Romans Bible Guide – Day 32
March 17, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul wrapped up the third section of Romans, praising God for his plan to save all people and include all people in his adopted family.
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you 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 not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Points of Interest:
- ‘I appeal to you… brothers and sisters…’ – Here we begin the fourth major section of Romans. I make fun of Paul for his long-winded, sometimes confusing sentences, but when it comes to broader rhetoric, the man – with whatever help God was lending him in inspiration – is genius. Each of the four major sections of Romans has its own introduction, eight sub-sections, and a conclusion. And each develops in its own way Paul’s original thesis (1:16-17) about the power of the gospel from a righteous God, to all people, through faith.Verses 1-2 introduce the last of the four sections, which focus on good news life amongst the bit of the “all people” that is in Rome. Paul is polite in his exhortation, appealing rather than commanding. And as always, we will remember that we are doing two different things as 21st century readers. We are listening in on a particular, timely conversation Paul was having with Roman house churches in the late 50s A.D. At the same time, we are asking God to speak to us in our times through these words, in any ways they seem broadly and timelessly to reflect the good news of Jesus.
- ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice’ – On the one hand, this is a scary image. Sacrifices bleed and die, and so Paul’s asking the Roman house churches to match his own sacrificial devotion to Jesus. These sacrifices will be live ones, though, so there’s hope in that. We’ll want to remember that Paul is speaking to groups, not individuals, and just about all the “yous” and “yours” in Romans are plural. The last time Paul talked about presenting themselves, he told the Romans they could be instruments or weapons or righteousness, rather than wickedness. (6:13-19). Now they’re invited again to give their whole selves and community to God in worship. One more note on this: in talking about worship, Paul takes the word outside of the temple or the church where it could narrowly be defined as religious expression of devotion, and he extends worship to all of life, any expression of love for and obedience to God.
- ‘do not be conformed to this world…’ – An alternative is passivity, to become just like the times and age we live in. There’s no call to be different for the sake of being different, but we’ve discussed how Jesus’ good news is radically counter-cultural, particularly in positing Jesus – not self, state, or anyone else – as Lord.
- ‘so that you may discern what is the will of God’ – The goal of non-conformity, and of the contrasting ongoing mental renewal, is discernment. This is the discovery of God’s desires. Paul will have specific ethics to commend in this section, but he says that it all falls under the canopy of spiritual worship and mental renewal that create the conditions for discernment. Keep your spirits connected and your minds alive to God, so that you find your way with God in the world.
- ‘what is good and acceptable and perfect’ – This is a classic ethical triad, encompassing solid morality, culturally approved good sense, and aesthetic or spiritual value. Paul says that more often than not, God’s desires will align with all three of these.
- ‘not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think’ – If we’re all in this together, than one of the ways we aren’t to be conformed to the world is in maintaining interior and relational humility. There’s both a personal attitude and an interpersonal disposition that is commended here. To my mind, this is as absolutely contrary to our own obsession with status and exceptionalism as it is to Roman boasting and honor contests.
- ‘we, who are many, are one body in Christ’ – The union with Jesus Paul so richly described in chapter 6 gets more practical. It involves an intimate connection with Jesus, one which feeds humility (Jesus in charge, not me) and releases to us some of the gifts mentioned in vs. 7-8.
- ‘and individually we are members one of another’ – This union has a relational element as well. Being in a body with Jesus means being intimately connected to the other people in the body too. Paul certainly has in mind strong relationship and cooperation with fellow members of their churches, but perhaps a broader kinship with Jesus followers beyond the house church walls as well. The same gifts given by Jesus aren’t for personal benefit or status, but to be used humbly in the service of the fellow members and of Jesus.
Taking It Home:
For you – Worship often involves an element of symbol or ritual. If you would like to offer yourself to Jesus as a “living sacrifice” in worship, consider doing just that. Extend your hands, offer yourself to God in love and obedience, and commit to the ongoing renewing of your mind and discernment of God’s will.
For your city/church – Pray that our church will be well-connected to both Jesus and to one another and a safe place for all people’s gifts – be they of teaching, encouragement, generosity, compassion, and more – to be released.