I Am a Grateful Church Member

Romans 12

Living sacrifice and transformed lives

12 So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.

Transformed relationships

3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.

9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.

18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

Many of you may have heard about the Five Love Languages, an idea that has been popularized in books by Dr. Chaman. The basic concept is that we all express and want to receive love in different forms: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. I wonder if the same concept can be extended to the idea of expressing gratitude. Like love, we all express gratitude in different ways.

While I don’t have fancy clinical terms for them, I think it is possible to think of different ways we express gratitude, many of which are similar to how we express love. One way we do it is by giving gifts. Whether it is flowers, chocolates, or something home-baked, we often say thank you with physical gifts. Another way we do it is with formal statements and declaration, likes thank you notes. Yet another way to express gratitude is through our actions, like when we wear that sweater our grandmother gave us. There are probably more ways than this to show our gratitude but these are a few of them. The reality is that we all have different ways we express thanks and we like to receive thanks. Some of us are good at writing thank you notes but do not demonstrate our gratitude in other ways. When it comes to gifts from my family, I am better at showing my gratitude by using the gift and less likely to write a thank you note. I am probably also not the only person who has tried to pay off some debt to my spouse with chocolate. We all try and express our gratitude in different ways.

In the book, “I Am a Church Member,” Thom Rainer talks about how we need to see our church membership as a gift. We should be grateful for what the membership represents. Church membership, after all is an opportunity to be a part of the body of Christ. It comes to us because of the sacrifice that was made by Christ on our behalf and the invitation that was given to us all to be members of the household of God. It is not a right that exists for us, nor is it something that is earned. It is a gift that is given to us from God and something we should be grateful for.

How do we show our thanks to God? Like these other scenarios I have mentioned, I think we do it in different ways. One way that we show our thanks is through our financial gifts to the church. There are a lot of things that go into why we give to a church. Part of why we give is the needs of the organization. We give because we have a leaky roof that needs to be fixed or a sewer pipe that needs to be repaired. We give because we believe in the mission of the organization, such as helping in disasters, teaching children and youth about God, or reaching out to the community. We also give to the church in response to the gift that God has given to us. We give because the greatest gift of all has already been given to us. Here the gift is not about what we hope is done with our money, but what has already been done for us and we are just trying to find a way to say thank you to God.

Another way that we give is through our time and energy. Just as our financial gifts represent a sacrifice of our money, giving of our time is another way that we demonstrate our appreciation for what God has done. When we give of our time, we are often doing it as a way of passing on the gift to others. We have experienced God’s love and grace in our life and through our mission and ministry we hope to share that love with others.

Finally, we show our gratitude with our words. We do it when we pray and give thanks to God, whether it is for things as simple as our daily bread, the gift of healing, or the beauty of creation, our prayers can reflect our thankfulness for all that God has done. We show our gratitude not in just how we speak to God, but also how we speak to others. Our words are a reflection of our heart. If we are not thankful with our words, what does that say about our heart. Do our words to others reflect the humbleness with which we receive the gifts God has given us.

I am a fan of the show “The Big Bang Theory.” In the show, one of the characters, Sheldon, repeatedly expresses his disdain for gift giving. Any time he receives a gift he feels that it places him in debt to the other person. He feels an obsessive need to give a gift of exactly equal value, going so far at one point as to try and make change with the person he is giving a gift to. Sheldon does not understand gift giving. Gifts are not given to create a sense of obligation nor should they be given that way. In the same way our gratitude comes not out of a sense of requirement but out of a feeling of gratefulness on our part, because we recognize the unmerited nature of the gift.

In his final chapter, Rainer makes a point to highlight that seeing church membership as a gift changes our perspective. No matter how we may feel about it on our birthday, we are not entitled to gifts. Gifts are something that are freely given, without a sense of expectation. If we see church membership that way it can help change our perspective. Membership is not something we earn by taking a class or deserve because we give to the church. It is a gift, that is given to us by God. It is offered to us, not because we deserve it, but because God love us and wants us to have it. If we see our membership in the church, in the Body of Christ, like this, it changes our whole perspective on things.

When we see our membership this way, then the changed relationships that Paul talks about in Romans become much more clear. Now, it is a lot easier to not “think more highly of yourself than your ought.” It also becomes easier to give “with no strings attached.” Have you ever gotten a gift with strings attached? Often it can lessen the value of the gift because suddenly you are not free to do whatever you like with it. If I were to give my wife a trip for two to a weekend spa, but then say she had to take my mother, would it really be as a great a gift as if I just gave her a weekend for two at the spa and let her take whomever she wanted? Maybe she wants to go with my mother, but maybe she wants to take someone else. Not only that, but when we attach strings to our gifts, it is usually because we are hoping for something in the giving of the gift. When a rich alumnus gives to their college with the condition that a building be named after them, suddenly the gift is not just about honoring the college, but a desire by the giver to be honored as well. On the other hand, if they gave the gift without condition, the college would be in the position of naming the building in their honor and it would be a great way of the college to express appreciation. The context changes everything.

We have been given a great gift by God. God has come to earth, and become so humble not just to live like us, but to die like us, that we might know the breadth and depth of God’s love for us. This is the greatest gift of all and it is truly that, a gift, offered without price. There was not a precondition for Christ’s coming or upfront cost we had to pay. Even those undeserving of the gift are offered it, which is good, because none of us can ever earn it. Now, the question is what are we going to do with this gift we have received. What are we going to do as members of the body of Christ to express our thanks to God for what has been offered to us?

 

Questions to Ponder:

When is a time you were given a gift that had strings attached and how did that feel?

Who is someone you know who is great at expressing their gratitude and what can you learn from them?

What are the ways you like to express thanks and to receive thanks?

Who is someone you are grateful too but have not found a way to express it?

Sixth Pledge (taken from “I Am a Church Member”):

I am a church member.

This membership is a gift. When I received the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, I became a part of the body of Christ. I soon thereafter identified with a local body and was baptized. And now I am humbled and honored to serve and to love others in our church. I pray that I will never take my membership for granted, but see it as a gift and an opportunity to serve others and to be a part of something so much greater than any one person or member.