By Les Henson.
In considering Paul’s treatment of “one body with many members” in Romans 12, we see four crucial qualities that help create and sustain a healthy Christian community. It is a deficiency in such qualities, which makes the Christian community so challenging to foster and maintain. Paul calls us to offer our bodies “as a living sacrifice” [v.1) and not to be “conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your minds” (v.2). Such transformation is the extraordinary work of the Spirit, in the lives of God’s people.
The first, quality is that of a willingness to present our bodies as a ‘living sacrifice’, an act of service and an act of worship to God for without sacrifice, service and worship we will never fully display who we are as ‘the body of Christ’. As a Christian community, we must understand that our bodies belong to God for we serve and worship God with our bodies as much as we do with our mind or our spirit. Indeed, the Christian faith permits no anomalous dichotomy between the body and the spirit. So, Paul is saying take your bodies and all the tasks you do every day and offer them as an act of worship and service to God.
The second, quality is ‘the renewing the mind’ enabling us to discern the will of God. Because it takes people with a transformed mind to produce and maintain a healthy Christian community, for as long as we remain conformed to the world’s ways, priorities, and expectations, this is impossible. J.B. Phillip’s paraphrases verse 2a as “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your mind from within.” For Paul, the renewed mind is evidenced by humility.
Paul refers the third quality in verse 3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Thus, the result of presenting our bodies and renewing our minds is articulated in an incredible down-to-earth fashion, namely, humility and a movement towards becoming Christlike. For Paul, Christ is our example, as he points out in Philippians 2:8 that Christ “being found in appearance as a man … humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”
Paul recognised that overconfidence, self-sufficiency, and self-importance are substantial hindrances to a healthy Christian community. And so, he informs them “not to think . . . more highly” of themselves than they should, but “to think with sober judgment” (v 3) before introducing them to issue of spiritual gifts. Thus, driving home the need for Christian humility in the community in the exercise of spiritual gifts.
It takes us to the fourth quality unless we bring a humble mind to any community; we will fail to value others. Thus, without humility, the gifts, talents, and contributions of each member of the diverse body will go unrecognised and unappreciated. So it is with this in focus in mind that Paul outlines a wide range of gifts and ministries in verses 6–8: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” Subsequently, each gift and every person in the community matters, without which the whole body cannot function. Therefore, we must not argue with one another nor envy each other or dispute our relative importance with another member of the body.
Everyone is noteworthy, and no one is superfluous; otherwise, the Christian community cannot function. Each member of the community has a task to do and a contribution to make. It is only when each member contributes according to their giftedness that the community functions healthily. For we are joined to one another by the grace and are duty-bound to serve another, including the people we ourselves would never have chosen. Yet each one is irreplaceable, unique and special yet they are part of the one body and in Christ. Accordingly, it is these very qualities that help to generate a healthy community and a vibrant witness.