Serve

 

Week of September 18, 2011

 

Bible Verses:Romans 12:3-16.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about how mature Christians function in the body of Christ.

 

Serve in the Body:Romans 12:3-5.

 

[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.

 

[3-5]The link between Paulís general appeal [1-2] and his particular instruction which now follows [3-8] seems to be the place of the mind in Christian discipleship. Our renewed mind, which is capable of discerning and approving Godís will, must also be active in evaluating ourselves, our identity and our gifts. For we need to know who we are, and to have an accurate, balanced and above all sober self-image. A renewed mind is a humble mind like Christís. The formula Paul uses to introduce his exhortation to sober Christian thinking is impressively solemn: by the grace given to me I say to everyone. Paul is addressing his Roman readers with the self-conscious authority of Christís apostle. For the grace given him, which qualifies him to write as he does, must refer to his appointment as an apostle which he regularly attributed to Godís grace. The repetition of the verb think makes the emphasis unmistakable. In thinking about ourselves we must avoid both too high an estimate of ourselves and too low an estimate. Instead, and positively, we are to develop a sober judgment. How? First by reference to our faith, and secondly by reference to our gifts. Concerning the meaning of the measure of faith, the main question is whether measure means here an instrument for measuring or a measured quantity of something. If the latter is correct, the thought would be that God gives a varying amount of faith to different Christians, and, being a divine apportionment, this will keep us humble. However, if measure means a standard by which to measure ourselves, then this is the same for all Christians, namely saving faith in Christ crucified or the gospel of the cross. Indeed only Christ Himself in whom Godís judgment and mercy are revealed can enable us to measure ourselves soberly. If Godís gospel is the first measure by which we should evaluate ourselves, the second is Godís gifts. In order to enforce this, Paul draws an analogy between the human body and the Christian community. As one body, each member belongs to all the others. That is, we are dependent on one another, and the one-anotherness of the Christian fellowship is enhanced by the diversity of our gifts. This metaphor of the human body, which Paul develops in different ways in different letters, enables him here to hold together the unity of the church, the plurality of the members and the variety of their gifts. The recognition that God is the giver of the gifts is indispensable if we are to form a sober estimate of ourselves.

 

Serve Through Giftedness:Romans 12:6-8.

 

[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.[ESV]

 

[6-8]We have different gifts, Paul continues, according to the grace given to us. Just as Godís grace had made Paul an apostle [3], so His grace bestows different gifts on other members of Christís body. Paul proceeds to give his readers a sample of seven gifts, which he urges them to exercise conscientiously for the common good. He divides them into two categories, which might be called speaking gifts (prophesying, teaching and encouraging) and service gifts (serving, contribution, leading and showing mercy). The first gift Paul mentions here is prophecy, that is, speaking under divine inspiration. In Ephesians 2:20 apostles and prophets are bracketed as the foundation on which the church is built. In this Ephesiansí verse prophets are likely to be the biblical prophets, including those New Testament authors who were prophets as well as apostles, such as Paul and John. In two other lists of gifts [1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11], however, prophets are placed in a secondary position to the apostles, suggesting that there was a lesser prophetic gift, subsidiary to that of the biblical prophets. Words spoken by such prophets were to be weighed and tested [1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:19ff; 1 John 4:1], whereas the apostles were to be believed and obeyed, and no sifting process was deemed appropriate or necessary in their case. Another difference seems to have been that prophets spoke to a local situation, whereas the authority of the apostles was universal. The point of distinction was that the inspiration of the apostles was abiding, whereas the inspiration of the prophets was occasional and transient. It is in the light of these differences that we should understand the regulation which Paul here places on the exercise of the prophetic gift: in proportion to our faith. Some think that this is a subjective restriction, namely that the prophet should speak only so long as he is sure of his inspiration; he must not add any words of his own. But it is more likely to be an objective restriction. In this case we should note that faith has the definite article in the Greek, and we should translate the phrase Ďin agreement with the faithí. That is, the prophet is to make sure that his message does not in any way contradict the Christian faith. The remaining six gifts are more ordinary. Serving is the generic word for a wide variety of ministries. So whatever ministry gift people have been given, they should concentrate on using it. Similarly, teachers should cultivate their teaching gift and develop their teaching ministry. This is arguably the most urgently needed gift in the worldwide church today, as hundreds of thousands of converts are pressing into the churches, but there are few teachers to nurture them in the faith. Four more gifts are included in verse 8. The word translated exhorts is a verb with a wide spectrum of meanings, ranging from encouraging and exhorting to comforting, conciliating or consoling. This gift may be exercised from a pulpit or platform, or through writing, but more often it is used behind the scenes in encouraging someone, or in offering friendship to the lonely and giving fresh courage to those who have lost heart. Next, personal giving is to be done in generosity or without grudging, with sincerity, without ulterior motives. To show mercy is to care for anybody who is in need or in distress. Moreover, mercy is not to be shown reluctantly or patronizingly, but cheerfully.

 

Serve with Godly Attitudes:Romans 12:9-16.

 

[9]Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. [10]Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. [11]Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. [12]Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. [13]Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. [14]Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. [15]Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. [16]Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.[ESV]

 

[9-16]So far in Romans all references to agape have been to the love of God Ė demonstrated on the cross [5:8], poured into our hearts [5:5] and doggedly refusing to let us go [8:35,39]. But now Paul focuses on agape as the essence of Christian discipleship. Romans 12-15 are a sustained exhortation to let love govern and shape all our relationships. Soon Paul will write about love for our enemies [12:17-21], but first he portrays it pervading the Christian community [12:9-16]. This is clear from his use of the words one another (three times in verses 10 and 16), brotherly affection [10] and the saints [13]. Paulís recipe for love seems to have twelve components. (1) Sincerity. Love must be sincere or genuine. The word translated genuine means without hypocrisy. In Greek times, the hypocrite was a play actor. But the church must not turn itself into a stage. For love is not theatre; it belongs to the real world. Indeed love and hypocrisy exclude one another. (2) Discernment. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. It may seem strange that the exhortation to love is followed immediately by a command to hate. But we should not be surprised. For love is not the blind sentiment it is traditionally said to be. On the contrary, it is discerning. It is so passionately devoted to the beloved object that it hates every evil which is incompatible with his or her highest welfare. Loveís hatred of evil expresses an aversion, an abhorrence, while loveís clinging to what is good expresses a sticking or bonding as if with glue. (3) Affection.Love one another with brotherly affection. Brotherly affection originally applied to blood relationships in the human family, but Paul reapplies them to the tender, warm affection which should unite the members of the family of God. (4) Honor. Outdo one another in showing honor. This is the second one another exhortation in the same verse. Love in the Christian family is to express itself in mutual honor as well as in mutual affection. We are to accord to each other the highest possible honor. (5) Enthusiasm. Do not be slothful in zeal. Religious enthusiasm is often despised as fanatical. But Paul has something different in mind when he bids the Romans not to be lazy in zeal, for zeal is fine so long as it is according to knowledge [10:2]. In telling the Romans to be fervent in spirit, Paul is almost certainly referring to the Holy Spirit and not to the human spirit, in light of the parallel to Lord in the following clause. The additional clause (serve the Lord) may well be meant as a control or check in what might otherwise be interpreted as an invitation to unbridled enthusiasm. Practical commitment to the Lord Jesus, as slave to master, will keep zeal rooted in reality. (6) Patience. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. At the heart of this triplet is the reference to hope, namely our confident Christian expectation of the Lordís return and the glory to follow. It is to us the source of abiding joy. But it also calls for patience, as meanwhile we endure tribulation and persevere in prayer. (7) Generosity. Contribute to the needs of the saints. The verb Ďshareí or Ďcontributeí can mean either to share in peopleís needs and sufferings, or to share our resources with them. One is reminded of the fellowship in the early Jerusalem church, whose chief expression was that its members had everything in common in the sense that they shared their possessions with those more needy than themselves. (8) Hospitality. Seek to show hospitality. If generosity is shown to the needy, hospitality is shown to visitors. Hospitality was especially important in those days, since inns were few and far between, and those that existed were often unsafe or unsavory places. It was essential, therefore, for Christian people to open their homes to travelers, and in particular for local church leaders to do so. In fact, Paul did not urge the Romans to practice hospitality, but rather to seek it. (9) Good will. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Although our persecutors are outside the Christian community, and this verse anticipates verses 17-21, yet the call to bless them is a necessary challenge to Christian love. Blessing and cursing are opposites, wishing people respectively good or ill, health or harm. There is no better way to express our positive wishes for our enemiesí welfare than to turn them into prayer and into action on their behalf. (10) Sympathy. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Love never stands aloof from other peopleís joys or pains. Love identifies with them, sings with them and suffers with them. Love enters deeply into their experiences and their emotions, their laughter and their tears, and feels solidarity with them, whatever their mood. (11) Harmony. Live in harmony with one another. Once again we note the fundamental place occupied by our mind. Since Christians have a renewed mind, it should also be a common mind, sharing the same basic convictions and concerns. Without this common mind we cannot live or work together in harmony. (12) Humility. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Few kinds of pride are worse than snobbery. Snobs are obsessed with questions of status, with the stratification of society into upper and lower classes, or its division into distinctions of tribe and caste, and so with the company they keep. They forget that Jesus fraternized freely and naturally with social rejects, and calls His followers to do the same with equal freedom and naturalness. What a comprehensive picture of Christian love Paul gives us. Love is sincere, discerning, affectionate and respectful. It is both enthusiastic and patient. It is marked by both harmony and humility. Christian churches would be happier communities if we all loved one another like that.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† How are we to think with sober judgment about ourselves? What measure do we use in order to determine how well we are thinking? Ask God to enable you to honestly measure yourself according to this standard.

 

2.†††††††† How does Paul use the metaphor of the human body to describe the different gifts God gives His Church? Note Paulís emphasis in 12:6-8 on the use of our gifts. In effect, Paul is saying that if God gives us a particular gift then it is our responsibility to use that gift for the benefit of His Church. Ask God to enable you to use your gift(s) to His Glory.

 

3.†††††††† What are the ingredients in Paulís recipe of genuine love in 12:9-16? Measure yourself according to this standard of genuine love. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Ask God to enable you to grow in the exercise of genuine love in your Christian walk.

 

References:

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, ECNT, Baker.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.