Romans 12:3-8
Good Stewards of God's Varied Grace

Seeing ourselves and our spiritual gifts in their proper places in the body of Christ

Truth Contenders Sunday School Class
Two Rivers Baptist Church
Nashville, TN, USA

For Sunday, 04 April 2004

Handout: Good Stewards of God's Varied Grace


Blue: word from text to be discussed or defined

Violet: definition of term from text

Green: on handout

Ink: to be filled in on handout

Purple: Greek word

Red: question asked aloud of class


"...think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." (ESV)

King Reason, Queen Passion, and God

About 600 years ago, Western society began to go through a period when we valued human intellectual excellence above all else. The mind was the thing, while intuition and the affections had less and less of our trust and appreciation. That lasted a few hundred years, culminating in the 17th century with the philosophy of Rationalism, which took something good in itself -- rationality -- and tried to use it beyond its proper limits. Human reason was crowned king. Of course, human reason being what it is, it didn't take very long for us to recognize that we had enthroned an evil genius.

So we reacted against it, and entered a period of Romanticism, when feelings, emotions, and intuition came to be valued most highly. An examination of current cultural trends seem to indicate that we have now reached the apex of Romanticism. We have crowned human sentiment queen. There is a general disdain for rational thinking, and a distrust of sound arguments in the realm of ideas alone. I would like to think that we are beginning to recognize that Queen Passion is leading us to a death equally as bad as King Reason would have, had we let him. For now, though, we are a society of sentimental fools.

The foregoing is, of course, a sweeping generality. But its purpose is to set the stage for understanding Paul's injunction to "think with sober judgment" in the context of our times, not to give a lesson in the history of philosophy. For a good introduction to that subject, I recommend The Story of Philosophy, by Bryan Magee.

In truth, God designed humans to value both our minds and our affections, and to crown neither, but to submit both to His authority, and to use them together in our apprehension of Him, of the world, and of ourselves. The scriptures never devalue the mind, any more than they devalue the affections. As Christians who desire to be faithful to God as revealed in His Word and in His world, we must be careful not to follow our society in setting thinking and feeling against each other.

In today's passage, Paul's primary concern is that we think rightly about our spiritual gifts. In doing so, he's not saying that sensitivity is unimportant. He's not banishing Queen Passion from the palace. But neither is he supplanting her with King Reason. He is saying only that a true understanding of the subject of spiritual gifts, a right mental grasp of it, is necessary if we are to use them to build up the church and glorify God as we ought. It's true, of course, that we must use our gifts with sensitivity, both to the Spirit of God and to each other's needs. But in the Spirit, sensitivity is never divorced from sound reason; neither feeling nor thinking is trusted implicitly, but both are used as guides where they best suit. Reason and Passion are appointed Ministers of our inner government, co-stewards of whatever grace God has dealt to us, and our whole heart kneels humbly before our true monarch, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Right Thinking about Spiritual Gifts

The word "think" occurs four times in Romans 12:3! In English, it comes out as three times, but the Greek word for "sober[ly] or sound judgment" is a compound word containing the word for "think." The Greeks had more than one word for "think," each with its own specific meaning or connotations. The one used here means to think "sanely," humbly, moderately, temperately, to not go overboard.

The first part of Romans chapter 12 contains six threads that are used to weave the rich fabric of a right understanding of spiritual gifts:

  1. Servanthood: We are humble servants.
    1. Sacrifice your body to God, for his service; submit your mind to God's Word; don't think too highly of yourself; fill your assigned role in the body of Christ, serving one another with your spiritual gifts -- do you see a pattern emerging?
    2. Mark 10:43-45:
      "...whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
    3. We follow Christ by self-sacrificial service to each other. Serving God means serving each other.
    4. We serve with our spiritual gifts. In this way, Christ, the head of the body, controls the whole body. He hands out the gifts as he sees fit.
    5. God gives us grace not only to save us individually, but also to enable us to serve each other.
  2. The entire Christian life is by grace through faith
    1. Our abilities are gifts that God freely, graciously bestows on us. The faith to receive and use our gifts is given to us by God.
      • God has dealt, assigned, allotted, given - Greek merizo, from which we get "meridian." To divvy up. He doesn't dump all his grace for service on one man in a local body -- the pastor -- and expect him to do the ministering. All believers are ministers by virtue of the fact that each has been given spiritual gifts. We all need each other's ministry in order for the body of Christ to function as it should.
      • The measure of faith - metron, from which we get the English word "meter." Like a cook making a special dish, God measures out just the right amount of each gift to each of His children so that we can mix it up, and together serve Him -- that is, serve each other -- well.
    2. I Peter 4:10-11, ESV:
      "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..."
      We serve God truly in serving each other only when we are relying on God's strength. That said, we should not be fearful, waiting around to feel His strength before we go to serve. Trust Him and go -- He will supply the strength for each moment as it is needed.
    3. Colossians 1:28-29, ESV:
      "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me."
      Even the great apostle and missionary, Paul himself, did all of his work of proclaiming, warning, and teaching, not in his own strength, but in God's. Note that he does not deny his own part: "I toil," he says, but with energy that God supplies. Faith is rest: rest while you work. In this fallen world, that resting-work will still be toil, it will always be a struggle. But as you trust Him, God will graciously energize you by His Spirit for the task at hand, and the results will last forever.
    4. Romans 15:17-18, ESV:
      "In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me..."
      Proud of our work? But if what we are proud of is what Christ has done through us, of whom are we really proud? The tool is right to feel proud to be used by the Master Craftsman.
    5. Paul demonstrates it for us, even while he says it: "By the grace given me…." God gave Paul the gift of grace of apostleship, by which he should set down these instructions for us in scripture. How do we serve each other? The same way Paul demonstrates here, by grace through faith. What does this mean?
      • By grace means:
        "...all my calling, all my gifts, all my authority is a work of free grace in my life. I don't deserve it. I didn't muster it up. It isn't owing to my self-wrought abilities and skills. It is all of grace."1 John Piper
        This is the basis of our sober assessment of ourselves, not thinking too highly.
      • Through faith means: dependence on God for the strength and wisdom to exercise your gifts for the benefit of the body.
    6. God will give you the faith to do whatever he has gifted you to do.
  3. In practice, faith and works are inseparable: It is up to us to exercise our measure of faith by using our gifts.
    1. I Corinthians 15:10 ESV:
      "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
    2. Don't let God's grace toward you be in vain. Here's a question that might sound strange at first, due to common misconceptions about the nature of redemption: What are you doing with your salvation? Philippians 2:12-13, ESV:
      " out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
      God works it in; you work it out. Whatever God works in you, work it out.
  4. The Sovereignty of God, especially as seen in the Lordship of Christ over his Church: He distributes gifts among the members of his body as he sees fit.
  5. The body of Christ: we are one body, but diverse members. The Church is the ultimate work of art, of which all manmade works of art are at best faint reflections.
  6. Spiritual gifts: See yourself in the body of Christ through the lens of your gifts. Ask yourself: What can I do to help? This is the opposite of the common view of the church in our society, where the prevailing question seems to be: Where can I get my needs met? I have heard people actually talk seriously in terms of shopping for a church to attend. With that upside-down mentality, the church is reduced from a body to a strip mall. The church is a place of service, not a spiritual factory outlet.

Not sure what your gift is? Take the Spiritual Gifts Test at Liontracks Ministries' website.

David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL