(Rom 12:3-5 ESV) 3 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. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Paul is leading up to a discussion of gifts of the Spirit, but he starts by speaking of honest self-assessment. Among many Christians, the very real command to be humble is interpreted as ordering low self-esteem. That’s most certainly not what Paul teaches. Rather, Paul wants us to honestly evaluate ourselves. And if that means we are gifted to be leaders, we should prepare for leadership and ultimately lead.
You see, Paul explains, we all have different functions in the body. If we refuse to acknowledge our giftedness, then we’ll have denied God the benefit of the gifts he’s given us. Therefore, indulging in low self-worth, a refusal to admit that you have the gifts you have, is to frustrate the work of the Spirit within you.
Now, part of sober judgment is also recognizing that our gifts are not the same but they aggregate into a unity. We form one “body in Christ” together, and we belong to each other. In fact, v. 5 literally says we’re “members one of another” meaning “body parts one of another.” None of us is complete without the rest of us. We are cripples without each other!
When this reality is fully realized, there is nothing more painful than someone leaving your congregation. When a member leaves, it should feel like your heart’s being pulled out or like you’re losing an arm. And I’ve felt that — and as painful as it is, it’s how it ought to be.
(Rom 12:6-8 ESV) 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
V. 6 repeats that gifts differ among Christians, but emphasizes that gifts are given to us as a matter of grace. We have gifts because God is generous. Therefore, we are obligated to use our gifts in God’s service.
Paul mentions prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy. Notice how casually Paul includes the spectacular with the mundane. To our Western minds, prophecy is a miraculous gift, whereas leadership is more (what’s the word?) Providential. We want to argue that some gifts are dead because they involve miracles, whereas other gifts remain, because these involve no miracles.
But the reality is that a gift is not a gift at all unless it’s somehow above and beyond the merely natural. If Paul were speaking solely of natural gifts we receive from our DNA, he’d have chosen different language and he wouldn’t have lumped prophecy in with the others. No, Paul sees prophecy and encouragement as being of the same kind. Both are gifts from God, and both deserve the same respect and honor.
When we draw lines between the miraculous and non-miraculous, we draw distinctions not found in the Bible because we’re trying to prove points the Bible wasn’t written to prove. It’s all from God, and the reason some have one gift and others have another is because God wants it that way. Period. We just don’t have the right to invent a rule that God can do miracles in this circumstance and not in that. God is not a rulebook.
Now, Paul had never visited Rome, and neither had any other apostle. And yet they enjoyed the gift of prophecy — and no book of the New Testament emphasizes the work of the Spirit more than Romans. Therefore, the Spirit and his gifts and all the wonderful things Paul speaks about in Romans 8 have nothing to do with the laying on of apostolic hands. Rather, the work of the Spirit described in Romans is the work of the Spirit that any Christian can enjoy. If one Christian has one gift but not another, the reason is simply that God didn’t chose to give that Christian the gift. It’s not our choice, you know.
The giftedness of Christians is an important doctrine because we need each other’s gifts. We need exhortation, encouragement, and leadership. We need generous contributors. We need teaching. At times, these gifts are disparaged because we want to so emphasize personal evangelism or the spiritual disciplines or whatever, but Paul is wiser than the rest of us. And Paul emphasizes ordinary, mundane gifts that make a congregation work. A church without these gifts will die.
Some like to sneer at the mere giving of money, but given money sends missionaries and church planters. Generous givers supported Jesus and Paul, and they support many workers today. Of course, the money would be useless without the courage and conviction of the missionaries and church planters — but it takes both, and we need to stop looking down our noses at a gift from God.
Just so, only a few get to be leaders and exhorters, but it’s the encouragers that make a church go. The preacher may exhort the church to volunteer, but most of the volunteers will be there because a friend personally asked.
There is, of course, another implication here. If God’s Holy Spirit chooses to give a woman the gift to lead, she is specifically commanded to lead. God chose her for leadership, and lead she must. What clearer authority could there be?
Finally, I should say something on gifts assessments. Many congregations now give a test to new members to assess their gifts. And that’s good, I think. But it’s not nearly as good as it could be. You see, we make these mistakes —
* We assume that the only gifts worth testing for are the gifts listed here and in 1 Cor 12. But both lists are plainly examples. God gives far more gifts, and Paul was not intending to say God gives these and these only. Who knows? You may have a member with the gift of childcare, of recruiting volunteers, or even writing and blogging. Why limit your survey?
* We also assume that we should only check for gifts when someone first becomes a member, such as when they are baptized. But if God gives gifts, then he just might wait and give a gift later. Those surveys will surely be out of date very quickly if the Spirit is alive and well in your congregation.
And so, I think we’d do better to expand the questionnaires — a lot. And maybe we should interview the members rather than relying on forms. The forms aren’t wrong, and may well be helpful. They just aren’t enough.
In fact, some of the most gifted, most valued volunteers in my church didn’t show their gifts until many years after they’d joined the congregation. And often the gifts we treasure most aren’t on the forms. So keep your eyes open for the Spirit’s work.