April 8, 2018
HOLY LIVING AND OUR CALL TO ONE ANOTHER
(35 of 44 in a series through Romans)
I want to start this morning with a bit of a mental exercise. I want to mention two statements about how we as believers are to live and then have you mentally picture what that looks like. The first is from Jesus in the gospel of Luke. In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus issues a demand of all who would follow him, declaring, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” The second is from the text we looked at last week in Romans 12:1-2 where Paul says for us to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
Now, those are the two texts I want us to allow to inform our mental picture of Christian living. One is a text that calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him, and the other is a call to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord. Picture, then, in your mind what that looks like. What does it look like for you to answer that call from Luke 9 and Romans 12 and live that out?
Well, my guess is that perhaps some of us pictured martyrdom, maybe refusing to renounce our commitment to Christ in the face of one seeking our lives. Maybe others pictured ourselves in a time of committed prayer. But I’m going to guess that for many (maybe most) of us, if we weren’t picturing ourselves putting our lives at risk for the gospel, we pictured ourselves alone. That is, for most of us, when we think of radical Christian commitment, I wonder if we automatically default to solitude and isolation from others.
If so, we’re not the first. In the early centuries of the church there were seasons of persecution. We could tell gripping stories—and indeed have—of individuals who laid down their lives for the honor of Christ. A book like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is full of amazing, moving stories of individuals of whom the world was not worthy, to borrow a phrase from the author of Hebrews. But we would deceive ourselves into thinking that intense persecution filled every moment of the early centuries of the church. The fact is that it simply didn’t.
There were long seasons as well when believers lived relatively peaceful lives. Sometimes the government even favored them. And in these seasons some believers weren’t exactly sure what to do with themselves. They wanted to show they were serious about following Christ, presenting their bodies to the Lord as a living sacrifice, and so some of them some extreme lifestyles, usually somewhat isolating themselves. One individual named Simeon the Stylite decided that he would show his radical commitment to Christ by living most of his days on top of a pole outside the city. At first, it was twelve to fifteen feet high but was increasingly raised so that eventually it was sixty feet high. Another, named Anthony, went to live in the desert and only bathed once a year, on Easter. In each case, they sought in some measure a degree of isolation.
And though I don’t think any of us today are tempted to live on top of a pole or go out to the desert and bath once a year, my guess is that we can resonate with the logic that drives these decisions. Christ commands holy living, even telling us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord, and that must demand something radical. And indeed it does. But we may find ourselves surprised by the picture of radical self-sacrificing obedience that Paul shows us in our text this morning, Romans 12:1-1. Immediately after telling us that we must commit ourselves wholly to the Lord, even offering our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord, he paints us a picture that doesn’t look anything like living on top of a pole or smelling bad in the desert. He doesn’t paint us a picture of solitude at all. He paints us a picture of living life in Christian community. He shows us a picture of an individual faithfully walking with fellow believers in a local church. So, this morning, I want to provide us an outline of the text, but the place I want us to start and one of the main things I want us to see this morning is this:
Those who wholly commit themselves to the Lord commit themselves to the church
I mentioned last week that these last five chapters of the book of Romans are about what holy living looks like. Paul fills these chapters not as much with the deep and developed doctrine of the first eleven chapters but with exhortations to holy living and illustrations of what that means in our lives. So, he began this with a thesis statement, a general heading, that we saw last week in Romans 12:1-2. Holy living means giving ourselves wholly to the Lord, living all of life unto his glory.
If that’s the case, then, our text this morning is the first place he starts in painting for us a picture of the specifics of what holy living looks like, and he places us in the context of living life with other believers as a church. Notice how Paul sets the context of placing us in a church immediately. He notes that we are members of one body with other believers that we can serve and minister to with the gifts the Lord has given us while being served by them utilizing the gifts the Lord has given them. This isn’t the only place Paul uses this kind of language. He also uses this exact language in 1 Corinthians 12, and in that text it’s clear that he’s talking about the local church at Corinth. In fact, in the previous chapter (1 Cor 11), he actually says, “when you come together,” meaning when they gather as a church. He also does the same thing in Ephesians 4, when he is also clearly talking about the local church.
Thus, when we read our text this morning and see Paul mentioning us being members of one another, many coming together as one body, and ministering to one another, we need to see that Paul is talking about the local church context where believers minister to one another, invest in one another, walk together, hold one another accountable, love one another, learn the Word together, etc. And this is simply one more place in the Scripture where we can say that the Bible envisions the believer living his or her life in the context of being bound to other believers in a local church.
Therefore, I think it’s safe to say, as a general truth, that a believer cannot ignore the local church and claim to be living a life unto the Lord as a living sacrifice because the very context where Paul begins to illustrate what that kind of life looks like is with other believers, united together, ministering to one another.
What then does Paul want us to know and do as we consider living our life wholly unto the Lord, as part of a church? First, he wants us to see that:
We must live humbly, recognizing how the Lord has made us to function
Let me explain a bit why I stated this truth in this way. Paul starts with an exhortation to humility and against self-exaltation. He says, “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” (v. 3).
Now, there are some details that will help us understand Paul’s argument. He begins with a not about the grace given to him, which I want to skip over temporarily as we focus on his exhortation. He doesn't want anyone to think of himself more highly than he ought. That is, he is exhorting us against some kind of self-exalting arrogance. And notice how tightly he links this to the previous verses (12:1-2). He ended that key two-verse thesis for these final five chapters of Romans by telling us that the key to being transformed is the renewal of our minds. It’s thinking in a certain way and thinking of certain things. Then, note how he begins these verses. A literal translation of this verse would be a bit awkward, but Paul actually uses the word translated “think” (or a variety of it) four different times. He exhorts us not to think more highly than we ought to think but to think with sober thinking.
Why does he do that? It’s because he’s showing that he’s not changing topics. He’s showing the kind of things we need to renew our minds to and think about. And one thing we need to do is to think of ourselves not to highly. That is, we must not be given to too much self-exaltation and arrogance but to humility. But how does Paul envision us doing that?
I think the answer to that question is that Paul wants us to think of ourselves appropriately by realizing how the Lord has made us to function. And there are several elements in that. First, we need to recognize that God has gifted us and equipped us to function in a specific way. Paul notes in verse 3 that we should think of ourselves “each according to the measure of faith God has assigned.” What does Paul mean there?
I think he’s using the phrase “measure of faith” to refer to the different functions (and gifts) the Lord has given us and the corresponding faith necessary for that gift. And I think that for a few reasons. For one, that’s what Paul goes on to talk about, immediately noting in verse 4 that we do not all have the same function. Also, when you compare other text where he speaks of Christ measuring out something to us it relates to Christ measuring out the function or task of ministering to a particular group (2 Cor 10:13) or measuring out to us the grace necessary to walk and minister in a particular gifting (Eph 4:7). Therefore, I think Paul is doing the same thing here. Also adding to this interpretation is that Paul begins by saying, “For by the grace given to me …” which I think is his way of noting that the very truth he’s telling them is true of himself, namely, that God has given him the grace to walk and minister with a specific function. In his case, it’s as an apostle to the Gentiles. And with each of them it’s a different function, but it’s not less grace-given and with the necessary corresponding faith. I don’t think it’s a big deal, either that Paul notes he has been given grace to carry out his function and mentions that these Roman believers have been given a measure of faith to carry out the assignment or function that God has given them. He’s just reflecting the realities that God not only gives us the grace to carry out the functions he’s given us but, as part of that grace, the appropriate measure of faith to walk in that gifting and function.
But why would recognizing that the Lord has given us grace and the measure of faith to walk in a specific function aid us in not exalting ourselves and walking humbly? Well, for one, because Paul reminds us again that our very functions and roles and gifts are from God, given by his grace. God has assigned functions to us, the grace necessary, and the faith required. It’s all of God. But it’s also humbling because we have not been given every function.
Paul mentions in verse 4, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function.” Now the reason we do not all have the same function in the body of Christ is because the Lord hasn’t given to one person every function necessary to minister. If I had every function necessary, I could tell you all to sit back, and I’ll turn everyone into godly, mature, obedient disciples of Jesus Christ. But I don’t have every function. So, when I think of the measure of faith the Lord has given to me to carry out the specific function that he’s assigned me to in this local church, it immediately brings to mind my need for others in the body of Christ.
I’m not the most gifted counselor, or intercessor, or evangelist, or on and on and on. For this reason, I don’t feel any sense of embarrassment when I’m meeting with someone, a certain struggle comes up, and I say, “You know who can help you more than me?” It’s just the way the Lord has made us. We each have different functions, each need others in the body, and see the whole body grow only when each part is serving in our different giftings and functions.
Recognizing the faith given to me for my function also reminds me that I need others. I need you to help me, strengthen me, correct me, and guide me as you function in this body as well. This is one reason why I like to say that I’m first a member of Cornerstone Community Church who gets to serve as a pastor. It reminds me that I’m just one part of this body and need the function of so many others. This is also why I like to note that the Lord’s discipleship plan for any one believer is not simply the input of one single other believer but walking with, learning from, and being ministered to by the whole church. I’ve been taught more about how to walk in obedience in certain areas, for example, just by walking alongside people in our church and watching them function in ways where they are gifted greatly beyond me. That’s humbling, and that’s the Lord’s glorious design. So, we must live humbly, recognizing how the Lord has made us to function. Second,
We need to see that our function and design creates responsibility for one another
Notice again what Paul says in verse 4 and then adds in verse 5. He writes, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”
Do you see what Paul is doing with this imagery of the body? A body has many members or many parts. Our bodies are made up of arms, legs, eyes, ears, a heart, lungs, and on and on. And the members have different functions. My hands grip things, but my eyes see. And though each cannot perform the function of the other, both are necessary and aid me in working in an ideal way only when both are functioning in line with their specific function. The body that loses its ability to see is limited. And a healthy eye, when ripped out of the body proves useless.
Similarly, then, Paul says that we are one body and individually members of this body. But specifically he says that we’re members of one another. That is to say, when God saved us, he attached us to a body, with a specific function, in order that we might function for the good of the body. And this has consequences.
One consequence we’ve already mentioned, namely, our need for each other. Because I cannot perform every function necessary for the health of a local church any more than any one body part can perform every function necessary for a healthy body, it reveals my need for others—other members of the body and the functions they perform. But another consequence of the Lord making us members of one another is that it creates responsibility for one another. When Paul uses this same imagery with the Corinthian church, he specifically says that one member cannot say to another, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21). And though he doesn’t say it explicitly in our text, it is implicitly noted when Paul mentions that we have been made members of one another.
In other words, God’s design is that apart from others, my spiritual growth is limited, and without my proper functioning, the growth of others with whom I’m connected is limited. That is, by making us member of one another, he’s made us independent—needed by others and with need from others. That is to say, the Lord’s design is to make us responsible for each other’s spiritual growth. That is his design, and it’s (once more) why we can say that God’s discipleship program is the local church.
Now, it’s worth us asking if we feel that reality. Do we feel that we need others and they need us? Do we feel that we are responsible for the growth of others in this church with whom we’re members? That’s one reason why we bring our members up front and lay hands on an individual when receiving them into membership. It’s a symbolic reminder of our connectedness (“member one of another”) and visibly symbolizes that we’re committing to bear responsibility for this one’s spiritual growth (as we ask the same of them toward us).
And this brings us to a final exhortation, namely:
Walk in accord with the gifting the Lord has given you as a member of a local church
Paul’s final words in verses 6-8 are an exhortation. Now, it’s true, in the original Greek there is not verb like “let us use them” that we see in verse 6, but I think that’s correct for us to supply because it fits with what Paul says (and it’s not altogether uncommon for a text to leave out the very to be assumed).
So, Paul writes, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 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, in cheerfulness” (vv. 6-8).
Now, a few things. For one, this isn’t some comprehensive list of gifts or functions in the church but a representative sample. Two, Paul is not suggesting that we only actually ever do one thing. He’s not saying that the one who mainly teaches doesn’t give or perform acts of mercy, for example. Of course they do. He’s simply acknowledging that same may have been given a greater measure of grace or faith to carry out that task in a way that rises above others. So, for example, I guess that all of you are teaching the Scripture to others throughout each week in some form—whether to your children, or as you’re evangelizing, or other ways. But it doesn’t mean that every one of you is expected to function in the role that I’m functioning this morning. Similarly, I trust that each of us is giving of our finances toward the ministry of this local church, but it may be that the Lord has given tremendous financial blessing and the faith and grace to contribute even more generously than most. And, again, we could go on in our examples. But Paul’s point is that we need to walk according to our gifts and functions.
The Lord was wise in putting us together as a church, and he’ll continue to demonstrate his wisdom in meeting our needs as individuals are continually sent out and others brought in. But the way that we display the Lord’s wisdom and glory, then, is by walking and ministering to others, according to the grace given us.
Therefore, here’s what I want us to see this morning: when the Lord Jesus Christ lived, died, and was raised for us, opening our eyes and pouring out on us saving grace and faith, his work didn’t stop there. His work is also seen in fitting us into a church that we desperately need and that needs us as well. Therefore, the most basic way that we live lives of radical obedience, offering our lives as a living sacrifice unto the Lord is by committing ourselves to a local church, faithfully walking with them, and carrying out the work of the Great Commission by faithfully living according to the gifts and grace given to us. And may we reflect our response to that word this morning by coming to the table. Amen.