“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
In writing to the Roman church, Paul addresses a divided congregation – a division (mostly along ethnic lines) which has led to a misunderstanding of faith. You see the division in the last chapter of the book where Paul mentions several “house churches.” It’s usually assumed the Roman Church was composed of a number of congregations – which it was, but the real question is why? Perhaps there was no one venue big enough to hold them all, but that’s just an assumption. Deep seated division, I think, is the better answer. Sixteen times in that chapter Paul commands them to “greet” one another. Why do that unless he is wanting to draw them all closer together?
But to our text passage:
Paul urges them to present themselves as a living sacrifice. We usually read that to mean “you each present your life as a living sacrifice to God,” but that’s not what Paul says. If he’d meant that, he would have written “present your bodies as living sacrifices” (plural). But he doesn’t. They all, together, as a united body, were to present themselves as one living sacrifice (singular) to God. The point is driven home in the next sentence where Paul urges them to transform their “mind” (not “minds”). The thinking (and action) of the church was to be united in its singular devotion to God and one another, and only this united body could possibly be a holy and acceptable offering to God.
In verses three and following Paul goes on to write about what this unity looks like, and when he does, he addresses the members individually (note “I say to every one of you”). Why? Because a united church can only exist when individuals behave in a united way.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is . . . serving, then serve; . . . 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement . . .(Romans 12:6-8).
Charles Swindoll tells the story of a mother who took her young son to hear a famous pianist. She hoped it might spur the boy to take an interest in music.
Before the concert started, the mother, busy chatting with friends, became oblivious to the fact her son had left his seat. Drawn to the stage, the boy made his way down to inspect the gleaming black Steinway. He ran his fingers lightly over the shiny white keys. No one noticed until he sat down and began to play (you guessed it) “chopsticks.”
The mother was horrified, the crowd became loudly indignant. But the pianist, hearing the boy and the noise of the audience quickly surmised what had happened and, grabbing his coat, ran on stage to the child. Reaching around the boy he began to improvise a tune to accompany “chopsticks,” all the while whispering in the child’s ear: “Don’t stop. Keep on going. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever give up.”
How often have you failed to achieve something wonderful because you fell under the weight of insurmountable criticism? Worse, how often have you been the deciding factor in someone else’s failure because you were a griper or complainer rather than an encourager?
The Bible teaches that the ability to encourage is a gift from God. Indeed, Luke says it is a work of God Himself (Acts 9:31 NIV). Let’s join in the work of God and be encouragers! And when we need it ourselves, let us look to the Lord from whom all blessings flow!
When christianity is reduced to elements of “religiosity” (heritage, custom, liturgy, denominational preference etc.) one can be “faithful” without exhibiting much faith. This is the cause and result of the division in the Roman church, and a cause of division in the modern church. I do not necessarily mean a division characterized by ill-will. Division often occurs not because people don’t like each other, but because they neither know nor care to know one another.
Having established that no one stands well before God because of religiosity, and that the basis for any standing at all before God rests solely on faith, Paul launches in chapter twelve into the application of this truth. It involves life-change and positive and specific life action.
It’s not as though Paul has not addressed this before. It is really at the heart of his presentation in chapters 6 – 8, but in chapter twelve he comes back to address it more specifically.
I find it interesting that the first kind of behavior he mentions is involvement with church. While the opening of chapter twelve has been used to teach the quite inane notion that “all of life is worship,” Paul’s point is much different. Early Christians would have thought of worship as something they do “together,” not alone. Thus the presentation of one’s life as a “living sacrifice” has to do with self-sacrifice within the community of faith. Paul writes: “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. [Use your gift] in accordance with your faith.” He lists some of the gifts: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, leadership, showing mercy, and contributing to the needs of others. All this lays the foundation for the very rapid series of commands that follow in verses 9-13, and while some of these commands reach beyond the context of the church family, all of them must include the church community. It is the community that matters most in the life of faith.