Life in God's service. 12:1-8
In chapter 12 of the book of Romans, Paul moves into practical application. On the basis of the truths already expounded, he exhorts his readers to give their lives in service to Jesus. He then goes on to detail the "how".
v1. As a response to the "kindness", "long-suffering" and "love" of God toward us in the salvation won on our behalf by Christ, we are encouraged to offer our whole selves as "living sacrifices", dedicated to the service of God. We are to do this on the basis of the "mercies of God". In Christ we are made perfect sons of God, so be perfect sons, or at least work at it. Such behavior is reasonable (rational, intelligent) service to Christ. The NIV phrase "spiritual act of worship" is a terrible translation. The word "spiritual" here means "thinking", while the word "worship" means "service", here service to God.
v2. Rather than allowing ourselves to be conformed to this age we should submit to the transforming work of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. This renewal progresses through the renewal of our minds. Obviously, Paul is thinking of the effect of a preaching and teaching ministry. It is through a word ministry that we understand God's truth and so both discern what is "good, acceptable and perfect", and then apply that understanding in our daily living.
v3. Paul now deals with the first of a number of practical applications that flow from his exhortation in v1-2. Because of Paul's authority as an apostle ("grace given to me" = the gift of apostleship), he encourages us to first discover our spiritual abilities, our God-given gifts, in line with the discerned will of God, and then to exercise them for the building up of the Christian group. We are to do this free from a desire for status. The phrase, "in accordance with the measure of faith", is rather vague, but it defines the type of the assessment undertaken. It's a spiritual exercise, a godward exercise, rather than a mere assessment of natural abilities.
v4-6a. Although believers possess individual spiritual abilities, each member, with their gifts, functions as the various members of a single body. Although each member of a congregation has different gifts shaping various functions (ministries), each function is essential for the benefit of the whole.
v6b-8. Paul now lists some of these functions and encourages his readers to apply them in the life of the church:
a) Prophecy - the proclamation of divine truth, in line with the revealed Word of God, and the application of its relevance;
b) Serving - works of practical ministry;
c) Teaching - the exposition of scripture;
d) Encouragement - encouraging the weak hearted. The New English Bible describes this quality as "the gift of stirring speech";
e) Generosity - financial support, possibly financial guidance;
f) Leadership - administration;
g) Kindness - the care of the sick, the poor, the aged and disabled.
One particular aspect of our being is found in the God-given talents that we possess. Our natural tendency is to use these talents for our own end. We succeed in business and the professions by drawing on a pool of personal resources that are part of our nature, or are acquired in our life's journey. This egocentric aspect of our natures can even show itself when we exercise these talents within the congregation. When personal status becomes our goal, there is a good chance we will misuse our God-given abilities.
We all have personal resources, talents, gifts.... When we give our lives to Jesus our personal abilities can be accentuated and empowered by the Spirit. We may even receive new spiritual abilities to use for the King. We can then use these gifts to exercise a particular ministry within the congregation. Each has their gift, and each is different. Each one of us has a peculiar combination of gifts that make us special and unique. Each one of us can use these gifts to build up the people of God.
So, a congregation is made up of a group of believers possessing diverse abilities for the perfection and extension of Christ's kingdom. There is no pecking order, just different believers with different gifts. There is certainly nothing in this passage to promote the development of a professional ministerial class. The clergy do not possess all the spiritual gifts, nor do they have the right to impose their will on the life of the congregation. Rather, each member is to prayerfully and thoughtfully seek to understand their abilities and then use them within the group for the benefit of the whole.
When it comes to ordained pastors / priests, the Christian church has traditionally used ordination as a means of identifying those gifted to exercise a ministry of the Word. Yet, there are many avenues for service in the life of the Christian community and so each member needs to discern their gifts and apply them for the building up the body of Christ.
1. Discuss how the church is "conformed" to the world, and how it can be "transformed".
2. Consider the list of functions / ministries above and identify who exercises them in your church.
3. List other ministries that may serve to build up the church and the abilities / gifts necessary to exercise them.
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