Chapter 12 marks the major theological shift in the Book of Romans. In chapters 1-11, Paul explains Christ’s work of redemption. In chapters 12-16, he exhorts us to live as a redeemed people. He begins with an emphasis on belief, then he moves to behavior; he portrays the principles then the practice; he writes about God’s revelation then our responsibility. The first division deals with doctrine; the second division deals with duty! After he announced God’s mercy in our lives, now he is ready to proclaim Christ’s mastery over our lives!
That is why chapter 12 begins with the little phrase “in view of God’s mercy.” Throughout the rest of the book, everything Paul commands us to do is in response to God’s mercy for us. This opening section of Romans 12 sets the stage for all of our responses to God’s mercy. Verses 1-2 tell us that God’s mercy compels us to a life of sacrifice. Just as Christ sacrificed his body for us on the cross, we are to be living sacrifices for him every day. Verses 3-8 tell us that God’s mercy compels us to a life of service. Just as Christ served us with his life and death, we are to serve him every day.
As we continue our little series on stewardship, I want to focus on verses 3-8 and explore how we are to use our talents and gifts to live a life of Christian service. This passage offers us a wellspring of wisdom about Christian service. Let’s look at three aspects of Christian service!
1.) Christian Service begins with Humility (3)
As Paul exhorts the Romans to respond to God’s mercy with active Christian service, he begins with a moral challenge of humility. He knew that their service to others would be utterly worthless if it was conducted in a spirit of pride, arrogance, or selfishness. Humility is vital for any type of service in Christ’s kingdom.
Paul practices what he is preaching when he says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you.” He refers to his own call to be an apostle as the basis for this command to serve with humility. He is not commanding them on the basis of his own knowledge, intellect, or skill; he is saying “because Christ has called me to be his apostle, I am telling you that Christian service begins with humility.
When he says “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” he is referring to status. Status is meaningless when it comes to Christian service. No Christian should think that he or she is better than anyone else. Rather, all Christians should think of themselves with sober judgment—that is accurate thinking.
The reason for this is because God hasn’t given all Christians the same measure of faith. Since God has given different amounts of faith to different Christians, it is really unfair and inappropriate to make comparisons. Comparing Christians is like comparing apples and oranges. Therefore, there is no place in the Christian life or in Christian service to compare yourself with anyone else. No one should ever believe they are better than anyone else! Christian service always begins with humility!
A truly humble person is hard to find, yet God delights to honor such selfless people. Booker T. Washington, the renowned black educator, shortly after he took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady.
The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.” She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.
If Booker T. Washington had looked at the woman said, “Madam, do you know who I am?” or if he would have asserted his status as president of the Tuskegee Institute, he would not have had the opportunity to serve the woman, and thereby, would have missed out on thousands of dollars. Likewise, if we are to truly serve Jesus Christ and his kingdom we have to forget about social class, economic status, or past successes. We must think of ourselves with sober judgment and realize that anything we have is a gift from God. How humble are you? Do you possess enough humility to serve?
2.) Christian Service works as a Community (4-5)
After Paul asserts that Christian service begins with humility, he then tells the Romans that Christian service works as a community. Here he employs body language to explain how the church is to function and serve. Just as each one of us has one body with many different parts that serve many different functions, so Christ’s church is made up of a whole community of members who serve in many different roles and perform many different jobs. One member cannot perform all of the function nor should everyone in the community perform the same function.
Can you imagine if your body functioned like that? How well would you function if you had twelve ears and no toes? Well, you would be able to hear a lot, but you wouldn’t be able to walk. Can you imagine if you had 12 eyes and no fingers? You could see really well but you wouldn’t be able to pick anything up.
In March of 1981, President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley, Jr., and was hospitalized for several weeks. Although Reagan was the nation’s chief executive, his hospitalization had little impact on the nation’s activity. Government continued on. On the other hand, suppose the garbage collectors in this country went on strike, as they did not long ago in Philadelphia. That city was not only in a literal mess, the pile of decaying trash quickly became a health hazard. A three-week nationwide strike would paralyze the country. Who is more important–the President or a garbage collector? In the body of Christ, seemingly insignificant ones are urgently needed.
So it is with Christian service—we function as a community. Everyone has a place to serve and a part to play. God wants all of us to work together and fulfill our roles as the community of Christ. Our service should complement one another rather than competing or working against each other.
3.) Christian Service is determined by Grace and Giftedness (6-8)
Once Paul states that Christian service begins with humility and works as a community, he completes the section by affirming that it is determined by grace and giftedness. In verse 6 he tells us that God has given each of them spiritual gifts according to the grace given us. We do not choose our spiritual gifts; the Holy Spirit determines which gifts we have and the amount we possess. When we become believers in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit endows us with supernatural gifts which we are to use to strengthen and serve God’s church. It is not our responsibility to acquire or choose our giftedness, but it is our duty to use our gifts for the glory of God. He wants us to be good stewards of the gifts he has given us.
In verses 7-8 he gives us seven examples of spiritual gifts so we would know what he is talking about. They are each accompanied by a challenge to use the gift. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but many people have these gifts that are mentioned. Do you have any of these gifts?
• Prophecy: This is the ability to receive and proclaim a message from God. Prophecy has two dimensions: foretelling and forthtelling. The former occurs when a prophet speaks about a future event. The later is speaking to strengthen, challenge, and comfort God’s people.
• Service: The gift of service encompasses a wide variety of activities such as organizing and performing activities which provide the needs of people in the church and/or community.
• Teaching: This is the ability to cause other people to learn. It includes the ability to research, organize, and present material in ways that are helpful to others.
• Encouraging: This is the ability to come alongside another with words of support, counsel, and motivation so that people will take actions and develop attitudes consistent with the Christian calling.
• Giving: This is the ability to acquire and disperse money and material resources to meet the needs of the church and community.
• Leadership: This is the ability to determine priorities, set goals, establish directions, influence others, and achieve results.
• Mercy: This is the ability to show great compassion for the sufferings and needs of people without judgment.
So, do you have one of these gifts? Are you being a good steward of what God has given you? How are you using your gifts? If you are faithfully using your gifts, keep up the good work! If you are not, let me make a few suggestions!
If you have the gift of service, do something for someone! If you have the gift of leadership, organize some people and start some sort of ministry. You don’t need my permission to do it! If have the gift of encouragement, send a card or a letter to someone who is going through a difficult time. If you have the gift of giving, write that check and add a few more zero’s to the end of it! If you have the gift of teaching, join the Sunday school team or start a Bible study group!
Maybe your gift isn’t on this list! It could be any number of other things! Ask God to reveal it to you, and then ask him to help you use it. Be a good steward of the gifts God has given you!
Several years ago, two students graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. The highest ranking student in the class was a blind man named Overton and, when he received his honor, he insisted that half the credit should go to his friend, Kaspryzak. They had met one another in school when the armless Mr. Kaspryzak had guided the blind Mr. Overton down a flight of stairs.
This acquaintance ripened into friendship and a beautiful example of interdependence. The blind man carried the books which the armless man read aloud in their common study, and thus the individual deficiency of each was compensated for by the other. After their graduation, they planned to practice law together.
One had the gift of sight; the other had the gift of arms! They used their gift to bless each other. This is exactly how God designed his church to work. Each of us has a vital function. When one member neglects their gift, the body suffers, but when we all share our gifts with one another, we become what the body of Christ was meant to be!
I am generally not a fan of contemporary Christian music, but a few years ago I heard a song from the band Casting Crowns that I deeply appreciated. Let me conclude today by sharing the words of the chorus from their song “If We Are the Body”:
But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
There is a way