When God saves His people, He does not leave them in isolation. Rather, He places them into the body of Christ and they are to participate with the other members. The members of the church are not all the same. God has designed the church in such a way that it consists of people from different backgrounds, ages and personalities. As we approach Romans 12:3-13, the theme changes from the believer’s personal responsibility to the Lord to their responsibility to the church. In 12:3-8 the focus is on spiritual gifts and in 12:9-13 the focus is on how we treat one another. John Murray summarises 12:3-8 by saying,
“In this section Paul is going to address the differences between believers – differences which God in His sovereign providence and distributions of His grace has caused to exist”.
As God’s people present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice, this will manifest itself in such a way that it benefits the whole church. If this is going to take place, we need to know that healthy body life occurs when there is: humility of mind (12:3), unity of members (12:4-5) and diversity of gifts (12:6-8).
HUMILITY OF MIND (Romans 12:3)
When it comes to your place and practice in the church, how should you view yourself? Paul makes it clear that you ought not to have a high view of yourself (12:3a). Instead, we ought to measure our abilities against God’s gracious provision of giftedness (12:3b). We will never serve effectively in the body of Christ if our starting point is not one of humility.
UNITY OF MEMBERS (Romans 12:4-5)
In addition to having a right understanding of ourselves, we must always have a right understanding of the entire church. Using the human body as an analogy, Paul makes the point that a body will have many parts with different functions, yet it is a single body (12:4). In the same way the church — which consists of many members — is united in Christ (12:5). How does this help with effective body life? Negatively, it would be a disaster if a part from the human body operated independent from the rest, so it would be a disaster if this happens in the church. Positively, when the individual parts of the human body operate in harmony there is healthy function.
DIVERSITY OF GIFTS (Romans 12:6-8)
The third thing to know about healthy body life in the church is the diversity of gifts. Not everyone in the church is the same, and God has made it this way by design. Understanding the diversity of gifts by sovereign allotment, the members of the church are to use what God has given them for the effective operation of the body. In verses 6-8 Paul lists 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that while you may be gifted in certain areas, don’t use that as an excuse to neglect obedience because it is not your “gift”. Most of these gifts are in the form of commands for all believers throughout the Scriptures.
The word “prophecy” literally means, “to speak forth”. A prophet was one who received direct revelation from God and communicated it. Prophecy involved both foretelling and forth telling and functioned as a foundational aspect to the early church (cf. Eph. 2:20). Prophecy was to be in perfect harmony with God’s Word. A contemporary application of this gift would be the importance of faithfully communicating God’s Word according to Scripture (cf. 12:6b).
The gift of “service” is practical gift that it broad in its application. It simply means, “to serve” and it is from this word where the term “deacon”. The gift of service is not limited to deacons and is seen in a variety of practical ways in the life of a church (helping, meals, setting up, cleaning etc.).
“The one who teaches, in his teaching…” (12:7). The gift of “teaching” refers to the ability to communicate the Word of God in such a way that it is made clear. Pastors and elders ought to have the gift of teaching (cf. Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2) however it is not limited to them.
“The one who exhorts, in his exhortation…” (12:8). The word “exhorts” literally means, “to call alongside”. This is this ability to skillfully encourage God’s people to obey and apply the Scripture. An excellent example of the gift of exhortation was Barnabas (Acts 4:36).
“The one who contributes, in generosity…” (12:8). The gift of giving refers to the ability to provide practical resources to those in need. This is to be done with sincerity and generosity.
“The one who leads, with zeal…” (12:8). The word “leads” is also used in the NT to describe the task of church leaders (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17). However, this gift is not limited to elders and deacons. This leadership is to be carried out “with zeal” indicating the serious responsibility.
“The one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (12:8). This is the gift of sensitively caring for those struggling or suffering. It is to be done in such a way that it is not seen as a mere duty.
What is your giftedness? One of the most effective ways to discover your giftedness is to give yourself wholly to God (Rom. 12:1-2), be humble (Rom. 12:3) and start being faithful in the church (Rom. 12:4-8). The area of your giftedness will soon become clear.
Suggested Study Questions:
- Why is it helpful to have a humble mindset when it comes to the use of our giftedness in the church? How is pride damaging to effective service?
- How does Paul’s analogy of the human body (one body many members) provide perspective regarding the operation of a church? Why is it wrong to expect “the faithful few” to do most things in a church?
- Why does God give the church a variety of spiritual gifts?
- Steven J. Cole asks the following question, “What do you complain about in the church?” He then follows it up with the observation, “people tend to complain in their area of giftedness.” Discuss the point raised in this observation.
 John Murray, Romans, 116