Sunday School Notes: Romans 12:3-5
3 For, by means of the grace given to me, I say to all those being among you, do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think sensibly, as God has apportioned a measure of faith to each. 4 For just as we have many parts in one body, and the many parts do not have the same function, 5 in the same way we, the many, are one body in Christ, and each one parts of one another.
Verses 3-8 of Romans 12 form a section where Paul discusses the importance of each person’s gifting within the body of Christ. Based upon verses 1 and 2, where he has told them not to conform to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, he goes on to speak of the humility such a mind-transformation brings about. We have seen in the previous eleven chapters the kind of in-fighting and divisions that existed in the Roman church. Paul wants them to take a hard look at themselves, and not see each other as competition, or to view one another in terms of social standing. Rather, he wants them to see one another as parts of a whole: the body of Christ, the church, serving side by side, as beloved brethren.
We began looking at this passage this week, starting with verses 3-5. Most of our time was spent on verse 3, partly trying to understand what Paul meant by “a measure of faith,” but also because of the issues this conversation raised with regard to faith, what it is, where it comes from, and how we use (or don’t use) it.
“By the grace given to me…” Paul is probably here referring to his apostolic authority. Back in 1:5, he referred to the “grace and apostleship” he and the other Apostles had received. Paul would certainly have recognized the grace of God in his appointment as Apostle to the Gentiles. He was, after all, a persecutor of the church, and even considered himself the least of the Apostles. He didn’t deserve to be called to this ministry, and yet Christ himself commissioned him. The humility expressed by Paul in saying “the grace given to me,” and not “the authority” or “the power” is an example to his readers of the very attitude he is about to commend to them.
“… all those being among you…” Notice here, Paul makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile. The following applies to all within the Roman church. There are no “Jewish servers” or “Gentile prophets.” The gifts and ministries of the church are given to those who are in Christ, with no consideration of ethnic origin, or social status.
“… do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think sensibly.” In the Greek, the verb phronein, “to think, to ponder, to consider” is prominent, appearing in every verb (including “sensibly,” which actually translates a verb). The person with a transformed mind will think appropriately about himself (the Greek word is the same as that used of the demoniac in Mark 5, after Jesus had cast out his demons). He will not succumb to haughty ideas about his importance. Again, this idea is the theme of this passage (and, indeed, one could say it is one of the main themes underlying the entire letter).
“… as God has apportioned a measure of faith to each.” This part generated a lot of discussion. First, we need to understand what Paul means by God “apportioning a measure of faith.” Are these equal portions? If someone has less faith than someone else, is that God’s fault for not giving him or her enough? If these are equal portions, then why do we often feel we lack faith, or regard some as men of “great faith” and others as “weak in their faith”–indeed, why did Jesus chastise his disciples for their lack of faith (e.g., Matthew 14:31; Mark 4:40)?
We recognized that there are different kinds of faith. Saving faith, that faith that is given to us by God that we might trust in Christ and be saved, is not the same as the faith we exercise daily to trust God for our needs and cares. The latter will waiver and can be affected by sin and circumstances. However, the former is not subject to our emotional swings. Our salvation is secure in the Lord, and not dependent on our feelings or our circumstances.
Acknowledging that our daily faith ebbs and peaks, does this mean that God doesn’t give faith equally? Surely men like Peter, Paul, and even Martin Luther and Jim Elliot must have had huge amounts of faith to do the work they did–suffering hardship and danger for the sake of the gospel–compared to someone who, say, works in the church nursery, or visits the sick in hospital.
There were some important points that came out of our discussion of this. First, perhaps the most important thing to see is that faith is given by God. It is not something we conjure up within ourselves. It makes no sense, therefore, to boast about having great faith, or to complain about a lack of faith. The faith that we have is faith God gives to us as a gift–we did nothing to earn it, and we certainly didn’t deserve it. Next, we should understand that Paul doesn’t specify in this passage the quantity of faith given in each measure. He simply says that God apportions a measure of faith to each person. From this we should understand that whatever that means, whether it is referring to equal portions of faith or not, the faith God gives us is the faith we need, sufficient for what He has called us to do. Remember, Jesus told his disciples that if their faith was as big as a mustard seed, they could move a mountain (Matthew 17:20). We don’t need a lot of faith to be able to do great things for God.
If there is any difference in the quantity of faith between believers, perhaps it’s not so much a difference in the quantity of faith given to us, but in the quantity of faith we use. When we are acting as “men of little faith,” this is not a criticism of God’s stinginess. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that God has given us the faith we need, but we are resting on our own understanding, not seeing the world with our transformed minds, and refusing to exercise the faith he has given us.
So God has given to each person in the church the faith he or she needs to do the work that they do. This means that each person’s work is equally important, because God has deemed it important enough to commission it and provide for its success through gifts of faith.
In verses 4 and 5, Paul draws an analogy between the different functions each person in the church performs and the body, and how each member of the body plays a different role, but is still part of the same body. As Christians, we all have different gifts and callings, but they are all given of God, and they are all equally important. Furthermore, they function for the good of the same body. Paul uses a similar body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, probably because he was dealing with similar pride issues in Corinth (only there it was over spiritual gifts).
Again, Paul is emphasizing unity: don’t put others down because they have a different role–even if that role appears less glamorous. The prophet and the toilet washer both have gifts of faith given by God, and are both working together for the good of the same body. Notice Paul’s use of “we” in these verses. Paul, the great Apostle, includes himself with the Roman Christians as being part of the same body, and of equal importance.
We’ll pick up with verse 6 next week.