Studies in the Epistles of Paul
In his letter to the Romans, Paul has presented the gospel — from our need for divine rescue to the glorious future that Jesus Christ offers us. In chapter 12, Paul explains that the gospel has implications for the way we should treat one another. He begins with attitudes and principles rather than specific actions.
Paul begins with the word therefore, indicating that he is drawing a conclusion. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Since God is giving us mercy, we should submit ourselves to him.
Our bodies are to be given to God in worship — not to be killed, but as a living and continuous response to God. We are set apart for him, to serve him — and as we do his will, he is pleased.
A literal translation of the last clause says, “this is your reasonable service.” Sensible people respond to God’s mercy by serving him.
What does this involve? Paul explains: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v. 2). Our standard of behavior is no longer the society around us. We do not just continue doing what we have always done. Rather, we are to change, and this change begins in the mind. It takes conscious effort — thinking about how God’s way is different from the world around us. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
After we stop looking to the world, we will see what God wants, and we will find that his way is better. His instructions are not arbitrary rules just to test our loyalty — they are to help us avoid causing pain for ourselves and for others.
Serving with our gifts
Paul first describes how the Roman Christians are to work together as a worship community: “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” (v. 3). By grace, God authorized Paul to give commands, and this first command is a call to humility. Take a realistic look, Paul says. Whatever faith you have, has come from God. We have value only because God chooses to give us value; no one has any reason to boast.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (vv. 4-5). Not only do various members have different functions, they also belong to each other. We have duties to each other, according to the way God has blessed us.
“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; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement” (vv. 6-8). God has given us different abilities, so some people serve through words, and some through their hands. Those who prophesy should stick to the faith, not their own opinions, to strengthen, encourage, comfort and edify the church (1 Cor. 14:3-4). Each person should do what he or she does best.
For the next three gifts, Paul adds an adverb to emphasize the way we should serve: “If it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (v. 8).