Setting

In the first major section of the epistle Paul explained systematically how God has revealed His righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. He concluded the section by extolling God’s sovereign wisdom in extending His mercy to both the Jews and the Gentiles. The second half of the epistle will primarily be exhortations on practical Christian conduct. True faith in Christ must be lived, and not just understood. In this lesson we will be looking at the introduction to this section of the epistle, the use of the gifts that God has given, and how we as believers are to interact with others.

Key Verse

(12:1, ESV)

Did You Know...?

  1. Spiritual” (12:1): This word, also translated as “reasonable” in some English Bibles, means “belong to the sphere of reason rather than that of the senses.” [ref]
  2. By testing you may discern” (12:2): “Testing” and “discern” in this verse are in fact one word in Greek: dokimazein, whose meaning encompasses both testing and proving by testing.
  3. Outdo one another” (12:10): The Greek word translated “outdo” here can have a few possible shades of meaning. The word can mean “go first and lead the way” as well as “consider (someone) more highly (than oneself).” [ref]
  4. Live in harmony… Do not be haughty…” (12:16): In Greek these two commands form a contrast based on the verb “think.” The LEB attempts to translate the Greek literally: “Think the same thing toward one another; do not think arrogantly.” [ref]

Outline

  • Offering Our Bodies
    (12:1–2)
  • Differing Gifts
    (12:3–8)
  • Christian Conduct
    (12:9-21)

Segment Analysis

  • 12:1–2

    1.

    How do the opening words “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God” relate the teachings that will follow the first half of Romans (chapters 1 through 11)?

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    The word “therefore,” indicates that Paul’s appeal is connected to and based on the preceding teachings. Up to this point in Romans, Paul has been expounding on the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. All have sinned, and it is by God’s grace and through the redemption of Christ Jesus that we are justified (Rom 3:23–24). This gift of salvation is the foundation upon which the teachings on Christian living are built. This is why Paul appeals to believers “by the mercies of God.” In other words, we as the recipients of God’s mercies have an obligation to live a life worthy of our calling. God’s grace is the ultimate motivation for presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

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  • 2.

    Paul could have written more generally, “Present yourselves…” What do you think is the significance of specifying “Present your bodies”?

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    “Body” represents concrete actions and lifestyles. Our devotional to God is not only an inward connection with Him but must also be put into practice through our speech and conduct. Our faith is expressed in what we see with our eyes, what we hear with our ears, what we say with our mouths, what we do with our hands, and where we go with our feet. The exhortations that follow in Romans have to do with concrete uses of our bodies to glorify God. Whereas we used to present our members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, we are now to present our members to God as instruments for righteousness (Rom 6:13).

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  • 3.

    Why is presenting our bodies a spiritual worship? (See the Did You Know entry for “Spiritual”)

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    Under the old covenant, worshipping God involved bringing gifts and animal sacrifices to God. But in the new covenant, we are to imitate Christ and offer ourselves to God through obedience (cf. Heb 10:5–10; 13:12–13). The sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God is the offering of our bodies to God to live righteous lives. This is also the goal of the gospel (cf. Rom 1:1–6; 16:25–26)

    The word “spiritual” translates the Greek logikos, meaning pertaining to reason rather than the senses. A spiritual worship is devotion to God that stems from an inward transformation. It is characterized by a lifestyle that is led by the Spirit (pertaining to reason) rather than by the desires of the flesh (pertaining to the senses) (cf. Rom 8:5–9). Along the same lines Peter also wrote about the spiritual sacrifices we are to offer to God (1 Pet 2:5, 9–12).

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  • 4a.

    Spend some time to briefly preview the teachings on Christian living found in chapters 12 through 15. Then explain the commands in verse 2.

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    The ideologies and trends of the world often pressure us to be conformed to the world—to think and live like the unbelievers. But the Bible teaches us to be transformed instead, and do so by the renewing of our mind. We used to live among the sons of disobedience, in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (Eph 2:3). But now we have been called by God to receive His grace of redemption. We must now put off our old self, be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22–24).

    The specific exhortations in this passage show us what it means to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. They teach us to have a mindset that is drastically different from the godless values and ways of the unbelieving world.

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  • 4b.

    Take 3 of the teachings in these chapters and give examples of what it means to be conformed and to be transformed.

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    The following are a few examples drawn from the teachings in these chapters on what it means to not be conformed but be transformed: Instead of pride and contention, we are to serve other members of Christ’s body (Rom 12:3–8). Instead of hypocrisy or selfish agenda, we are to love genuinely (Rom 12:9). Instead of retaliation, we are to bless those who persecute us (Rom 12:14–21). Instead of slandering public servants, we are to honor those in authority (Rom 13:1–7). Instead of considering only our own needs, we are to be considerate of the weak (Rom 14:1–23).

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  • 12:1–2

    5.

    How is the renewing of the mind essential to being transformed?

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    A new life begins with a new mind, i.e. a new way of thinking. Hence Paul urges the believers to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11). Having the correct recognition of our new status as children of God motivates us to live a new life. Besides our self-recognition, God has also given us the Holy Spirit to renew us, help us have the mind of Christ, and bring the teachings of Christ to mind (cf. 1 Cor 2:12–16; Tit 3:5–6; Jn 14:26). If we yield to the Spirit’s guidance and set our minds on the Spirit, we would be able to put to death the deeds of the body and live a new life (Rom 8:1–5, 12–14).

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  • 6.

    Explain how we may discern the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

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    According to Romans 12:1, the ability to discern the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God comes from being transformed by the renewing of our mind. Our thinking used to be futile and our hearts darkened (Rom 1:21), but now, we have died to sin and been made alive to God. Our values have changed. Our new mentality enables us to discern God’s will.

    However, testing and discerning God’s will is a process. Each day as we aim to do what is good and right, we are learning to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 2:9–10). As our love grows more and more with knowledge and all discernment, we are better equipped to approve what is excellent (Php 1:9–10).

    To put things in more practical terms, discerning God’s will is a learning process. God doesn’t usually speak to us in a voice and tell us what to do in every situation. There are times when we are unsure of what is the right choice. This is when we need to measure our priorities and thoughts by God’s word. The Holy Spirit will also move within us. Sometimes we learn from the outcome of things that our decision was not as pleasing to God as we might have thought. That also becomes a lesson learned, and we would be able to make better choices next time. As in many other disciplines, doing God’s will involves constant training and practice (Heb 5:14).

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  • 12:3–8

    7a.

    How does the teaching of verse 3 relate to the renewing of the mind taught in verse 2?

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    Verse 3 teaches us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think with sober judgment according to the measure of faith that God has assigned to us. This reminder to think of ourselves properly is a practical application of the exhortation in the previous verse to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Now that we belong to Christ, how we view ourselves should be God-centered. That means understanding God’s purpose for us and the particular gifts that He has assigned to us to edify the body of Christ. With this new mindset, we would not compare ourselves with others, try to excel over others, or look down on those who seem to be less important.

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  • 7b.

    What does it mean to think of ourselves with sober judgment and according to the measure of faith that God has assigned?

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    “Think with sober judgment” is translated from one Greek word, sōphronein, which is defined in one lexicon as “to be able to think in a sound or sane manner” and “to be prudent, with focus on self-control.” [ref] Here in Romans 12:3, the Bible is commanding us not to overestimate ourselves but to think rightly about ourselves. The next few verses explain how to do that.

    In the community of faith, we are not the center. God has delegated to everyone a certain gift to perform to build up the church until we all attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:7, 11–14). Rather than using our abilities to boost our ego, we need to see our abilities as a gift from God to accomplish His purpose. We are to make use of our God-given abilities and work together with other members of the body to achieve one common goal.

    The phrase “the measure of faith” elicits different interpretations. But one way to understand it is that this verse is encouraging each believer to exercise his gift with the faith God has given to him. Faith in this context is specifically with reference to the use of our gifts. In other words, as we serve one another with the ability from God, we ought to do so with the conviction that God has called us to serve in this particular area and that we are to be faithful to God in carrying out the assignment.

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  • 12:3–8

    8.

    How is it helpful to remember that we do not have the same function in the body of Christ?

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    Since God has given different functions to different members of the body, there shouldn’t be any competition among the members. Instead, the varying functions complement each other and work together in harmony for the good of the whole body. Ministry is teamwork, not a one-person show.

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  • 9.

    Have you discovered the particular gift God has given you? How can you do better in putting it to use?

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  • 12:9–21

    10.

    What does genuine love have to do with abhorring what is evil and holding fast to what is good (v. 9)?

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    Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:6). Our love for others is inseparable from obeying God’s commandments (1 Jn 5:2). Tolerating evil is indulgence, not love. It may seem loving to go along with the wrongdoings that a person is committing, but doing so is only hurting them. If we love someone genuinely, we want what is ultimately best for that person. Helping them to turn from evil towards good is the way to do that.

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  • 11.

    Explain what it means to “outdo one another in showing honor” (v. 10) (See also the Did You Know entry for “outdo one another.”).

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    The ESV translation, “outdo one another in showing honor” seem to connote competition, but that is not what Paul is suggesting. If we follow the first shade of meaning of the Greek word, i.e. “go first and lead the way,” the teaching here is that we ought to be proactive in doing what is honorable and not fall behind other believers in doing so. If we apply the other sense of the word, i.e. “consider (someone) more highly (than oneself),” then Paul is encouraging believers to consider each other more highly than themselves and more worthy of honor.

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  • 12.

    Reflect on the teachings in 11–13. Think about what areas you need to improve on.

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  • 13.

    Discuss practical ways to apply the following teachings: a. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (v. 15); b. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (v. 16):

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    a. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (v. 15):

    The first step in developing empathy for others is to take genuine interest in other people’s well being. We can do this by spending time to find out how others are doing, sometimes by simply listening to their stories. The next step is learning to be there to support others in whatever circumstances they may be in. When things go well, be there to share those moments of joy. When they suffer, stay by their side and grieve with them. A lot of times it is not what we say, but our presence, that lifts someone up.

    b. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (v. 16):

    To associate with the lowly, we must not think highly of ourselves. We need to see one’s worth based on God’s values rather than the world’s standards. For example, the world may despise the poor because they have few possessions and are unable to adorn themselves with fancy material things. But in God’s eyes, they are just as precious as the rich. When admonishing his readers for their partiality, James reminds them, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (Jas 2:5). When we see that the lowly brethren are not worth any less than we are, we would naturally be able to fellowship with them and care for them.

    The Lord Jesus likewise teaches us not to despise one of the least of the brethren (Mt 18:1–5). This requires that we ourselves first become humble as if we are children. Then we would not look down on anyone. Furthermore, we should remember that even the least of the brethren is important to the Lord, and whatever good we do to them, we do it to the Lord (Mt 10:42; 18:10; 25:31–46).

    Associating with the lowly starts with little deeds of kindness. For example, in the church some people tend to be easily neglected, whether because they don’t have any friends, have some disability, or are very shy. Do we greet them when we see them? Do we sit with them during meals? When we haven’t seen them at church, do we find out how they are doing?

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  • 14.

    How can we overcome evil with good (v. 21)?

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    This segment teaches us to not repay evil with evil, but to do good to those who wrong us. The proverb cited in verse 20, using the analogy of heaping burning coals on the head of the enemy, depicts how our kind deeds can in fact convert our enemies so that they would forsake evil and turn to good.

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