- Start with story of Kenny. He’s lost a business but had found a niche as Ross’s right-hand-man.
Romans 12:1-8. “Therefore …” it begins. Who’s familiar with this passage? Don’t raise your hands! But in preparing this, I thought, not much I can say about this, because everyone’s already familiar with it. People will already have heard a dozen sermons from Romans 12. What can I possibly add?
So – rhetorical question – I wonder – how many are familiar with this passage? If not, why not?! Because it’s a fundamental piece of Scripture, basic and practical in its guidance for earnest Christians. It’s one of those passages – you know, some passages in Scripture instruct and some tell stories. Some are inspiring. Some are beautiful for their expression, poetry and purity of thought. But some seminal passages are for putting on, like a garment. Ross mentioned a Scripture last week from Colossians 3, about clothing yourselves in certain qualities and virtues. This chapter from Romans is a clothing chapter. I have a number of clothing passages that have formed me and still shape me, as I put them on almost daily:
Philippians 4:6 would be one – “be anxious for nothing” – and I Thess 5:21 – “Prove all things and hold fast to that which is good”. Do you have these indispensable Scriptures clothing you daily? Phil 4:8 – “Whatever is true, lovely, pure, excellent, etc – think on these things.” John 6:68 is another one for me – fundamental to my mindset as an earnest Christian. And so on.
Romans 12:3 – which is part of our passage for today – is a clothing/garment passage for me – “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment”.
So if you’re not familiar with Romans 12 yet, I would ask, Why not? And if you are, I would ask, Are you sure? Because there are layers of truth and practice in there that deserve deep consideration.
A colleague told me during the week how, as a young man, he was having serious identity issues about who he was and where was he going. He said that, for what seemed like months, he read Romans 12 nearly every day – it was about the only thing that made sense to him at the time, and kept him grounded.
Paul wrote his letter to Romans somewhere in the late 50s – AD57, somewhere around there. He wrote it from Corinth, where ten years of missionary ministry were coming to an end, and he was thinking of moving into a new theatre of mission in western Europe – Spain to be exact. However, he had a deep longing to visit Rome on the way, for all sorts of reasons – he himself was proud of his Roman citizenship and wanted to visit the great city. But he’d heard of the growing church in Rome too.
Paul’s letter to Romans is different from all his other letters, in that he was not writing to a church that he himself had established. He didn’t know them at all, and he had no ‘context’ for writing this letter. He had close knowledge of all the other churches and personalities that he wrote to, and spent a good part of those letters addressing specific problems within the churches. Not so the church at Rome. This is his first formal contact with them, and he is at pains to spell out his theology of the Gospel, as he understands it, so they know what they’re getting before he arrives.
So the first eleven chapters – two thirds of the letter – is theological (and is the purist theological writing in the New Testament), giving us wonderful insight into God’s purpose in allowing His Son to endure the cross, for Jew and Gentile alike.
“Therefore …” [in finishing the background story the letter seems to have been written by a scribe named Tertius, at Paul’s dictation, and carried to Rome by one Phoebe. The church at Rome seems not to have been one concentrated fellowship. They met in house churches around the city, and, Rome being a huge place, the homegroups would have been scattered and may not have even known of each other. Phoebe would have visited different house churches and would have read – or had someone read – the letter to them.] Those of you who are familiar with the letter, have you imagined what it might have been like, sitting in a home group setting and listening to this weighty letter being read out? Imagine trying to take it all in, in one go! They didn’t have the luxury of mulling it over and teasing out every thought and nuance and Greek word like we can today. Having said that, in keeping this letter non-specific – very general – Paul might well have equally been writing to us at Fairfield Baptist, here today. We are the beneficiaries, so it’s entirely appropriate to read it, as if it was written to us!]
One issue in the Roman church that Paul was aware of was that there was a problematic mix of Jews and Gentiles – non-Jews. The Jewish Christians were inclined to want to hold on to their traditions, and were assertive enough – even arrogant – to be expecting the non-Jewish Christians to adopt some of their traditions too. So the theology in the first eleven chapters is laced with arguments against the need to become Jews: the Jews had lost favoured people status, Paul points out; that all Christians were “sons of Abraham”, not just the Jews; that the Jewish law was superseded, and not part of the Gospel, therefore redundant; circumcision was now of the heart, and not the flesh; salvation was for all who wanted it, and could be accessed by faith alone. Chapters 9-11 actually address the current state of the Jewish nation – how they are currently outside of God’s special favour, though they will be reinstated at some time in the future, when they come back to embrace the Gospel. For the time being though, there is nothing special about Jewdom: this is the time of the Gentiles: 11v25 says, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”.
So Paul powers to the end of Chap 11.
Now he changes tack completely. It’s as if he thinks he’s been theologising for long enough. Having just been talking about the Jew/Gentile situation, and the passing into redundancy of the Law, he says emphatically, “Therefore!” Chapter 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters …”
Ross has asked me to address the first eight verses this morning. The whole chapter is a clothing chapter, a garment, and bears learning by heart.
[Mention the students at Hamilton Christian School. Reinforce for the young people present.]
But I’m confining myself to the first eight verses. There are three easy groupings: v1&2, v 3, v4-8. I’m going to start looking at v4-8. I don’t want to be too predictable! It’s good to take a different perspective sometimes. Jackie (my wife) teaches art (amongst other things), and she’ll sometimes, in her teaching, have her students sit under their desks for a while, to force them to view the classroom – and the world – from an unusual viewing position.
So, let’s start at the end … And that’ll allow us to finish at the beginning!
Read v4-8: “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.”
See, Paul is teaching the Roman Christians – the Jews and the non-Jews – how to live and operate in fellowship. You can’t identify yourselves as Jews any more. The old structures, the old social framework of Jewdom are now irrelevant – and realise that the Jewish traditions were not just religious, they were strongly social as well – well, they’re gone. You are a new creation. Being Jewish doesn’t define you any more. You need to redefine how you’re going to operate, how you’re going to relate to one another, and here’s how. You are to operate like a body in which … [and he unpacks the concept.] [And I’m sure Paul would say the same to us today: “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.”]
So, here, Paul is spelling out how the church needs to operate, and how its members need to relate to each other. The seven “gifts” he gives as examples are representative. There are many others, and it is debatable whether Paul means supernatural gifts, or natural given talents and abilities. I think the latter. Most of the seven indicate that there’s nothing particularly mysterious intended – that we are all included, whatever our giftings, spectacular or modest. Serving, encouraging, giving, showing mercy – whatever is your inclination, says Paul, do it for all you’re worth, whole-heartedly, as unto the Lord, and in complementing each other’s various contributions. Emil Brunner comments on this passage: “Everyone is being allocated a sphere of influence. Notice what God has given you. Then you will also know [how and where to get involved].” [Mention a few people in the church who are playing out their roles. Mention KENNY again.]
So it’s pretty clear how Paul wants the Roman church to operate corporately. But, let’s shift attention: all the functions are to be carried out by individuals – the spectacularly talented and the modestly talented; the wise and the not so wise; the fit and the unfit; the healthy and the weak; the young and the old … so – what about me as an individual?
If I have a role within the body, how am I to think of myself? If my role is invisible – nobody even sees what I’m doing – how am I to think of myself?
Ok, back up to v3: “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.”
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but” don’t think of yourself more lowly than you ought either. Develop a reasonable estimate of your own worth. Don’t be jealous of others. Don’t even compare yourself with others. Comparison with others – unless for the sake of learning and growth – stifles contentment and thankfulness. Even in your role, your contribution, (like that list of giftings we were looking at a moment ago) – don’t wish you were like anyone else. You’re not meant to be!
Our esteem is not in what we do or what we achieve or how important or unimportant our contribution is. Our esteem is totally independent of these things. Our esteem is rather based on these four reasons: 1. You were made in God’s image (Gen 1:26). 2. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). 3. You are loved by God (numerous verses). And 4. You are now being transformed … into a man or woman “after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). What else do we need?
This is crucial stuff, for an earnest Christian: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, nor more lowly, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.
And, lastly, the first verse! Verses 1 and 2 of Romans Chapter 12. “Therefore …!” “Therefore is the hinge! It’s the springboard to the rest of the letter. Because you are part of a new paradigm … and because you don’t need to think of yourselves as Jews and Gentiles any more – you’re a Gospel fellowship. Because of that, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
This is the pivotal message the Christians in Rome heard, gathered together in their house churches to hear the words of the famous missionary, perhaps from the voice of Phoebe, “Present your bodies” – yes, all of you, bodily, humanly, everything you do with your bodies – your work, your lives, your everyday living and interacting and relating – within the church and outside the church – “Offer your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” True and proper worship is how you offer your whole lives, not just the songs you sing on Sunday. William Barclay says, “Every common deed an act of worship.”
Then, Paul goes on, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world”. Do not conform to the pattern of this world. (A third time? Do not conform to the pattern of this world!!) (“Whatsoever is true and lovely and pure and … think on these things! Remember?)
Who of us is conforming to the pattern of this world? We should be non-conformists!
Professor EM Blaiklock wrote his version like this: “Cease trying to adapt yourself to the age we live in, …”
“But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Your mind now, notice. It was about your bodies a moment ago. But transformation occurs in your mind. Not only to aid you in having a sober estimate of who you are in Christ; not only to equip you to play your role zealously within the body of Christ; but transforming your mind, allowing your mind to be transformed – it’s an “active partnership” with the Holy Spirit – is the antidote to being conformed to the patterns of the world. Multi-layered, as I said earlier.
Kenny was a non-conformist. It had cost him. But … now he was transforming his mind!
“Then you will be able to test”, Paul says, “and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Want to know what God’s will is? Here are the secrets in Romans 12 – surely a garment passage for us all. Clothe yourselves with this Romans 12. Go home and memorise it. The whole chapter. The Christian life is not just a nice theory from Ro 1-11. It needs to be lived out, practically, day by day. Pastor Ross said here a few weeks ago, “Following Jesus is not just something we do in our heads!” Yes, the transforming begins in our mind, but … it has an outworking in our individual lives, and in the wider fellowship. This Romans 12, if we let it, can shape our attitudes and our practical functioning … as practical functioning Christians. If we let it.
Let’s finish with the full caboodle. Resolve to ‘put this on’. [Phoebe reads this out.]
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
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 …….