Paul set out his proposition in verses 1-2, that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices and be transformed by the renewing of our minds as a response to grace− in verses 3-8 we have our first lesson on how to go about it: Serve the body of Christ in humility.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (12:3)
So, it would seem that the first step in the transformative process is that we adopt an attitude of humility. Right away, we can see that not being conformed to this world was something Paul was very serious about (v. 2) for in this age of “game”, “swagger” and “bling” humility is very much out of style. Verse 4 uses the metaphor of our bodies in the same way that Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 12, another spiritual gifts passage, as he shows that each of us has a unique part to play in the Body of Christ. While this is easy enough to grasp, he takes another shot at the attitudes of this world in verse 5 when he says each member belongs to all the others. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Christians bristle at that one.
In verses 6-8 Paul refers to spiritual gifts that each of us has received by the Holy Spirit.
I hope you will consider this carefully: In a context of humble service, a context that is not only counter-intuitive but also counter-cultural for most of us, Paul tells us to exercise our spiritual gifts in humble service to the Body of Christ. Think about the magnitude of the implication of this…
Not only are we to adopt an attitude of true and honest humility, not only are we to consider our positions as members of and belonging to the Body of Christ, but we are to serve the Body of Christ. Yet even more striking than that, we are to rely upon our spiritual gift from God in our service, which is to say that we are not to rely on our own strength, ability or talent, but on God’s grace alone.
How are we to live as Christians? We are to rely on God in all things to serve His purpose and not our own to build His Kingdom.
Paul continues in these verses with his discussion of our response to grace. Here, he sets the tone with verse 9: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Our response to God’s grace must be one of love, both love for God and love for others, and this love must be sincere. It is interesting that Paul should modify this sincere love statement with the concept of hating what is evil and clinging to what is good; it would appear that in our sincere love, we are to maintain the highest of ethical standards, not allowing ourselves to misuse our new freedom.
So then, what does love in action look like in practice?
Paul begins shedding light on this question in the verses that follow, first of all with an emphasis on what we should do to put love into action:
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (12:10). Because our response to grace is that we love others, we should be devoted to one another, and we should put others ahead of ourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (12:11). Because our response to grace is that we love God, we should serve Him with enthusiasm always. Because our response to grace is one of love, our attitudes should reflect that love for God and other people: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (12:12). Since we have a whole new attitude because of the grace we have received, our love should result in generosity toward other people: Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (12:13).
In the next three verses, his emphasis shifts slightly, but he is still speaking of sincere love:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
As we read these verses, notice that they are not things that are common in this world. I’ve never met someone who blessed their oppressors, for instance; have you? I don’t always see people rejoicing with their friends who are rejoicing, for all too often a person sees their friend rejoicing while harboring resentment because their friend was fortunate in an area where they hadn’t been as fortunate. Harmony is surely lacking in our world, while pride and conceit are commonplace; and so many decline to associate with the less fortunate. Real sincere love is a very rare thing in our world, but within the church, it is supposed to be a given.
In 12:1-16 Paul has discussed our response to grace with a series of short statements that stem from the theme of sincere love, but in 17 ff. he seems to focus on one particular subject: Revenge. While the previous section can be said to deal mostly with our relationships within the Body of Christ, this section would seem more (hopefully) to deal with those outside of the Body of Christ. Paul set up his new theme in verse 17: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. Our natural human inclination when we have been harmed or insulted is to strike back, to get even, to Tweet, but that is not the reaction of sincere love, and it has been rendered obsolete by grace.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (12:18). We are not to stir up trouble or carry on in a provocative manner with other people, we should not be tossing insults and unkindness around, nor should we be looking for disputes, for our response to grace makes that kind of living hypocritical. God has forgiven us, He has shown love and mercy to us; do we honor Him by stirring up trouble with other people?
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
If we are harmed by another, even if it is a violent attack; our response is to show God’s mercy and love to the other party, it is not for us to avenge the wrong we have suffered. If avenging or retribution or punishment is required, that is God’s job, and since God has been faithful in dealing with us, He can be counted on to be faithful in the final disposition of our having been wronged.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:21).
There, that’s the “official” lesson portion− now let’s get real.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This is not empty talk; there are serious implications in these words. These injunctions require a response to grace, a response that brings about a whole new way of living and thinking, and more than anything else, they require that we trust God like never before. Yet God has given us His Spirit, and through His Spirit in us, we have the strength and fortitude we need to live the lives He has intended for us to live as citizens of His Kingdom. As each of us uses his or her spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire Body of Christ, we will have not only the Holy Spirit in us to help us through, we also have the Holy Spirit at work in all of the other members of the Body to encourage, console and empower us to do our parts, to God’s great glory.