Be Part of The Body
Passage Romans 12:3-8
Speaker Chris Haley
Who am I? Where do I fit in? What’s my purpose? What’s my role? As we continue on in the second half of the book of Romans these are the questions we will begin to see answered. We said last time that the whole of this section from chapters 12-15 is about how we respond rightly to all that Paul has told us in chapters 1-11, which he summed up in one word: ‘mercy’. How do we respond to God who gave Himself for us as a sacrifice to save us from sin? The answer so far: we give ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice offering our bodies no longer to sin, but to His service. God has spiritually renewed our minds so that we now do and approve of His will, and that is a huge game changer isn’t it? It turns everything upside down. We no longer live for ourselves, but we live for him as living sacrifices. And Paul now masterfully begins to apply that to different areas of our life: How we view ourselves, how we view each other, and how we treat each other. Paul wants us to see that we can no longer go on as we were. If we are to be living sacrifices everything must change. Even, firstly, our view of our selves. So, our first point:
A Right View of Self: Humility v3
“A renewed mind is a humble mind” – John Stott. Paul shows us what the renewed mind thinks like. The word ‘think’ in some form is used in four different ways in the verse. Even that phrase ‘sober judgement’ is literally ‘sound thinking’. This is how the renewed mind thinks: the renewed mind thinks humbly, or as Paul puts it ‘not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think’. Pride can be a real problem.
I cringe as I think back to my younger days as a Christian. I thought I knew it all: I had a good Bible knowledge, and what everyone told me was a sound theology. And it was! But it didn’t make me humble, it made me proud! I remember conversations as a student treating other Christians with contempt. Talking down about ministers in town who thought differently about secondary issues. I thought I knew it all, and often I hung around people who thought they knew it all too! And I cringe at it now, not because my theology was wrong, but because good theology should make us humble, not proud. If you think you know it all and sit in judgement above other genuine believers, sneering at their methods or belittling their cherished beliefs then however sound your beliefs or theology of ministry you have not understood the mercy of God which makes us humble! More of this in chapter 14! Pride is a problem.
Paul seems to think one of the big problems for Christians will be pride, but society tells us the big problem for people is low self-esteem. So which is it? In general, do we think too little of ourselves or too highly of ourselves? I think both can be true, they do share common traits. One thinks that they are more important than they think they are. The other thinks that they’re more important than you think they are! But both put the focus on self, both are introspective- looking inside themselves, looking at themselves in isolation. One thinks they are always right, the other that they are always wrong, but in both cases it’s their own opinion of themselves they trust. In both cases it’s all about me and what I say about myself. I get out my own measuring stick and I say either I’m great or I’m rubbish. But what Paul tells us is that what we need is not our own biased measuring stick, but he literally calls ‘the measuring stick of the faith’ or ‘the measure of the faith’.
In the second half of Romans ‘faith’ is sometimes used, not just for the act of believing, but what is also what is believed. (Romans 14-21-22). What Paul is saying then is that we’re to think about ourselves in line with the beliefs God has given us. It’s not about finding a half-way house between high and low esteem. It’s about believing what God tells us about ourselves- sound thinking: That we are sinners, yet saints, that we are wretched, yet rescued, that we are guilty, yet justified. And it’s not that we are half and half, we are both! So that Paul can cry out ‘wretched man that I am’ in chapter 7 as a sinner, and ‘Abba Father’ in chapter 8 as a son of God the Father. It’s why David could say with one breath in the Psalms ‘I am a worm, not a man’ (Psalm 22) and in the next breath speak as though he is righteous and innocent! (Psalm 26)
Don’t trust your own opinion of yourself says Paul, let God tell you who you are, let the scriptures tell you how you ought to think of yourselves, let the Lord define how you should think about your life and it should not lead to pride, but humility. When you’re feeling like you’re better than everyone else, you should sing to yourself ‘And can it be, that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood? Died he for me, who caused his pain – for me, who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, should die for me?’ And when you’re feeling like a worm sing to yourselves that song we sang earlier, ‘I’m a child of God, I am chosen, not forsaken, You are for me, not against me’ Both are true and we need to hold both together, but what is the way God wants us to think about ourselves specifically here? Well he wants us to think about ourselves as part of a body, a body where we all belong to each other. So our second heading:
A right view of Church: Ownership v4-5
A humble mind sees themselves as part of a larger body. If we want to think about ourselves rightly we have to understand ourselves as part of a larger whole. The focus shifts from us to the body. To be in Christ is to be in His Body- the church. And the language of these verses is incredibly strong- it’s almost embarrassing! v5 ‘we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another’. You expect it to say, ‘and individually members of one body- Christ’, but it actually says we’re members of each other. Stop and think about that- you are part of someone else’s body and they are part of yours. Other translations try to get that meaning across well: NIV ‘each member belongs to all the others.’ NLT ‘we all belong to each other’. Not only do we belong together- in the body- we belong to each other in the body.
I belong, not just to Caroline my wife, but to Steve and Faith, to Mike and Judith, to Shelley, to Penny, to Doug and Laura, to Richard and Sarah, to Lyndon and Margaret, to Kyle and Sarah… I won’t list off the whole church, but do you see what it’s saying? I belong to you! I’m yours!
But that means two things for you: 1. If I’m yours you are responsible for me! What you own it’s your responsibility to care for. A big deal is made of the fact that pastors will one day have to give an account of how they have looked after their flock, but I think it’s equally true that flocks will have to one day give an account of how they have looked after each other. You are in many ways responsible for the people around you (around you virtually!) It’s all of our responsibility to make sure we all make it across the finish line in the race of faith. What are you doing to care for other members of the church? (Members in he broadest sense)
The second implication of me being yours is that you belong to me too, and to all those other people that I mentioned and didn’t mention. You are not your own, not only do you belong to Christ, you belong to his body. And laying down your life for Christ is often linked in the Bible to laying down your lives for your brothers and sisters in the church. Bearing in mind what we saw last week how would you finish this verse: 1 John 3:16 ESV ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for…’ You’d think it would be lay down your life ‘for him’, but that’s not what it says: 1 John 3:16 ESV By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Or what does Jesus says to his disciples in Mark 10 about how we are to live?
Mark 10:43 ESV 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The greatest is be to the slave to other- not belonging to himself, but to the others in service to them or
1 John 4:20-21 ESV 20 If anyone says, “I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
The way we show our love to God is to love our brothers and sisters in church. You belong to me, I belong to you- we are members of each other. We are to serve and love each other out of love for God. We live as living sacrifice in the most part by laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters: serving him by serving them, showing our love to him by showing love to them.
And suddenly verses 1 and 2 get a bit more real don’t they! Laying down your life as a sacrifice to God sounds very spiritual, very noble doesn’t it? But laying down your life for that awkward person at church? Laying down your life for Frank or Dolly (they’re not real people!) It’s easier when it’s general faceless fake people though isn’t it! It’s when we start saying how are we laying down our lives for Robin, Debbie and Ethan? How are we laying down our lives for Gareth and Becky? How are we laying down our lives for Liz? Carole? Mary? Joy? That we realise how far we fall short. We’ve been in lockdown for just over a year - what have you done since lockdown started to help real people at this real church live for Jesus? Why not sit with the contact list this afternoon and ask yourself that question? Or a better question would be: how can I help them this week! The wonderful thing is in our church I know that there are people out there doing things for them, but couldn’t we do this more?
They belong to you- you are responsible for them. You belong to them- how are you helping them live for Jesus? Service of course can take many forms, as Paul says, a body has many parts, and the different parts have different functions and roles, but all are part of each other. All belong to each other- and each is responsible for serving the others. In the last section Paul shows us how we can serve one another- how we should serve one another. Our last point:
A right view of Gifts: Service v6-8
Parts of a Body serve the other parts. One commentator puts it this way: “The gospel does not produce perpetual spectators but mobilizes hearers to make a difference for others as God has made a difference in them.” (Commentary from Gospel Transformation Study Bible) We all have different gift, but what they have in common is that they are there to be used, to be put into practice! God has wonderfully made us all different, but each part has a function in the body No part is giftless, the Spirit has made sure of that. All of us have a part to play and all of us most play our part, using the gifts He given so that the body functions properly.
He lists off seven gifts here, but there are longer lists elsewhere in Scripture with different gifts on. There is no definitive list. It’s not like Jig-Cal: Did you have that? A really early computer-based careers advice! You filled in a questionnaire and it had a list of jobs. I got Museum Curator! This doesn’t work like that- the lists aren’t random, as we’ll see, but they’re also not exhaustive! The idea’s not to limit our use of gifts, “Sorry not on the list!” It’s to encourage our use of gifts, broaden our minds to what gifts we might have! Whatever the gifts are and whichever ones we have the emphatic point here is that we put them into practice. There is no point having a gift and not using it for the building up of the body. So what are the gifts he lists here? (I’m going to deal with them a bit out of order- so we don’t get too distracted by some of the tougher ones!)
Firstly v8 ‘Encouraging’. It’s translated here ‘exhort’ but it’s that word we keep meeting! Parakaloo- ‘to call alongside of’. Translated ‘appeal’ in v1 of chapter 12. To urge, encourage, exhort, challenge, counsel, comfort. We said last week it was like Paul was acting as an older brother towards them.
Secondly, ‘serving’ v7. The word there is diakonos- where we get our word deacon from. It means to minister, to serve. It’s the word used in Acts 6 of people who set tables, do the washing up. It’s a very practical word, having said Paul uses it of his ministry of the Gospel- his service to the church. Probably here though it’s probably the gift of help with the practical runnings of church: the finances, the hall, tea and coffee, setting out the chairs.
Thirdly, ‘teaching’ second part of v7. The word there is just the normal word for teaching. Elders are required to be able to do it in 1 Timothy 3:2. Yet everyone does it in Colossians 3:16. The meaning is broader than preaching- teaching can happen in a variety of contexts, but it involves explaining, expounding the Bible.
Fourthly, ‘leading’. The word here literally means, those who stand in front. Again it happens in different contexts. In the church, yes, but also in the family. It’s what Fathers do, for example, with their household in 1 Timothy 3. It’s what the elders do 1 Timothy 5.
Fifthly, ‘caring’- doing acts of mercy. Literally ‘mercying’. Showing mercy, showing compassion, either in forgiveness, or acts of kindness: visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the needs of the saints.
Sixthly, ‘giving’ – contributing to the church and the needs of the saints. Just what it sounds out- we just don’t often think about it as a gift!
Lastly, ‘prophecy’. I’ve left this one till last not because it’s least important or anything like that. It’s just if I’d started with this one you’d have been thinking about it through the rest of the other ones! I’ve spent quite a few hours this week reading various positions on what Paul means here by prophecy: Is it a foundational gift of the establishment of the church?- that’s how he seems to use it in Ephesians. Is it the infallible gift ‘THUS SAYS THE LORD of the OT prophets? - the way he talks about prophets in Chapter 3. Is it a prediction gift, like Agabus in Acts 11?- though the word used for what he did is not the same the one here. Is it a miraculous gift, spontaneously forthtelling the mind of God- yet one that is not infallible and must be tested?- as some like Wayne Grudem and John Piper seem to take it. Or is it now just another way to talk about preaching as John Wesley and John Calvin thought? Which seems a notable absence here, given the other gifts. If I’m honest with you I think I’d like to spend a study week looking at this at some point because none of those answers quite seem to fit! I think it is complicated by the fact that the Bible does seem to use the word in different ways in different places
Whatever you take it to mean Scripture does give us some guidance on its use: 1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV …the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. It is not a party trick for our own self-aggrandisement- remember a renewed mind is a humble mind! It is there, like the other ones to build up the church. It is also one that must be used ‘in proportion to our faith’ Similar to the phrase in v3, it’s to do with, not believing, but beliefs. Our speaking should be in line with ‘the faith’. If it is meant that this form of speaking is a bit more ‘off script’ than teaching the Bible n v7, then we are not to go beyond the bounds of what has already been revealed as ‘the faith’. We are to prophesy in line with ‘the faith’.
The other commands given to the other gifts are mostly just that we use them! If you have the gift of encouragement, get on and encourage! If you have the gift of serving, get on and serve! If it’s teaching, teach! If it’s leading, do it with zeal! I need to hear that as an apathetic Yorkshireman! If it’s caring, don’t do it grumblingly, do it cheerfully! We all need to hear that as folk living in Yorkshire don’t we! If it’s giving, well no need for Yorkshire jokes there! But generously!
What struck me about this list though is how wonderful church would be even if just these seven were happening in abundance; encouraging, serving, teaching, leading, caring, giving, and prophesying in whatever form you take it. Let yourself dream for a second, what would church be like if everyone was practicing those seven gifts? How would our experience of church be different? One of our doctrinal distinctives as a church is: The Ministry of Every Believer, the first part of it says this: ‘We believe that every believer has a responsibility to minister to other believers’ Some call this ‘Every member ministry’ some call it ‘the priesthood of all believers’, but the idea is the same: we all have a role to play in ministering to each other, whether it be encouraging, serving, leading, teaching or caring.
The problem is, in many churches those things are exclusively left to the pastor or the elders. These things are seen as the realm of ‘the minister’ and the role of the wider church is reduced to just one: giving: “We pay him to do it!” Who teaches the Bible studies in your church? The minister does. Who leads? The minister does. Who visits the sick or bereaved? The minister does. Who preaches or prophesies? The minister does. Who set out the church building? The minister does. Who brings you words of encouragement? The minister does. Do you think that’s how Paul envisages the church working? One man does six out of the seven and the everyone else does just one- giving? No, but that means others have a part to play. That means you have a part to play!
Well perhaps you’re thinking: I don’t know if I have any gifts? But what are gifts anyway? The Bible calls us all to do at least five of the seven! Apart from leading in a church context- and maybe prophecy, all these gifts are things that normal Christians are all called to do! What does it mean to have a ‘gift’ then in a particular area? Two things- the Spirit has given me means and the Spirit has given me opportunity. In other words: Can I do it well? Is there a need for me to do that for the body now?
So, think about the gift of giving: Has the Spirit giving me means to give? Do I have ample resources given to me by God to use? Has He moved my heart to give it. If yes: Is there a need in particular for me to do that now? If yes, that’s your gift! What about the gift of teaching? Has the Spirit equipped you to be good at teaching the word? Could I learn to get better, perhaps with help from others? If yes, are the opportunities to teach at church? If yes then that is your gift! Just one more: What about the gift of practical ministry? Can I set out a chair? If not can I learn? Is there a need for people to sit down at church? Not at the moment- not your gift! Come May, look at it again! Can I set out a chair, Yes. Do people in then body need to sit down. Yes. Now that could be my gift!
That might sound like a pretty crumby gift, but they’re not gifts for us, they’re gifts for the body, and as Paul says elsewhere the gifts you think of as least are often the most essential. If Lewis, my son, didn’t make me my coffee just before the meeting on a Sunday morning my throat would probably dry up half way through the meeting. If you hadn’t said that little word of encouragement perhaps that person would have given up on their walk with Christ. If you hadn’t taken out the rubbish perhaps the building would get rats and we’d have to close it down!
Not all gifts are grand and glorious, but that’s why we need to be humble. There is no hierarchy in church. There are no pleb jobs for plumb jobs. All have value. All of us have value. All of us have purpose and meaning as part of the body. That is where we find our place in life – amazingly, it’s in church! That is how we see ourselves rightly as part of the body, serving the body, for the good of the body and the glory of Christ!
Who am I? Where do I fit in? What’s my purpose? What’s my role? Answer so far: I am a living sacrifice who lays down his life for God, by laying down his life for his brothers and sisters in Christ. I find my identity as part of the body, where I belong to others and they belong to me, and I serve them to build up the body. More to follow next week, but let’s pray that God would give us strength to do what He’s revealed to us so far