Devotion & Separation: To God as “Living Sacrifices” (12:1-2)
- A living sacrifice, because it is a life-long thing. Dedication is a once-for-all action, but it affects our entire lifetime. Re-dedication is not contemplated. Christ is our Pattern in this regard.
- A holy sacrifice, because it must be offered with a right heart. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices could be offered and the flesh left un-judged. God’s standards haven’t changed; we cannot offer a dirty sacrifice.
- An acceptable sacrifice, because it truly pleases God. What a privilege, to think that we insignificant human beings can actually bring pleasure to God!
- A dedicated body
- A separated life
- A transformed mind
Faith & Humility: In Service as “One Body” yet with “Different Gifts” (12:3-8)
Prophecy is the special ability to receive a word from God for the time, and deliver it to His people. There was a special class called "the [New Testament] prophets” who were raised up by God to pen the New Testament scriptures and even foretell future events (read more...). They received special revelations from God ("fore-telling"). There are no more New Testament prophets today (Eph. 2:20; 4:11), although we have their writings. Yet there is another kind of prophecy that we do have; those who have a gift of prophecy in the sense of speaking the mind of God for the time ("forth-telling"). The prophetic ministry brings the soul into the presence of God, such that the conscience is reached (John 4:19). The result of true prophetic ministry is edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3).
- Service is a very broad reference to a whole range of Christian ministry; from ministering the Word of God (Rom. 15:25, 1 Thess. 3:2), asking a helpful question, or simply serving in practical ways (Philemon 1:13). To be a “minister” is not to fill a position within the clergy, ruling over God’s people, but rather getting low and serving them! The instruction to the minister is to focus on his or her ministry, and not try to do some other function.
- Teaching is the ability to expound the Word of God. It doesn’t refer to one with merely a lot of knowledge, but rather to one who can effectively communicate that knowledge to others; “the word of knowledge” (1 Cor. 12:8). Apollos was one with the gift of teaching, but he himself needed to be instructed “more exactly” (Acts 18:24-28). Neither is a teacher necessarily a talkative person, but rather one who can concisely state the truth in a way that the audience just “gets it”. Again, the instruction to the teacher is to focus on teaching, and not something else.
- Exhortation is the ability to bring the Word of God down to a practical level. A good exhorter will often work closely with those who are teachers, making practical applications of the doctrine to our daily lives. An exhorter has the ability to stir believers into action. Again, the instruction to the exhorter is to focus on exhortation, and not something else. A danger could be the exhorter trying to take the teacher’s place, resulting in unprofitable ministry.
- Giving is the ability to give one’s resources in service to the Lord in a special way. This is not talking about putting money in the box; here it is a special gift for furnishing the needs of missionary work, funding outreaches, etc. God will often supply those who have this gift with a superabundance of something for them to give. It is to be done “in simplicity” or without hidden motives of self-glorification or self-enrichment (Luke 6:34-35).
- Leading is the special ability to direct individuals in the things of the Lord and collectively to help organize things. This is closely connected with the gift of a pastor, or shepherd. The instruction to the leader is to be diligent, and consistent in directing God’s sheep. The tendency might be to get distracted by another realm of service, and to leave the sheep without direction. Leading takes dedication for it to be done well. That is the challenge with each of these gifts; do what God has given you, and do it well.
- Compassion is the ability to comfort and sympathize with others. This is not common Christian compassion, it goes beyond that to a higher level. It isn’t “showing mercy” in the sense of forgiving a debt, but of relieving a suffering saint. Of course, this is not an excuse for others without the gift to be cold or calloused. Those with this gift will often be seen carrying others burdens; touching in with those who are afflicted in different ways. The instruction to these ones is to be cheerful in it, and not to have a condescending attitude about it. To be happy to do that work even though there is nothing in it for self.
Every believer has been given a special gift to aid them in their service for the Lord, and to benefit the whole body of Christ. These spiritual gifts are special abilities, and they are supernatural, although they do not always appear to be "miraculous" in the conventional sense of the word. Spiritual gifts are "spiritual", in that they do not come from man, although they could be given by apostolic power as in the case of Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6). People are not born with spiritual gifts, nor can they be gained by study or theological training. They are conveyed to a believer by the Holy Spirit upon salvation; hence they are "gifts". You cannot purchase a gift of God with money (Acts 8:20). God can use “unlearned and ignorant men” like Peter and John the fishermen, or He can use a well-educated man like the Apostle Paul, who learned at Gamaliel's feet. The Spirit uses "whom He will" (1 Cor. 12:11). I do not believe the lists of gifts in scripture are exhaustive, but they do give us generally the spheres of Christian ministry.Read more…
These spiritual gifts are mentioned in a number of different contexts, and it is helpful to keep in mind the distinctions between gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12, etc.Read more…
Love & Generosity: Toward “the Saints” (12:9-13)
- Love without Pretense. This agápe love is “love of a settled disposition”. This means it has nothing to do with feelings. We are to love one another the same way God loves us; not because of something good or desirable in the object. The exhortation is that our love would be real or sincere, not a false or misleading front; e.g. Judas who betrayed the Lord Jesus with a kiss (Luke 22:47-48). If there is anything in this world that is real to the eye of God, it is the life of Christ manifested in the believer.
- Detestation of Evil. These next two exhortations combined give us a concise definition of holiness: hating what is evil and loving what is good (see Heb. 1:9). The connection between unfeigned love and the abhorrence of evil is important. Our motives in all our actions and thoughts toward our brethren must be pure. There must be no hatred or desire for their harm. There must also never be the use of love as an excuse to allow evil. The word “abhor” is a strong one; even the thought of evil ought to be shunned by the Christian.
- Attachment to Good. Our thoughts and lives must be built around those things that are upright and good. Philippians 4:8 says; “Whatsoever things are true, … honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; …any virtue, …any praise, think on these things.”
- Affection for others. This phileo love is different than the agápe love of v.9. (See these two types distinguished in 2 Pet. 1:7). This is brotherly or “friendly” love. It is important that Christians to get along well with one another, to be friends. How do we nurture brotherly love? Acts of kindness toward one another.
- Honoring others. We are to treat our fellow believers as we would treat Christ (Philemon 4). It is the opposite of self-aggrandizement. Notice that it says “taking the lead”. This indicates that when I begin to treat my brethren with respect it will lead them on by my example to do the same. But notice that the onus is on me. I cannot say “the ball in in their court”.
- Diligence in Service. We are to serve the Lord with energy and fervency. Notice it says “in spirit fervent” . That means there must be inward reality to go along with our outward zeal. The “spirit” refers to our attitude; we must have a positive attitude in service. The KJV says, “not slothful in business,” which misleads some to think it is referring to secular business.
- Rejoicing in Hope. We have been given something to look forward to. Hope for the believer is a deferred certainty, so unlike the vain hopes of the people of this world. In Romans, the hope referred to is “the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2; 8:30) which is the hope of future glorification. Our actual glorification will take place at the Rapture (Rom. 8:17, Phil. 3:21) but this hope includes not only that moment, but also the prospect of being face to face with the glory of God, and being perfectly suited to that environment.
- Endurance in Tribulation. Having this hope will cause us to fix our gaze on Christ in heaven, and to make us live expectantly, and patiently (Rom. 8:24-25), even in the face of difficult trials. The human frame cannot endure tribulation without hope; but the believer can not only endure trials, but gain a blessing from them in the school of God (Rom. 5:3-5); because we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:35-37).
- Perseverance in Prayer. The trials of the wilderness pathway cause us be increasingly dependent on God, and to feel our need of communion with Him in prayer. Our tendency often is to give up, or somehow believe that prayer is unimportant. On the contrary, it is the powerhouse of the Christian’s life!
- Willing in Generosity. We are exhorted to be give money, time, and other resources to help those saints who are in need. We know from Gal. 2:10 that Paul was always diligent in caring for the poor among God’s people. Christians are to be distributors, not accumulators. We are exhorted in Acts 20:35 to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.“
- Given to Hospitality. Opening up our homes to fellow believers is a crucial part of the Christian walk (1 Peter 4:9, 1 Tim. 3:2). Hospitality is not to be limited to those we know, but would include strangers as well (1 Tim. 5:10, Hebrews 13:2). “Given to“ indicates that we are to devote ourselves to it; to actively look for opportunities to be hospitable. Mr. Kelly remarks that in the day we live in (the time of a rising middle class) hospitality ought to be very common among us. Sadly, the Devil has been very successful in getting us so busy with life that we rarely take the time to show hospitality.
Honesty & Grace: Toward “All Men” (12:14-20)
- Steadfast Grace. When the believer is persecuted for the Name of Christ, he is to respond as Christ would have him to respond. Christ told us to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who insult you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Christ Himself perfectly exemplified these things in His sufferings at the hand of man. He could have asked the Father for twelve legions of angels; but He would not defend Himself!
- Selfless Empathy. We are to put ourselves in the shoes of others as they pass through he sorrows and joys of life. Selfishness prevents us from thinking of others, feeling with others, and building those relationships that can encourage fellow-believers and provide a springboard for evangelism. It is harder to “rejoice with those that rejoice” than it is to “weep with those that weep”. The reason is that the flesh is active in envy when other is getting something good. But when we practice this there is blessing all around; shared joy is double-joy, but shared sorrow is half-sorrow.
- Humble Impartiality. We are not to seek the high things of this world, but rather to be content to associate with the despised of the Lord’s flock. Impartiality is a very important subject in the Word of God. God Himself shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11). The sin of partiality is addressed at length in James 2:1-13. Proverbs 29:25 says “the fear of man bringeth a snare.” Paul used very strong language in addressing Peter (Gal. 2) for showing partiality when the legalists came from James. Paul explained that partiality essentially works against the gospel, because it is based on the principle that the work of Christ is not enough to form a valid basis of Christian fellowship.
- Not Self-confident. We are called on to judge the tendency of the flesh to develop elevated opinions of self. This is the hallmark of the world. “And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and … builded a city” (Gen 4:16-17). The world is that system of independence from the claims and thoughts of God.
- Not Retaliating. If we walk with an inflated view of ourselves we will begin to insist on our own rights. If we insist on our own rights, then we will respond with evil when evil is done to us. As always, Christ is the perfect example for us; “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).
- Honest in business. Another result of walking in self-confidence is dishonest business dealings. When the world observes a professing Christian carrying on with dishonesty, it will reflect poorly on Christ and the Lord’s work (2 Cor. 6:3). Rather, as those that have “renounced the hidden things of dishonesty” (2 Cor. 4:2) we are to be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13), our outward conduct remaining consistent with what we are in Christ.
- Peaceful conduct. In a world that is characterized by violence and unrest, the believer is to conduct himself peacefully. In fact, we are to pray “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Tim. 2:2). “If possible” is not giving an excuse to lash out when we have “hit our limit”. Rather, we are to live peaceably in this world insomuch as we do not have to compromising our principles. “As far as depends on you” means we must do everything in our power to keep peace.
- Self-abnegation. When we are wronged or abused (and we ought to expect that as servants of Christ, John 15:20) the solution is to fall on our face, like Moses (Num. 16:4) and get low before the Lord. We must be prepared to suffer even to death without retaliating (Matt. 5:38-42). “Give place to wrath” doesn’t mean “its okay for Christians to fight”; rather, we must be willing to take the blows of others’ wrath, rather than strike back. Furthermore, if we respond to the evil with good (by feeding our enemies, etc.) it will have a better effect than if we had retaliated! The expression “heap coals of fire on his head” is figurative language quoted from Proverbs 25:21-22. The repeated acts of kindness toward our abusers will be used of God to ignite their conscience and melt their cold heart. But the motive should be love. Guilt-tripping is not a weapon in the Christian’s arsenal.
- Overcoming evil with good. Here we have the great secret of Christian conduct in an evil world. Christ overcame the evil world by sacrificing Himself. God overcame our evil with His good gift in sending Christ. Now, as imitators of God (Eph. 5:1) and followers of Christ (Eph. 5:2) we are to walk in love, which will make us the victors over evil; “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any force, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6), and “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).