Recently, I have found myself responding to others with two specific sentiments when being asked to serve or accompany them in times of fellowship; “I would be honored,” and “I am humbled,” (and in some instances saying both together). These statements, being my actual emotional experiences have formed humility and honor in my heart. In responding and interacting with those around us, if we don’t value honor and humility, we can quickly shift from a collaborative relationship to a self-seeking one. If we neglect to genuinely take Romans 12 into account as out way of living, then we miss how Jesus wants to shape us into a community of both humility and honor.
The urgency with which Paul writes is not to be taken lightly. As believers, we are invited into a way of living that goes far beyond the self. It places extreme importance on “the other”. It brings to mind the heart behind our first commandment: love God and love people. Through these expressions of the heart we are restored.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (1-2)
Paul starts off in verses 1-2 by drawing a distinction. Offering one’s body as an act of sacrifice covers a spectrum of ideologies. How literal is this? I think the point of taming the body is exclaimed through, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Every part of ourselves is to be set aside and tamed through self-control so we differ in heart and mind from the world. Paul is setting us up to recognize that our actions matter.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (3-8)
One way of renewing our minds looks like, “not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought…” In this way, we are able to recognize the differences with the “body of Christ”; a body within which we all look different and all have a role to play. How would we function without recognizing the functions of the other parts of the body? Imagine for a moment, we ignore the idea of offering our entire bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. Instead, we only offer portions. We don’t renew our minds, we don’t engage our hearts, we don’t practice self-control. More often than not, we would be led astray in bouts of turmoil. When we don’t have single-mindedness, (or single body-ness) there is a lack of direction. One foot would go one direction, and one foot another. It is no coincidence that Paul continues verses 3-8 with an expressive call to action! With the unity of the functioning body, recognized through a renewed mind that “each member belongs to all the others,” our interactions with one another become intentional and encouraging to each member to fill their function.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (9-13)
Being devoted in love, is choosing to honor one another above honoring ourselves. This act of love will singlehandedly destroy selfishness. If we aim to honor one another above our own honor through sincere love, that choice attaches itself to goodness that serves the Lord. This ends our self-seeking bitterness. This ends our desire to be selfish. Our focus leaves ourselves, and delights in the other. This is not an invitation to stop being aware of one’s self, but rather an invitation to freedom: learning how to fully devote time to loving and honoring everyone around us.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (14-16)
Paul takes it a step further and invites every person to honor this experience. He says we are all worthy. There should be no distinction between those you like and those you don’t. There is no in or out! There is only in. Paul demystifies the idea that only individuals we like deserve honor, by reminding us that everyone has an invitation to the table. Living in harmony reassures us to not detest one another. We must live unified. We must live with fellow creation. Even if you think you are above someone, we are invited to set aside pride. Even if we don’t enjoy someone, we are asked to bless them.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (17-21)
As we disassociate ourselves with self-promotion, meeting our needs outside of Jesus, and a mindset that says we have earned or deserve something, every experience we have is a joyful gift from a loving Father. As we celebrate those around us, we realize how much is being won for the Kingdom of God. As we meet people where they are and share true love with them, everyone wins!
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:1-4.
Conforming to the likeness of Jesus is the only thing that will save you from yourself. The least selfish ambition one can bare is to lay down their life for their friend AND enemy. Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice is the only thing needed to free us from ourselves. Let us destroy selfishness through honor and humble, sacrificial love.