Romans 12:1-8 New Life in Christ
1I appeal to you all, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3For 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 judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
As happens with many contemporary public statements, when we take a passage of scripture out of context we put ourselves at risk of falling into a pit of misinterpretation and bad guidance. For the sake of the reading making sense, and for no other, I have removed some words from the English translation, though a passage like this should never be left without some background information to help us see what Paul was trying to achieve. In some churches it is not unusual for the readings to be introduced by context-setting comments. This is one passage which would benefit from that if the sermon isn’t going to fill people in on the background.
Through chapters 9, 10 and 11, Paul had pushed his understanding of the grace of God and what God was willing to do to build the relationship with us. Now it’s time to put some of that understanding into practice. While it may be good to explain parts of scripture for our wider knowledge, or in a study context where we look at the whole of the text over a number of weeks, none of the writers wanted their readers to just take on board what had happened without it transforming their lives in some way. Hence a vital question for us to ask is “What is the implication of this understanding for us, on our lives, in the current environment?” That is where this reading sits.
God expects us to have a quality relationship with Him. To establish and maintain that relationship requires us to acknowledge the great Creator as the source of our being, and that of the whole world in which we live. Unlike the literal interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis God’s creation continues to this day. There’s a joke about God agreeing that one second on His time scale is like 10000 years on ours and saying that He will give the petitioner what he wants in “a minute”. Every birth is a miracle, and a creation of God from the egg and sperm provided by the mother and father, irrespective of species. Every interaction between species and between plants and animals comes about because of God’s creation allowing for food cycles, creation and decay. Even the fine balance of how our bodies process food and extract what we need – often tiny amounts of trace elements – and how those needs are provided for, has been programmed by an all-knowing Creator whom we should honour and respect.
Hence Paul encourages the Roman Christians to consider their own bodies as a means of showing respect to God. The message, of course, applies to everyone, in every age, including our own. We might think that our world today is corrupt, with many people falling for selfish ways and having no sense of community requirements. That’s particularly relevant with the way the willingness of a small minority to ignore restrictions designed to get lives back to some sense of normality in the Covid-19 era are causing significant pain for the vast majority. If only that minority would conform to Paul’s exhortations we would be returning to a more normal life much more quickly than we are. It may seem that the answer is obvious, but what did Paul really mean by not letting ourselves be conformed to the world? What is it about the world today which is sick in the sight of God? Have we let our defences down and succumbed to the ways of the world? Do we jump to conclusions too quickly? Do we think that we are better than someone from a different culture, skin colour, language or political persuasion? Do we ridicule people because they are different, or have different ideas from ours, rather than respecting them as contributing to the well-being of the human race? Let us discern God’s will, not our own, and, by transforming our own lives, transform the lives of others.
In typical Paul fashion he gives his readers examples of how they can look at what they are doing, and how they can improve their relationship with God. By God’s grace some of us have a gift of prophecy, some have a gift of teaching, some of leading, some of being compassionate. I could add some of us have a gift of being able to tolerate the harsh sun, or to being able to think of abstract things – maths for example – or to read maps without having to rotate them. Though I’ve shortened the list here, Paul was known to go on and on, and on, about the various gifts which we can be given. Each is complementary, not better than another. Each should be respected as contributing to the benefit of the whole.
Where do we sit? The ways of the world often appear to be very attractive, and suck us into a life away from God. Those gifts we have been given by God are not just for our benefit, and we should share them with others who might have greater need for them, whether we know it or not. This is really Paul’s message: look at your own life, because that is all you can change, and see if you need to repair some aspects of the relationship you have with God, and see if God is calling you to take some action which you have yet to take.