A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 12:3-8. Our relationship to ourselves: thinking soberly about our gifts.
The link between Paul’s general appeal (1-2) and his particular instruction which now follows (3-8) seems to be the place of the mind in Christian discipleship. Our renewed mind, which is capable of discerning and approving God’s will, must also be active in evaluating ourselves, our identity and our gifts. For we need to know who we are, and to have an accurate, balanced and above all sober self-image. A renewed mind is a humble mind like Christ’s (Phil.2:5ff.).
The formula Paul uses to introduce his exhortation to sober Christian thinking is impressively solemn. It ‘has an imperative ring’. *For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you…* (3a). ‘I say to you’ is reminiscent of Jesus’ favourite expression, even without the ‘Amen’ or ‘Verily’ which often preceded it. Paul is addressing his Roman readers (every one of them, he claims) with the self-conscious authority of Christ’s apostle. For the *grace given* him, which qualifies him to write as he does, must refer to his appointment as an apostle which he regularly attributed to God’s grace (e.g. 1:5, ‘grace and apostleship’; 15:15f.; 1 Cor.15:9f.; Eph.3:7f.).
His message to them is this *Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment* (3b). The fourfold repetition in the Greek sentence of the verb *phronein*, ‘to think’, makes the emphasis unmistakable. In thinking about ourselves we must avoid both too high an estimate of ourselves and (Paul might have added) too low an estimate. Instead, and positively, we are to develop a *sober judgment*. How? First by reference to our faith, and secondly by reference to our gifts.
The clause *in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you* (3c) is a well-known crux. C.E.B.Cranfield, with his customary thoroughness, says that ‘measure’ has seven possible meanings, ‘faith’ five, and ‘of’ two, making seventy possible combinations altogether! The main question is whether *metron* (‘measure’) means here an instrument for measuring or a measured quantity of something. If the latter is correct, as many think, the thought would be that God gives a varying amount of faith to different Christians, and, being a divine apportionment, this will keep us humble. Professor Cranfield argues, however, that *metron* here means ‘a standard by which to measure ourselves’; that this for all Christians is the same, namely saving faith in Christ crucified; and that only this gospel of the cross, indeed only ‘Christ himself in whom God’s judgment and mercy are revealed’, can enable us to measure ourselves soberly.
If God’s gospel is the first measure by which we should evaluate ourselves, the second is God’s gifts. In order to enforce this, Paul draws an analogy between the human body and the Christian community. *Just as each of us have one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function* (4), although (it is implied) the different functions are necessary for the health and enrichment of the whole, *so in Christ*, by our common union with him, *we who are many form one body* (5a). Although Paul stops short of saying that we ‘are the body of Christ’ (as he does in 1 Cor. 12:27), yet his assertion that we are ‘one body in Christ’ will have had enormous implications for the multi-ethnic Christian community in Rome. As one body, *each member belongs to all the others* (5b). That is, we are dependent on one another, and the one-anotherness of the Christian fellowship is enhanced by the diversity of our gifts. This metaphor of the human body, which Paul develops in different ways in different letters, enables him here to hold together the unity of the church, the plurality of the members and the variety of their gifts. The recognition that God is the giver of the gifts is indispensable if we are to ‘form a sober estimate’ (REB) of ourselves.
We *have different gifts*, Paul continues, *according to the grace given us* (6a). Just as God’s grace had made Paul an apostle (3), so his grace (*charis*) bestows different gifts (*charismata*) on other members of Christ’s body. Paul proceeds to give his readers a sample of seven gifts, which he urges them to exercise conscientiously for the common good. He divides them into two categories, which might be called ‘speaking gifts’ (prophesying, teaching and encouraging) and ‘service gifts’ (serving, contributing, leading and showing mercy). Peter makes the same distinction: ‘If anyone speaks…If anyone serves…’ (1 Pet.4:11).
Tomorrow: Romans 12:3-8. Our relationship to ourselves: thinking soberly about our gifts (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.