Sunday School Notes: Romans 12:7-8
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, 6 and having a diversity of gifts according to grace given to us–if prophecy, according to the right proportion of the faith, 7 if service, in the service, if one is a teacher, in the teaching. 8 if one is an encourager, in the encouragement; the one giving, in simplicity, the one leading, with eagerness, the one showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
While our study this week only covered the end of verse 7 and verse 8, I have quoted from verse 4 to keep the verses in context. We began verse 7 last week, leaving off with the one holding an office of “serving,” which we determined was a reference to the diaconate. The list continues with teachers, and we noted a change here in the Greek from pointing to the gift (prophecy, and service) to the one exercising the gift (teacher, encourager, etc.). Is this significant? It’s possible Paul didn’t intend any particular point by this, and he just wanted to change things up a bit. One person suggested that the prophet and deacon would exercise their gifts within the church, but the teacher, the encourager, the giver, the leader, and the one bestowing mercy might use these abilities both inside and outside the church. This may or may not have been Paul’s intention, but it’s an interesting point nevertheless.
We spent a little time discussing the role of the teacher versus the role of the prophet. If the prophet, at least in the context of the Roman church, spoke the mind of God, perhaps by means of Old Testament quotation, or perhaps by direct revelation, how would this be different from the teacher who would also proclaim the things of the Lord (though perhaps not by direct revelation)? One point to note is the difference between “preaching” (taking the Puritan understanding of “prophesying”), and teaching. Teaching tends toward exposition and understanding, whereas preaching is more heavily focused on application of God’s word, and exhortation to believe and follow it. There is overlap, of course, but that’s a rough distinction. Also, teaching doesn’t only occur from the pulpit. Indeed, teaching ministry extends to Sunday School (adult and children), the home, and even school and work situations. It’s also true that, biblically speaking, only men can hold the office of pastor/elder/preacher, whereas teachers may be either male or female. Within the church, Scripture admonishes older women to teach the younger women, and both sexes are expected to train up the next generation.
The list of gifts–which, we noted, is not an exhaustive list (especially if you take into account gift lists elsewhere in Scripture–e.g., 1 Corinthians 12-14)–continues with exhortation or encouragement. The Greek word for the person is parakalôn, and the gift is paraklêsis. These terms have a wide range of meanings from giving legal defense to encouraging or comforting. In fact, Jesus uses the related term paraklêtos when speaking of the role of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16-18. Just as the Holy Spirit is our advocate before the throne of God, as well as our encourager, guide, and comfort, so there are people within the church who, in a lesser way, perform that role too. They are the ones who will come to our defense, or will have a word of encouragement when we’re low, or perhaps give comfort and prayer in times of stress. Such people don’t replace the work of the Spirit, but reflect the character of God and the work of the Spirit in a tangible, if imperfect, way.
A biblical example of an encourager is Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). When the newly-converted Saul presented himself to the Jerusalem church, they were frightened and dubious about the testimony of this former persecutor and murderer of Christians. This kind of reaction probably disturbed Saul. One can only imagine how hurt and disappointed he would have felt. He had hoped to find love and fellowship with the church, and instead he faced rejection. However, Barnabas stepped up and spoke to the Twelve on Saul’s behalf. In so doing, he gave comfort and encouragement to Saul, as well as speaking for his character and the truth of his conversion to the leadership (see Acts 9:26-30).
The sharer, or giver, should give in simplicity, sincerity, or generously. I think the root idea here is that there should be no duplicity in the mind of the giver. This person should be willing to share from their resources as God has blessed them, and do so for the good of the church and the glory of God, not thinking of themselves and their own needs first. The opposite of this is seen in the example of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. They sold some property and gave the proceeds to the church, holding back some for themselves. Peter, by divine discernment, called them out on their deceit. Interestingly, Ananias didn’t indicate by word (at least as far as Scripture tells us) that he was being deceptive. But the Holy Spirit, who discerns the hearts of men, called Peter’s attention to the fact that Ananias had ulterior motives. As Sapphira indicates later, they wanted to appear to be giving everything just as the others had done (see the end of Acts 4), but in fact were not. Their giving was for show, to keep up an appearance of generosity, and not an act of selfless worship for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
The one leading (literally, “the one who stands before,” or “the preeminent one”) should do so with eagerness. This may be a reference to a specific kind of leader, especially since Paul uses the same term in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 1 Timothy 5:17 when speaking of local church leaders–probably those in pastoral ministry as elders or overseers. In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul says that the office of elder is one that should be desired. This is not worldly desire for the sake of power and prestige, but a godly desire placed on the heart of certain men whom God has ordained for pastoral ministry. Such a desire is critical for what is often a thankless and difficult job. There is a lot of pressure and responsibility involved in taking care of God’s people. The Lord holds pastors responsible for feeding and nurturing His people, who are not always the most responsive to pastoral care. Anyone who doesn’t truly desire to do this job is doomed to fail.
Finally in this section, the one showing mercy (literally, “the mercying one”–English doesn’t have a verb “to mercy,” but Greek does) is to do so “cheerfully” (Greek: hilarotês, from which we get the English words “hilarity” and “hilarious”). This is the first time the role of “mercying” has been applied to someone other than God in Romans. Clearly, just as people can, in some way, echo the work of the Holy Spirit as an advocate and encourager, so people can also be cheerful mercy-ers, reflecting the work of God in showing mercy to us. And, like giving, while encouraging is something every Christian should do, there are those who are specially gifted for this role. They have a particular compassion for those who are in need, whether those in hospital, the elderly, or others who need the kind of special attention those with a gift for mercy can bestow.
It’s important to note that such “mercy-ers” need to exercise their gift with a happy disposition. It makes sense that those who are in some way suffering don’t need to be ministered to by someone whose demeanor will only add to their sorrow. The one extending mercy should make every effort to share the joy of the Lord, and seek to lift the person up. As someone in the group put it, Eeyore would be a lousy mercy-er!
Next week we will move on to the next section, verses 9-21.