1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2 ESV
Paul transitions from doctrine to application. The ‘therefore’ is a conclusion of chapters 1-11. He has laid out the gospel for us – justification, sanctification, doctrines of grace in election, perseverance and God’s providential care.
In light of God’s tender mercies…
1. We are justified by faith
2. Our sins are forgiven by the atonement of Christ
3. God works all things together for our good
4. God calls people to him
…Paul pleads for the mercy of God. After all the wonderful doctrine presented, Paul educates us to bring a thankful offering for all that God has provided.
So many times people associate sacrificial giving as giving something up of great value. But if we look back in the new testament, the offerings were to worship and adore God. The primary point is not that we lose something but that we should express something.
The whole practice of giving to God is an express of worship, not because he needs anything or that he wants to limit what we have.
Paul instructs us that we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. Not an animal, vegetable or grain offering, but our bodies. People tend to think of worship as spiritual rather than physical, so we might wonder why Paul asks us to present our bodies, and not our soul.
Paul is writing about the whole person. God wants us to give ourselves to him. In the ultimate example, Jesus gave his whole self for us. He could have easily just given his spirit, but he came a sacrificed through 30+ years enduring this world (we know that is not an easy feat) but he also died a physical death, not just a spiritual one, but a physical one. He gave himself to redeem us, we give ourselves to thank and serve him.
The other challenge many believers are challenged with is when to offer our lives as a sacrifice? It is not just on Sunday mornings, but all the time. From the time we accept Jesus as our savior, each day, worshiping and serving him for all he has done for us. It should be an offering of our whole self for our whole life.
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. 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. 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. – Romans 12:3-8 ESV
Healthy self-esteem is important because some of us think too little of ourselves. We may have been told much of our life how bad we are, or how we will never amount to anything. Then we take those views and we allow them to become our identity. But on the other hand, some of us overestimate ourselves. The key to honest and accurate evaluation is knowing the basis of our self-worth, which is our identity in Christ. Apart from him we are not capable of very much by eternal standards; in him we are valuable and capable of worthy service. Evaluating yourself by worldly standards of success and achievement can cause you to think too much about your worth in the eyes of others and thus miss your true value in God’s eyes.
Have you ever had a time in your life when you challenged with self-worth? What were some of the core thoughts that caused the problems? How have you reestablished your value system? Or have you?
Paul’s reference to the human body for describing community is a classic. We can all understand how different parts of our body have different tasks and purposes. But it is really challenging to compare ourselves to others and try to justify our worth. Paul uses this analogy to teach us how to live and work together. Just as parts of the body function under the direction of the brain, so Christians are to work together under the command and authority of Jesus Christ.
Paul uses the analogy of the body in another great letter he wrote to the people of Corinth:
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 ESV
We have all, most likely, been put in situations where we or others were asked to do things that just did not work out well. Maybe asked to serve in childcare; maybe asked to wash the dishes after a potluck meal. Maybe asked to pray in front of people we are uncomfortable with. But there are also those times when we have to acknowledge that if we were not asked and stretched to do uncomfortable things, we would not have matured and grown.
Can you describe a time when you were asked to do something that was out of character for you? Something that was not what you thought was “your calling”, but it turned out for good?
What is your viewpoint of asking people to do things that are not initially deemed reasonable? Do you have examples where this situation was beneficial? Do you have examples where it was destructive?
- Realize that all gifts and abilities come from God.
- Understand that not everyone has the same gifts.
- Know who we are and what we do best.
- Dedicate our gifts to God’s service and not to our personal success.
- Be willing to utilize our gifts wholeheartedly, not holding back anything from God’s service.
We must realize that we cannot and should not relate our gifts and talents to our faith. Just because someone can do something better than you does not mean they have more faith than you or God does not love you as much as them.
God’s gifts differ in nature, power and effectiveness according to his wisdom and graciousness. In verse 3 we have to note that “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”. Have you ever realized that God gives you enough faith? He has assigned you just what you need. A great parable used by Jesus is the parable of the mustard seed. It is right after the disciples have failed at driving out a false spirit. Jesus comes up and heals the woman and the disciples ask why they could not drive out the spirit. Then Jesus leaves them with a hard fact to grasp:
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. – Matthew 17:19-20 NASB
Did you notice how they could increase their faith to be able to drive out the evil spirit?
The idea is not that you don’t have enough faith. He provides you with the ability to have enough faith, you just have to believe and exercise your trust and confidence. We cannot, by our own effort or willpower, drum up more faith and thus be more effective teachers or servants. These are God’s gifts to his church and he gives faith and power as he wills. Our role is to be faithful and to seek ways to serve others with what Christ has given us.
In verses 6-8 Paul goes on to encourage people to give what they got. Look at the list of gifts and imagine the kinds of people who would have such gifts. Prophets are often bold and articulate. Servers are faithful and loyal. Teachers are clear thinkers. Encouragers know how to motivate people. Givers are generous and trusting. Leaders are good organizers and managers. Those who show mercy are caring people who are happy to give their time to others. It would be difficult for one person to embody all these gifts. When you identify your own gifts, ask how you can use them to build up God’s family. At the same time, realize that your gifts can’t do the work of the church all alone. Be thankful for people whose gifts are completely different from yours. Let your strengths balance their weaknesses, and be grateful that their abilities make up for your deficiencies. Working together we can build God’s church.