Saturday, July 2, 2011

Commentary on Scripture: Romans 12:1-8

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Romans 12:1 ~~Romans 12 is rapidly becoming one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, and this verse illustrates why. Look at how much content is condensed into this verse! Paul's readers are urged to worship in light of the mercies of God, referenced in Romans 11. Their "spiritual service of worship" consists of presenting their bodies to the Lord, implying that ours is a corporeal (or Incarnate) faith and our worship ought to involve all of us. More than that, we are called to present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God, which pretty directly points us to the fact that our bodies can be pleasing to God, contra the gnostic or Manichean heresies. That's not even to mention the other point, which is that the goal of worship is to make an offering "acceptable to God." This is not a legal or juridical notion of imputed righteousness, in which God constructs a legal fiction for our salvation, but a true or ontological status-change of infused righteousness, in which we become members of the Body of Christ. And that's just one verse!

Romans 12:2 ~~ "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed...." Thus far 12:2 is a perfectly standard Pauline remark against the world as a source of sin, and the necessity of a counter-cultural faith. But he doesn't end there. "...transformed by the renewing of your mind...." What, wait? We assume we are transformed by grace through faith, but it seems that the mechanism of that transformation (the efficient, not the final, cause) is by the effects of those on our minds (presumably including our reason and our will). But the sentence doesn't end there. " that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." By renewing our minds, both rationally and morally, we become so virtuous that we are able to prove (perhaps in the archaic sense of 'test the soundness of,' or the modern sense of a logical demonstration) what the goodness of God consists of. By our holiness, we point others to the holiness of God. We become epistemic shortcuts to others who are seeking to know God's will.

Romans 12:3 ~~ "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you...." Paul is both able and authorized to speak, according to the apostolic and pastoral grace given to him. By this authority he exhorts humility, especially in our self-evaluation. "Think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." The latter part of the sentence is interesting in its own right: faith is a gift of God, and that it may be allotted to individuals in different amounts. But look to the former part of the sentence: because God has allotted faith to each (and presumably, because we do not know what or how much we have received), we are to cultivate our intellects so as to have sound judgment. This sounds like an exhortation for the four cardinal virtues (justice, temperance, courage, and prudence), that we may be able to overcome (by those virtues) any apparent deficiency in the three spiritual virtues (faith, hope, and love) with which we may wrestle.

Romans 12:4-5 ~~ This is one of the more famous analogies in Scripture: "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

Romans 12:6-8 ~~ Because our individual gifts differ amongst ourselves, in proportion to the grace given, we are to exercise them in this light: each gift utilized in proportion to the relevant grace. Paul then lists a number of individual gifts and graces. Many of these seem somewhat redundant: "service, in his service; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation." But others are more apparently disconnected and therefore more noteworthy: "prophecy according to the proportion of his faith... he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."

As I said above, Romans 12 is quickly becoming one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It's remarkable to me how much content there is, even in the first half (first third, even) of the chapter. I'll finish the rest of the chapter in next week's installment: Romans 12:9-21.

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