Which Gospel? The Gospel of Community, Part 2 (Romans 12)

Notice how in Romans 12 Paul speaks of individual transformation, but  this is expressed over and over again in terms of relationships within the Kingdom —

(Rom 12) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

The first section is individually directed, but the lesson is to sacrifice ourselves! “Spiritual act of worship” is equally well translated “spiritual act of service,” which suits the context better, and brings the verse into the overall argument of how to live in community.

4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Each gift relates the person with the gift to the Christian community. We prophesy to others. We serve others. We teach others. We encourage others. We contribute for others. We lead others. We show mercy to others. None of these gifts is individualistic. No mention is made of the solitary gifts of meditation, prayer, fasting, or study.

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Love is not abstract. It is, rather, how we relate to each other.

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Our prayer is in the Lord’s service. Nothing would be further from the thrust of this passage than praying selfishly or praying solely for ones own needs. It’s okay to pray, “Please make me like Jesus,” but only if we mean “Please make me someone who serves others as Jesus served.” If our goal is to have Jesus’s prayer life and his desire for solitude and his holiness but not his life of service, we’ve gotten our priorities all fouled up.

13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Each command is about service to others. For example, we get rid of conceit, not just because it makes us better people, but because it allows us to associate with those of low position.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

After Paul has spent 11 chapters arguing against legalism and for unity of the body and for life in the Spirit, he tells us what the practical implications are — serve each other. And he continues the theme to the end of the book (4 more chapters).

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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4 Responses to Which Gospel? The Gospel of Community, Part 2 (Romans 12)

  1. Alan says:

    It's interesting to me that the NT almost never (maybe I don't need to say "almost") talks about the church coming together for the purpose of what we like to call "vertical worship". Even the Lord's Supper is called "communion," highlighting the one-another aspect of it. Of course many of the things we do in the assembly rightfully point our hearts toward God. But the purpose is to build us up — not to build God up!

    There are several different words that get translated as "worship" by various translations. But interestingly, they are not used in the context of the public assembly. The purpose of assembly is to do "one another" things.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    I think that's pretty much right. I'm sure the church worshiped when they assembled, but the specific directions that we have are horizontal.

    1 Cor 14 tests what's proper in the assembly by whether it edifies, strengthens, comforts, or encourages the church. Heb 10:24 teaches us to encourage one another to love and good works.

    Therefore, I think the purpose of the assembly is often better fulfilled in the aisles before and after the "worship" and during the announcements than the "5 acts" all put together!

  3. nick gill says:

    Worship seems to be something that we are called to do together.

    The vagueness of 'latreia' may only be vagueness in OUR minds. We seem to want to separate service and worship; God seems to have entangled them inextricably.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Nick,

    I totally agree. Nearly all the latreia verses are ambiguous as to whether worship or service is intended. There's a lesson in there somewhere!

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