SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 31 July 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 12:3-8
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”
I. Sober judgment
II. One body of many members with different functions
III. Using gifts according to the grace
Rom. 12 is the beginning of the Apostle Paul’s appeal to his fellow believers like you and me. This appeal continues in the next four chapters, up to the middle of ch. 15. In this appeal, the apostle tells us what to consider as God’s chosen Israel whose minds have been transformed by the Holy Spirit.
We considered the very beginning of all this last week with the first two verses of Rom. 12, and today, we’ll look at the next part of his appeal in the next six verses we’ve just read. The beginning of this appeal was about the need for us to not be conformed to this fallen world but be transformed by the renewal of our mind. The apostle called this transformation as our living sacrifice to God, thus, our spiritual worship.
Then, in this section we’ll consider today, he starts telling us what it means to be transformed by the renewal of our mind. In other words, what must be transformed within us, what must be changed or reconstructed in our mind. And the very first renewal we must experience is on Christian’s relationship with one another in church. We know that God chose us as His own and, as He called us at His appointed time, we now believe in His Son Jesus. Then, what are we? What am I and what are you in church, the body of Christ? This is the first area of our internal transformation, the renewal of our mind.
So, let us follow the apostle and consider this relationship.
I. SOBER JUDGMENT
We start from comprehension of our status – I mean, a correct evaluation of our nature in church. We’re urged in v. 3 that we should think of ourselves soberly or soundly. We should not overrate or underrate ourselves or others. This is what the Apostle Paul means by ‘sober judgment’ in v. 3.
To be sober or sound, every judgment must be measured by a standard or reference point. So, in every judgment, we reflect the reference point we uphold, and to be a ‘sound’ or ‘sober’ judgment, our reference point must be the truth of God. Otherwise, our judgment would be arbitrary and capricious and wayward.
Then, what truth of God will make our judgment on ourselves sober and sound? It is the truth of God’s election of us, His sovereign choice to save us from sin and death and to bring us into His blessed family. In what way does this truth of God become the reference point of our sound judgment on ourselves? The answer is that we who are saved through faith in Jesus are altogether children of God, equally blessed with Jesus’ eternal life. It means, in God through Christ, no one is better than others, no one is less than others. The Apostle Peter is not higher than any of us; King David and we are equally children of God; Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will stand next to us before God. This is the truth of God that becomes the reference point of our sober judgment on ourselves.
So, there’s no one better than another in this church. I am the minister and occasionally my name is used to represent this congregation of St Columba’s. But that doesn’t mean and never means I’m better than anyone of you. It means that I’m appointed to this role and service in this congregation and on behalf of this congregation. Through faith in Jesus, by the mercy of the Father, you and I, and each of us have become equal in every way. This is what Paul joyfully proclaims in Gal. 3:28, saying that, in God’s family, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no male and female, but only the children of God. Our sober judgment must be made in reference to this truth. And based on this truth, we ought to recognise one another as equally beloved of the Father.
This means that anyone who considers another in Christ’s church insignificant or inferior in any sense, that judgment is unsound, faulty and even sinful. That’s because the worth of that person has been defined by no man but God from the beginning of time, like everybody else in Christ. This also means that anyone who disconnects himself/herself from others in Christ’s church because of puffing oneself up or self-debasement is not at all sound in that judgement. This is the beginning of the renewal of the mind of every Christian in church.
II. ONE BODY OF MANY MEMBERS WITH DIFFERENT FUNCTIONS
Once we have this renewal of our mind, the next step is to realise that the church we belong to is the body of Christ which is composed of many members with different functions. Once we begin considering others in the church as fellow members of God’s family, equally loved by the Father, equally redeemed through the blood of the Son, then, we’re able to start understanding why there are many members in this church with different functions. The true meaning of the metaphor used to describe Christ’s church, that is, the human body, becomes clearer to us.
Not every member of our human body can be eyes nor mouths nor ears nor hands. If it were possible, we’d call that a monster, not human. There must be in human body two eyes, two ears and one mouth with one heart and ten fingers and so on. When every part of the human body is where it ought to be, that makes the body perfect and beautiful. And if any part isn’t at the right place or malfunctions, the whole body aches and suffers. Likewise, in order that the church of Jesus Christ to function perfectly and beautifully, its members ought to carry out various roles at various positions.
Let me assure you that every local church – if it’s a true church of Christ – is a perfect body of Jesus. Some of you might find it hard to agree because some churches are too small to be seen as a perfectly functioning church or some other churches are struggling with internal or external problems. But as long as a church is truly faithful to Jesus, that church is a perfect one disregarding its size or struggle. If it’s the size, then, God’s perfectness is to be reflected on the smallness of its membership. It means that God has assigned each member of that small church with more roles. It also means that God has enabled or will enable the members of the small church with more wisdom and ability to carry out their functions. God has a perfect plan for that church. So, size does not make a church imperfect or deformed.
If another church struggles with a problem or multiple problems, that again is not a sign of imperfection, as long as that church is a true church of Christ. By the way, I have preached on what makes a church a true church of Jesus Christ and I will do it again sometime, but today, let me briefly tell you that a true church is Bible believing, trusting in and committed to the Lord Jesus, and worshipping God through faith in Christ. So, any true church struggling with a problem is perfect in God’s eyes. That’s because through troubles God forges and moulds His church into a purer vessel for the Lord. Its members are passing through the hands of the perfect Moulder!
This also means that we need one another as we together form the body of Jesus. Each one is essentially important to another. The metaphor of human body exactly illustrates this mutual necessity among church members.
This is so true even in an extreme case. Guess that a church member is troublesome; he causes troubles after troubles in his church. Then, should other members regard him as a liability? ‘No’ is the answer. Everyone in the congregation needs him as much as he needs all others. The entire church might not immediately understand God’s purpose with the placement of that troublemaker in their midst, but they should trust God and keep loving that person in Jesus. I don’t mean limitless acceptance of a troublesome member, I mean Christian love that disciplines, corrects any such member and encourages him to be faithful to the Lord. Then, in due course of time, everyone will see God’s plan clearly and, Lord willing, that troublemaker would realise God’s grace and change his attitude toward others in Christ!
This is what God’s church has found over centuries in history. There have been numerous heretics and enemies of the church sprung up from within. But strangely and mysteriously, they have benefited the church, assisting her to form true Christian faith through creeds and confessions and to return from her various sins. This has led numerous Christians to Christ.
In a word, our sober judgment ought to be based on the truth of God, that is, we’re elected by God and called to faith in Jesus, thus, fellow members of God’s family. Without this sober judgment, any difference among church members would be considered as an indicator of individual’s ability, thus, a basis of puffing up or self-debasement. But with a sober and sound judgment, we can see why we have different functions in the church of Jesus Christ.
III. USING GIFTS ACCORDING TO THE GRACE
This is the apostle’s next point for us to hear and know – that is, the spiritual gifts God gives to individual members of His church. These gifts are for church members to function various roles and services.
I believe you’ve heard of the spiritual gifts many times, and many of you know about it very well. I truly believe that you all know that these gifts are God-given and not from our own. So, let me point out only two important aspects of the gifts that you need to remember. The first is that there are two kinds of gifts, not five as some would argue based on Eph. 4:11 or seven from here in Rom. 12 or eight or nine from 1 Cor. 12:8-10 and 28-30. But only two kinds, that is, ‘teaching’ and ‘serving’ (or speaking and serving as in 1 Pet. 4:11). When you put all gifts listed in the NT together, you’ll be able to realise that the gifts are only two kinds – teaching and serving. Under these two categories, there are innumerable gifts to function the body of the Lord perfectly and beautifully.
This is true with the list we have in vs. 6-8. Such gifts as prophecy, teaching and exhortation are under the category of teaching while serving, contributing, leading and doing acts of mercy are under serving.
The second important point is that these two kinds are not exclusive to each other but to achieve one common purpose, that is, to build up Christ’s church in faith and commitment. This is the purpose of the spiritual gifts. God gives various gifts to individuals in order to build each other up in faith.
I believe the story of Moses and the OT Israel in Ex. 35 best illustrates this. As I repeatedly emphasise, the OT Israel was the church in the era before Christ. It was the only visible church existed in that dispensation while there are many churches scattered all around the world in the NT era. Having left Egypt, the OT church stayed at the foot of Mt Sinai. And God commanded them, through Moses, to build the tabernacle, a tent structure which represented and reflected God’s presence in the midst of His people.
With this command of God, numerous people brought various materials such as gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, etc., etc. And according to God’s plan, the tabernacle was built and completed.
Think about this and see how this illustrates the church and the spiritual gifts given to individual members. All those materials Israel brought to Moses were God-given, first of all. Those were God’s gifts to Israel. As you know well, the Jews had plundered the Egyptians when they left that land of 430 year-long slavery. Ex. 3:21-22 record God’s word given to Moses and says this: “when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbour, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” And it actually took place in Ex. 12:36 that they plundered the Egyptians. In this way, all that Israel had at the foot of Mt Sinai were God-given gifts to Israel. And all members of the OT church brought God-given gifts to Moses for building up of the tabernacle.
In addition, God chose some people to carry out specific tasks. In order for them to do that, He filled them with the Spirit of God, as Ex. 30 and following tell us. In that way, God enabled the OT church to build the tabernacle to perfectly reflect God’s presence with them, thus, His glory in their midst.
The same is the reason and purpose of God’s giving of various spiritual gifts to us in His church. Each of us has some specific tasks in church and together we form Christ’s body perfectly and together we function as a perfect body of Jesus here in this region.
This is the first picture of our transformation by the renewal of our mind. If anyone is conformed to this world, then, to him a church is not different from any club. But to a Christian whose mind is renewed, thus, his whole person transformed in the Spirit, his church is a perfect body of the Lord Jesus in which he enjoys using the God-given gifts to build each other up in Christ. I believe that you now see why the apostle has called this renewal of our mind as our ‘spiritual worship.’
Now, you’ve heard about it all, and you ought to ask God’s help that you may start considering everyone in the Lord’s church equally in every way, and understand each one’s roles in this body of Christ, then, start using the gifts you’ve received from God for building each other up in faith and commitment to Jesus the Lord! ***