Romans 12:3-8 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
The title for this sermon came from a line in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. Reflecting on passages like Romans 12:3-8 he wrote, “In a Christian community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain.” The picture he was trying to paint is something like a crane hoisting up a beam, held by a chain. If any link in the chain is faulty the entire beam will inevitably fall, possibly destructively and dangerously. So it is, by God’s design, with the church. God has given us a commission, and in order to accomplish it everyone must properly perform their God-given function or use their God-given gifts to that common end. If we do not, we cannot fulfill the purpose which God has given us. If we do, we demonstrate the power of the gospel to the unbelieving world.
To help you all see all of that in the text and to help you understand how to put it into practice I mean to name that which the passage assumes (the commission this passage directs us on how to fulfill), I mean to name the various aspects of our role in fulfilling God’s charge to the Church, I mean to help you see your individual and indispensable role in all of this, and I mean to name two specific applications (one for Mother’s Day and one for my upcoming Sabbatical).
Would you pray with me, then, that the text and our application of it would be clear? Would you join me in praying that the Spirit would be pleased to convict and inspire us to obey all that God calls us to in this passage? And would you go with me before God asking him to strengthen the moms at Grace and Grace during our time away?
Apart from its larger context this passage might be a bit confusing. Imagine if I said to you all something like,
“Now I want you guys to work together. You need each other. You each have certain gifts and abilities that you need to put into practice. Make sure not to think your gifts are more or less than they really are, but use them to the best of your abilities.”
On one hand, that all sounds fairly reasonable and sensible. On the other hand, something critical is clearly missing. Have you figured out what it is? It’s missing the end or goal. Work together toward what end? You need each other for what purpose? Put your gifts and abilities into practice as well as possible to what goal?
And so it is in our passage for this morning. What does Paul expect his readers to accomplish by heeding his charges? To what end does he expect them to be humble, perform their functions, and use their gifts?
Implied in this text is the Great Commission. That is, in light of the gospel that Jesus accomplished and Paul explained in the first 11 chapters of Romans, God left his people with a specific commission—a specific charge for Christians in light of the new life he purchased for us by the blood of his Son. We find it in Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'” Again, our passage for this morning (12:3-8) assumes the Great Commission and describes several aspects of how God means his people to carry it out.
Before coming to the next section, let me say one word of clarification. Most people tend to think of the Great Commission primarily in terms of a call to missions. It certainly has missionary implications, but the main charge is to make disciples. Most of that happens within the Church as we help one another grow in our faith, train one another for ministry, and care for one another in ministry. Making disciples does mean reaching the lost—locally and internationally—but in this context Paul primarily has in mind disciple-making in the form of strengthening the Church.
What, then, according to his passage, is our role in fulfilling God’s commission?
OUR ROLE IN FULFILLING GOD’S COMMISSION
There’s more to be said than what’s said in our passage, but not less. In other words, Romans 12:3-8 isn’t everything the bible says about how we ought to work to fulfill the Great Commission within the Church, but this does give us two critical components of it.
How does God mean his people to live out the gospel (the one Paul described in 1-11)? One part of the answer (as I just mentioned) is that he means his people to fulfill his commission by working toward the building up of the faith of his people. How does God mean his people to build up the faith of his people? According to this passage, two parts of the answer to that question are: 1) Be humble, and 2) Work hard in the particular ways God has assigned you. Let’s consider Paul’s explanation of each.
Be Humble (12:3)
The primary way we see this is in 12:3.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
When it comes to our role in the fulfillment of the Great Commission within the Church, Paul charges Christians to begin by being humble. Paul gives us three separate descriptions of the humility he calls for. Humility in this passage means not thinking of yourself “more highly than [you] ought to”. It means thinking of yourself with “sober judgment”. And it means thinking of yourself in light of the “measure of faith that God has assigned” you.
Not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought means, above all, seeing yourself in light of the majesty of God instead of in light of the people around you. With our eyes truly opened to the glory of God, we will eagerly find our proper place of lowliness. That is not to say that we are nothing, but it is to say that everything good in us is from God. To think with sober judgment means thinking with a sound mind. It means thinking with self-control. It means considering all things—especially ourselves—in light of the wisdom of God. And to think of yourself according to measure of faith God has assigned means honestly assessing your understanding of the promises of God and your level of trust in them. We all have faith in common as Christians, but not all have the same maturity of faith. Humility means living in light of the actual measure of Grace God has granted you at any given moment.
It is only with a right understand these things and an honest assessment of ourselves in light of them that we can be truly humble. And it is only in true humility that we can most fully honor God as we seek to strengthen the Church. Fulfillment of the Great Commission begins in humility because without it we lie about the gospel. Pride is in direct contradiction with receiving the benefits of Jesus work on the cross. We begin with humility, then, in order that as gospel fruit is harvested God alone gets the glory (not us); such that any boasting is in the cross (not ourselves); such that to live to fulfill the Great Commission within the Church is Christ and to die doing so is gain.
Work Hard in the Particular Ways God Has Assigned You (12:4-5, 6-8)
And that leads us to the second aspect of our role in fulfilling God’s commission: working hard in the particular ways God has assigned you. To explain this, Paul uses one metaphor (the human body) and one list of Spiritual gifts. Concerning the metaphor wrote:
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
His point here is simple: to fulfill the commission of God Christians must realize that God has given the Church one purpose (Great Commission) but each member of it different functions for fulfilling it—just like a human body has many parts that all play different roles in accomplishing one common purpose. We are all to work together for one common aim, but each according to the specific role assigned to us by God.
Again, to make his point even more clear, Paul says the same thing from a slightly different angle. That is, he further clarifies the nature of the “function” God has assigned us. Our function is to use the specific gifts God has given us in proportion to the faith he has given us.
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
God has graciously given different gifts to each Christian which, collectively, work together to build up the Church. All of the gifts are necessary to accomplish this purpose, with each person using them consistently with the maturity of their faith and the strength of their gift. Altogether Paul paints a picture of the Church as a single, complex mechanism where every piece must work properly or the whole mechanism will falter.
And that leads to you and I individually. How, specifically, do we fit into all of this?
YOU ARE AN INDISPENSABLE LINK
Rightly understood and combined, these things make every person in the Church an indispensable link in the fulfillment of God’s commission for the Church. That is, when we really grasp the nature of God’s charge, Christian humility, and God’s gifts for each member of the Church, we will see that apart from all of us being humble and working hard in the particular ways God has assigned to us, we cannot fulfill our God-given purpose. God made all of us to need all of us to do all he requires of us.
If any parts of our bodies fail to work properly, the entire body suffers. Those of you with back problems know this particularly well. If you’ve never had back pain you might know that your back and pinky toe are connected. And yet, if you’re having back spasms and you move your toe the wrong way, you’ll quickly learn.
God has given you a measure of faith and assigned you a set of gifts and functions to accomplish his purposes. If you do not use them, the whole Church will suffer in its attempt to fulfill the Great Commission. Let me say that same thing in a few different ways to highlight various practical aspects of Paul’s message.
If you do not give yourself to the building up of the Church, the Church will suffer. Your engagement in the Great Commission, by God’s design, directly affects the Church’s ability to fulfill the Great Commission.
If you give yourself to the building up of the Church but do so in pride, the Church will suffer. If you are arrogant and self-serving, the Church becomes less attractive and the gospel seems less amazing.
If you give yourself to the building up of the Church but do so in such a way that doesn’t take into account the body-like nature of the Church, the Church will suffer. If you try to do so as a Lone Ranger Christian, you miss out on the power of God.
If you give yourself to the building up of the Church but fail to do so with a right understanding your gifts and function, the Church will suffer. If you think you’re the head (Christ alone), all kinds of problems arise. Likewise, however, if you think you’re a hand when you’re really a toe problems quickly arise. More practically, if you think you’re a teacher (and so you try to teach), when God has really assigned you the function and gifts of an evangelist the Church will suffer from inferior teaching and a lack of evangelism.
And if you give yourself to the building up of the Church but do so in such a way that is disproportionate to your faith and giftedness, the Church will suffer. If you have strong faith and strong gifts, but you choose not to use them, the Church will miss out on significant blessings God intends it to have. Conversely, if you have weak faith and weak gifts but seek to put yourself on a higher platform, people will be hurt by your carelessness.
In all of these ways you are an indispensable link in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The Church needs you and you need the Church. God has ordered his people in such a way that we are all interdependent and an indispensable part of his plan of salvation.
The question arises, then, do you believe that? Do you feel that deeply in your bones? Does it seem that way at Grace Church? Does you feel like an indispensable link in the chain of the Great Commission here? Do you know your gifts and functions? Do you have a Church-confirmed sense of the strength of your faith?
If your answer is no to any of those questions, let me suggest two possible (and common) reasons:
First, it might be because there is a lack of balance in our approach to the gifts and functions. It may be that we as leaders at Grace are over-emphasizing some gifts and under emphasizing others. That is, perhaps you don’t feel like you are an indispensable link because we haven’t provided you with an appropriate opportunity to use your gifts as God would have you. Where that’s the case, we’re sorry. Help us to grow in that area. Likewise, it may be because you’ve done the same. That is, perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of believing that your gifts aren’t valuable enough or your faith isn’t strong enough to be of any use. Where that’s the case let the Word of God (our passage for this morning) correct you. Your gifts are from God and for the building up of the Church. Help us help you find a way to use them appropriately, whatever they are.
Second, if you don’t feel like an indispensable part of the body of Christ, it might be because we’ve failed to truly be a Great Commission church. As we’ve seen, your God-given gifts and functions are not for any old purpose. They are for one specific purpose. Someone with the gift of distance running understandably isn’t going to feel like an invaluable part of a power-lifting team. Someone with the gift of serving the poor probably isn’t going to feel like an essential part of Edina’s city council. And someone with a God-given gift for the fulfillment of the Great Commission probably isn’t going to feel like an indispensible part of a Church that’s not given to making disciples of all nations. Again, where we as leaders have shifted our mission from the one God assigned to us, help us get back on track. And where you’ve been coming to church for some reason other than participating in the discipleship of the world, let us help you get back on track.
Where we are rightly working together for the fulfillment of the mission of the Church, you ARE an indispensible link.
TWO SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS
Finally, then, I’d like to wrap up with two specific—not immediately obviously connected—applications. Once I realized that this was going to be my final sermon before my sabbatical AND it was going to be Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but to chuckle at the daunting thought of finding a passage in the bible to preach on that would faithfully address both. Having made it through this much of the sermon, I hope it’s obvious to you that God gave us such a text. If it’s not obvious to you yet, I hope to make it so right now.
Moms, you need to understand this text. It means a lot of things for you, chief among them is the fact that God has given you an absolutely glorious function. Your role in fulfilling the Great Commission as a mom is awesome! It is likely that no one on earth will have greater spiritual impact on your kids than you. Right now it is likely that, by God’s design, you primarily build up the Church by training your kids in the way they should go. That is an amazing, noble, and worthy thing to give this season of your life to. Never forget that.
Likewise, never forget that your primary purpose is mothering is to make disciples of your kids. It isn’t mainly to keep them happy, well fed, cutely dressed, and safe from bad people or get them good at soccer and into the right college/career. It is to help them follow Jesus with every ounce of their being.
And please recognize that your gifts and strength of faith are unique to you. Strive to be more like Jesus, but trust in his timing and grace. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to other moms. Get caught up in being amazed by the grace of God in your life and theirs. Likewise, don’t get caught up in comparing your kids to other kids. Get caught up in thanking God for having created them all in his image—unlike any other being on the planet, your kids have been made in God’s image.
Moms, this is how you apply this passage in your capacity as a mom. And kids, this is primarily where your honor should be directed to your moms today. Happy Mother’s Day, moms. 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. And insodoing strengthen the Church in your high calling as a mom.
How, then, does this relate to my sabbatical? Here’s the main application I want to draw. Pastors can be real gifts to the Church. Rightly executed pastors pray, teach the word, and equip the saints for the work of ministry; preparing and releasing the Church for all that God has made Her for. Wrongly executed pastors can take all the work of ministry on our own shoulders. Wrongly executed pastors can let the people in their churches feel unneeded because they are less knowledgeable or gifted. Of course, I mean to rightly execute my office, but it is my hope that this sabbatical will serve as a proper check.
What I mean is this: given what Paul taught in this passage, every one of you should be performing your God-given functions and using your God-given gifts in proportion to your faith, and in an indispensable way to build up the Church. My absence will leave a void for others to fulfill. Pastor Mike and Kyle have graciously agreed to fill some of them, but that leaves some of their duties needing to be filled by others. The point is that by going away for a season, I’m hopeful and prayerful that as more Great Commission needs are visible, you all will feel a greater sense of indispensability and a greater burden to give yourselves to building up the Church.
Some of the guys in my DG for instance have agreed to lead in a way they hadn’t previously. Pastor Mike and a few others get to use their gift of preaching in a new way. Others are stepping up in greater ways to help lead Berea with Pastor Mike shifting roles. Some of the guys I regularly meet with are meeting with each other and others. There are a couple of difficult situations that the other elders will be able to grow through as they lead in new ways. And on and on.
The charge to you all is to use the sabbatical to look around for ways you can strengthen the Church. In a new and vibrant way, then, having gifts that differ according to the grace given to you, use them: if prophecy, in proportion to your faith; 7 if service, in your serving; the one who teaches, in your teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in you exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. And may my sabbatical be a helpful means to that end.
Again, happy Mother’s Day and thank you for the gift of a sabbatical. Above all, though, I want to leave you with a charge to remember the gospel—the good news accomplished by Jesus Christ on the cross—and remember the Great Commission that flows from it. Give yourself, moms and Church, to those things in increasing measure according to the grace of God given to you. Don’t get side tracked to a lesser mission. Don’t get duped into believing the lies of the devil puffing you up or tearing you down. And don’t forget that every act of obedience to God is a gift from God and the fruit of his Holy Spirit.