By Andrew E. Courtis
After laying a strong foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the first 11 chapters, Paul transitions into the last section of this book (12-16) which focuses on the believer’s responsibilities in light of those chapters. He begins by stating what the believer’s responsibility to the Lord is (12:1-2) then focuses on their responsibility (12:3-13), and concludes with our responsibility to those outside the church (12:14-21).
1. THE BELIEVER’S RESPONSIBILITY TO THE LORD (12:1-2)
In this passage we will consider two areas of our lives that must be wholly devoted in the task of holy devotion – our bodies (12:1) and our minds (12:2). If we are going to present our bodies to the Lord, two things need to take place. Firstly there must be the reality of salvation (12:1a) and secondly the practice of sacrifice (12:2b). The “mercies of God” refers back to God’s gracious provision of salvation in Christ (3:21-11:36). This is where true devotion begins – you must be a recipient of God’s mercy in salvation. Next, he goes on to write about a kind of service that consists of presenting our bodies as a “sacrifice”. It is a sacrifice that is “living”, “holy” and “acceptable to God”. The second area of devotion is in our minds. The mind is the arena in which the battle for holiness will rage. Paul begins verse 2 with a negative prohibition. The word “world” here refers to the evil system that characterizes this age we live in. So this command is to not let your thoughts be shaped and formed by the ideals, values and morals of the evil system. The Christian wholly devoted to holy devotion will fight against this by being a non-conformist when it comes to worldliness. On the positive, we are to be transformed. This is work of God that takes place over time in which we have a responsibility in (this is in the present tense, passive voice, and imperative mood). The means in which the believer becomes transformed is through the renewing of their minds. This comes from a combination of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. The purpose of this renewal is so “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.
2. THE BELIEVER’S RESPONSIBILITY TO BELEIVERS (12:3-13)
When God saves His people, He does not leave them in isolation. Rather, He places them into the body of Christ and they are to participate with the other members. The members of the church are not all the same. God has designed the church in such a way that it consists of people from different backgrounds, ages and personalities. In 12:3-8 the focus is on spiritual gifts and in 12:9-13 the focus is on how we treat one another.
Spiritual Service (12:3-8)
If we are going to function is a way that is pleasing to the Lord, we need to know that healthy body life occurs when there is: humility of mind (12:3), unity of members (12:4-5) and diversity of gifts (12:6-8). Paul makes it clear that you ought not to have a high view of yourself (12:3a). Instead, we ought to measure our abilities against God’s gracious provision of giftedness (12:3b). We will never serve effectively in the body of Christ if our starting point is not one of humility. Secondly, we must always have a right understanding of the entire church. Using the human body as an analogy, Paul makes the point that a body will have many parts with different functions, yet it is a single body (12:4). In the same way the church -- which consists of many members -- is united in Christ (12:5). How does this help with effective body life? Negatively, it would be a disaster if a part from the human body operated independent from the rest, so it would be a disaster if this happens in the church. Positively, when the individual parts of the human body operate in harmony there is healthy function. The third thing to know about healthy body life in the church is the diversity of gifts. Not everyone in the church is the same, and God has made it this way by design. Understanding the diversity of gifts by sovereign allotment, the members of the church are to use what God has given them for the effective operation of the body. In verses 6-8 Paul lists 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that while you may be gifted in certain areas, don’t use that as an excuse to neglect obedience because it is not your “gift”. Most of these gifts are in the form of commands for all believers throughout the Scriptures.
Spiritual Sacrifice (12:9-13)
12:9-13 deals with the believer’s responsibility to those in the church. This section is dominated with the theme of love. There are 13 commands in these verses and they can be placed into 5 categories that describe this spiritual sacrifice we are to show all in the church: a pure love (12:9), a selfless love (12:10), an active love (12:11), an enduring love (12:12) and a giving love (12:13).
3. THE BELIEVER’S RESPONSIBILITY TO UNBELIEVERS (12:14-21)
With a few exceptions (12:15-16), the focus is now primarily on those outside of the church. How should a Christian whose mind is being renewed (cf. Rom. 12:2) treat those outside the church? This passage provides a radical approach to the Christian life. Regarding persecution and hardship, the Lord Jesus Christ made it very clear to His disciples “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33, cf. 1 Pet. 4:12). Jesus even stated that the believer’s enemies might even come from their families (Matt. 10:36). Persecution and pressure at varying levels will be a part of the Christian life. How then should a believer respond? In our passage of consideration the Christian is not to retaliate, but rather to return good for evil. This is only possible by means of a renewed mind. What about evil and justice? This passage teaches us that God will sort that out (Rom. 12:19) and we are to be concerned with our responsibility. Verse 21 provides a fitting conclusion, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
- Why is it important to recall the work of salvation when it comes to our pursuit of holiness? Why is our personal walk with the Lord necessary for the health of the whole church? See 12:1-2
- Why is it helpful to have a humble mindset when it comes to the use of our giftedness in the church? How is pride damaging to effective service? See 12:3.
- Why does God give the church a variety of spiritual gifts?
- How can our love for each other not be a stagnant duty, but rather a spirited delight? See 12:9-13
- Summarise the radical call in 12:14-21 is a few words.