Saturday, December 31, 2011

Too Big Not to Fall (Rom 12)


What is a church? The church is not a place but a people, an organism and not an organization, a community and not a club, a body and not a building. It’s more “who” than “what” or “where.”

It’s been said:
“I am your church. Make of me what you will, I shall reflect you as clearly as a mirror. If outwardly my appearance is pleasing and inviting, it is because you made me so. If within my spiritual atmosphere is kindly, yet earnest; reverent, yet friendly; worshipful, yet sincere; sympathetic, yet strong; divine, yet humanly expressed; it is but the manifestation of the spirit of those who constitute my membership.

But if you should, by chance, find me a bit cold and dull, I beg of you not to condemn me, for I show forth the only kind of life I shall receive from you. I have no life or spirit apart from you.

Of this may you always be assured: I will respond instantly to your every wish practically expressed, for I am the reflected image of your own soul.”

Previously, Paul commanded believers, in the imperative mood, not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind (v 2).

What kind of church is pleasing to God? Why did God put us together? How do members of the body relate to one another?

Watch For Haughty Behavior
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Rom 12:3)

A haughty lawyer once asked a sterling old farmer, ‘Why don’t you hold up your head neither before God nor man.”

“Squire,” replied the farmer, “see that field of grain? Only those heads that are empty stand upright. Those that are well-filled are the ones that bow low.”

“Think…highly” (huper-phroneo) in verse 3 is a single Greek word. The prefix to it is huper (hyper) and the verb is parallel and an extension of the verse 3’s other two “think” (phroneo), which is the function of the brain. The brain is the cognitive center and the clearing house of the body, passing information and delivering messages to parts of the body signalling them on what to think, how to feel and how to act. “Hyper-think” means “to esteem oneself overmuch” and it implies to be vain or arrogant, to be big-headed instead of level-headed, to have an exaggerated, elevated, excessive and egotistical sense of your own importance. It’s been said that bullies and criminals are more likely to suffer of 'High Self Esteem disorder' or unrealistically high self-esteem.

The solution, on the other hand, is not to put oneself down and let others win. The contrast with hyper thinking is not adopting a Charlie Brown mentality, having a low, negative self-image, feeling insecure,” but “to think soberly” (sober judgment in NIV), which is a verb, meaning to be sound, sane and stable in thought. Its noun form, surprisingly, could also mean discipline, prudent, moderate, not to be narcissistic, opinionated or thoughtless. Interestingly, as I was preparing this message at a cafeteria the song “Born to Be Wild” was blaring in the store. There are but six references to this word in the Bible. The word first appears in the Bible for the demon-possessed man who was healed by Jesus, sitting, and clothed, and in his “right mind” (Mark 5:15, Luke 8:35). The apostles Paul and Peter like using this word in the imperative mood. In the Pastoral epistles, Paul especially targeted young people, commanding Titus to encourage (in the imperative) young men to be self-controlled (Titus 2:6). Peter commanded believers to be “clear minded (sober)” and self-controlled unto prayer (1 Peter 4:7), as God had distributed, divided or dealt him or her.

The last verb in verse 3 “given” (merizo) is not the usual “give” but “parts,” mostly translated as divide, distribute or dealt. Only NIV translates it as “give.” The noun form is the word “part.” NASB translates it as “allotted,” ASV as “dealt” and RSV as “assigned.” That’s because Paul did not want them to think they have it all. What they have is a part, a piece, a portion, not even a chunk, so they should be humble in attitude, balanced in thinking and down to earth, not to brag about abilities, advantages and advancement.

Walk Harmoniously With Others
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom 12:4)

A young man dreamt that he had walked into a store where an angel was standing behind the counter. He hastily asked the angel, “What do you sell in this store?”

“Anything. You name it,” said the angel.

So the young man began saying, “I would like to order the following: A democratic government in Chile, and end to all wars in the world, a better deal for the marginal nations, the removal of all the squatters settlements in South America.”

At this point the angel interrupted and said, “Excuse me, young man; you did not understand me correctly. We don’t sell fruits and finished products in this store. We sell only seeds.”

Verse 4 begins with the number “one,” which is placed before “many,” due to Paul’s emphasis on “one” right off the bat. By the way, seven is not the favourite number or the most popular in the Bible. It occurs a paltry 88 times in the New Testament, compared to “one,” 282 times in Greek. What does one mean? Why are we one? One means a unit, union, unison, yet unity does not mean uniformity; it is to be interdependent and not dependent and it is a fact and not a feeling. Previously, Paul says “we have many members” and “all members have not the same function” (v 4), but he switches to “we are” (v 5), which is the climax. “We have” is possession but “we are” is the person, many elements but one entity, belonging versus being.

Next, what is Paul’s most popular contrast to “one” in the verse? The casual answer is “many,” but the correct answer is “members,” because “many” occurs one more time than “many.” It is the key word worthwhile for Paul to mention and repeat in verses 4 and 5 and it is plural in Greek and KJV, including verse 5, occurring three times, as many times as “one.” Further, “many” is a number, “member” is a relationship, and Paul did not want them to think of the church in terms of size, amount and figure.

What is a member? A member is a limb or a part of the body. It refers to an eye or a hand in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:29-30), a tongue in James (James 3:5), the foot and the ear in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 12:15-16). So a member is an indivisible, inseparable and irremovable part of the body. No member is invisible, insignificant or ignored. No one is too small to see, to serve or to shine. On the other hand, no member is dead, disabled or detached. 1 Corinthians 12:13 reminds us that by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body and were fed, drinking and watered from the same Spirit. But notice members got to function (v 4).Paul prefers to use the word “praxis” because the verb form “practice” means to perform repeatedly or habitually. He avoids using the word “doing” because praxis is a natural and normal, better than “work,” which is more like a job. This word occurs merely six times in the Bible, the other translations are works (Matt 16:27) and deeds (Luke 23:51, Acts 19:18, Rom 8:13, Col 3:9). We all have a part to play, we are all partners in a partnership, so we all have to participate.

The highlight of the high point in the verse (v 5) and chapter, however, is not “one” or “many,” both occurring three times in the chapter. One word trumps them in occurrences in the chapter. Can you spot it, extending all the way to verses 10 and 16, altogether four times in the chapter. From “one” to “members,” Paul ends with “one another” or “all the others” (v 5). What does it mean “members one of another” mean? Paul will repeat the line “one another” three times a few verses later, emphasizing love, honor and thinking:
“Be devoted (love) to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:10)
“Live in harmony/think (phroneo) with one another.” (Rom 12:16)
The first is from the heart, the second is for the face, and the last is for the mind (phroneo).

Work Hard with Gifts
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Rom 12:6-8)

Here are my favourite “team” or “teamwork” quotes:
There is no “I” in TEAM.
Teamwork means more “we” and less “me.”
TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More
Teamwork means never having to take all the blame.
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. Henry Ford

Paul changes tone in verse 6 and talks about gifts (charismata) rather than merely members. The gift of salvation is singular but the gifts of the Spirit are plural, which implies that the gifts are not given merely to the pastoral staff, the deacon board and the committee members.

The seven gifts mentioned are intriguing: prophecy (interpretation), ministry or diakonia (involvement), teaching (instruction), exhorting (inspiration), giving (investment), ruling or leading (influence), and showing mercy (intervention).

There are a few things to learn about the gifts of the Spirit from this passage. First, the first two – prophesying and serving - are actually nouns while the last five are participles. My theory is that the first two, which focuses on the praxis and not the person, is best used within the church, not outside. Paul also avoided a land mine by not talking about the prophet but the prophesy and does not favour them prophesying (verb) freely. Service is an integral part of the early church (Acts 6:1, 4).

Second, the last five are all in the present participles (-ing), which means continual, generous and active. Remember, while we are supplier providing the supply, the source is always God.

Third, the Greek for “his” is missing altogether in the seven gifts, primarily because the gifts are never “his,” “yours” or “mine.” It belongs to God, is bestowed upon the church, and is a benefit and a blessing to all parties, from you and through you , but never for you and to you.

Here are the seven “IN” gifts done “WITH”:
Prophesying - Interpretation
Serving - Involvement
Teaching - Instruction
Encouraging - Inspiration
Contributing - Investment
Leadership - Influence
Showing mercy - Intervention

Prophesying With Scriptures
Serving With Sacrifice
Teaching With Substance
Encouraging With Support
Contributing With Surplus
Leadership With Speed (spoude)
Showing mercy With Sweetness (hilarotes)

Conclusion: We are all contributors, committed to cooperate in God’s service. Are you faithfully using the talents, treasures and time God has given you? Do you play your part, pray for partners and participate in person?


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