Chapter 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. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 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.
Question to consider: What is the purpose of the local church?
In light of the great mercy given to all who are baptized into Christ Jesus, Paul wrote that we should offer ourselves up to serve the Lord like living sacrifices. Instead of dedicating our lives to pursue worldly things, we keep our eyes focused on eternal things and use our time and energy to serve as citizens of the kingdom of God.
To accomplish this, God equips all believers with gifts, abilities, and faith. Paul compared this diversity of abilities to the members of a body. We often refer to a congregation of believers as a “church body”. Although all believers can consider themselves to be members of the body of Christ worldwide, Paul was writing to an individual church in Rome. I often see discussions where people criticize the idea of the local church and believe they can grow in their faith just fine on their own.
This view misunderstands the nature and purpose of the local church body and is extremely self-centered. On the one hand, we go to a church “service” because that is where we receive Christ in word and sacrament. Over the last 50 years or so, there has been a shift where many believe that we receive from God through an emotional experience generated through a time of praise. Thus, they’ve moved away from singing congregational hymns and create a “worshipful” mood with lighting and musical instruments. Instead of extolling God through biblically rich verse, churches often chant simple and often meaningless platitudes over and over again to create an experience for the individual worshiper. When this concert experience gets paired with a sermon that focuses on how we are to live in the world rather than Christ crucified for our sins, people begin to question whether this is an activity that adds value to their life.
In today’s passage, Paul focuses on another purpose for the local church body— our service to one another. We are a living sacrifice for Christ when we love and serve one another. As Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) God has brought you to a local church body to use the gifts and abilities you have received to serve one another. Peter portrayed this beautifully in his first epistle, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:9-11)
Paul conveys a similar sentiment. Both the list of “gifts” given by Peter and by Paul are not comprehensive. They are merely examples. Whatever good thing you enjoy doing, you should think of how it can serve your local church body. Regardless of whether you think you need the church, your brothers and sisters in Christ need you. The only caution Paul gives in this passage is to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Maybe your abilities allow you to have a more visible impact on the church body. This doesn’t make you a more valuable member of the body. We don’t serve to win the approval of people but out of love for Christ and His many members.
Dear heavenly Father, thank You for blessing us with brothers and sisters in Christ who strengthen and encourage our faith in a world that is bent on our destruction. Help us to dedicate ourselves to a local body of believers which is led by faithful shepherds and where we can joyfully use the gifts and abilities You have given us to love and serve one another. Amen.