To what extent this is to be done, is one of those questions which are to be left to every man's conscience and views of duty. No rule can be given on the subject. Many men have not the means to be extensively hospitable; and many are not placed in situations that require it. No rules could be given that should be applicable to all cases; and hence, the Bible has left the general direction, has furnished examples where it was exercised, has recommended it to mankind, and then has left every man to act on the rule, as he will answer it to God; see Matthew 25:34-46.
on Romans 12 :13
12:13 Communicate to the necessities of the saints - Relieve all Christians that are in want. It is remarkable, that the apostle, treating expressly of the duties flowing from the communion of saints, yet never says one word about the dead. Pursue hospitality - Not only embracing those that offer, but seeking opportunities to exercise it.