For when you were slaves to sin, you were free of obligation to righteousness.
career - " such were some of you" - so here the Romans. In reading the Authorized Version stress must be laid on the past tense, "were;" then it suggests the clearer translation of the Revised edition.
I. THE FORMER SLAVERY. Absolute freedom is impossible to man, who is surrounded by higher powers, and has a Divine law impressed on his nature. The headstrong youth is really in bondage to sin; and the recluse in his solitude, whilst free from some of the restrictions of civilization, yet deprives himself of some advantages, and thereby imposes on himself certain limits. The description of sin as bond-service is just when we think of the manner in which men are worn out by vice. The silken cords of pleasure become adamantine bonds. The man who delays to reform his life becomes a prisoner, unable to turn the key in the rusty lock. Dislike of the epithet, "servants of sin," must not blind us to its accuracy, in spite of the euphemistic terms which would hide the flagrancy of our transgressions. Without supposing that statistics of the members of Churches accurately embrace all servants of righteousness, the condition of slavery is all too common, even in Christian England. Press home this fact, and remember that the great, question is not whether we can fix the date and enumerate the details of our conversion, but whether we are conscious of a renewed heart and life.
II. THE NEW SERVICE. The text speaks of a changed state of obedience to God and adoption of righteousness - a state sanctioned by conscience, ratified by the judgment, pleasing to the Almighty, and every way beneficial to ourselves and others. Its cause is the new teaching concerning Jesus Christ. The tense is definite; these Christians had received the doctrine and embraced it gladly. Perhaps the good news is today too much encumbered with technical phraseology, or, having been frequently listened to from infancy, fails to excite in us the glad wonder which it evoked when fresh to the ear. To the Romans it brought tidings of the abrogation of the Sinaitic Law as a covenant of life; it told of the one perfect Offering whereby those that believe are sanctified; it spoke of the all-providing love of the Father for his erring children. The gospel comes as a law to be obeyed, but supplies adequate motives and spiritual power for its fulfilment. The code is discipleship to Christ, hearkening to his preaching and copying his life. This doctrine is represented in the text as "a mould" into which the life of the obedient is cast, imparting to them a righteous form - a likeness to their teacher - Christ. And in hearty obedience true freedom is realized. The father, toiling home laden with gifts for his children, does not look upon his load as a wearisome burden. The mother, with her fresh responsibilities and cares, delights in the maternal yoke. Love alters the bias, oils the wheels of duty. Christ has won the hearts of his people, and to serve him is an honour and a joy. He strikes off the shackles of sin, and we welcome the golden chains of righteous obedience. We do not deny that sin has its pleasures; but, in comparison with the sense of purity and elevation which the service of Christ furnishes, there is the difference between the hot, stifling atmosphere of the music-hall and the sweet bracing air of the mountain-top.
III. THE THANKSGIVING FOR THE DELIVERANCE. None could think that the rendering of the Authorized Version implied Paul's delight at the former unrighteousness; but the Revised rendering is less ambiguous to the hurried reader. The phrase, "thank God," used to be a stock insertion in ordinary letters. Here it is no unmeaning ascription, filling up the interstices of speech, but a devout acknowledgment of sincere gratitude to him who instituted the gracious plan of salvation, giving up his beloved Son, and by his Spirit opens the hearts of an audience to attend to the message of everlasting life. It is the outpouring of the heart for the safety and honourable obedience of fellow-Christians. A pastor may offer it for his flock, a teacher for her scholars. Give glory to God! thank him with lip and life, by seeking to understand and obey the statutes and principles of the Word of truth, and by leading others to know the joys of redemptive obedience. - S.R.A.
I speak after the manner of men.I. ITS METHOD. "After the manner of men," i.e., (Gr.) humanly — as men ordinarily speak, borrowing any illustrations from common life. Spiritual subjects are made plainer by familiar comparisons, and so preachers should use simple language and homely illustrations. This was exemplified in Christ, and inspired writers in general. The most useful preachers have ever been those who speak most humanly. The arrow too high flies over the head; too low falls short of the mark.
II. THE REASON FOR THE METHOD. "The infirmity of your flesh" — imperfect knowledge through the flesh — an apology for the use of the expression "slaves," etc. Some believers are still babes and carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:12-14); others are spiritual and of a full age. In God's family are fathers, young men, little children (1 John 2:12-14). The flesh is an impediment to the apprehension of truth. Carnal nature views holiness not as liberty but as bondage. Arguments and modes of speaking to be adapted to the hearer's state. Let not the mature and enlightened, then, cavil at methods adapted to reach the immature and ignorant and vice versa.
III. ITS SUBSTANCE.
1. A reminiscence. "As ye have yielded your members" servants —(1) To uncleanness, a characteristic of heathen life in general (Romans 1:24). Uncleanness is sin against oneself: unchastity of life. All sin is uncleanness; some sins especially so (Romans 13:13). The greatest slave is he who serves sensual pleasures.(2) To iniquity — unlawfulness — what is opposed to God's law, and even the laws of human society (Luke 18:4). Uncleanness and iniquity include the whole circumference of sin (Matthew 15:19).(3) Unto iniquity — to the practice of iniquity as a result; to an always still greater progress and depth in iniquity. The practice is the necessary effect of the bondage. Sin allows none of its servants to remain idle.
2. An enforcement of duty. "Even so now" — as heartily and thoroughly, and in consideration of the past "yield your members" —(1) Servants to righteousness. Still servants, but to righteousness instead of sin. Christ gives His disciples a yoke, but it is an easy one. Servitude to righteousness means truest liberty.(2) Unto holiness — so as to practise and grow in it. Holiness is that which is in accordance with God's will, and embraces the whole man (1 Thessalonians 5:23). It is a matter of growth. The faithful performance of one duty prepares for that of another. Victory over one sin strengthens us for victory over a second. The practice of righteousness confirms the principle of holiness. Gracious acts strengthen gracious habits, as labour adds to muscle.
(T. Robinson, D. D.)
I. THE CONTRAST.
1. Sin conducts you from iniquity to iniquity.
2. God will lead you in the path of holiness.
II. THE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCES.
1. The fruit of sin is shame.
2. Of faith is holiness.
III. THE FINAL RESULT.
1. The wages of sin is death.
2. The gift of God eternal life.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. Out of disgraceful impurity into true holiness (vers. 19-21).
2. Out of dishonourable servitude into true freedom (vers. 20-22).
3. Out of death and condemnation into eternal life (vers. 21-23).
(W. Hauck.)I. The one was BITTER SERVITUDE; the other SWEET LIBERTY.
II. The one has DISGRACEFUL NOTORIETY; the other PRAISEWORTHY MODESTY.
III. The one has ETERNAL DEATH; the other ETERNAL LIFE. Note what Jesus says of these two ways and their ending (Matthew 7:13).
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.1. There is no condition so sad as that of a slave; and no slavery so hard as that of sin. There was once a tyrant who ordered one of his subjects to make an iron chain of a certain length. The man brought the work, and the tyrant bade him make it longer still. And he continued to add link to link, till at length the cruel taskmaster ordered his servants to bind the worker with his own chain, and cast him into the fire. That hardest of tyrants, the devil, treats his slaves in like manner. At first the chain of sin is light, and could easily be cast off. But day by day Satan bids his victims add another link. The servant of sin grows more hardened, daring, reckless in his evil way. He adds sin to sin, and then the end comes.
2. Very often the slaves of sin do not know that they are slaves. They talk about their freedom from restraint, they tell us they are their own masters, that the godly are slaves. Once I visited a madhouse. Some had one delusion, some another. One thought he was a king, another the heir to a fortune. But one thing they all believed, that they were in their right minds.
3. The servants of sin bear about the marks of their master. I have seen gangs of convicts working on Dartmoor. You could not mistake them for anything else if they were dressed in the best of clothing. The word convict is stamped upon every grey face, as plainly as the Government mark is stamped upon their clothing. The servants of sin have their marks also. Look at the shifty eyes, and downward glance of the knave and the false man; the flushed brow and cruel eyes of the angry man; the weak lips and trembling hand of the drunkard.
4. The servants of sin have their so-called enjoyments, these are the baits with which the tyrant gets them into his power. For a time the way of transgressors is made easy and pleasant. The broad road is shaded, and edged with fair fruits and flowers. A saint of old once saw a man leading a herd of swine, which followed him willingly. When the saint marvelled, the man showed him that they followed him for the sake of the sweet food in his hand, and knew not whither they were going. So the servants of sin follow Satan for the sake of the sweet things which he offers, and know not that they are going to their death, even the living death of a lost soul.
(J. H. W. Buxton, M. A.)
(T. Robinson, D. D.)
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