Welcome to Bethel! Today we will end our series on “Why Church” by reflecting on Romans 12:1-8, To Find Your Gifts and Grow Them. I love this passage because Paul emphasizes that the church is all about “we” instead of “me,” that in Jesus, we come together as one body to discover and grow our gifts so that we can be a blessing to each other. This is what worshipping God through the week looks like, it looks like serving and being a blessing because God has blessed us.
To Discover Your Gifts and Grow Them - Romans 12:1-8
November 21, 2021
This is the last Sunday in our fall sermon series on ‘Why Church’ and we’re reflecting on our relationship to God and with each other as the body of Jesus. Romans 12 seemed like a good passage to end the series on as it calls us to act on our faith for each other and not for ourselves. Romans 12 is the beginning of the final part of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, the first past of the letter is a reflection on how sin impacts our lives and we deserve God’s wrath and anger; there’s no making excuses for our sin. Paul then moves onto God’s faithfulness and how our salvation is only found through Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross to make us right with God, how we are dead to our sin now and alive in Jesus. Paul ends this part of his letter with one of the most magnificent statements in the Bible, Romans 8:38–39,“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
After a brief digression on Paul’s desire and prayer that the Jews will come to accept Jesus as the Messiah, Paul talks about how we are to live in response to God’s amazing grace and Jesus’ selfless sacrifice for us by calling us to respond by being a living sacrifice ourselves as our response of worship. I appreciate how the New Living Translation puts it, Romans 12:1–2, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” When you stop to actually think about what Paul’s saying here, it can make you shudder with the image of being a sacrifice, offering your body to the flames of the altar to purify it so it’s acceptable to God. The offering has to be your best, without defect, and the only way we can offer ourselves to God as a living holy sacrifice is to first be purified, and the only way that happens is through Jesus.
It's important to read this as Paul intends, that the living sacrifice is you plural, a ‘you all.’ This is a message to us together, a message that calls us to be one together, to unity in Jesus, an echo to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just before he carried our sin to the cross. Church is ‘we’, not ‘me’, this is why we need church. This is a corporate call to the entire church to sacrifice itself to God’s purposes and will, to offer all that we do for Jesus, as his body. It’s lived out, both as church together, and in our individual lives in the community each week as members of the church. Everything we do, whether at home, at school or work, at play or service in the community, is always done as a member of Jesus’ body.
Worship changes us, it helps us see the world with different eyes, eyes focused on seeing the Holy Spirit at work around us so we can say “thank you,” and “wow” and join in. Worship reminds us that this world is God’s and we’re here to live how Jesus calls us to live, to shape our lives around his will, not our own. This takes humility, a growing realization that the world does not revolve around us, that the church is here to serve and not to be served. Paul calls us to “not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to think of ourselves with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of us.” Living with humility in a culture with shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent where parents and friends allow their children and friends embarrass and humiliate themselves in front of millions of people because they’ve never been brave and kind enough to tell them how horrible they really are. But true encouragement is to help them discover the gifts they actually have rather than the gifts they want to have just because it puts them in the spotlight.
In the church and the kingdom of heaven, it’s not about me, it’s about us. We’re reminded of this, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Church we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” When we ask the question, ‘why church,’ one of the answers is because we belong to the other members of our church family, they have a right to us being here, and the gifts we bring to the family. We don’t exist on our own, we belong to each other. In the western world, this is almost heresy, we don’t belong to anyone except ourselves. We place the individual over the group. This is what our western civil documents tell us, but Jesus and the Bible come out of an eastern world view where the group and family come first. Jesus is our example, he doesn’t stand on his rights as God, he comes to earth as a human and offers himself as a sacrifice for us. Our identity comes from our relationship in Jesus. This is Philippians 2 kind of living, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
As we reflected on last week, there’s so much anger and division today about things like politics, vaccines, and vaccine passports because we are conditioned to think our rights come first. Our acts of worship change us: “be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not conforming to the pattern of this world.” How we think, live in the world, and understand the world is shaped by the Holy Spirit. God’s a community in himself with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all flowing into each other and then flowing out into the world. The Christian faith is other focused; Jesus commands us to “love God with everything you have and are, love your neighbour as yourself, and go and make disciples” because of your love of God and neighbour.
It’s in this spirit of seeing the church and the world that Paul goes on, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Each of these gifts is given in order to bless others and build them up and helping them with a spirit of grace. Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 4, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Peter echoes this in 1 Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Peter calls us to use our gifts for each other so that those who are watching the church, but who have not yet chosen to accept Jesus, will praise God for how we live and use our gifts, 1 Peter 2:12 “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” The church is a training ground for discovering our gifts, trying different kinds of serving, learning from both failing and succeeding, being mentored into learning new skills, finding out what interests you and what doesn’t. being an elder and reading sermons, helping out in the Thunder Bay Community Center were training grounds for me to experience the call of ministry, while others who served with me discovered gifts for working with kids, or mentoring others, or doing home repairs and cooking.