Weekly Meditation - 27th August 2017
In chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans, Paul has reached an interesting and surprising point in his argument. Since chapter 1 he has been developing a statement regarding righteousness by faith, firstly establishing that all humankind is unrighteous and in need of salvation, then revealing the new way to righteousness, not by following the Law, but through faith in the blood of Christ.
But chapter 12 throws the ball firmly back into our court. Although God has declared us righteous (3:21-24) and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us (8:9), we need to put our righteousness into practice. This is not a compromise on grace, we are not trying to earn or deserve our salvation; Paul has already stated that “the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed” (4:16) and “it is no longer by works: if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (11:6).
Paul’s advice here is so that individual Christians can grow, and serve each other, building the Church into a strong unit. It is “in view of his mercy” (12:1) that we should pay attention to our conduct. At first glance this might seem a contradiction. Surely, we might reason, because of his mercy we can take a few liberties – he will be merciful to us if we do. I once attended the baptism of a young man who thought in this way. He believed that now he had received God’s grace he could do as he liked. He planned to get drunk, sleep around, drive too fast ... and still get to Heaven when he died. He was wrong, for he was showing such disregard for God’s mercy that he clearly had not truly believed in his heart (10:9), or valued the blood shed for him.
If we remember the price of God’s mercy, we will want to live lives that bring him honour; elsewhere, Paul states that God’s grace itself “teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness” (Titus 2:11). Paul devotes chapter 12 of Romans to showing us how we can worship God with our daily lives. This first section (1-8) highlights three main principles.
· We should offer our bodies and minds to honour God.
· We must not think too much of ourselves.
· We should use our gifts.
To care for our bodies is our “spiritual act of worship” (v 1) This is quite a startling statement. How we feed, use and protect our bodies can be viewed as worship of the creator. So is the way in which we fill our minds, so that we do not “conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” (v 2) This is for us to determine, however. We are not to judge others; churches where there are rules about smoking, clothes, television use, reading material and so on, are not places where God is glorified, nor are his people welcomed and loved.
Not to think “of yourself more highly than you ought” (v 3) is excellent advice for the good of individuals and of the Church. There are churches where there is a hierarchy of privilege. Individuals strive to advance themselves, they need to boast of their achievements to get noticed; there is no humility or kindness. Paul pleads for us to focus, rather, on “the measure of faith God has given you” (italics added). All that we have is a gift from God – it is nothing to show off about.
But we certainly do have gifts – each one of us (v 6). Paul encourages the church members to get on and use their gifts, not for personalacclaim, but for the benefit of the “one body[where] each member belongs to all the others.” (v 5). That is a picture of a wonderful church and should be the aim of every Christian.
By Susan Thorne