(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).