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The Meekness, Membership and Ministry of the Believer (Romans 12:3-8)

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A Translation

3. For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man among you not to think more highly than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

4. For just as in one body we have many parts, but all parts do not have the same function.

5. so we, the many, are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.

6. And having gifts which differ according to the grace given to us; if prophecy according to the analogy of the faith;

7. if service, in serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;

8. the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who gives, in abundance, the one who leads, in diligence; the one who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Synthesis

Paul exhorts the Roman believers to live in meekness using their diverse membership in the body of Christ as opportunities for ministry to one another.

Exegetical Sentence Outline

    I. Paul exhorts the Roman believers to have an attitude of meekness (12:3).

      A. The Roman believers’ meekness was to be based on sound judgment.

      B. The Roman believers’ meekness was based on God’s gifts, not their own merit.

    II. Paul explains the concept of membership in the body of Christ (12:4-5).

      A. The many members have many different functions (4).

      B. The different members are still part of one body (5).

    III. Paul explains that the purpose of differing gifts is for ministry to other members in the body (12:6-8).

      A. Prophecy should be in agreement with the rest of scripture (6b).

      B. Those with the gift of service, teaching and exhortation should focus on the development of their gift and minister with excellence (7-8a).

      C. Giving should be done with generosity and pure motives (8b).

      D. Leading should be exercised with diligence (8c).

      E. Showing mercy is to be done with an attitude of cheerfulness (8d).

Exposition

Introduction

After devoting eleven chapters to theological discussion, Paul now turns to an explanation of how this theology works out in daily living. He exhorts the readers to dedicate themselves to obedience to God, and that obedience is to be motivated by the theology just revealed (12:1). His exhortation is that they not be captivated by the foolishness of the world (1:21), but would, through the wisdom of God, become pure and mature (12:2).

In verses 3-8 Paul gives three practical examples of how the wisdom of God should affect one’s life. The individual should be characterized by meekness as he recognizes his salvation is the result of grace. His meekness should result in smooth assimilation into the membership of the body of Christ and result in opportunities for ministry which will benefit the other members in the body.

Meekness

Paul begins verse 3 with “for” which connects his thought to the previous section. What follows is an application of what he means by “good and acceptable and perfect” in verse 2.

Before he gives his commands, Paul appeals to his authority as an apostle in a humble way by saying, “through the grace given to me …” Paul recognized that his gift of apostleship was through no merit of his own; it was a gift from God. This humble statement shows that Paul leads by example and does not ask the readers to do something that he himself does not practice.

He tells the readers literally, “not to think more highly than they ought to think.” Because the “of himself” found in most translations is not in the Greek, some, such as Calvin, have taken this to mean that Paul is telling them not to be overly wise. He explains that “we should not exceed the measure of wisdom.”1 Calvin’s point doesn’t make much sense. How does one limit his reasoning ability? As one commentator says, “It is like telling a penguin not to fly.”2 Additionally, Calvin’s interpretation does not fit the overall context of Romans.

Paul tells the readers to use sound judgment. What is sound judgment? Perhaps it is related to all that Paul has been writing about. The constant theme of the book of Romans has been that man is hopelessly lost and without any ability to please God (chapters 1-3), he is saved by faith (3:21-5:), salvation has come to the Gentiles only because of Israel’s rejection, etc. Sound judgment must take these truths into account, so there is no room for conceit. In the immediate context which follows, Paul deals with taking one’s place in the body of Christ and ministering to others which would be hampered by an attitude of superiority.

Finally, this is also consistent with the normal use of the word translated “to think highly.”3 Therefore, it is best to understand the command to “not think more highly” as meaning “not think more highly of himself than he ought to think.”

Paul gives another reason for humility which is that “God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Although Cranfield tries to make this “measure” a standard by which we measure ourselves,4 that seems unlikely. Any form of comparison will invariably lead to just the opposite of the humility Paul is calling for.

The next issue to resolve is the meaning of “faith” in vs. 3. Is this saving faith or the objective faith which is the doctrine believed? It seems that it is neither. It is unlikely that Paul is talking about different measures of saving faith. If you are saved, you are saved. One is not more saved than another. And the truth of the gospel is the same for all, therefore, this faith must be the exercise of faith by the believer. It makes more sense to understand Paul to mean that each believer has been given a different “expression”5 of faith. That expression is his spiritual gift.6 Paul will pick up on this in verse 6. Paul describes gifts in this way to emphasize that faith is essential in exercising one’s gift.7

So, Paul calls for meekness on the part of the Romans because sound judgment reveals that they are Christians only by the grace of God, because their abilities and gifts are through no merit of their own, and because it is only through faith in the power of God that they will be able to carry out the proper exercise of their gifts.

Membership

Paul continues8 his application and explanation of the allotment of gifts by explaining the concept of the body of Christ. He uses the analogy of the human body which has many different parts. Likewise, the believers who make up the body of Christ are all unique and have different functions.

But just as the many parts form one human body, the many believers are a closely connected community and each person’s contribution is important to the proper function of the body of Christ.

The phrase “in Christ” emphasizes that the glue which holds this body together is not racial or physical. It is a supernatural bond which is in fact the mystery of Eph. 3:6.

Ministry

The purpose of the allotted faith and membership in the body is ministry to others in the body. Thus Paul launches into a description of the purpose and function of spiritual gifts. The Greek word for spiritual gifts indicates any word or action which brings grace to expression9 and is consistent with Paul’s emphasis that their gifts are through the grace of God. Paul mentions seven different gifts.

The first gift listed is prophecy. The one with the gift of prophecy gives new revelation from God. The guiding factor, according to Paul, is the “analogy of the faith.” Although some translations (RSV, NASB) translate this as “according to the proportion of his faith,” this sounds too much like the conclusion of verse 3. It seems redundant for Paul to repeat what he said in verse 3 only for the person with the gift of prophecy, so what does this qualification mean? There are two possible explanations: First, Paul may be warning the prophet to only speak what is revealed to him (according to the proportion of his faith) and not add personal opinion.10 A second option stems from the fact that the word translated “proportion” can also be translated “in right relationship to, or in agreement with.”11 If taken this way, it would mean that the revelation given by the prophet must be in agreement with the rest of scripture.12 The second option is to be preferred. The two views are not really contradictory. If one is prophesying only what is given to him by God (in proportion to his faith), then it is going to be in agreement with the rest of scripture.

Although there was a qualification for the exercise of the gift of prophecy, Paul does not maintain that with the rest of the gifts. 13 In the list of gifts which follow, the point Paul is making is that the believers need to focus on their own gift(s) and develop them. If their gift is service, then be a great servant. If their gift is teaching, then teach well, if exhortation, then exhort, etc. A few of the following gifts, however, do have qualifications or descriptions attached that deserve comment.

The second gift mentioned is ministry or service. This might refer to one of three things: ministry of the word, administration or “plain” service. Some think that this refers to the ministry of the word since it comes between prophecy and teaching in the list of gifts.14 If Paul is prioritizing the list, then dissemination of the Word would fit and is of primary importance. But although it seems strange to me that Paul would caution against conceit (vs. 3) and then give a prioritized list of gifts which would naturally make someone evaluate the importance of his function in the body, others could argue that that was in fact the reason he warned against conceit—because he was about to give a prioritized list. There is little support to take this as ministering the word other than its location between prophecy and teaching.

Some take the gift of ministry mentioned here to be that of management or administration. This stems from the use of the same Greek word for the office of deacon. If this is the correct understanding, then the limiting factor on the exercise of this gift is that it is to be done with an attitude of serving the members of the body and not with an attitude of lording it over the body. However, it seems unlikely that Paul would mention administration here and then list the gift of “leading” in the next verse.

Consequently, it seems best to take this gift of serving as just that—serving others in the body. And as discussed above, the limiting clause, “in our serving” is not limiting at all, but a call to devotion and excellence in service.

The one with the gift of teaching should devote himself to the task of teaching. The one who exhorts should exercise his gift in two spheres. The first sphere is that of confrontation and the second is consolation.15

The guiding factor for the one who gives may be either an attitude of generosity because the word translated “liberality” (NASB, RSV) can have the idea of generosity (2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13) or it might mean giving with pure motives, because the word also literally means “singleness.” This word is used by Jesus in Matt 6:22 and by James in 1:5 of a man with divided allegiances. This idea would indicate that the one who gives should give with single-mindedness of heart or with pure motives. His motivation should be for the good of others and not what he will gain from the gift. This is consistent with the concept of ministering to other members in the body.

The one who leads needs to lead with diligence.16 Diligence is certainly needed for the leader who must watch out day and night for the well-being of the body. The one who shows mercy should not do so grudgingly, but should do it with a cheerfulness that will encourage the afflicted. Otherwise, as Calvin writes, “to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given, makes them to feel themselves despised.”17

Conclusion

Paul calls the believers to meekness because it is the grace of God which saves them, which brings them into the body of Christ and which gifts them. Therefore, as unique members of the body of Christ, we need to appreciate our uniqueness and appropriate the gifts that God has given us to minister to one another.

Bibliography

Bauer, Walter and others, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979).

Brown, John, Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981).

Calvin, John, Commentaries on The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Trans. by John Owen, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1947).

Cranfield, C. E. B., The Epistle to the Romans Vol. 2 (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark LTD, 1975).

Dunn, James D. G., Romans 9-16 (Dallas: Word Books, 1988).

Murray, John, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968.

Robertson, A.T., A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934).

Stevens, James D., “Calvin’s Interpretation of Romans 12.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1971.


1 John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, p. 456.

2 James D. Stevens, DTS Master’s Thesis, p. 25. Stevens also points out that Calvin may have been over reacting to the humanists of his day who elevated the mind.

3 The word is uJperpronei'n which is a hapax legomena, but it typically has the meaning “to think too highly of oneself, or be haughty” in classical Greek literature. BAGD, p. 842.

4 C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans Vol. 2, p. 615.

5 James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, p. 722.

6 Paul’s use of ejmevrisen in 1 Cor 7:17 and his use of ejmevrisen with mevtron in 2 Cor 10:13 are consistent with understanding this to mean that each believer is apportioned different tasks, lives, etc., or in our case “different gifts.”

7 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 119.

8 He links this section with the connective gaVr.

9 James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, p. 735.

10 C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans Vol. 2, p. 621, also cf. John Brown, An Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, p. 452.

11 BAGD, p. 57.

12 John Murray, Epistle to the Romans, p. 123.

13 The gift of prophecy is unique in this list because Paul uses kataV plus the accusative to emphasize a standard or rule for the practice of prophecy. (A.T. Robertson discusses this use of kataV, p. 608.) The other gifts are listed with associated dative clauses showing the sphere in which the gifts should be practiced.

14 John Murray, Epistle to the Romans, p. 124. Murray lists this as a possible meaning although he doesn’t hold to it.

15 parakalw'n can have the idea of exhortation which challenges one to change one’s actions or to console or comfort someone. BAGD, p. 617.

16 spoudhv means eagerness, earnestness, diligence. BAGD, p. 763.

17 John Calvin, Romans, p. 463.

Related Topics: Fellowship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Sanctification, Leadership