In continuing my series of sermons on Romans 12, I got ambitious on Sunday, and instead of preaching on one verse a week, I covered six!
We’ve seen in earlier posts that in verse one Paul exhorts his readers to become living sacrifices, for that is the logical act of worship which flows out of all that Christ has done for them. Last week, we looked at the fact that we are to stop being conformed to the world, fitting with the world’s way of doing things, and be transformed, changed in our very essence and nature. This transformation comes by the renewing of our mind for the purpose of enabling us to know, approve, and act on God’s will for us.
This week, in verses 3-8, we see a particular aspect of mind renewal, one particular way in which our thinking needs to “get sorted”. We need to get a proper self-view in relation to other believers. Our text, from the beginning of the chapter:
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Some commentators view verse three as being more closely connected with verses one and two, or as a distinct unit by itself. I chose to preach it as part of a unit with the following five verses, because there appeared to me a unifying theme and interrelation between these six verses. They deal with the fact that having a renewed mind involves thinking rightly about ourselves in relation to other believers in the church.
Right Thinking about Pride
Verse three could be summed up simply with the words, “Don’t be proud.” Paul is having some fun with the Roman believers here, punning and punning again on the Greek word phroneo, to think. The word which means “think more highly” is phroneo preceded by the preposition huper/hyper thus, hyperphroneo which (for fun rather than accuracy) I’m calling “Hyper-think”, even though it means “to be proud”, so that you can follow Paul’s Greek pun here.
The word translated “soberly”, also drawn from phroneo, is sophroneo, to be in your right mind. For fun, and somewhat more accurately than my other “translation”, I’ll call it “sane-thinking”. So Paul is saying, “Don’t be thinking hyper-thinking, but be thinking sane-thinking.” In effect, if you are thinking hyper-thinking (proudly), you aren’t thinking sanely. It is as if Paul is teasing his readers here, using a fun way to say, “You do realise that pride is a form of insanity, don’t you?”
On either side of this play on words we have the English words, “every man”, though the Greek words are different. The first emphasises that Paul is talking to the whole church, “all of you”, while the second emphasises that he is referring to each one individually. It is as if he said, “I’m telling all of you, don’t be proud. That’s actually somewhat insane, because God has measured out faith to each and every one of you.”
Paul is telling us to stop thinking we are so special. You aren’t any different from any other believer. God has measured out faith to you, just like He has to all the others. You ARE special, because God has measured out faith to you. By God’s grace, we have been given a special non-specialness. 🙂 (If that’s not a word, it should be.) There’s no room for hyper-thinking, for pride. The thing that makes us special is God’s gift, so even our specialness banishes pride. Pride is the opposite of faith; it is in practice a rejection of faith.
Right Thinking about Other Believers
Now we come to verses four and five. Paul has already begun his “cure” of proud hyper-thinking by turning our attention, at the end of verse three, to the existence of other believers. In these verses, he begins to elaborate on right thinking about other believers in the church.
Though we are not explicitly told where Paul was when he wrote the epistle to the Romans, various clues make it almost certain that he was in Corinth. It is not surprising, then, that in verses four and five he uses the same illustration which he had used earlier in his first epistle to the Corinthians (chapter twelve), where the church is described as a body with different members.
We are provided with two antidotes to pride, the diversity of the church, and its unity. The diversity is clear in that there are many members with different “offices”. It would be a mistake to view this as “official positions” in the church. The Greek word is praxis, which means “doing” or “work”. We all have different roles to play, different jobs to do. Remembering this helps to keep us humble, because the church is dependent on the faithfulness of all to be practicing their praxis, doing their own job. If any members neglect their role, the church suffers.
The second antidote to pride, the unity of the church, is emphasised in three ways.
- We are all members of the same body — we have the same spiritual DNA. As we think rightly about being in the same body with other believers, that we share salvation and the same spiritual Father, we are protected against pride by remembering that spiritually, there is no essential difference between us and anyone else.
- We are all members of the same body in Christ. We have been united with Christ. This is both an exaltation and a humbling, and that same exaltation and humbling belongs to all of our brothers and sisters, too. We are reminded to see them (and ourselves) in relation to Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Here, our attention turns from these other believers to the One who has united us with them.
- We are members of one another. At this point, on Sunday, I said, “Here comes the bad news. I’m part of you.” We are so interrelated with each other in the church that we become spiritually part of each other. We love one another, help one another, hurt for one another, pray for one another. We all become part of each other’s lives when the church is functioning as it should.
If we are thinking rightly about our position, or role, in the body of Christ, about what that means about our relationship to other believers, about what it means about our relationship to Christ Himself, that helps to cure the insanity of pride.
Right Actions Flowing from Right Thinking
In verses 6-8, Paul moves on to discussing actual service. In the prior verses, he pointed out our unity, and that all serve in the same cause, though serving differently. He goes on to describe some of the various ways in which people serve, calling them “gifts”. We tend to think about “gifts” as something we receive, and they are, but if we look at these gifts we see that they are not the way we tend to think of gifts.
These gifts are about service. Every single one of them is focused on serving others, and serving God by serving others. These spiritual gifts are not self-focused — the work of the Spirit is always towards unity, love, and service, rather than self-focus. If you have God’s mind about a gift He has given you, you will be thinking of how you can use it to worship Him by serving.
There are several listings of spiritual gifts in Scripture, and none are identical. This is not a complete listing, because that is not Paul’s purpose in this passage. He is not trying to write a theological textbook on spiritual gifts. He is telling the believers in Rome to “get serving.” God has given you a gift, so use it to serve, and to serve in a way that has an eye towards the benefit of others. This is putting that right thinking into practice. As we properly understand our role as members of the body of Christ, we should act on that understanding by serving. It is our reasonable worship as living sacrifices unto God.
The Circle of Renewal
As I thought on this passage, something clicked in my mind. Service rightly done is an antidote to pride. If I am serving in a right spirit, I am thinking of others, and what is best for them, rather than thinking of exalting myself. Service in pride is no service, and service in humility is, well, humbling.
There is a circle in these verses. When we reject pride (verse 3), it helps us to properly understand our relationship to other believers (verses 4-5). As we properly understand our relationship to other believers, it helps us to serve in a right spirit (verses 6-8). As we serve in a right spirit, we are practicing humility, and that helps us to sane-think rather than hyper-think 🙂 (verse 3) — which helps us to understand our relationship to other believers (4-5), which helps us to serve rightly (6-8), etc, etc.
It is not really a circle, it is a spiral. As we go around this spiral staircase, we are moving up, higher and higher. The more we reject the insanity of pride and put it into practice in our thinking and service towards other believers, the more our minds are renewed. We are being transformed in an ongoing process, so that we can truly be living sacrifices as we live out our reasonable worship, holy and acceptable to God.