(Rom 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Perhaps because of the verse numbers and the paragraphing of each verse, we tend to read the scriptures as a collection of proverbs rather than as a logical progression from thought to thought. As a result, we rarely recognize that Rom 12:1 is the theme sentence for what follows — all the way into chapter 15. And so it’s appropriate to read the next few chapters of Romans as an expansion on the overall theme: how to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
(Rom 12:2 ESV) 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In a typically Pauline juxtaposition, we offer our bodies by allowing our minds to be transformed! It’s as un-Gnostic as can be, and therefore very Jewish. The Jews did not separate body and mind the way the Greeks did.
“Be transformed” is passive and is surely a reference back to chapter 8’s discussion of the work of the Spirit.
(Rom 8:13-14 ESV) 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
We offer our bodies — ourselves — as sacrifices by submitting to the leading of the Spirit.
(Rom 12:3-8 ESV) 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. 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.
And if we submit to the Spirit’s leading, then we’ll recognize the unity and interdependence of the body and use the gifts we receive from the Spirit in service to the body of Christ.
(Rom 12:9-13 ESV) Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
We offer our bodies to Christ by loving each other with the love of Christ — a self-sacrificing love. And a self-sacrificing love will be hospitable and generous.
(Rom 12:14-21 ESV) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
A self-sacrificing love will not take vengeance or seek its own honor.
(Rom 13:1-7 ESV) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
A self-sacrificing love will submit to the justice of the government, will pay taxes owed, and show respect for those in government as servants of God. Even Nero — who was Caesar at the time. And if Paul can require his readers in Rome to treat Nero with respect, what would he say today about today’s leaders?
(Rom 13:8-10 ESV) Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
A self-sacrificing love will honor the command to love each other and to love our neighbors. And if we honor this command, the rest will follow.
(Rom 13:11-14 ESV) Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
A self-sacrificing love will be moral — and will not engage in sexual immorality.
(Rom 14:1-4 ESV) As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
A self-sacrificing love will submit to those weaker in the faith rather than tempt them to sin against their consciences. A self-sacrificing love does not take advantage of its superior knowledge to draw the weak into temptation to sin.
(Rom 14:5-9 ESV) One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
A self-sacrificing love learns to see the world through the eyes of other believers and to respect contrary views even when it disagrees.
(Rom 14:10-12 ESV) Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
A self-sacrificing love does not judge a brother regarding scruples.
(Rom 14:13-23 ESV) Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
A self-sacrificing love would rather miss a meal than tempt a brother to sin against his conscience. A self-sacrificing love doesn’t insist on its rights but on opportunities to be of service to others.
(Rom 15:1-6 ESV) We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A self-sacrificing love will give up its rights to build up its neighbor.
(Rom 15:7-12 ESV) Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
A self-sacrificing love welcomes fellow believers on the same terms on which we were all welcomed by Jesus: faith in Jesus. Jewish Christians should, like Jesus, become servants of the Gentile Christians so that the prophecies regarding the salvation of the Gentiles will be fulfilled.
And yet Rom 12:1 is about … worship.
All these teachings about how to get along with each other in church are about … worship.
Even the core teaching about loving our neighbors is part of a larger discussion regarding … worship.
The New Testament equivalent of worship at the Temple, of animal sacrifice, of priestly ritual is “Love one another”: “Get along!”
I can think of no better summary of Rom 12 – 15 than “Get along!” That’s Paul’s point. If you want to really worship God, if you’d replace the sacrifice of a bull or goat with the gift of your own body, then prove yourself by … getting along!
After 11 chapters on faith and grace and the Spirit, Paul concludes the greatest theological book ever written with a multi-chapter lesson on how to do true spiritual worship. And the answer is: “Get along!”
And we’ve obviously missed the point because we don’t consider getting along nearly as important as Paul does.