“For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the standard of one’s faith; if service, in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:3-8 HCSB)
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been considering Paul’s admonition to give ourselves as living sacrifices and to be transformed in our minds about how we think so that we can properly discern God’s will, what is good, what is pleasing and what will bring God’s grace to its intended goal in our lives. Paul wants us to let the Holy Spirit transform our minds and the way we think, the way we think about ourselves and our service to Christ. The purpose of self-sacrifice is not personal pride, smug satisfaction, recognition, achievement or even spiritual superiority. The purpose of self-sacrifice is to please God and be in the center of His will. By this point, Paul’s presentation of the gospel of grace should have penetrated our hearts and faith should have begun transforming us. If knowing and positioning your life in the center of God’s will isn’t your desire, don’t pass GO, don’t collect $200, go straight back to chapter 1 and start over.
We learned last week that we should not think too highly or too lowly of ourselves. We are made in God’s image. So, we should not “overthink” about who we think we are but we should think soberly, sensibly, without undue, outside (worldly, sinful) influence about ourselves. In other words, we must clearly understand who and what we are… guilty sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy. Then we must think sensibly about what God has done through Christ to bring us redemption and transformation through faith, that specific measure of faith to each of us. Remember, that measure of faith is the standard by which God’s grace is poured out upon us: “This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:8b-10 HCSB)
When we are thinking clearly, we know what we are: condemned sinners saved only by the grace of God!
Now, Paul begins to challenge us to think differently about how we see ourselves fitting into God’s perfect plan, as the body of Christ. Paul draws upon an analogy that he uses in several of his letters, comparing the human body with the body of Christ – the Church. Just like the human body has many parts, each part with a different function, so is the body of Christ. God has taken this diverse group of redeemed individuals and brought us together into one cohesive organism/body to serve Him. We don’t all have the same function, but we are all members of one body. You could call it, diverse cohesiveness. Each of us with different skills, abilities, and functions but with single minded purpose.
As I sit on a bar stool in my kitchen writing these words, I am using the keyboard on my iPad, tapping the screen to make edits and corrections, drinking a cup of coffee, glancing out the window as I think and pray for wisdom. So many different parts of my body working in different ways but with a coordinated effort to achieve the task my mind, spirit and the calling of God has set before me. That’s Paul’s point, exactly. My body is not dominated by the desires of my thumb or I would be unable to write/type. It isn’t dominated by the desires of my belly, though I occasionally sip my coffee as I stop to think, formulate my words, think through phrases or choose the right word(s). All of these various parts, along with so many more, are working together under the authority of my mind to keep my desires under control, my thoughts focused, and my body performing its part in this task. It’s like a dance and I’m following God’s lead, stepping this way, then that way, pausing, spinning, smiling and enjoying as He commands the motions, emotions, desires, thoughts and focus of my life.
When we are thinking clearly, we know whose we are: We are God’s and as such we are unique individuals comprising an integral part of the His body, under His authority, obedient to His will and desires.
But don’t miss the part about individual parts fitting together in one body. We know what we are, we know whose we are (we are His) and we discover how we fit into His body as a part of His plan with differing gifts. Paul gives us a list, but it is not a comprehensive, detailed list. His intent wasn’t to give us an exhaustive, authoritative list of the church’s functions. It was intended to make us think differently about one another, recognize our diversity and to assure us that we ALL fit into God’s perfect plan: “according to the grace given to each of us, we all have different gifts.”
Notice, the grace given to each of us. Grace is the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon man and, here, it is specifically referencing how the outpouring of His grace is unique to our individual abilities, needs and His desires. God knows better than anyone (including you) how you differ in your skills, knowledge, understanding, needs and personality and how those are best utilized in fulfilling His purpose and plan. God knows how you best fit into this cosmic puzzle that is His perfect will for mankind. So, you need to learn to think differently about your uniqueness, your identity, your desires and your abilities and to recognize that He alone has the skill to make you fit where you belong in His plan. We are so accustomed to determining our own direction for life, being so individualistic and independent that we often forget not only whose we are but that how we fit into this grand story is really up to Him, not us.
But Paul reminds us, if your gift is speaking, teaching, serving, encouraging, giving or leading then do it according to the standard of one’s faith – do it in accordance with Christ’s example and teaching. In other words, while your gift is uniquely yours it must be measured and fulfilled in accordance with Christ. Your individuality, your identity, your desires, your goals and your purpose are still subject to His authority. I can’t stand up and speak in Christ’s name and under Christ’s authority unless the words I say are consistent with His words and under His authority. I can’t claim to act in Christ’s name and under His authority unless my actions are consistent with His actions and under His authority. The body of Christ, the Church, must teach, preach, minister, serve, lead, and give in ways that are consistent with our standard of faith, Jesus Christ.
When we are thinking clearly, we know where and how we fit: We speak, serve, teach, encourage, give and lead in accordance with the uniqueness of how God made us but in subjection to the standard of our faith, Jesus Christ.
Finally, when we do these things we must do them with diligence, showing mercy and with the right attitude. It is easy to just say, DO IT! But we are called to do these things in accordance with the standard of faith, Jesus. So, we need to self-evaluate. Are we diligent in doing these things in a way that is consistent with the character of Christ and the Word of God? Diligence implies not only an intensity and effort in what we are called to do but also with enthusiasm. Do what you are called to do but do so with a level of effort, intensity and enthusiasm that is befitting the One who called you. However, don’t forget that we are to do this while we are also doing some self-evaluation. We are not to think too highly or too lowly of ourselves, but sensibly/clearly. Am I sacrificing myself in an appropriate way? Am I giving in such a way as to neglect my health, marriage, family and spiritual needs? Am I holding back and giving God only the time and effort that is left over after I’ve completed my own selfish desires and pursuits? We all need to take time to evaluate our service to God and to do so with the right mindset.
Are we showing mercy in our service to God? Often, we become so focused on the outcome and the goal that we might take an “end justifies the means” attitude towards ministry. Jesus spoke the truth, but He did so with mercy. His words and attitude always conveyed a sense of mercy. While Jesus may have despised sin He never drove sinners away from God’s mercy with His words or attitude. So, when we speak, serve, teach, encourage, give and lead we must do so like Christ, with a focus on mercy. Never speak in condemnation of sin without an attitude of mercy and an offer of God’s grace. Don’t attempt to serve without a focus on the mercy of God. Never teach with an air of superiority but only with sense of God’s mercy on your own life. Never encourage, give or lead without the mercy of God as your driving force.
What is sacrifice and service without cheerfulness? It is certainly not worship. In Philippians 2, Paul tells us to “have the same attitude as Christ Jesus” as He “emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant” and “became obedient to the point of death.” He says that Jesus didn’t do this for “His own advantage” but willingly for God’s glory. Worship is our response to God’s mercy and love and is evidenced in our attitude as we serve Him in these various ways. Our attitude in the midst of our service should reflect the one whom we serve, not those we are serving. While we may find ourselves serving in the midst of a somber and difficult situations, to be cheerful means to be ready, willing to serve because of WHO we serve, Christ. It isn’t about putting on a fake smile, it is about recognizing God’s power and presence in the midst of our circumstances and to be willing to serve Him with willingly.
When we are thinking clearly, we do what we must do: We serve Christ with appropriate diligence, while keeping ourselves focused on being a conduit of God’s mercy, with an attitude of willingness.
In conclusion, we need to learn to think differently about ourselves, our skills, abilities, identity and individuality and how God has made us to fit into His perfect plan that is on display through the body of Christ, the Church. We must remember that we are all sinners, saved by His grace. None of us is better or more deserving than another. No, we are uniquely His and, as such, we must be willing to submit ourselves to His authority and pursue His purpose and plan. We must recognize that we have been fashioned and equipped in these unique ways, but in such a way that we fit together and work together as His body, the Church, guided by, subject to and taught through His authoritative Word for His purpose. But all of this must be done with a sense of urgency and appropriate diligence as we show mercy to those we willingly serve.
So, what are you waiting for? Do It!