The point of this paragraph is that Christians are connected to one another. This is true, even if the parts and joints aren’t always healthy. It goes wrong when we think of ourselves, and especially of our abilities, either too much or too little. It goes wrong when we think we’re indispensable to the body or independent from it. It goes wrong when we forget that grace gives assignments, grace gives gifts, and those aren’t the same for everyone.
The point of the previous paragraph, Romans 12:1-2, is that God calls each Christian to present himself as a living sacrifice. We must, all of us, get up on the altar of serving God. He’s changing us so that we live by His will not the world’s ways. And not only does Romans 12:3-8 get more specific, it makes the first place for applied mercies our *church*.
When we present our bodies to God as sacrifices for service, we realize that He wants us to serve *one another*. When we are not conformed to this world, we realize that part of what it means is to stop competing with and isolating from one another. When we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, we seek to bless our brothers and build them up.
Faith is personal, and faith is exercised *for* the body. And the body is only as consecrated as its most worldly member.
We’re going to meditate on this paragraph in two parts, partly because I have an aim to preach shorter, but also because the admonition is that challenging. It’s been said that everyone wants to change the world but no-one want to help mom do the dishes. So also, all the world is an altar, and the first ones God wants you to sacrifice for are within eye sight. “Lord, I’ll be humble before anyone but him.” Well, the Lord just showed you today’s altar.
# The Admonition for Sanity (verse 3)
Renewed minds think about God differently, they think about the world differently, and they think about their own identity differently.
> 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. (Romans 12:3 ESV)
Paul wrote Romans from Corinth, probably around AD 56. He had not only already founded the church in Corinth, but had already written one or both of the letters we have to the Corinthians. That’s significant because Paul had first-hand experience with believers puffing themselves up over one another.
There’s no indication that the Romans were already having this problem. As they thought about God’s mercies as a motivation for consecration, they should think about God’s grace to Paul as his motivation for the admonition.
“[Let] no man esteme of him selfe moare then it becōmeth him to esteme” (Tyndale). Esteem is a good word, originally connected with an *estimate*, with assessing merit. We’re all always thinking about it, whether center-screen or a background process, whether accurately or with a finger Ron the scale. Paul urges that we think (φρονεῖν), not high-thinkingly (ὑπερφρονεῖν) but sound-thinkingly (σωφρονεῖν), which is the necessary-thinking (ὃ δεῖ φρονεῖν). **Sober judgement** is fine, but it’s being in one’s right mind, to be sane, from *sanus* meaning healthy.
The temptation is for a man **to think of himself more highly**, so it’s not just self-esteem, but *vanity*.
“For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3 ESV, see also Isaiah 5:21).
There are two ways this exaggerated sense of one’s own value or abilities can be expressed: 1) self-importance (“everybody needs me”) and 2) self-independence (“everybody get away from me”). The analogy in verses 4-5 of the body means that we don’t do the same things, but that’s not a sign of worth. Be reasonable.
The admonition is to **each**, and the standard is ** according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.** God has measured the measure of faith, He’s apportioned the portion. What does Paul mean? Some have more faith than others? Or faith is *for* different uses for some than others? Based on the rest of the paragraph, it would be the latter. It is true that faith might be strong or weak (which are categories in Romans 14-15), but this is about identifying that God gives faith to be exercised in a variety of edifying ways.
There is a sobriety, a sanity, a modesty necessary to our identity. By grace we ought not overstate or understate what God has given us.
# The Analogy of Unity (verses 4-5)
Christians who are being transformed are not conformed to this age, they are being conformed to Christ, and yet this isn’t a cookie-cutter factory.
> For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4–5 ESV)
The conjunctions — **for (just) as** — show that this simile is stretching out our thinking on our identity. We are members, as members we are part of one body, members have different functions in this body, this is a supernatural body connected because we are in Christ, and this is God’s work and what He has portioned.
There is a partial list in verses 6-8 of some of the types of functions. But the analogy should get some mind-renewing time itself.
Plato wrote about a community, even a state, as a body in his _Republic_. Paul used the body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and here. It’s good because a body is a living, growing organism, measured more by health than by size. It’s good because a body is not far from personification, which Paul did in 1 Corinthians where he portrays the parts as talking to each other. It’s good because a body suggests coordinated effort, a shared goal.
A **member** belongs to the body; “part” is fine, or “limb.” Without stretching the body image too far, any given member could be fit or frail, reliable or nagging, good or bad at what it’s supposed to do. But *every* member has a function, and **the members do not all have the same function**.
This is *exactly* the case with the *church*. Three other places Paul immediately connects body and church, so we know these are two names for the same group: “Christ is the head of the church, His body” (Ephesians 5:23), “He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18), and again, “His body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). The Church is the universal church, that is, all those who believe, but while the universal church can be helpfully distinguished from local churches, and while local churches do share the ability to bless across flock-lines, the immediate benefit for being connected to the other members is within the limits of the communion.
We are **members one of another**, or “each one is member of the one-another members.” The presumption is that we want the best for those who are us.
Is it harder to be a solo Christian, or harder to be a Christian in connection with *these* Christians? Is it more of a temptation to think highly of yourself like others should be valuing you more, or highly of yourself like you don’t need to value others more? The will of God *is* your sane view of the grace and faith given to you with a renewed mind to see the beauty/blessings of our one body in Christ.
This age has a consumer/customer mindset, low on connection and high on complaints. Among the brothers, these things ought not to be so.
I’m grateful, and more and more as years go by, for all the body parts that help me, that are better at things I’m no good at, that make the whole church attractive and strong.
Each member, by faith seeking to be the best asset to the body, and the least liability. Each part strong *and* connected. Individuals healthy and dependent, not helpless or autonomous. This is *not* forgetting yourself, it is receiving your responsibilities and your relationships from God, one body in Christ. The church is an altar for parts, and the church together is a living sacrifice.
The analogy of body parts being one body in Christ is a metaphor, but it is not a mystery (that’s hard to comprehend) or a mandate (something that we make happen by our effort). We *are* one body with many members. Whatever you think makes you special/different is only something you *received* (1 Corinthians 4:7), so thank the Lord for you. We need it. Keep doing it, do it better. Honor God and bless the body.
> May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)