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.
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:
For the next six weeks, we are going to be studying two different texts. We will be looking at the 12th chapter of Romans and reading it alongside the book “I am a Church Member” by Thom Rainer. We will be doing so in an effort to help us better understand how we are all a part of the Body of Christ and how we can create the kind of church community that God calls us to be. It is a part of our congregational effort to be a community of love and celebration. We are looking to Paul’s wisdom and teachings to help us be better disciples of Christ.
When Paul is writing to the Romans, Paul is speaking to a church he has neither founded nor visited. He writes, not in response to their context but instead out of his own context. Paul is writing after having visited the church in Corinth in the hopes that his travels will take him to Rome soon. His writing from Corinth is significant in my mind because it helps us frame what he is thinking about. The church in Corinth is one that Paul founded but then returned to after it had numerous struggles with internal fighting. When Paul writes to the Romans it is hard to imagine he does not have the struggles of Corinth in his mind. In fact, we see some of the same echoes in Romans as we do in 1 Corinthians. It is in 1 Corinthians that we are told that each of us is a member of the body and like the eye, the ear, or the hand we all have important roles to play. Paul uses similar language in Romans 12 when he talks about the different gifts that we bring to the Body of Christ.
Sometimes translating the wisdom of scriptures across cultures can be hard. It is important to remember the context that Paul is writing in and to not bring all our 21st century American perspectives to the situation. We live in a society that believes in social mobility and a personal sense of identity. I am a pastor because I believe I am called to be a pastor. My brother is a lawyer because he believes that he is called to be a lawyer. While the jobs of our parents probably informed our decisions, they did not define them. While the social status of my parents was a benefit in becoming who I wanted to become it also did not dictate it. This was not always the case. It used to be that you largely took the job your parents had. If they were farmers, you were a farmer, if they were a miner, you worked the mines, and if they were a potter than you were a potter. We still see that in the legacy of last names such as Miller or Smith, a reminder that people were defined for generations by their profession.
When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he is in writing to a people who are defined by their roles in a way that we are not. People were largely born into their positions and given rights and privileges based on those roles. If you were lucky to be born a Roman citizen, you were better than those who were not citizens. If your position was considered an honorable one, you were treated with respect. If you held the job of a commoner than you were not given the same rights and respect. When Paul talks about gifts, in many ways he is challenging this notion. He is telling people something they have not always heard. He is saying that they are valuable. He is saying that all gifts, not just some gifts are worthy of honor and praise in the Body of Christ.
Do we hear that message enough today? We all have gifts and we are all valued. Each of us an important part of the Body of Christ. Too often I think that message gets lost. We focus our attention on only certainly gifts and value only certain people. We give credit to doctors but forget about the nurses that help them. We look at the heads of companies and laud them for their success but neglect the hard work of those who are employed by them. We celebrate people for being fast, smart, rich or beautiful, but not always for being sensitive, caring, accepting, or wise. Even in the church we fall into this trap. We can be really good at celebrating some gifts but forget about others. God needs people to preach and people to pray, people to speak and people to listen, people to cook and people to clean. We all have gifts and we are all valued.
What does that mean for us as members of the Body of Christ? It means that we need to use our gifts to do God’s work. Last week we talked about how each of us has been called by God. We all have been gifted in different ways and the Body of Christ will only function if we all use our gifts. When we hold back our talents then the church is limited in its actions and the Body will stumble. Sometimes the gifts we give can be as simple as showing up. Not all our gifts are glamorous or impressive, but they are all important.
What gifts do you have that God wants you to use as a part of the Body of Christ? If our church is to succeed in its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, then we all need to be using our gifts together. In “I am a Church Member,” Thom Rainer insists that we all need to be functioning church members. Membership in the church is not about privileges but instead about responsibilities. We have a responsibility to do our part in the Body of Christ. Membership in the church is not about what we get, but instead about what we are able to give. What Paul reminds us in Romans is that we all have something to give. Some of us have been gifted with the ability to preach, if so we need to preach. Some of us have been gifted with the ability to pray, if so we need to pray. Some of us have the gift of time, the gift of money, the gift of ideas, the gift of hard-work. Whatever gifts we have, we need to use them in order to build God’s kingdom. In order for the Body of Christ to work, we all need to be functioning members.
Questions to Ponder:
What does it mean to be a church member?
What responsibilities should be expected of church members?
What does our church do to celebrate the diverse gifts that we bring to the Body of Christ?
What could it do to celebrate those gifts?
How do you use your gifts as a member of the Body of Christ?
Pledge (taken from “I am a Church Member”):
I am a church member.
I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).