Today, we’re continuing our look at The Book of Romans. Last week we took a look at the first two verses of Chapter 12. Even though they were only two verses, there was probably enough material there that I could have turned it into three separate sermons. But because we’ve already been taking our time, and Chapter 12 will be split into at least three sermons. I put together just one sermon from there last week, and today we’re going to be looking at Chapter 12, verses 3-8.
So if you have your Bibles, you can turn with me there.
Quite often, when Paul wrote his letters to various churches, he sometimes repeated himself from one church to another. And it makes sense. He often had to convey the same message to different audiences. These letters were individual letters, they were not published books that were on the bookshelves, you couldn’t order them from Amazon, you couldn’t hop onto Youtube and watch his sermons. He had to write one letter at a time to one church at a time.
I have a book at home with speeches from David McCullough, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and historian. And those speeches that he made quite often repeat themselves because they were intended for and spoken to separate audiences.
Having said that, I’ll not only be speaking from Romans 12, but also referencing a lot from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church today, which also happens to be out of Chapter 12. And if we read further along in Romans, we’ll see he follows up with a similar statement he gave 1 Cor. 13. And so we’ll probably be referring to that chapter next week.
But first, let’s go to Romans 12, starting with verse 3. Some of you may have the heading “Humble Service in the Body of Christ.”
Scripture: 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 faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
I often will use a Christianese phrase and take the time to stop and define that phrase, because sometimes, even though it is the best phrase to use, it’s not a common expression outside of the church or a Bible study.
And so here, Paul is talking about one of those phrases, “The Body of Christ” in reference to us, The Church––God’s people. And I was never really a big fan of that phrase because it sounded so old-fashioned and outdated. It’s like, can’t we come up with something new, and which makes sense for my generation?
But it’s an actual phrase in The Bible that is used to give us a picture of who we are, collectively. Paul goes into great detail using this metaphor to show us that we are intentionally created with a unique purpose, a specific personality, and an area of skill that God wants us to use that will bring glory to Him and will complement each other in our collective work for Christ.
Paul begins by telling the Romans, “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 faith God has distributed to each of you.”
Now, when the New Testament letters were written, they were most likely not written with a date at the top. If they were, the date was not passed down with the copies of the letters that were made and distributed around Rome or wherever the audience was. So, the date when Romans was written is guessed to have been between 55 and 57 A.D.; and 1 Corinthians was written sometime just prior to that between 53 and 54 A.D.
And when you compare the two, it’s likely Paul had the Corinthian church still on his mind. Either that or the Roman church was experiencing some of the same issues, so Paul had to address them again to the Romans. But it’s evident that the Corinthians were comparing themselves to each other and apparently looking down on those who did not have certain spiritual gifts.
Have you ever seen that in church? I’m sure you have. I hate to admit it, but the Pentecostal tradition that I came here from kind of gives this impression. If you don’t speak in tongues, there’s something wrong with you. Now, that might not be an actual thought, but you do feel a little out of place if you don’t speak in tongues. Especially if you’re in leadership. I remember I thought I wasn’t going to be accepted for ordination through Elim Fellowship because I do not speak in tongues, and believe it or not, that’s an actual question on their ordination application. And I had to explain why I did not. Like, how do you explain not receiving one of God’s gifts? You have to ask God why he decided not to give that particular gift. In fact, if you keep reading through 1 Corinthians 12, you’ll have your answer.
Thankfully, that particular example isn’t something Baptists have to deal with. But what sort of things have Baptists had to deal with?
This might sound silly, but last week we had our church dinner. I’ll bet some of you probably remember so-and-so who made such-and-such and it was the best thing in the world. And they knew it. Maybe there were times when you felt like you were less because someone can sing or play an instrument better than you. Maybe there was someone more gifted in teaching than you. I’ve met many Sunday School teachers who are better at teaching Sunday School and Bible studies than I am.
Maybe you met someone who was gifted in everything…and even worse…they knew they were gifted in everything.
We were watching an episode of Welcome Back Kotter the other night. There was this episode where Mr. Kotter had an old high school friend come over for a visit, and this friend was “Mr. Perfect.” And Gabe Kotter was annoyed that his friend looked perfect, acted perfect, got perfect grades, was a perfect athlete, and now…he had a perfect job with a perfect home and perfect car. I mean, they spent $14,500 on that car––wow!
You know, perfect people can be annoying, can’t they? Especially when they know they’re perfect.
And Paul is saying here, don’t brag. No one is perfect. You might think you’re better than someone else, and maybe you are better in this area, but you’re not in another. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all need a SWOT analysis to keep us humble.
S-W-O-T stands for: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique used to help a person or organization identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to business competition or project planning.
We all need to take stock of what we’re good at and what we’re not so that we know how to serve the church, and how to encourage someone else to step in where they are gifted. If you recognize that someone is gifted, instead of maybe feeling jealous, encourage them to use that gift.
I was talking with our librarian the other day, and she mentioned how she had several mentors in her life that helped her get to where she is in life. We need someone who recognizes our strengths and encourages us to use them.
This librarian and I also got on the subject of her church being without a song leader. Their pastor tries, but he’s not a song leader. Neither am I. I wish Tina could hear what it’s like when she’s gone. It’s not good.
Where would we be without a song leader? Where would I be without a church secretary? Where would we be without a missions team? And what would our lawn look like without a house and grounds? We all have a part to play in serving God and serving this church family.
Romans 12, verses 4 through 6 say, “4 For 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, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. ”
Now if we were to go to 1 Corinthians 12, also verses 4 through 6, Paul says something similar:
“4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
So, in verse 3, Paul says we shouldn’t brag. In verses 4-6 he tells us why. Because if we were to be honest, we really can’t brag. Not only do we not have all the gifts; but if it weren’t for God giving us whatever gifts we have, we wouldn’t have them at all. Whatever we’re good at, we have God to thank for it. It’s pretty audacious of us to sit in church in the presence of God and brag…about anything. If we don’t recognize God’s grace all over our lives in every area, there’s something wrong with us.
James Packer said: “We have not formed the habit of defining gifts in terms of Christ, the head of the body, and his present work from heaven in our midst. In this we are unscriptural.”
In Ephesians 4:7 we read: “7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
In other words, “If what you have is a gift from God, why do you boast in it as if it were your own accomplishment? There is no reason for pride.”
Keep Believing Ministries said: “Spiritual gifts are God-given, which is why Ephesians 4:7 says you “receive” your spiritual gift. You don’t earn it or apply for it. A spiritual gift is an ability, which means it qualifies you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”
1 Peter 4:11 “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.”
And so why does God give us these gifts? Is it about competition to see who’s the best? “I’m better at this because God felt I deserved it because I’m more spiritual or more holy.” Is it because God wants us to compete with other churches? Is it because he favors the Baptists over the Methodists or this Baptist church over the other one?
Well, maybe competition is good ‘out there’ in the world. But not in here. Not in the church. We’re all of the same body. Each church is a part of the same body. We’re all supposed to work together. I don’t think that the town should have one giant church, I think that it’s good for churches to split into smaller entities. But over time, these entities and denominations began to compete with each other.
I think that because there is a need for some type of competition in the business world; and because the speedway up the hill profits from people competing with each other; and because we go home after church and watch football teams compete with each other, we seem prone to think that every area of life is about competing with each other.
But if we go back to Romans 12, verse 5, Paul says, ”5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
In 1 Corinthians 12, beginning with verse 21: 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
In other words, Paul is going back to the idea that there should be no competition in church. Why? Because God made us all interdependent upon each other. God made us in such a way that if we were truly honest, we cannot brag. About anything. God gets the glory for everything.
Paul goes on the rest of verses 6-8 giving us examples of some of the various gifts that God gives. And I kind of thought of skipping over it because it’s not an all-inclusive list, it’s where Paul brings his illustration of the body together to make his point.
But I want to look at, not the gifts, but notice how he wants us to use them–– If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Now, I don’t want to get bogged down and be legalistic with the exact wording he used here, but notice that he wants us to have an attitude of not “just doing what God wants.” He’s saying that we should serve with the right attitude.
In the beginning, Paul tells us what kind of attitude we shouldn’t have––which is to think of ourselves more highly than we should. We shouldn’t be haughty or proud or arrogant. Here, Paul is saying that our attitudes should be not only humble, but they should be with gladness and joy.
I know, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes, we don’t want to serve with joy. Sometimes, we don’t want to serve at all. Sometimes we just don’t want to get up and do one more thing. I remember when it was my turn to do the services at the nursing homes. There were times when I felt like, “Okay, this will be fun.” And then there were other times when it was like, “Okay. Let’s just get this over with.”
But I served with a smile on my face and mustered up kindness and cheer even when I didn’t know if anyone actually heard a word I said or remembered it five minutes after I left.
Sometimes attitudes have to be worked up consciously. Sometimes they don’t come naturally. That’s why Paul has to remind us to not only use our gifts but how our attitude is when we serve is probably more important than how great the gifting is. Going back to the nursing homes again, there was a gentleman who played the piano at the Montour Falls home. I can’t remember his name, but I remember how kind he was and that he always had a smile on his face, and he always loved playing.
Was he good at playing? He probably was a few years ago. I think it got harder for him to play as he aged. He probably couldn’t see the music as well, and he certainly couldn’t hear me sing with him because there was no microphone and I certainly wasn’t going to sing any louder.
So why do I remember him? Because he was such a pleasure. He was such a blessing. And he was so glad to have the opportunity. He served cheerfully. Sometimes your cheer and diligence and generosity mean more to the people you serve than how great your ability is.
Paul told the Philippians: “14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.”
Colossians 3:23 says, “23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”
And going back to Philippians again, Paul said: “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Conclusion: As we close today, I’d like to ask you to search your hearts. I know we have practically everyone here serving this church in one way or another. But in what way could you either serve here more or serve outside this church?
What gift do you have that could bless or join and strengthen the greater Body of Christ outside this church body? I think of when Mary volunteers at the food pantry in Montour Falls; or when the kids put together the backpacks for other children in the school district; or when Rachel and Mary and the girl scout troop (that meets in this church) make kids’ hats and baby hats for the Chemung Arctic League and BirthRight. Now let me see if I get this straight. Right now, you’re making adult hats for Christmas presents for shut-in people in VanEtten and Spencer. Plus you’re giving them a free hot Christmas dinner. Last year you delivered 96 dinners, hats, blankets, and Christmas cards.
See, there are plenty of ways in which you can be a blessing and a shining light in our darkened world. It doesn’t have to be an evangelical ministry. It can be a practical ministry. Again, not everyone is gifted in evangelism, not everyone is gifted in teaching or preaching. But everyone here is gifted in something. Maybe it’s being a helping hand and joining Rachel and Mary. What are you gifted in that God is calling you to do?
In closing, I’d like to read what The Believers Bible Commentary wrote. It said that in Romans 12:3-5, “There is unity (one body), diversity (many), and interdependency (members of one another). Any gifts we have are not for selfish use or display but for the good of the body. No gift is self-sufficient and none is unnecessary. When we realize all this, we are thinking soberly.”
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the gifts that you have given us. Thank you that we do not all share the exact same gifts, but that we have diversity and an interdependency. I pray that we would use these gifts for your glory. Please help us to step out in boldness and faith to use them as you intended. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen