unhappy in closet

I traveled too long down the road with Jesus in biblical illiteracy. On that road, I preached. I taught. My heart was right. I wasn’t trying to mislead people. And not everything I taught was illiterate. But because of that history, I have found over the last few years how difficult it has been to shove certain verses back into their contexts because I heard them for so many years taken out of context. I honestly can’t recall if I ever taught on these out-of-context passages, but I believed them, nonetheless. I regret this. However, the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. I can only hope some of what I write here, with His help, will open a small window of understanding for those who are stuck in the same ignorance I was.

Last week, we looked at two such passages, from Matthew 18:15–20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23–32.

We will be looking at Romans 12 today. Keep in mind as you read, that you may experience the same shoving-the-verses-back-into context problem I had. You will need to keep that thinking cap on. I usually take out the verse numbers when I paste a scripture passage, but in this case, it’s best to leave them in. I’m also including the subtitle that is in the ESV, to show you how doing so makes this passage more difficult to truly understand. It is unfortunate that this has been done, but it informs us that even the publishers and editors apparently didn’t understand the meaning of Romans 12:1–8.

“1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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 renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Gifts of Grace

3 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, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness”1

The one word that helps us unlock the problem with this taken-out-of- context passage is the word “for” in verse three. To begin, however let’s review the first two verses.

As we can see, Paul is making an appeal to the believers in Rome. Here is what he is appealing for them to do.

  • Present their bodies as living sacrifice.
  • Not to be conformed to the world.
  • Be transformed by the renewing of their minds.
  • Discern what God’s will is by testing—what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

Now comes the shoving-into-context part.

Please ignore the “Gifts of Grace” subtitle inserted by the editors.

As stated previously we will be greatly helped by the fact that verse three begins with the word “for”: “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, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” This means Paul is referring to what he had just written. In other words, present your bodies a living sacrifice and do not be conformed to the world because—you should not think more highly of yourselves than you ought to think. This is how the world thinks—people are very quick to establish rank, hierarchy, based upon what a person possesses, whether it is giftedness (natural or spiritual), wealth, or status. Christians are not to think this way and thus be conformed to a fallen culture.

Why?

Verses four and five tell us. Because we are one body with many members. These members do not have the same function, but we are “one body in Christ” and “individually members of one another.”

Paul then proceeds to teach how to exercise those gifts. We won’t go into those gifts here, because they don’t inform us about Paul’s primary point: Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, regardless of your giftedness, because you are all one body.

God had given gifts to the believers in Rome. Gifts given by God to be used in faith, zeal, and cheerfulness, as Paul wrote, but not in any way whatsoever to make these Roman Christians think they are better than other believers. Stop thinking that way. It’s worldly. By denying this mindset, you will present to the Lord a sacrifice because you will have to give up the way of thinking that wants to take preeminence because of the giftedness of individuals. You will not “advance” in the church. You will not be lifted up in the church. You will not have preeminence in the church. That’s a challenge when one has certain gifts on board. It’s difficult to think, “I am no better than the least gifted, and he or she is no less than I am.”

Now take a look around. Is it any wonder we have led ourselves astray—or perhaps have been led astray—through our understanding of this passage and thus taken it out of context? How does the Church think about gifted individuals?

Like the world.

 

1All Scriptures references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

 

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