LIFE IN COMMUNITY Romans 12
“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 who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:4–5).Love binds the members of Christ’s one body to Him, and to one another.
A righteous community. Romans 12 opens the fifth major section of Paul’s exploration of righteousness. Romans 1–3 demonstrated that no one is righteous in God’s sight. Romans 4–5 showed that God credits righteousness to sinners who have faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 6–8 showed that union with Christ frees believers from the Law and, in the Holy Spirit, supplies the power needed to enable us to live righteously now. Romans 9–11 showed that Israel’s temporary fall was due to its failure to seek righteousness from God, and that God Himself was righteous in His dealings with Israel. Now, in Romans 12–15, Paul is about to describe the righteous lifestyle of the new, Christian community. This description is especially important for a church made up of Jews and Greeks, from different cultures, with diverse traditions. How could the two groups avoid conflict, and together form a just, moral community that would display God’s righteousness in man’s dark world? The question is just as vital today as in the first century. Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another, and said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples” (John 13:34). Only as our modern churches live in community, as community is portrayed in Romans 12–15, will the world know that we are Christ’s. And that Christ is real.
The Christian’s new motive for righteous living is worship, not Law (12:1–2). By nature the New Covenant community is an organism, the body of Christ (vv. 3–8), called to live together in love (vv. 9–21).
Understanding the Text
“I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy” Rom. 12:1. The Law demanded. Grace invites us to consider God’s love, and respond to Him. By implication Romans 12:1–2 lays out a principle that replaces Law in the Christian’s life. We do not look to the Law, and respond because we must. We look at all God has done in showing us mercy, and respond to Him freely out of grateful love. If you ever find it hard to do what you know is the right thing, don’t say, “I ought to do this or that.” “Ought” won’t help. Instead, think of God’s mercy to you, and of Christ’s great love. In view of God’s mercy, you will want to do right. “Your spiritual worship” Rom. 12:1. The Old Testament worshiper brought animals to the temple, to be killed and laid on the altar. Paul reversed the imagery. Bring yourself to the altar. But do not die for God: live for Him! This is one of the wonderful things about worship. We do worship God when we go to church, when we pray, when we raise our voices in song. But we also worship God every day whenever we do anything that pleases Him. Our hand on the arm of a hurting brother can be worship. Our effort to do our job honestly and well can be worship. Stopping to listen to an upset child, even though we’re tired, can be worship. Everything we do, when done with a desire to please our Lord, is worship. How gracious of God, in view of His mercy to us, to provide us with so many opportunities to worship Him. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Rom. 12:2. I’m sure hundreds of sermons have been preached on the Greek words in this verse. Each tells listeners that the idea behind being “conformed” is that of being squeezed into a mold. And each tells listeners that the idea behind “transformed” is metamorphosis—that passage which converts a creeping caterpillar into a beautiful, airborne butterfly. What a goal for the believer: to become beautiful and new. Paul also tells us how: by the “renewing of your mind.” “Mind” here is nous, not so much the organ of intellect as the organ of perception. What is to be transformed is the way we look at life: the values, the thoughts, the motives, the viewpoint from which we evaluate choices. Simply put, we need to see everything from God’s point of view. What a clue to meaningful Bible study. We don’t read Scripture simply to learn doctrine and know what we believe. We read to understand how God thinks and feels about issues we face in our daily lives. How does God view my responsibilities as an employee? How does God want me to respond to this person who seems to dislike me? How does God want me to deal with the hurt of my recent rejection? If you come to God’s Word with questions like these, He will give you His answer. And you will experience that renewing of your mind that transforms. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is” Rom. 12:2. If you and I don’t learn to look at life from God’s point of view, we will never know His will. And we’ll never make the grand discovery that God’s will is best—“good, pleasing, and perfect.” So come to Scripture with your questions and uncertainties. Ask God to speak. And then do what He tells you. Try it. You’ll like it. “In Christ we who are many form one body” Rom. 12:3–5. What’s the basis for fellowship in our churches? Is it common doctrine? A common preference for our particular traditions or ways of worship? Is it the conviction that our particular denomination best reflects New Testament principles, or that it is “the” church that traces its origin to the Apostles? Not according to Paul. The basis for fellowship is the simple fact that we Christians are bound together with others in a living organism: the body of Jesus Christ. Because we are united to Him, we are necessarily united to each other. And therefore, Paul says, “Each member belongs to all the others.” Oh, it’s not wrong for some to prefer the Episcopal high church to charismatic enthusiasm. And it’s not wrong for some to believe in irresistible grace, while others emphasize free will. But it would be wrong for you or me to look at another believer in Jesus, and draw back because he or she raises his hands, or speaks in tongues, or baptizes infants rather than believers only. Or to draw back because one’s skin is lighter and the other’s darker, or because one’s home is a hovel and the other’s is a mansion. Christ is the great leveler, not by bringing anyone down, but by bringing all up. And so we gladly welcome anyone who confesses Jesus Christ, affirming with Paul that “each member belongs to all the others.” “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” Rom. 12:6–8. Unity doesn’t mean sameness. The church in some ways is like a casserole. My mother used to make a delicious tuna casserole, using mushroom soup, fresh peas, tuna, and several other ingredients. Blended together the taste was delicious: each ingredient seemed to bring out the best in the others. This is the real secret of Christ’s body, the church. God blends together persons who are different, each with a different gift, so that each ingredient can bring out the best in the others. Only as we live together in love, serving one another with the spiritual gifts God has provided, can we as individuals be all we were meant to be in Christ. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” Rom. 12:9–16. Three themes are always found together in New Testament passages. The body of Christ, spiritual gifts, and love. There are important reasons why these three themes are inseparable. Our relationship with other Christians is defined by participation together in a single body. Our service to other Christians is defined as using our gifts and abilities to serve them. Our attitude toward other Christians is one of active, caring love. Unity, service, and love are never separated in Scripture. Without unity, there can be no experience of service. Without service, there can be no experience of love. Without love, there can be no experience of unity. Each depends on the other. If you love and serve others, you will begin to experience the unity of the body of Christ (see DEVOTIONAL). “Leave room for God’s wrath” Rom. 12:17–20. My wife, Sue, was deserted by her first husband when she was three months pregnant with Sarah, and trying to care for two-and-one-half-year-old Matthew. There was no seeming reason for the desertion: he simply left. Over the years, this passage’s reminder, “Do not take revenge,” has been a constant challenge for Sue. Her ex-husband has wanted to keep in contact with the children. After we met and married, about three years after Sue’s divorce, her ex visited us in Florida, staying in our home. What a challenge for her to live an “on the contrary” life, and “if your enemy is hungry, feed him.” In every way Sue has tried to show kindness and concern for the man who shattered her world and burdened her with bringing up their little ones alone. But how exciting it has been to see the fulfillment of God’s Word. For Paul said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21). He didn’t mean that our good will overcome the evil in others. What he meant was that by doing good, we can overcome the evil in us! The ugly things that we might have justified in anyone treated so wrongly—anger, hatred, hostility, revenge—have been overcome in Sue, and her life has instead displayed a love, forgiveness, and kindness that could come only from God. I have no idea what Sue’s obedience to this passage has done for her ex-husband. But I know what it has done for her. And to glorify the Lord.
Meat and Potatoes Love(Rom. 12:9–16)
Love, Paul said, must be sincere (v. 9). But “love” is such an amorphous term in our society. Why, folks often use it to cover the basest of motives or actions. Like the person who uses “I love you” to manipulate another into satisfying mere sexual passion. But “love” isn’t an indistinct or slippery term in the New Testament. Love is practical, blunt, ordinary. It’s the meat and potatoes of the Christian life. What is meat and potatoes love? That dish we’re to serve up daily, and live on within the Christian community? Here’s the checklist Paul provided in Romans 12. Use it, not to measure how others perform, but how you’re doing as Christ’s disciple: * I show real devotion to others. * I honor others, and am more eager for their advancement than my own. * I share with others when they are in need. * I welcome others into my home, and into my life. * I rejoice with those who rejoice. * I mourn with those who mourn. * I live in harmony with others. * I associate as an equal with those who are socially or in other ways “beneath” me. There are other passages that further define love, such as 1 Corinthians 13. But this passage gives us the meat and potatoes of Christian love. If you actively love other Christians in these ways, you’re doing your part to bring vitality and life to the body of Christ on earth.
The most important thing you can do for others is to love them.
There are two ways of being united—frozen together, and melted together. What Christians most need is to be united in brotherly love.”—D.L. Moody