God’s Body is Blessed (Romans 12)

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During the Spanish Civil War, a communist general coined the term “fifth column” to refer to people working within a society to subvert it on behalf of their cause.[1] This general said he had four columns of troops marching on Madrid, and a fifth column already in the city doing whatever it took to help topple the existing government. The term “fifth column” became a popular way to describe people who infiltrate a society, using every means at their disposal to bring down the culture for the benefit of the invading army.

Today, God’s Body – the Church – is Jesus’ “fifth column”. Jesus uses the four columns of His Sovereign Lordship, His Spirit, His Scriptures, and His Servant Angels. God’s Body of believers are not to see themselves as an audience but rather as an army working on behalf of God’s kingdom to infiltrate society and invade the surrounding culture to bring people into relationship and under the reign with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said believers are in the world but not of it (John 17:15-16).

This is God’s purpose for God’s Body today and it was God’s plan for Christianity in the book of Acts. As believers go about their daily life, Jesus is with you. The gospel shapes the way you think and feel and you become His voice of hope, His hands of help, His feet to labor and love.

Jesus’ presence is on display and deployed into action wherever you go. In that sense, Jesus goes to work offices, construction sites, day care centers, art & music studios, school classrooms, nursing homes, special disability groups, and various other social centers? Jesus travels on airlines, boat cruises and bus rides? He goes to big cities and small towns across the world. He is in homes and hospitals, buildings and vehicles.

And most certainly, Jesus is in His people to build His church (Matthew 16:18). One of the ways Jesus is building His Body is by blessing every believer with spiritual gifts.

Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-16 “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Jesus has given every believer spiritual gifts so that His Body can mature and grow in unity and urgency of things that matter for eternity. GodsBody_logo

When a body is infected with diseased cells its immune system has special cells and body organs to attack and fight against sickness. When the immune system is not able or is overwhelmed by diseased cells then the result is damaging and often deadly. Those sickly cells will spread and multiply through the entire body to weaken and eventually shut down the entire system.

Likewise, we as God’s Body must guard against unhealthy systems, attitudes and actions. We must cooperate together and draw strength from each member doing his/her part to have a fervent and functioning church.

Romans 12 shares the recipe ingredients for a church blessed with fervent & functioning health in spiritual giftedness.

EXAMINE   God’s Body is Blessed        Romans 12

Paul wrote the book of Romans as a meaty, theological treatise of Christian doctrine. Paul was not only grounding the Roman believers in gospel truth but was also to validate his credibility of missionary support in their generous contributions (Romans 15:20-29).

Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore”
Romans 1-11 emphasize doctrine beliefs resulting in Romans 12-16 follow the implications of those beliefs; right attitudes & actions for the believer. All Christian ethics & morality flow from a theological foundation. If you miss the foundation then the fruit of that foundation will be short-lived and ineffective. In other words, Paul is saying – in light of the truth of the gospel, this is how you should live.

God’s Body must worship God fully (Romans 12:1-2).
Paul challenged the Romans to offer their own bodies as living sacrifices. The concept of sacrifice was familiar to them. Jews would sacrifice the first and best animal. Yet, Paul’s command (urge = call or summon) to sacrifice was not for the purpose of pleasing God. God’s mercies had already been put forth in Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice (Heb 10:1-4, 10). So, Paul was not commanding a dead sacrifice but one alive in response to the merciful sacrifice.

Reasons we do not worship God fully

  • Deception that ways of world appear more attractive and satisfying than ways of God
    • “Where one thousand are destroyed by the world’s frowns, ten thousand are destroyed by the world’s smiles.” – (Puritan Thomas Brooks)
    • The splendor and all the glory of this world are but sweet poisons that will much endanger us if they do not eternally destroy us.” (Puritan Thomas Brooks)
    • Satan is the Father of lies (John 8:44)
  • Doubt that God is trustworthy and for your good; so we trust something else for our identity and actions.
    • Satan is an accuser to cause you to doubt God’s love and leadership (Revelation 12:10)
  • Difficulty in worshiping God fully; so we do not give much effort or time. Spiritual disciplines seem more of a duty/burden than delight.
  • Despised are those that worship God, they do not fit and are not famous to the crowd.
    • “It is better to go to heaven alone than to hell with company” (Puritan Thomas Brooks)
  • Distraction of mind and heart to focus on temporary and trivial rather than eternal and essential
  • Dutiful religious performance causes pride that we have “been there & done that”, so we lack perseverance & faithfulness in spiritual disciplines; we coast in our walk with God rather than have commitment.
  • Damned of soul as we feel guilt and shame of our sin; whereas Christ removes guilt and no condemnation for those in him (Roman 8:1)

à    SPBC displaying the gospel with our lives and declaring the gospel with our lips

à    SPBC worship in spirit & truth (sincerity & integrity); allowing worship & word of God to result in life change

God’s Body must worship God freely (Romans 12:3-8).
Paul understood another implication of living out the gospel was humility and service.

à        Humility: “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” (12:3).

One of the reasons people do not serve with their spiritual gift is pride. If you do not have an area of service perhaps you should repent of arrogant thinking that other people are meant to serve while you do not. A person should not be able to join a local church in membership with the sole view of “Sing to me, play music for me, entertain me, preach to me, teach my children, comfort me when I hurt, counsel me when I am confused, love me unconditionally – allow me to receive all the benefits BUT don’t expect me to share in the responsibility of the church.” This view has captured our consumer driven, individualistic culture and it must end if God’s Body is to fulfill its God-given purpose.

Jesus’ disciples experienced this (Mark 9:33-35) “ And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

à        Service: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though man, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them:” (12:4-6)

God has given each believer a measure of faith with varying purposes and gifts. We are many but one body in Christ, which using our gifts results in complementary service to each other; we are not independent members but interdependent members.

Paul lists 7 spiritual gifts. The list is not exhaustive as others can be found in 1Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, 1Peter 4

–          Prophecy: speaking truths of God

–          Service: “diakoni>a| – deacon”, identifying undone tasks, however menial, and use available resources to help meet needs

–          Teaching: instruction for understanding

–          Exhortation: coming alongside to encourage, comfort, cheer

–          Contribute/Giving in generosity, sharing liberally and cheerfully what God has blessed you with; blessed to bless others

–          Lead with zeal: organizing and guiding others for spiritual growth and personal maturity

–          Mercy with cheerfulness: one whom is sensitive to others suffering & feel genuine sympathy in order to speak words of compassion and share deeds of comfort to alleviate distressing circumstances

In combination with Paul’s emphasis of humility and service we should not say, “I have this gift, how will the church use it?” but instead say, “They have this need, how can I use my gift to help meet the need.” The difference is shift of focus from the individual to the body as a whole.

à        Most of the spiritual gifts are not platform roles but typically private. In other words, not many have public recognition. Notice some suggested categories for the gifts:

Communication: Leadership, Exhortation, Teaching, Prophecy, Evangelist, Pastor-Teacher

Care: Service, Giving, Mercy, Administration, Hospitality, Healing, Helps, Miracles,

Contemplation: Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Discernment, Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues,

Some further principles

à        God is the greatest gift. It is pointless to seek the gift without the knowing and treasuring the Giver.

à        God wants us to know and pursue His gifts (Luke 11:11-13). Paul writes to educate about the gifts (1 Cor 12:1) and if our desire is to serve and spread God’s message then it is ok to seek out the gifts. The purpose of the gifts are to exalt God, edify and encourage others faith and to advance the gospel.

à        God gives the gifts to every believer. Every believer receives at least one, many times a few, and sometimes only for a season. While this principle is true, it is important to note that knowing your spiritual gift should not be a litmus test for salvation. Christians should beware of churches or believers that emphasize two-levels of Christianity (if you don’t have a certain gift then you are less spiritual); this is opposed to the full meaning of the gospel. However, exercising your spiritual gift is essential for spiritual growth.

à        Spiritual gifts are meant to bring unity in the midst of division (note church at Corinth). When rightly exercised among the body there is a shared sense of purpose and fellowship (Acts 2:44-47; 1Cor 12:13, 21-26; 13:1-3).

à        Are all the spiritual gifts in the Bible still applicable today?
There are differing view points to this question within Christianity. This topic is an open hand (freedom) issue in comparison to closed hand (fixed) theological issues.[2] In brief, here are the two views with a third alternative and somewhat middle road perspective.

Cessationism: Jesus and the Apostles had a unique ministry, requiring special miraculous sign gifts (miracles, healings, tongues/interpretation, prophecy. Now that the Church has the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures these gifts are no longer needed or active in God’s Church. One basis for this view is 1Cor 13:8-12 on the fulfillment of “when the perfect comes”. This view says the perfect is God’s full revelation in Jesus Christ provided for us through the Apostles in written Scripture; which needs no new revelation.

Continuationism: As followers of Jesus, all the gifts listed in Scripture are available to all disciples as God provides in His people and His body (John 14:12; Acts 6:8, 8:6 Stephen and Philip were not Apostle; Galatians 3:5). In reference to 1Cor 13:8-12, the “perfected” time is at the return of Christ, therefore still needing varying uses of all the gifts.

Cautionism: As followers of Jesus, we must be obey, honor and be open to all the Holy Spirit directs but must also discerning to the definition and direction given in the Scriptures as the authority for our faith. In all honesty, this is really the view of Continuationism but reinforces the idea that the sign gifts have set manners for practice defined in the Scriptures.

  • Tongues in Acts (2, 10 and 19): Focus was on content (“mighty deeds of God”) rather than manner. The speaking was intelligible language needing interpretation.
    • Not all NT persons spoke in Tongues: Barnabas, Stephen, Philip, Mark, Silas, Timothy, Aquila & Priscilla, Apollos and not least to mention the apostle Paul. It is known that Paul spoke in tongues (1 Cor 14:6, 14, 18). However, Paul makes it clear in the same letter that not all speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:30).[3]
    • Tongues @Corinth: unintelligible, divine prayer language (1Cor 14:2, 14-19)
      • Tongues if in public: needs interpreter, characterized by self-control and edification of all (1Cor 14:26-28)
  • Healings
    • God used the Apostles to heal others (ex. Acts 3:1-9)
    • God did not always heal; see Paul’s thorn (2 Cor 12:8-9), Trophimus was left sick (2Tim 4:20)
    • Suffering is normative and in some sense sanctifying for Heaven (John 16:33; Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5, 4:8-10; Philippians 1:29)
    • God cares for the suffering and sometimes heals (James 5:13-16).

à        Note the difference between descriptive and prescriptive in Scripture. Most, if not all, the gifts are descriptions rather than immediate prescriptions for what individuals should have and do.

à        What if I do not know my spiritual gift? How can I grow to discover it and where I can serve God’s Body?

  • Test through asking God in prayer. Have you prayed for God’s insight?
  • Test through assessment. Have you evaluated your personality, passions, and experience to identify spiritual gifts?
  • Test through action. Have you exercised your gifts and talents in various ways?
  • Test through accountability with others. Do others confirm your ability? Are others helping to instruct & mentor you in using your gift?

God’s Body must worship God as family (Romans 12:9-21).
Paul ends his discussion of service in the body with 30 marks of exhortation for Christian relationships.  The first of which is repeated and seems to carry some importance in Paul’s thinking across his and the other apostolic letters. Believers are to genuinely love (agape) one another. Love is the backbone for all the other exhortations. heart_4

God’s Body must not use people for their spiritual gifts or abilities. Paul urges sincerity & genuineness of love (ajnupo>kritov: without hypocrisy or deceit).

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Paul said the greatest act of spiritual service was love (1Corinthians 13:13)

APPLY/THINK

God’s Body must worship God fully (Romans 12:1-2).

God’s Body must worship God freely (Romans 12:3-8).

God’s Body must worship God as family (Romans 12:9-21).

µ     We must be united & urgent about investing for eternity in God’s kingdom

µ     What is your spiritual gift? How are you using it for the glory of God and good of others?

µ     Are you in God’s family – God’s Body?

  • Are you accurately reflecting the love relationship God has graced in your life?

 

ASSESSMENT/INVENTORY: Spiritual Gifts Survey (from Lifeway)

 


[1] Illustration from Tony Evans, Understanding God: God’s Glorious Church: The Mystery and Mission of the Body of Christ. Chapter 2 – Jesus’ Fifth Column. (digital version)

[2] Closed hand examples are salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, inerrancy and authority of Scripture, nature of God; Open hand examples are eschatology, covenant/dispensation theologies, and multiple practical implications.

[3] Paul expects a “no” answer from the question he poses. See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1076.

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