Scripture Text: Romans 12:3-8
What does it mean to live as a follower of Jesus Christ? Earlier, Paul wrote about being a living sacrifice for God. This meant not being conformed to the world, but being different from it. It also meant being transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we can discern the will of God. Our thinking as followers of Christ ought to be different from what it was before. Now, Paul continues with that, now saying a change in thinking includes thinking about ourselves. Once we become as a follower of Jesus Christ, we become a part of His people, the Church. Being a part of the Church comes with certain expectations. We are no longer on our own, but are part of a community. This section of the letter describes the new life of believers as they live within a community of Christ.
Community Means We Are to be Humble
Do you struggle with being humble? Country singer, Mac Davis, may have. He wrote a song called “It’s Hard To Be Humble”. The opening lines go like the following.
Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
‘Cause I get better lookin’ each day
I believe Mac Davis was really making fun of himself, or maybe those who are not so humble. You know who they are. They are the ones who think just a little too much about themselves. They are the ones who are really proud of themselves. Are you one of them? Seriously, we can all struggle with humility. As part of a renewed mind in Christ, the Christian should think wisely about himself or herself. We are to have an appropriate view of ourselves, but oftentimes we do not. Oftentimes, we have an inflated view of ourselves. Paul was aware of the devastating consequences of pride within a church. Pride is dangerous. Pride destroys relationships, including the most important relationship we have — our relationship with God. Look at the following verse.
Romans 12:3 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with anyone when you think of yourself more highly than you should. This is not hard to imagine. Think about how you feel being around someone with an ego. You probably do not want to be around them very much. Paul called on his readers not to have an inflated view of their own importance. If we are really living sacrifices for God, then we will “die to self”, not live for it. We should model the humility that places the rights and welfare of others above our own. It is interesting that those to whom Paul was writing were to think of themselves with “sober judgment” (v. 3). They was supposed to have reasonable opinions about themselves. This seems to suggest how out of touch with reality their opinions of themselves really were. The metaphor, sober judgement, suggests intoxication, meaning they were drunk on themselves. They were in danger of becoming “egoholics!”
In the church, however, we are to think of ourselves rightly, according the faith that God has given us. God has granted a different measure of faith to each of His children, and He calls upon each of us to assess ourselves realistically. One way to do this is to consider others more important than yourself. This is similar to what Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. Look at the following passage.
Philippians 2:3 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
In Romans, Paul has already written to the Gentiles to not be proud because of Israel’s disbelief. In his short doxology at the end of chapter eleven, Paul reminded us to consider our place before God. We ought to think humbly and realize that we are not in a place to tell God to do anything. Humility is also expected in our relationships with each other. We are to live out our faith by considering each other more important than ourselves. Is that an area of your life that needs some work? Are you in danger of being an “egoholic”, considering yourself more important than others? Pray to God for help. Pray that God will humble you and give you a correct assessment of yourself.
Community Means We Are Each Part of a Whole
We are to think about ourselves rightly because we are each part of a greater whole. Some people, however, have this idea that their relationship with Jesus Christ is solely an individual matter. Some people believe that once you accept Christ as Lord and Savior, that is it. They believe you can live a Christian life apart from other Christians. In fact, other Christians may just slow you down, or those other Christians are just hypocrites, or those “churches” are just a perversion of what Jesus really intended. Therefore, they want no part of it. To some extent, I understand those sentiments. I have had unpleasant experiences in a church before. I know that churches are full of hypocrites and mean people. I am one of them. I have said it before, if you find a perfect church, do not join it. You will ruin it. We are all, everyone of us, sinners who are saved by grace. That does not mean that God intended us to live as “Lone Ranger” Christians. Rather, Christians are meant to live in a community. Look at the following verses.
Romans 12:4–5 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
These verses describe a wonderful truth about the Church. Christians are individual members of a larger whole. Just as the human body is one body with many members, so a church is united though it is composed of many members. In Christ there are many members that form one body called the church. There is diversity and unity within the church, or unity in diversity. This is practically the same thing Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 and to the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:15-16. This unity is only possible because the members are “in Christ”. We are joined by faith in Jesus Christ and have become a part of the whole body of Christ.
Each member of a church belongs to all the others members of the church. Although each member has come to faith by a separate and individual act of faith, the believing community lives out its Christian experience in fellowship with one another. John Donne’s “No man is an island” is true of the church of Jesus Christ. “Lone Ranger Christianity” is a contradiction in terms. The Christian life is one of community, and we are stronger because of that. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This means that we as a group are stronger and more effective working together than when we are acting in isolation from one another. For example, the ant colony is greater working together than the sum of its parts. Likewise, the Christian faith is essentially a corporate experience, a colony, a community of faith, working together for Jesus Christ. We are meant to be together.
However, some may think that the one body mentioned here and elsewhere in scripture have to do with the whole body of Christ, meaning the whole, global, universal Church — every Christian throughout all history. Consider that Paul wrote this letter to “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”. He wrote this letter, and these instructions, to a particular group of Christians living in Rome. In this passage, he encouraged them to live as one community of faith. If Paul was only talking about the global Church, it seems that it would be very difficult to do what he wrote in verse ten.
Romans 12:10 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
How might we live together as a community? If one member suffers, we should all suffer. If one member rejoices, we ought to all rejoice. If something needs to be done, we ought to all come together to see it accomplished. While we each come to Christ and accept Him as Lord and Savior as individual people, and we each have a personal, individual relationship with our Lord, we are “called out” of the world and into an “assembly” or “fellowship” together to worship and serve Jesus Christ. There is one body. There is unity in being the church. There are also individual members that compose the body of Christ. So, how are you living within the community of Christ?
Community Means We Each Use Our Gifts
God has given the Church a mission to accomplish. That means there is work to be done. To accomplish this work, God has not only given members to the Church, boots on the ground, but He has also given those members a variety of gifts to accomplish His work. As part of a renewed mind, we are to think wisely about our function within the greater Body of Christ. Just as there are many members that make up the church body, there are many gifts to use within the church body. Look at the following verses.
Romans 12:6–8 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
In these verses, Paul mentioned seven different gifts and showed how they were to be used. We should not think that these are all the gifts that God gives to us, as there are others mentioned elsewhere (1 Corinthians 12:7–11). Rather, these are some of the gifts God gives to us and they are different between each member. You do not have the same gift as someone else. God gives each of us a specific gift (or gifts) and we are to determine what those gifts are. Let us look at the gifts Paul mentioned in this passage.
- Prophecy — This is a gift to assist the community in understanding God’s will. The New Testament prophet was a person who spoke for God.
- Serving — This could be any act of service or this could be the deacons in the church. The deacons are not a board of directors, but they are servants.
- Teaching — Teachers assist the community by helping the members to understand God’s Word better and how to live out their faith.
- Exhorting — If teaching provides guidance for what people ought to do, exhorting helps them achieve it. Those who exhort assist the community by encouraging others to do the right thing.
- Giving — If a person’s gift is contributing to the needs of others, then generosity is what is called for. These are those who give generously of what they have.
- Leading — This includes those who lead a group to accomplish some task or mission. This is not the corporate CEO who runs the company, but this is essentially a service carried out for the benefit of others.
- Acts of Mercy — This would include such helpful activities as feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and caring for the aging. Those who do this should do it cheerfully.
These are just some of the gifts that God gives to members of His Church. Maybe your gift is not listed here. If so, that is ok. Maybe God has given you a different gift, or a different talent. Like each of us has a measure of faith, we each have gifts according to the grace God gives to us. What are you to do with your gifts? Look at verse six again.
Romans 12:6 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…
You are supposed to use your gifts. God has assigned each believer a measure of faith that begs to be expressed in serving God and others. If you are a part of the community of Christ and you have a gift but are not using it, you are sinning. That is one of the reasons churches have a members class. One of the goals of a members class is to help those who are thinking about joining the church to discern their gifts and how they can use them to serve the church. Our gifts are given by God to use for the glory of God and for the good of others. They are not given to bury in the sand or to serve ourselves. Now, maybe you think the “doing” belongs to someone else in the church. Maybe you think that the ministry in the church belongs to the pastor, the deacons, the teachers, or someone else in the church. That is not how God arranged the members in His body. Remember, this is His body and He decides how it will function. Paul addressed the “who” does “what” in his letter to the Ephesians. Look at the following passage.
Ephesians 4:11–12 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
God gave certain people to His Church in order to equip the rest of the Church (the saints) so that they could do ministry. If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and you are a part of His Church, then you are called to service. You have a gift to use. But a word of caution is needed. The gifts that God gives us are not instruments for self glorification or for some measure of our faith. We are not to use our gifts for our glory or to make ourselves look good. Likewise, we are not to seek a place or role of some importance in the church for the sake of our own self. God gives us gifts to serve the whole body of Christ. The gospel does not produce spiritual spectators but mobilizes disciples to make a difference for others as God has made a difference in them. So, what are your gifts? What has God uniquely given you? Are you using it to your fullest potential? Are you using it for the right reasons? Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God. So, what are you giving back to Him?
In closing, this passage describes several aspects of being in a community of faith — the church. We must be humble and think rightly about ourselves. We should consider others more important than ourselves and outdo one another in service. We must live as a community, as God intended us to live, not as “Lone Ranger Christians” or in isolation from the rest of the body. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ, You are a member of the Body of Christ. The body needs all of its members to function well. We need community. We also must discern our gifts and use them for the glory of God and to serve each other. By His grace, God has given each of us some spiritual gift. We need to use them. If you do not know what yours is, let us find out together.
Now, all of this is for the Body of Christ, those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you have not done that, if you have not repented of your sin and called upon Jesus, confessing Him as Lord, then you are not in His Body. This community and these gifts are not for you. But they can be! If you humbly accept that you are a sinner separated from God, and you turn to Jesus Christ as your only hope for salvation, believing that He is the One Who can save you from your sin, then you will be saved. You will be adopted into God’s family. You will become part of a community of faith, and all of these promises will be yours. God wants you to be a member of the Body of Christ and a part of His family. That is good news. Will you do that today? May it be so. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.