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Romans (Series 1)

Body Life

Romans  12:1-13

Paul now turns to the practical side of Christianity. He has led us through the doctrine that all are sinners; that we are saved by grace -- and that God will prune us off as He did the Jews if we do not continue in that grace. Here begins his great essay on life in the body of Christ.

The Inner Life

(Rom 12:1-3 NIV) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. {2} Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. {3} For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Note the first word: “Therefore.” Paul is referring back to his argument concerning the Jews. It is an injunction to us:

·         First, to be grateful that we are grafted in. God did not have to choose to do so.

·         Next, to remember that if even the chosen people of God can be cut away, so can we.

A curious thing occurs here -- at least it is curious to the mind of our times -- in that Paul tells us to “offer our bodies” as a “spiritual act of worship.” The juxtaposition seems difficult to our time, but that is really our failing. Curiously, Paul would have seen it as a warning to those in his time -- against the opposite error from that which we make:

·         The Greek view at the time -- the intellectual, philosophical view -- was that the body was so much corruption. Only the spiritual counted for anything. Paul argues against that here.

·         Our view -- the health club as cathedral -- is just as incorrect. We cannot play mind games with God.

·         The Christian view of the body is that it was created by God (and therefore neither pure corruption nor the ultimate in humankind) and is therefore acceptable as a sacrifice to him.

We separate the body and the spirit as if they were two completely different things, to be treated completely independently. Paul emphasizes in this passage the oneness of man. It is not an accident that God says we shall be resurrected bodily. To be “man” means to have a body -- and a soul, ultimately indivisible. Part of the problem with this passage is the word “spiritual.” In the Greek, it has more of the meaning of “logical, intellectual, rational -- in accord with reason.” Paul’s argument is not only that presenting our bodies is “logical” (in the sense Mr. Spock might have used) but also that it is the right response. Such a response is “in view of God’s mercy:”

·         So it is not a guilt trip -- burdened by shame, I will commit public acts of confession, repentance and atonement. That is not what Paul calls for here.

·         It also is not a conformance to rigid rules and codes, but

·         It is the right use of the body, as Aristotle might have said it. This concept of “right use” (as in tools) is extremely powerful in avoiding extremes while serving extremely.

Paul then goes on to make a crucial distinction between conformation and transformation. The words in the Greek are very explanatory:

·         Being conformed means to change ones schema, or the outward appearance. Is there anything so dreadful as a non-conformist who will not conform to the standards of non-conformity?

·         Being transformed (the Greek word is the root of our word metamorphosis) means to change (meta) the inner being (morphe).

Even the grammar of these two words tells us much:

·         The tense is a “continuous present” tense. We are to do this continuously, and always in the present.

·         The voice is passive -- meaning that we are to let God transform us, rather than make this a spiritual self-improvement program. (Such is the nature of grace!)

·         It is in the imperative mood -- it is a command, therefore, not a suggestion.

We are all going to change; the question is how. Will we force ourselves to change with the world, or will we allow ourselves to be transformed with God? And if the latter, then how do we do it?

The answer to that, I believe, is in self-judgment. In verse 3 Paul gives us the secrets of successful self-judgment:

·         It begins and ends in the grace of God. We must start with the understanding that we are the sinners and He is God. Shall the lumber say to the measuring tape, “I will measure you?”

·         It is an examination in light of the particular grace God has given each of us; that is to say, we must take this measure in the light that God has given us. We cannot put it off until we’re more mature.

·         It is to be done in the measure of faith we have. I submit this is simply taking account of our Christian maturity, and asking, “Where should I be about now?”

·         As in all measurement, the aim is not to show ourselves as bigger than we are (even if “bigger” means “more humble and meek”), but to be an honest measurement.

·         And finally, that one of the purposes of this is to ensure that we will fit properly into Christ’s body, the Church.

The Variety of Gifts

One of Paul’s most common metaphors for the church is that of the body:

(Rom 12:4-8 NIV) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, {5} so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. {6} We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. {7} If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; {8} if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

We must remember the rule of “right use.” Is there anything that so irritates you as when some amateur tries to “help” you do your job? The same is true in the church. One reason we are encouraged to look at our gifts is so that we won’t irritate others by butting in where God has not put us. We need neither to overstate nor ignore our gifts.

·         Gifts are not just those of ability, but also those of a call. Many of us have a lot of talent; determining the gift of God means not only a talent inventory but a listing of the calls God has made upon you.

·         Sometimes we “select” our gifts on the basis of the prestige we see in them. But is one service to our Lord greater than another?

Gifts; too often the subject is preached when there is a campaign going to recruit workers. This can be (and should be) an exhortation for us to examine ourselves. If we do so honestly, we may discover some interesting facts:

·         Knowing our gifts is a way to know ourselves. Some of us have hardly been introduced to ourselves; we’re afraid of what we might find. The life unexamined is not worth living.

·         We also can see why God forbids us to judge others; how can we know what their gifts are?

·         We must remember that they are gifts, not awards. They are not what we have given God, but what He has given to us.

·         As they are gifts from God, we should use them for His glory -- not ours.

Paul now begins a discussion of specific gifts. We can but summarize them here:

·         Prophecy (which in the New Testament is more often forthtelling than foretelling) is in accordance with the measure of faith. This may mean one or both of these things:

·         It may mean that the prophecy should not be exercised beyond the measure of faith. Those with little faith should be much more modest in their forthtelling, for example.

·         It may mean that it must be in accord with faith, i.e., with the revealed truth of God.

·         Serving -- the word is the one from which we get our word “deacon” -- implies physical service. Examples include distributing food for the widows of the first century - or Men on a Mission in the 20th.

·         Teaching -- yes, it’s a gift too. We find this so hard to believe (ask Bruce White what it took to persuade him to let me teach).

·         Exhorting -- we might say preaching -- is distinguished from teaching. Preaching is a gift -- both in talent and in a call.

·         Contributing generously. The word “generously” here has two meanings. One is the obvious one; the other is “with simplicity” -- i.e., with a pure heart.

·         Leadership -- note the qualifier: diligence. So many are anxious to rule, as long as they do not have the cares of the ruler to burden them.

·         Finally, there is mercy, to be given cheerfully. Two interpretations of this are advanced:

·         There is mercy in the ordinary sense we think of it: forgiveness. Have you ever been forgiven with a snarl? Then you know why we are to forgive cheerfully.

·         There is also a sense (preserved more carefully in the Roman Catholic communion, as in “Sisters of Mercy”) in which this means visiting and caring for the sick and stricken. This too profits greatly from cheer.

Body Life

(Rom 12:9-13 NIV) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. {10} Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. {11} Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. {12} Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. {13} Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Paul makes three principle points here, all of them related to the idea of how we should get along with each other in the church (next week we’ll take up those outside the church).

Love Sincerely

Hypocrisy comes of two kinds: those who love on the outside while hating on the inside (hard to do); those who love on the outside and just don’t care on the inside. Which is worse?

If you do love Christ, and therefore his children, the church, then it comes naturally that you will love what He loves (good) and hate what He hates (evil). Evil will become abhorrent to you. Not just the effects of evil; evil itself. Do you hate divorce as God does (Malachi 12:6)? We all deplore the effects of the broken home, the single parent, etc. -- but do we really hate the evil behind them? More than that, do we honor the good, in this instance the sound marriage? Or do we agree that the wife is a ball and chain?

We are then commanded to be devoted to each other; that is, to strengthen the family ties. We are told here to honor one another above ourselves. This makes sense; we praise Christ, we praise those around us, giving them honor because we love them. In the process, by honoring the good around us, we may also be helped to see what needs improvement in our own lives. And which of us could not stand some improvement?

Spiritual Attitude Check

The first aspect of our spiritual attitude that Paul encourages us to is zeal. It’s become a “church word.” We hardly know what it means outside the church. Here are some of its elements:

·         Sacrifice -- remember David and Araunah (II Samuel 24).

·         Obedience

·         Declaration to others, oh light and salt of the world.

·         Wholeheartedness

Zeal must be both directed, and constant, as the Apostle tells us:

(Gal 4:18 NIV) It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.

Next, we see three more attitudes:

·         We are joyful in hope (ever see a small kid at Christmas time?) We know that God is bringing us good things, and that is a source of joy.

·         We are patient in affliction (that’s an editorial “we.”) We know that our afflictions are in his control as well, and therefore we must “wait upon the Lord.”

·         Finally, we are faithful in prayer. Prayer should be unseen, but it should also be regular. Faithful also means that when God lays a burden on our heart, we do not shirk it, but bring it to the Father.

Practical Assistance

As is often the case, Paul ends this section with commands which can be seen and touched physically. He brings up two things:

·         We must share with those in need. We so often look at them and ask, “are they worthy?” Perhaps we should stop and take stock; our generosity is enabled by God’s gift. Are we using His gifts as He would have us do?

·         We must also practice hospitality. Those in need are one thing; but the rest of us too are to be given hospitality (which of course can be returned). I once spent an entire lesson on hospitality, defining it as the sacrifice of the pleasant, the present -- and the private. Do we share our pleasant things with others? How about our time? How about ourselves?

Summary

“The kingdom of God is within you,” says our Lord[1]. Indeed it is; the gifts of God are likewise capable of being hidden. If we care for others in our fellowship, we will not hide them, but use them for His glory.

Next week: those outside the church.


[1] Luke 17:21

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