Our Relationships to God and Other Believers (preaching resource for 8/27/23 & 9/3/23, 13th & 14th Sundays after Pentecost)
This post exegetes Romans 12:1-16, providing context for the 8/27/23 and 9/3/23 RCL Epistles readings, drawing on "The Expositor’s Bible Commentary" and John Stott's "The Message of Romans."
|(from Wilton Congregational Church; Wilton, CT)
As in most of his epistles, the apostle Paul concludes the book of Romans with a list of duties (imperatives) that flow from the truths (indicatives) of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Paul's Christ-centered, gospel-shaped, grace-based approach to Christian ethics, doing flows from being, behavior flows from belief. And the behavior to which Paul turns in chapters 12 and 13 focuses on relationships—both with God and with people. By grace (and grace alone) we are rightly related to God in Christ by the Spirit, and in Christ we (also by grace) are rightly related to people. This right-relating involves the transformation that happens through the Holy Spirit as He works within us to conform us to Christ. As we have seen earlier in Romans, this transformation does not come from a law-based life of self effort.
Our relationship to God
Romans 12:1–2. Paul begins with a key word: ‘therefore.’ This is the fourth “therefore” in Romans. Romans 3:20 is the “therefore” of condemnation, Romans 5:1 of justification, and Romans 8:1 of assurance. Now in Romans 12:1, it is the “therefore” of our consecration (devotion) to God, which bears the fruit of right relationships with God and with people. Because the gospel is true for us (we are the beneficiaries of God’s mercies), our behavioral response is one of consecration to God, which is expressed in right living (right relating). God's grace (his mercies) is the spring and foundation of the consecration (commitment-devotion) to him of our whole being: body, mind and will.
1. Give God your body (1)
Before we trusted Christ, we used our body for sinful pleasures and purposes, but now that we belong to Him, we consecrate our body for His glory. The Christian’s body is God’s temple (1 Cor. 6:19–20) because the Spirit of God dwells within them (Rom. 8:9). It is our privilege to glorify and magnify Christ in our body (Phil. 1:20–21).
Just as Jesus Christ took on Himself a body in order to accomplish God’s will on earth, so we must yield our bodies to Christ that we might participate in the work He is doing in the world (including in our lives). We are to yield the members of our body as “instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13) for the Holy Spirit to use in the doing of God’s work. The Old Testament sacrifices were dead sacrifices, but we are to be living sacrifices.
There are two “living sacrifices” in the Bible and they help us understand what this means. The first is Isaac (Gen. 22); the second is our Lord Jesus Christ. Isaac willingly put himself on the altar and would have died in obedience to God’s will, but the Lord sent a ram to take his place. Isaac “died” just the same—he died to self and willingly yielded himself to the will of God. When he got off that altar, Isaac was a “living sacrifice” to the glory of God.
Of course, our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect illustration of a “living sacrifice,” because He actually died as a sacrifice, in obedience to His Father’s will. But He arose again. And today He is in heaven as a “living sacrifice,” bearing in His body the wounds of Calvary. He is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14–16) and our Advocate (1 John 2:1) before the throne of God.
The verb “present” in this verse means “present once and for all.” It commands a definite commitment of the body to the Lord, just as a bride and groom in their wedding service commit themselves to each other. It is this once-for-all commitment that determines what they do with their bodies. Paul gives us two reasons for this commitment: (1) it is the right response to all that God has done for us—“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God”; and (2) this commitment is “our reasonable service” or “our spiritual worship.” This means that every day is a worship experience when our body is yielded to the Lord.
2. Give God your mind (2a)
The world wants to control your mind, but God wants to transform it (see Eph. 4:17–24; Col. 3:1–11). This word transform is the same as transfigure in Matthew 17:2. It has come into our English language as the word “metamorphosis.” It describes a change from within. The world wants to change your mind, so it exerts pressure from without. But the Holy Spirit changes your mind by releasing power from within. God transforms our minds and makes us spiritually minded by using His Word.
3. Give God your will (2b)
Your mind controls your body, and your will controls your mind. Many people think they can control their will by “willpower,” but usually they fail. (This was the experience of a Christian seeking to live under the Law of Moses which Paul presents in Rom. 7:15–21). It is only when we yield the will to God that His power can take over and give us the willpower (and the ‘won’t’ power) that we need to be victorious Christians. Through the spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible Study, meditation, fasting, etc.) we surrender our wills to God, praying, as did Jesus, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
Our relationship to other believers
Romans 12:3–16. Paul was writing to Christians who were members of house churches in Rome. He described their relationship to each other in terms of the members of a body. The basic idea is that each believer is a living part of Christ’s one body, and each has a spiritual function to perform. Each believer has a gift (or gifts) to be used for the building up of the body and the perfecting of the other members of the body. In short, we belong to each other, we minister to each other, and we need each other. Paul addresses the essentials for spiritual ministry and growth in the body of Christ:
1. Honest evaluation (3)
Each Christian must know what his spiritual gifts are and what ministry (or ministries) they are to have in the local church. We should neither overrate our giftedness (boast of our gifts); nor should we undervalue them (belittle or deny what God has given to us). Both of these wrong attitudes come from a false pride—refusing to properly acknowledge God’s grace and give Him the credit. The gifts that we have came because of God’s grace. They must be accepted and exercised by faith. We were saved “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8–9), and we must live and serve “by grace through faith.” Since our gifts are from God, we cannot take credit for them. All we can do is accept them and use them to honor Him.
2. Faithful cooperation (4–8)
Each believer has a different gift (or gifts), and God has bestowed these gifts so the local body can grow in a balanced way. But each Christian must exercise their gift by faith. We may not see the result of our ministry, but the Lord sees it and He blesses. Note that “exhortation” (encouragement) is just as much a spiritual ministry as are preaching or teaching. Giving and showing mercy are also important gifts. To some people, God has given the ability to lead, or to administer the various functions of the church. Whatever gift we have must be dedicated to God, respected by all, and used for the good of the whole church.
3. Loving participation (9–16)
Here the emphasis is on the attitudes of those who exercise the spiritual gifts. It is possible to use a spiritual gift in an unspiritual way. Paul makes this same point in 1 Corinthians 13, the great “love chapter” of the New Testament. Love is the circulatory system of the spiritual body, which enables all the members to function in a healthy, harmonious way. This must be an honest love, not a hypocritical love (Rom. 12:9); and it must be humble, not proud (Rom. 12:10). “Honor one another” ("preferring one another," KJV) means treating others as more important than ourselves.
Serving Christ usually brings satanic opposition and days of discouragement. Paul admonished his readers to maintain their spiritual zeal because they were serving the Lord and not men. When life becomes difficult, the Christian cannot permit his zeal to grow cold. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
Finally, Paul reminded them that they must enter into the feelings of others. Christian fellowship is much more than a pat on the back and a handshake. It means sharing the burdens and the blessings of others so that we all grow together and glorify the Lord. If Christians cannot get along with one another, how can they ever face their enemies? A humble attitude and a willingness to share are the marks of a Christian who truly ministers to the body. Our Lord ministered to the common people, and they heard Him gladly (Mark 12:37). When a local church decides it wants only a certain class of people in its midst, it departs from the Christian ideal for ministry.