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:: Scripture and Music ::
Oh, How Good it Is (Getty/Townend)
Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service (Bayly/White; arr. Austell)
CHOIR: Many Gifts, One Spirit (Pote)
Take My Life/Here Am I (Tomlin)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
We are continuing today in the “Body” series, looking at the New Testament description of the church as the “Body of Christ.” Today there is a focus on the varying gifts and functions found within the body, which all work together for God’s purposes. It is a fitting passage as we ordain and install elders and deacons, but also a reminder that EACH of you who trust in Christ are part of His body. Each of you has a place and a purpose and a spiritual gifting from God. If you are doubtful of that or fuzzy on where you fit in, I hope that you will leave here today with clarity and calling as fellow members of this Body.
Sacrifice the Body (how and why) (vv. 1-3)
This passage starts with the overarching theme for the chapter. It is also where I got the title for this sermon: “Sacrifice the Body.” And by that I don’t mean abuse or damage your physical bodies. Rather, the first verse uses ‘body’ to represent our whole selves (and the passage will expand into talking about mind, body, and spirit in service to God). But it’s the image I want to focus on. In verse one, Paul urges us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” What is a “living and holy sacrifice that is acceptable to God? Psalm 51 says that the sacrifices God desires are “a broken and contrite heart and spirit” – that is, a heart yielded to God. What does it mean to say “spiritual service of worship?” It means that yielding oneself if in this way is not just a physical or mental act, but an act of our SPIRIT and an act of worship.
The rest of the passage is going to answer HOW and WHY to give ourselves to God’s service and worship, and all that will lead to specific examples and illustrations to help us flesh out this theme.
HOW – Verse 2 speaks of the MIND, urging us to not be “conformed to this world,” but “transformed by the renewing of the mind.” CONFORMED is to mold to the shape of something else, like when you pour batter into a pan, it conforms to the shape of the pan. And the warning here is to not conform to the world – that is, the way of thinking in this world apart from God. Now I often remind you that Jesus prayed that we would not remove ourselves from this world, but enter into it. But he also prayed this same thing, that we would not so over-identify with the world that we become “of the world.” Paul is saying the same thing here. Keep your distinctiveness in Christ; don’t become indistinguishable from the world around us. Don’t absorb it’s values and priorities over those of God. He also highlights the need to have our minds TRANSFORMED – that is, changed. We are born into this world and grow up in it, after all. So, the natural thing, the default thing, would be to be conformed or shaped by and into it. So, God must change our minds, turn us around, re-shape and make us.
WHY – And that’s just the conclusion Paul makes: when this happens, we prove (or demonstrate) what God wants for human beings. We become distinct (another word for ‘holy’), not out of, but still IN the world God loves. This is God’s “good and acceptable and perfect” will. (v. 2)
Next, in verse 3, Paul cautions us not to think too highly of ourselves, but to think in a different way. This is, perhaps an example of conformed thinking vs. transformed thinking. Don’t compare and rate yourselves against those around you, but think with “sound judgment” – the kind God grants when we look to Him in faith. And what we will find – and Jesus certainly taught this – is that this kind of “sound judgment” thinking thinks first of others, of neighbors, of how to serve and love. And illustrating that kind of thinking which leads to doing is where Paul heads next.
Gifts are for Gifting (vv. 4-8)
Starting in verse 4, Paul starts talking about the “Body of Christ” and turns to that theme we looked at last week: that we represent the wide variety, function, and relationships found among the many parts of a body, but we are also part of one Body, in Christ. That relates us not only to Christ, but to each other and to the world as Christ relates to the world.
What follows is a list of examples of the kinds of gifts and functions found in this Body of Christ. It is not exhaustive, but is illustrative. Besides listing and illustrating, Paul also makes the clear point that these gifts are not for hoarding or hiding, but for exercising and using. These gifts are for gifting! And so, the list, with a few definitions where they might be needed:
- Prophecy - declaring the Word of God for a given audience; it is preaching, rightly understood.
- Exhortation - challenging or encouraging someone or a group to believe or do something
- Showing mercy
First, each of us is “to exercise [these gifts]” (v. 6a). These are all gifts for gifting. To keep with the body metaphor, if you are an eye, then open your eyes; if you are an ear, don’t wear ear plugs. If you have these gifts, God intends them to be used.
Secondly, notice the qualifier after prophecy: “according to the proportion of his faith.” Preaching or prophecy is not to be undertaken casually or without mature faith. That was, in fact, one of problems in several of the early churches that Paul kept having to address. But it is true of using gifts in general. They should be used in proportion to one’s faith and maturity. One does not put an immature or new believer in a high leadership position, but helps them have smaller leadership opportunities as that gift grows, with appropriate accountability and oversight until they are ready to lead.
Finally, there are some extra descriptions given toward the of the list. While these do pair particularly with their gift (e.g. giving with liberality, leading with diligence, showing mercy with cheerfulness), the larger application is that our gifts are not JUST human skills, but human skills shaped by godly qualities. We don’t just give grudgingly or sparingly, but are urged to give generously. We don’t just show mercy with anger or disdain, but are urged to do so with cheerfulness and joy. Similarly, anything on that list can and should take on a godly shape, perhaps teaching with kindness or with gentleness. Or exhorting with truthfulness and love.
Right? So especially with Paul’s style of writing (he likes to make lists), it is important to remember he isn’t saying these are the only gifts and the only way of leading is diligent leading. Rather, look for the broader point: exercise gifts, do so wisely in proportion to maturity and faith, and do so with godly character.
Four To Do’s (with many examples) (vv. 9-13)
Paul follows that list of more specific gifts with several more general ones that certainly are available to every person. So these are not gifts or skills, but back to tangible examples of what it looks like to offer ourselves fully and sacrificially to God. There are four – again, not exhaustive, but plenty to sink our mind, body, and spirits into:
“Let love be without hypocrisy” (v. 9a) – Let love be true. Jesus affirmed the greatest commandment as “loving God and loving others” with all we’ve got. True love is other-focused; true love is not two-faced; true love is what God has shown us and invited in our own lives. In the context of this chapter, love recognizes the value and dignity of every part of the Body of Christ, which in turn is oriented face-outward toward the world God loves.
“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (v. 9b) – This seems like a no-brainer, but of course Paul would be the first to confess that sometimes we do the things we do not want to do. But that’s the beauty and the invitation of the Gospel: even when we’ve turned away, God invites us back again. So I read this as the ongoing invitation to repentance and grace. Today, again, turn from sin, evil, disobedience, indifference; turn to God. Cling to God; cherish God’s mercy and grace.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10) – It probably is enough to say “love each other.” But devotion adds something. Devotion is a worship word and, remember, all this is framed in that first verse of offering ourselves as a sacrifice and offering to the Lord as an act of worship. That’s what devotion is. So the relationships within the Body (and really outward to the world) are brought into that original context of life as worship, or as Psalm 51 says, “a living offering” to God. Though it’s more, we often think of love as a feeling, but “devotion” reminds us that it is an action, a choice, and a commitment.
“Give preference to one another in honor” (v. 10) – And we end with what is perhaps the most relational command: “give preference to one another.” This is what Jesus modeled for “how to be great” and “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” One of the greatest gifts in community is to serve one another in love. That’s what God modeled for us in Christ. And as if Paul hadn’t already given us enough examples and specifics, he ends with eight examples of how we give preference to one another in honor. I’ll simply read this without further comment or explanation. They are self-explanatory:
1. Not lagging behind in diligence
2. Fervent in spirit
3. Serving the Lord
4. Rejoicing in hope
5. Persevering in tribulation
6. Devoted to prayer
7. Contributing to the needs of the saints
8. Practicing hospitality
One Body, Many Parts
When we hear teaching about being part of the Body of Christ, I think many struggle to identify gifts or roles or purpose. It’s easy enough to say some are teachers or evangelists or help others, but I’m not sure what I contribute.
As we conclude, consider all that Paul covered in this relatively short passage.
Every one of us called to offer ourselves to God as an act of worship.
Gifts and Talents are for: 1) using; 2) using wisely; 3) using in a godly way
Together, we are all are called to love and serve God, each other, and the world