We started by chapter 12 by noting that Paul is turning his attention towards the interactions of individual believers, as it relates to their union with Christ.
Romans 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Paul is about to describe that all this means. Even though we are different people and even though we may not all maintain the same function, we are yet one with another because we are all one with Christ. This should settle any concern that arises from religion whereby folks seek a more worthy position (in their mind) over someone else. Survey any religious institution and you’ll find a hierarchy governing its existence. What’s rare is to find Jesus Christ identified as the hierarchy. We’ll talk more about this later in the post. For now, let’s let more of Chapter 12 unfold and understand more about this one-ness in Christ.
Romans 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 12:7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 12:8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Being one in Christ doesn’t eliminate the individual talents we have, as given by God Himself according to His grace. However, these talents were given so that the body of believers would function together as a cohesive body. Note a few of the gifts that Paul mentions and their purpose:
- Prophecy: essentially, divine discourse – where the message and purpose of God is declared. Paul says that if someone who has this gift is exercising this gift, then let it be exercised according to the proportion of faith. What is the proportion of faith? Remember from verse 3, that God has dealt to every believer a measurable faith, which is ultimately Jesus Christ. However, as we see in these verses, this measurable faith can also be defined by the various gifts that God has given. Now, we shouldn’t go too far to conclude that God has given some people more ability to believe than others. That’s not the context. What Paul is describing is the various gifts that a believer would exercise and those gifts do vary.
With Christ being the sum total of prophecy (the divine message and purpose of God, personified), then let those who prophecy do so according to that proportion – let them do so according to Christ. This is the measure of faith they exercise. The prophet doesn’t hold clout over the believers nor is in charge of the believers. The prophet yields his functionality to the Spirit of God and in turn resonates the truths of God to edify the body of Christ.
- Ministry: this is nothing more than service. Interestingly enough, this comes from the same root word that deacon comes from. Remember, however, this is speaking of functionality within the collective body, not a hierarchy of offices to hold. These folks are gifted with finding ways to serve others. Their gift doesn’t translate into service being a chore, but rather an pure enjoyment. The minister does not seek out fame or fortune for his ministry, but yields to the Spirit of God to be led where service is to be found. The minister serves the body of Christ for the edification thereof.
- Teaching: to hold a discourse of instruction. There isn’t much difference between prophecy and teaching, in my judgment, other than prophecy may not necessarily involve methodical instruction, but could simply be the declaration of truth. The teacher, however, functions to instruct, according to faith. The teacher is simply concerned with instructing and having that instruction take root in the minds of the students. The teacher is not interested in maintaining authority over the students nor is the teacher interested in not being teachable. The teacher would be amiss to teach the things of God yet ignore that those very teachings would include yielding to the Spirit of God. The teacher recognizes that the goal of his function is to edify the body of Christ, not his own ego.
- Exhortation: to call to one’s side with the intent of admonishment or instruction or to exhort. Some have been given the gift of dealing with others in a closer, one-on-one fashion. The exhorter never seeks to tear down the individual nor to one-up them on some fleshly comparative level. Th exhorter yields to the Spirit of God as he seeks to edify the body of Christ.
- Giver: to impart to another. The giver is an interesting one. We all have the capacity to give, but some are gifted with the ability to not just give, but sense when it is necessary. The sensing of course is nothing more than the Spirit leading them to do so. Again, it isn’t to say that any one of us can’t be led of the Spirit to give. The giver doesn’t give for show, but gives out of a cheerful heart.
2Corinthians 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
The simplicity of the giver is the modesty he carries himself with – again, not giving for show. The giver may not just give monetarily, but likewise in time and effort. When Paul writes to the Corinthians about an upcoming visit, he says he will not come to burden them, but rather:
2Corinthians 12:15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
- Ruler: to be set in a position to care for and look after. The ruler is to rule with all diligence, meaning, his ruler-ship is not of lazy partiality. The ruler is to be instant, in season and out of season. But, in keeping with the theme, the ruler yields to the Spirit of God to the edifying of the body of Christ. But, let’s not be too hasty to draw a conclusion that ruler means “dictator” or “spiritual king.” The ruler is takes care to look after the body of Christ, but he is not the ruler of the body of Christ – for that would fall to the Ruler Himself, Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
- Mercy Shower: he that strives to help or aid the afflicted. We often view mercy as this compassionate response to a judicial matter, whereby we choose to not hold the guilty accountable. While this is certainly an acceptable purpose of mercy, we shouldn’t be too quick to limit mercy to just this idea. Mercies, a state above, define the extent at which help or aid is given to the afflicted. When the afflicted need healing and receive it, that is mercy. Note this from Paul:
Philippians 2:25 Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. 2:26 For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. 2:27 For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
God had mercy upon Epaphroditus by healing him but likewise had mercy upon Paul therefore, for if Epaphroditus had died, it would have had irrecoverable impact upon Paul’s ministry.
When the afflicted need protection and safety and receive it, they are receiving mercy. Note David’s desire:
Psalms 143:11 Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. 143:12 And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.
When the afflicted need food or drink and receive it, they are receiving mercy. When speaking of the restoration of Israel, note Isaiah’s words, associating the showing of mercy upon Israel and their no longer being in hunger:
Isaiah 49:10 They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
Mercy is the relief from a troubling circumstance and there are those in the body who, by the leadership of the Spirit of God, are gifted to relieve those from their troubling circumstances. We know that God’s grace is sufficient to see us through our circumstances, however, it seems that there are those in the body who are the literal hands of His grace, helping other believers through their circumstances. Paul says that mercy is to be shown with cheerfulness. Mercy isn’t the product of a begrudging mind or motive, but is the product of a ready mind who realizes the importance of mercy and gladly shows it where necessary.
We have gifts called out here by Paul of prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, ruling and showing mercy. Do you see how all of these are intertwined gifts for the body of Christ? Just as we are members one of another, so too are these gifts woven together with us. These gifts are vital to the edification of the body of Christ.
So, Paul talks about us being members in one body and as we read in Colossians 1:18, this body is Christ’s body, the church. There aren’t many topics within professing Christianity that are not as heavily debated as this topic – specifically, who makes up the body of Christ and when did it begin? Why is this so important to so many? Because, in their reckoning, without knowing when the body of Christ began, let alone who makes up the body of Christ, then it would be impossible to know which doctrine should be in play for believers today. Likewise, it is concluded that knowing when the body of Christ began helps to explain why we have seemingly contradictory verses in scripture.
For example, why would Matthew 6 teach that the forgiveness of God is based on we forgiving others, yet Ephesians 4 teaches that forgiveness of one another should be automatic because God has already forgiven us.
Therefore, the solution is to understand when the church began so you these verses are no longer contradictory. Usually, this question of when the church began is also involved in a much large theological framework known as, Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism, in its simplest form, is nothing more than trying to compartmentalize scripture by boxing them into periods of time. There are many different flavors of dispensationalism that exist, historically and presently. This post isn’t designed to do an expose on the various types of dispensationalism nor the various opinions as to when the church began, but we will touch on these more as we continue in Chapter 12.
In the next post, we’ll specifically look at what the body of Christ is and if we can find when it began. We’ll also look to see if its beginning marks a doctrinal boundary for us today. It should be a fun post!
Our story continues…